Impressions so far:
Wed. Mar. 17:
After a long day of travel we finally arrived in Austin. The airport had a huge display of giant guitars right beside the baggage carousel in honor of the hordes of indie rockers descending on the town for SXSW. The very same baggage carousel that did not contain my luggage, by the way. After a lengthy wait I filed a report with American Airlines and we went back to Rick and Rebecca’s house to crash.
Rick runs Nine Mile Records, the label that Parlour Steps are on. And Rebecca is his lovely, patient wife who seems not to mind that 11 people from two bands are sleeping all over her house.
Thurs. Mar. 18: My bag was delivered by the airline this morning, thank every god. After a hot shower and putting on my own clothes – and carefully going through my belongings and being thankful to see all my stuff – I felt much better. Except for this stupid cold. I haven’t been the slightest bit sick for at least a year, and to have a chest cold wallop me right now is quite demoralizing. I’ve been able to perform, and sing, but I don’t have the usual Maira intensity, wonder, and curiosity about my new surroundings. I just want to sleep and be quiet and zonk out with cold medicine. Not possible, though.
We had our first show tonight at the Nine Mile Records 5th Anniversary Party. Very frequently when I’m on tour playing music, I sit a in a lot of bars and suffer through a lot of bad bands while waiting to play. This makes me bitter, because there is an endless supply of bad bands, and I’m never going to get those hours of my life back. But not tonight! I saw 4 amazing bands before us, all on Nine Mile Records. I was completely impressed with all our labelmates. Delta blues, rockabilly, a Romanian gypsy band from L.A., then Parlour Steps. What a great night of music. In every band there were just blazingly wonderful players. Mind you, after Parlour Steps had finished playing, I was toast. And it was only 8:30. I needed to get back to Rick and Rebecca’s and collapse into bed.
But first I went with Julie and Caleb to their duo interview. They were driven around in a large glass van through the streets of Austin for 20 minutes and it was streamed live in the internet.
I watched them on a small computer screen as they played a couple of songs in this strange moving fishbowl. The van was parked right outside an ice cream shop, so Julie had a Jamison ice cream cone afterward.
They used real Jamison’s in the ice cream, and they also had a Chocolate Guinness flavor made with real Guinness.
Then Julie and I went to Whole Foods – my first time, could have spent thousands of dollars in there – and I got a small vat of vegetable soup to take back to the house. The guys went off to rock and see some bands, while Julie and I ended up in the best cab in Austin going back to Rick and Rebecca’s. The cab driver’s name was Carlos, and he had tiny Christmas lights strung up inside his cab.
Ate soup, and had a nice talk with Julie. Went to bed, coughed a lot, felt really bad for Julie who had to listen to me in our shared room.
Fri. Mar. 19: Slept until noon! Felt noticeably better upon rising. Not back to normal, but I was actually hungry for the first time in 3 days. I ended up eating tortilla soup – I have been eating soup only since I left Vancouver, and tortilla soup is plentiful and delicious here in Austin – with Rees in a yee-haw type family restaurant called The Shady Grove. They did not have espresso coffee, something Rob must have sensed when he and Julie decided at the last minute to go to the restaurant next door. Maybe he has a spidey sense when it comes to coffee. I must ask him about that. Anyway, I got my first dose of “how y’all doin” from our waitress at The Shady Grove.
On the menu there was “Frito Pie”, a ‘bag of fritos topped with ground beef, sour cream, and guacamole’. There were mooseheads mounted on the wall, the chairs and tables were heavy, solid, and dark, and a sign that advised “any possession of unlicensed firearms would result in a $10 000 fine”. All the chairs here seem to be extra wide, and there also seems to be a lot of very big Texans walking around. After our soup we headed next door and met up with the rest of the Steps and made out way back to Rick and Rebecca’s house. It’s warm, sunny, and windy here. No jackets required, feels much like summer does in Vancouver. There are palm trees, cactuses (cacti?) and huge guava plants in the front yards here.
The gear was already there, thanks to Rick. It was a really nice hour long walk, and I knew I was feeling better because I didn’t have to stop every few metres to gasp and choke and retch with eyes streaming and throat bursting. We played our second show at another industry party and again the bands before and after us were really good.
I thought our show was pretty decent, but I am hampered once again by the lack of a sustain pedal. So, I’m not nearly as rad as I usually am with my own gear but I did the best I could and played no wrong notes or chords like I did at the first show. But honestly, it’s a bit of a letdown to play at this very, very cool festival not being able to contribute as much as I usually do to the melodic and rhythmic goodness of this band.
After the show, Julie and Rebecca and I decided to go for a girls dinner and somehow Rees ended up joining us which always makes things more interesting. We ended up at this beautiful Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin where a mariachi band dressed in gold lame suits and sunglasses were playing.
They were wonderful, and then there was a more rock and roll Mexican band after them who were also great. I’ve heard so many awesome guitar players in the past 3 days. Every band here seems to have one, and tonight was no exception. I had one margarita, which interacted strongly with my cold meds so I thought it best to not order another. It was a deep, genuine pleasure to hang out with Rebecca and Julie and Rees and I found myself leaning over to Rees and saying, as I have on at least 3 other occasions here “We are in in Austin, Texas! To play rock and roll!” To which he responded, as he has consistently “I know!”, with a face splitting grin of joyful delight. Because it really is something to be grateful and amazed by. Is this really happening? Are we in Texas, of all places, just because we play music? It is, and we are. It’s a very long way from Vancouver, and it’s the third time in 4 months that we’ve hopped on a plane and flown thousands of miles from home to play Parlour Steps songs. Pretty wonderful, and these adventures are that much sweeter when one can take a breath, look around, and remind oneself to soak in the present moment and enjoy it.
After dinner Julie and I went to see She and Him, a cute band with pleasant songs featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. We saw it from a guy’s backyard that faced directly into the concert (through a high iron fence, but still a good vantage point) along with about a hundred of his tipsy friends.
Julie and I leaned against a ramshackle garden shed, my foot resting on a rusty propane tank, and talked about music, bands, Parlour Steps, missing our husbands, and life in general as we usually do. I had thought of going to see Muse tonight, but our show was finished too late for me to race across town to their venue. And the way my evening turned out was unexpected and delightful, as it frequently does when I’m on tour and it’s me and Julie hanging out together.
Walking through downtown Austin after the Her and Him show was quite mind boggling. Several main streets were closed to cars, and thousands of people were walking around dressed in a variety of hipster costumes.
Everywhere, in every restaurant and bar along the way there were bands playing. Every venue was packed, with people jamming the sidewalks to stop and listen. So many different kinds of music, all at high volume, at the same time.
“This reminds me of downtown Vancouver during the Olympics”, I thought. (Although it was much quieter in Vancouver). “This is the Indie Rock Olympics” was my next thought. And it really seems to be: indie rockers from all over the world have gathered to compete (for the attention of agents, record labels, and managers), make connections with each other, and show their talents. For a brief time, they take over the city and Austin becomes “knee deep in indie rockers” as Rick described it when he picked us up from the airport. Ah yes, and these were my people. I was one of them, with my Music Artist Wristband that we were all so proudly displaying. Mind you, I was not wearing a white belt or an ironic trucker’s hat but my black and white Cons were definitely not unique in this crowd.
Julie and I caught a cab relatively easily and were the first ones back at the house again. Now I’m tucked into Lilly’s small bed (Rick and Rebecca’s sweet little girl, who is away during SXSW – probably for the best, as there are 11 grown up indie rockers packed into her house), surrounded by My Little Ponys and Lilly’s original artwork, with Julie listening to her audio book in the loft bed just above me. Hopefully it won’t be as rough as it was last night with all the coughing. This is the latest I’ve stayed up and the busiest day I’ve had since my arrival, and I hope I didn’t push it too hard today. In a few hours the boys will burst into the house noisy and happy and drunken. Another typical day in the land of rock and roll adventure.