Get In The Back Of The Van! Parts & Labor vs Teeth Of The Sea

As Teeth Of The Sea prepare to support Parts & Labor on their UK tour, the two bands discuss the myths, perils, and joys of life on the road

Anyone who’s followed the lifestyle option of playing in a touring rock band will have soon realised that, whatever their original teenage glitter-strewn dreams of stardom constituted, the reality would be quite something else. Mick Farren, (a Teeth Of The Sea hero) once reckoned that the closest summation you can find to the joys of the writing experience is contained in the pages of Steven King’s Misery. Similarly, there’ve been few works of fiction that really sum up the experience of playing in most rock bands. In terms of sheer implausibility and a roll-your-eyeballs fantasy perspective, the dividing lines between Jackie Collins’ Rock Star, Kevin Sampson’s dismal Powder and Iain Banks’ well-meaning but ultimately risible Espedair Street are extremely slim. The truth may not be quite as stupefyingly dull as Mogwai made it sound recently but it does tend to be less Almost Famous, and much more Bad News Tour.

This said, for all the service station food, the AA callouts at 3AM, and the hernias from dragging bass amps up steep flights of stairs, going on tour remains something the average muso continues to dream of, albeit as a temporary escape from the mundanities of day to day life to a much more enjoyable set of mundanities. If you were being romantic about the process of touring, you’d transform the Creedence-blasting Transit van into some sort of pirate ship, containing an unhygienic cargo that oft threatens to lose touch with reality altogether.

"Yeah!" notes BJ Warshaw of Parts And Labor, whoTeeth Of The Sea head out on tour with this very day. "And you better eat some oranges, or you’re gonna get scurvy!"

"Being in bands, you’re automatically ditching some life security" he adds sanguinely. "It’s a fact aside from just the amount of time just practicing and writing, and just being on the road: it’s dangerous, it’s time-consuming, it’s unhealthy, it’s very unhealthy,"

Parts And Labor and the members of Teeth Of The Sea have been acquainted before, although your correspondent doesn’t feel like reminding BJ in the interview of exactly what the circumstances were, given that they involve a Brighton incident a few years back in which a certain notably refreshed member of our band allegedly kicked down the door to a bathroom containing one of his band’s members. One would imagine, given the fact that this road-hardy bunch have been traversing the dingier quarters of the world’s indie and DIY circuits for much of their nine-year existence, they’d be used to such regrettable incidents.

Moreover, it turns out that all or any culture shocks that the band may have had to endure from coming to the UK were nipped in the bud partly thanks to BJ actually having been a resident of London in the late 90s whilst studying literature for a term at the University of Westminster. "That was the height of trip-hop, Britpop and drum and bass. And I was pretty miserable" he laughs. "I kinda fell into listening to a lot of garage rock and going to see like Thee Headcoats. I used to go down Dirty Water, what was that, the Tufnell Arms? And I tried to go to some of the more, you know, drum and bass shit, like I went to Goldie’s Metalheadz – this is fucking bullshit, this is really not my scene."

"I would say also touring Europe that the UK is kind of aside from driving on the wrong side of the road, the most like the scene we play in the States, and also that has to do with the lack of hospitality and general unfriendliness" he offers, echoing what the standard wisdom tends to be for bands on the smaller touring circuit, "That’s a generalisation, that’s not across the board. There are places in mainland Europe where the accommodation is kindof mind-blowingly amazing and people really go out of their way, you get cooked meals and you get put up in a hotel by the venue, and crazy shit. UK, they’re kind of like you’re on your own, go and find a place to sleep. We don’t care."

Given that Parts And Labor’s new album, the kaleidoscopically melodious Constant Future sees them embracing a much sunnier and more optimistic disposition, one can only hope that it will lead them to pastures new where cooked meals and hotels are less of a rarity. Yet encounters with so-called rock star behaviour can often lead to the worst moments one can endure on tour.

The most shuddering nadir this here ‘musician’ ever suffered in the name of popular entertainment occurred in Dudley in the West Midlands, whilst sharing a Transit with 80s glam sub-legends Pretty Boy Floyd, who were then on a nostalgia tour backing Faster Pussycat. LA accents whined, cockney ones cursed and the overcast skies outside were matched by the moods inside the van as we painstakingly scoured Dudley’s chemists and hardware stores looking for Copydex; the tone-deaf backing singer of the band I was filling in with on bass had loudly demanded that she needed this industrial cement to attach pasties to her nipples for the climax of the performance, at which she planned to distract the ageing Dudley glam masses from our decidedly substandard performance by way of her silicone-enhanced bosom.

Any band on the road will be privy to the whims and wherefores not only of audiences that stare at them blankly as is they’ve landed from Mars, but of the more treacherous realm of internet critics, and the kind of thick skin any band’s forced to develop to criticism is doubtless helped in Teeth Of The Sea’s case by having at least one journalist in their ranks. More to the point, one who’s ditched out equally bitchy critique themselves with alarming alacrity in the past. Even whilst having one critic remark that yours truly "looks like he exists on a diet of his boyfriend’s piss and the leftovers of a brown spoon," in an otherwise complimentary review, a stoic attitude is encouraged by one’s memory drifting back to a particularly unnecessary description of veteran Leafhound vocalist Pete French in which his face was compared to an oriental death mask.

Indeed, as far as BJ is concerned, it’s all fun and games until one neglects to do one’s homework.

"Yeah, I try my best not to take it personally, and sometimes it’s impossible. I’d rather read the negative reviews than kinda not know about it, I like to know where I stand. We’re generally always received positive criticism in the UK especially – the Quietus review was totally glowing. When you read those it makes it totally worthwhile, I get more annoyed when I read lazy journalism, when people get key facts blatantly wrong. There was a reviewer who called our drummer Joe Meek. That’s just really fuckin’ moronic. Music journalism is a difficult business itself; it’s cutthroat, you can’t make a lot of money doing it, and I feel like a lot of writers have a chip on their shoulders, in frustration, and don’t necessarily realise the damage they can do to a band with ease"

So, what to do when the mythical, fairytale high-glamour world that Jackie Collins, Kevin Sampson and Iain Banks chronicle actually collides headlong with one’s humble touring rock band? It’s maybe to BJ’s credit that this happened, and he didn’t even notice.

"We were recording Stay Afraid, our second full-length" he recalls "We were recording it in a studio called Headgear which happened to be next to TV On The Radio’s studio, in the same building, and Dan and I were at the mixing console and we were kindof geeking out and fine-tuning some horrible noise that was going on the record. Chris our drummer’s lying on the couch, and some dude walks into the room, looking for Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio. He’s like ‘Is Dave here?’ and we’re like ‘He’s just down the hall, that way’. And Chris immediately just lost his shit, and jumped up and went ‘I can’t believe you just played that off’"

Any guesses? "It was David Bowie. And neither Dan or I even recognised him! You know, we were totally involved in the mix, and we just looked up, and he was just dressed in plain clothes; he didn’t have his Aladdin Sane make up on or anything, there was nothing really too recognisable about him so we just went back to our work"

"We never got a chance to speak to him, we were too embarrassed. We went over later, and we were talking to Tunde (Adebimpe) That was the first time that Bowie came to their studio too, and Tunde was blown away as well. David Bowie was like" (he adopts a plummy theatrical English voice) "Have you ever heard of Tyondai Braxton?"

"This was pre-Battles and Bowie knew all that shit. It was blowing our minds!"

Parts & Labor’s UK tour with Teeth Of The Sea starts in London tonight, then continues until May 22nd. For full details, go here

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