Tag Archives: Jam Unit

Johnny Unicorn and Jam Unit 2013 Tour part five: Budgeting

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It sure is odd to write a tour blog about an old tour while on a different tour. But it MUST be done.

Minneapolis was our next stop. The Mini-apple. It felt good to arrive in a city with a skyline and a Trader Joe’s. Last time I was in Minneapolis I had a great time with a band called the Drug Budget, so this time I made sure to set up a show with them again. This time it was at the Kitty Cat Klub. If you haven’t been there, you only need to know one thing: it has a gigantic unisex bathroom that takes up the entire bottom floor. The toilets are located in tiny stalls along the wall with doors that you can’t peak under. The sink is sort of just a bird bath in the middle of the room. There is a lot of red light. It is LOUD.

The show opened with a bunch of comedians who were funny and enjoyable for the most part. The Jam Unit played second, and we were loud as heck, but we had a good time and we got some people dancing. The Drug Budget closed the show with a knock-out set that was fully entertaining, and probably even louder than our set. The lead singer, who’s name I can never remember, really knows how to entertain a crowd. The Drug Budget plays metal and horn-infused pop music and are unlike most bands. This band goes beyond entertainment into something else entirely. Most of the crowd was partying hardcore, but I was fully entertained just standing and watching. I’m always very happy to share a stage with these people, and on top of that they’re all super nice. If you live in Minneapolis, I fully recommend going to their show. They make a Tuesday night feel like a Friday night.

The following night we played a disappointing show to a couple of people in Milwaukee. We made enough money to pay for a tenth of the drive to the venue. Afterwards, I insisted we drive the five hours back to my hometown of Holland, MI to get some hometown comfort. I’ll talk about that in the next installment.

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JU Summer Tour 2013 Part Four: Remembering People’s Names in North Dakota

North Dakota, the West-midwest. From Bozeman to Bismarck is a long, tedious drive. We had to rise early in order to make it on time to our show at Rhythm Records. Fortunately the caffeine-fueled Jam Unit was up to the challenge. I cannot remember what happened on the drive. Most likely it was a lot of silent staring at the flat, featureless landscape. I may have had earplugs in (don’t worry, I could hear just fine, we live in a really loud world). After an uneventful nine hour drive, we arrived at the record store and set up in the tiny space. I was not expecting there to be very many people there, so I promised that the band would improvise a song based on the names of every person in attendance at the show. The people showed up, probably about 20 of them, and sat down and listened to us perform our music. Many of them had seen me perform as a one-person act before and seemed glad to see the addition of a live band. As promised, we performed improvised songs based on the names of every person in the audience. We went as quickly as possible, and it took approximately five minutes. It was absolutely wonderful to play rock music at a reasonable volume level to a bunch of polite sit-down listeners in a shop full of vinyl records. Thank you to Robbie for letting us do it, and please, if you’re ever in Bismarck, stop by Rhythm Records. They have coffee and their selection of vinyl is small but good quality. I always find something I want there.

That night we stayed in a campground that was full of weirdos, and we couldn’t find firewood, so Naomi just took a bunch of cut-up trees from a pile. Later that evening, I decided I cannot eat veggie dogs while wearing a mustache. Also we snuck over to the RV section to use the bathroom, although, I think we were allowed to.

Then it was off to Fargo and the Red Raven Espresso Parlor! I had played there about four times before to extremely small audiences. But they were so nice to me, I just had to keep coming back to play, and I was determined to build up a small following, even if I had to do it one person at a time. But I like it that way, because I’m fairly picky about my fans. I want to make sure each one of them is okay with being part of a large group all looking in the same direction. I want to make sure they aren’t developing cult behaviors or anything like that. I want to make sure they are there to enjoy the performance. Anyway, I was expecting a small chunk of people to show up, but it turned out that the audience that came was about five times larger than I expected. That made me happy, but also a bit nervous, because I had also promised the audience of this show that my band and I would come up with improvised songs based on each of the audience members. Well, we played the show and people enjoyed it, and I think I even saw a few people dancing. We improvised everyones names and it took a really long time, but we got through it unscathed. I was very pleased with the way it turned out because Josie, from Bismarck, was at this show and the previous show, and we remembered how to play her song from the night before. Then, because it was Ian and Max’s (our guitarist and drummer) birthday (they’re twins), I surprised them with a birthday song, which I forced them to play without having rehearsed it. That was one of my favorite moments of the tour, just because I actually remembered someone’s birthday (edit: actually, I was just told that in fact I didn’t remember, Naomi told me. but I still remembered what she told me long enough to mention it on stage, which is quite an achievement). I was feeling really good about my own memory recall by the end of the show, and when I went out to push our merchandise on people, a very nice audience member who had come in with her teenage kids introduced me to them, and this one kid quizzed me on his name and I couldn’t remember it, even though twenty minutes earlier I had written a song about it (along with 35 other people). He seemed a bit bummed out. If he had known he was going to be talking to an absent-minded person, maybe he wouldn’t have felt so bad about it. Anyway, if you’re listening, kid whose name I couldn’t remember, I hope you’re still listening and enjoying the cd (as you might expect I once again can’t remember your name, but I do know there was one kid in your group named Chase…is that right?)

That night we got treated to a first class suite in an actual hotel. Thanks Brandon!

Stay tuned for the next entry, in which I will describe the nicotine antics of The Drug Budget and one show that went horribly wrong.

JU 2013 Tour part one: The Secret of the Unit

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Photo by Mike Brown

 

Firstly, I would like to apologize for waiting so long to begin my account of the Johnny Unicorn and His Jam Unit tour. And immediately after the apology I would like to make an excuse: booking shows, driving to them, and playing them requires so much of my emotional and physical energy that I needed to wait until two weeks after I returned home to even have the slightest motivation to begin writing about the it. So, here it is, part one of a series of perhaps dozens of posts on the Jam Unit tour, and it starts further in the past than you might have thought:

I had toured a number of times before on my own, and when I did so, I was literally on my own. I used sequences that I put together on an Ensoniq SD-1 as backing tracks, while I performed guitar, accordion, keyboard, saxophone and vocals. Since I was bound to the irrevocable rhythm of the machine, I was extremely limited in how much I could direct the flow of the songs, and since I am at best a mediocre player of any of my instruments, i was forced to play mostly my simplest songs. But, through a series of serendipitous and unexplainable events, I wound up with a small group of loyal and excellent musicians playing my music. Naomi Adele Smith (of Autumn Electric) first joined me on synthesizers, then Jesse Mercury joined on synth drums. Later, Max Steiner (also of Autumn Electric) joined on the guitar, which finally freed me up to stop ruining the songs with my hands. I decided I could never go back to the solo act again, because I loved the way the new band sounded. At the same time, I had just released my exercise album, “Sadness And Companionship.” I thought it was quite likely that the people who were digging the music I had to offer on previous tours would probably enjoy this new stuff performed by this new band. So I bought a van and enlisted the booking help of my friend Michael Trew and with much excitement we booked a tour for the Summer of 2013 with my new band (with Max’s brother Ian filling in on drums because Jesse regrettably couldn’t go). The band is called the Jam Unit. Remember that.

We dipped our toes in the water with a pre-tour out of town show in Anacortes, WA. Before this, the only thing I knew about Anacortes was that it was where you went to get on the ferry to go to the islands. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the van and was greeted by an actual city with stuff going on. One of that stuff was my band; my Jam Unit. The four of us, anxious about having to perform the longest of our tour sets on the very first night, stepped into the Brown Lantern with optimistic caution. Would they receive us with open arms and hospitality and provide us with all the necessary equipment to do a quality show, or would they hold us up against the wall by the throat and threaten us with further physical violence if we didn’t increase their alcohol sales? Fortunately, it turned out to be the former!

What I remember of the show now is mostly a blur of dark red and orange (as is my memory of almost every nightclub I’ve been in, except for the really fancy ones, which I usually remember as some shade of blue) and the nervousness of playing our very first show with this lineup. I probably don’t have to mention that there were plenty of “not-what-I-remember-from-rehearsal” moments, and for the first hour and a half, I was painfully aware of the fact that one shouldn’t wear a wizard robe to play fast music, and if one is going to wear a wizard robe, one should make sure to bring a pair of wizard shoes as well, because nothing else matches. But aside from those technical difficulties, we were received very well and we even connected with a few of the people that were there. And the management seemed pleased with how we performed our job. As a bonus, we learned about the real power of the “Jam Unit” name. It turns out that the phrase has at least one NSFW connotation, and that makes it a conversation piece, and therefore memorable. The guys that drew our attention to this fact were entirely unaware of my true intention in creating the name, which was to have a band name that had the same initials as my stage name.

With this success behind us, we proceeded to rush back to Seattle in the dark hours of the night, so we could sit in our homes, twiddling our thumbs for a week, waiting for the tour to start in earnest.