Japan With Amenra, Pt 1

As you may remember, I went on tour with Belgian metal giants Amenra for a week last summer on the West Coast.  In addition to taking photos, I captured a bunch of video footage with the intention of putting together a quick little documentary of my time with them.  After about a month of fudging around with it, I finished the film and sent it over to the band.  The reaction was enthusiastically positive (to my surprise and delight), and talks began around making a full-length film to commemorate their 20th anniversary as a band.  I was invited to join them in Japan for five days to film, which was incredibly exciting.  After a couple months of giddy anticipation, the time to leave for Japan finally arrived.

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The majority of advice I got around dealing with a huge time change (Japan is 17 hours ahead of California) was to not sleep on the plane at all and just forge ahead to get on the new schedule as much as possible, which is exactly what I did.  It all started with a two-hour flight to Vancouver, then a 10 hour flight to Tokyo. There had been some sketchiness about whether I was going to be met by someone at the airport that would arrange my getting to the place we were staying or if I was gonna have to take a bus/train by myself. It’s a long story, but after much handwringing, losing WiFi service multiple times, running from one terminal to the other, and praying things would work out in my favor, I found Colin from Amenra, his wife and their friend, and we hopped on a bus headed for Tokyo.  From the bus terminal in Shinjuku, we walked about 20 min to the apartment that had been rented for the band, set all my shit down, then turned around and headed back out into the night to meet up with the rest of the entourage who were having drinks at a tiny little random karaoke bar.  The first things that struck me about Japan were that everything was clean and orderly, all the cars/trucks/trains were shiny and small, and there were tons of people swarming the streets. Tons. After a brief and torturous time listening to drunk Japanese folks shriek over weird pop songs at this karaoke bar, we left to grab some food and head back to the house to sleep. I’d been awake for 29 hours by this point and surprisingly I didn’t feel that bad. 

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Managed to sleep about 7 hours or so last night, which was a pleasant surprise. After breakfast and coffee in a cute little spot just down the street from us, we gathered outside the house and headed to the venue.  Since many of the bands wives/girlfriends had joined for the week, we were a giant gang of 13 people snaking through the subways carrying gear, trying to get a feel for how to get around.  We noticed that the Japanese people we encountered were not only unfailingly polite and orderly, but they never made eye contact in public and remained fairly quiet at all times.  Every time we all took a train anywhere (which was a lot), we were absolutely the loudest people on the train, and we were just talking. 

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 Like just about everything I saw in Tokyo, the venue was in a multi-level building, narrow and compact and squeezed right next to other buildings.  There were two floors with rehearsal rooms (for bands to practice in), then a 4th floor that held the 200-person-capacity venue, then a rooftop patio where merch was eventually set up.  I realized quickly that filming/shooting in this small of a spot was going to present me with some challenges, so I spent some time trying to get my shit figured out while all the bands soundchecked. 

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There was a brief outing taken to find some food to eat, and we found this cute little Japanese/American food café where I had one of the best hamburgers of my life. No joke.  We walked the neighborhood checking out shops and stretching our legs for a bit, then back to the venue to hang out and wait for the show to start.  We didn’t have to wait long, considering the first (of four) bands was scheduled to begin at 5:30 PM.  Because I’m a grumpy old man, I was delighted that the show was going to be over by 10PM sharp, which is completely unheard of in the States.

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 Opener Treha Sektori is a one-man aural descent into the underworld, with haunting images projected over him as he pounds trigger pads and growls over rumbling drones straight from the abyss.  He’s from Paris (and was brought over to Japan by Amenra) and a super cool dude to boot.  It was great getting to hang out with him a little bit.  There was a local band Vampilla who played a strangely interesting combo of doom metal and ambient jazz with strings, plus a Canadian/European duo Nadja whose mix of metal guitars and ambient electronica was soothing and creepy at the same time. All the support groups were eclectic and distinct, but had an aesthetic and vibe that really blended well with Amenra’s.

As Amenra prepared to play, the entire audience (which was filled to capacity) was eerily silent while waiting for the show to start.  No cheering, very little talking, so quiet you could hear the footsteps of the band walking around the stage.  So very different from how shows are in the states.  I stood on the side of the stage filming (which was my purpose for being there in the first place) for most of the show, then shuffled through the crowd to the sound booth to get some shots from there.  Everyone got out of my way as I walked through the crowd, politely stepping aside unlike anything I’ve experienced in the states.  Quite refreshing.  The show ended right on time and everyone hustled to pack up and get out of the venue before 10:30. We walked through the neighborhoods looking for food, but eventually the group split up and I went with Colin and Evie (his wife) to a little curry spot for a nightcap before making the 30 minute walk back to the house for another good night’s sleep.

The next day began much as the first, coffee and food, then the 30 minute walk/train ride to the venue, this time sans equipment (except for me, loaded with two full backpacks of gear and various items).  After sound check we all split off to explore the neighborhood again, this time I meandered alone, hoping I wouldn’t get hopelessly lost while trying to buy some gifts to bring back to Megan and my kids.  There were literally half a dozen hair salons on every street, including pet salons. Clothing stores with hilariously mangled English titles, tons of strange chachki shops and bazillions of tiny restaurants and eateries.  And intertwined with the busy shopping avenues are dozens of quiet, clean residential alleys and walkways.  So very quiet. 

Tonight’s show was a virtual repeat of last night, except tonight Amenra was on fire in a way they weren’t quite last night.  It’s always interesting to consider what makes a band perform one way one night, then on a different plane the next.  A million variables, I suppose. 

 I was able to hop off the front of the stage and right into the front row to shoot video from that angle, and the very polite and quiet Japanese fans that had been standing there all night scooted over and gave me space, which again would have never happened in the states.

 After the show, everyone packed up and said their farewells, took some group photos, then headed across town for a celebratory dinner in a swanky restaurant, where I got to spend some time talking to a Japanese national who’d lived in England for a number of years so his English was really good. He gave me all sorts of interesting perspectives on Japanese culture and I got to explain a bit about American culture, such as it is.

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Having finally secured a pocket Wifi hotspot earlier in the day, I had the means by which to navigate on my own back to the house.As I snaked my way through the alleys, streets and boulevards after midnight, it again struck me how quiet everything was.Here in the middle of a huge metropolis, the only discernable sounds were that of the sporadic cars and trucks making their way through the night to unknown destinations

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CrucialFest and the Nevada Desert

Feeling the need for a good road trip, I pointed my nose east towards the great Salt Lake City to spend a weekend photographing CrucialFest, an eclectic and diverse two-day music festival boasting a list of well known names in heavy music, plus a bunch of local and regional bands spanning multiple genres.  My friends Cult Leader were performing, as well as Neurosis, Chelsea Wolfe, and Russian Circles, all of whom I love and appreciate. I also looked forward to being in a new place checking out new things, if only to feed my desire for novelty. 

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After a day of barreling through CA into Nevada and a night spent alongside the river, I woke eary and drove the remaining few hours to Salt Lake City. Spent the day at the fairgrounds wandering from stage to stage, photographing bands and mostly just keeping to myself.  I managed to find ONE person I knew there, which was a treat.  The day consisted of mostly uninteresting (to me) bands, though things only started getting interesting when UK phenoms Slaves played the smallest stage to about 40 or 50 people.  In Europe, these guys sell out theater-sized venues and it was great to see them playing with maniacal energy and abandon despite the small crowd.  Of course Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe were great, as always.  I especially enjoyed the gorgeous sunset that accompanied the end of Russian Circles’ set.

Day two of CrucialFest was longer, but more relaxed and enjoyable.  Got to hang with my Cult Leader buddies a bit and catch up, and ended up having fewer bands I was actually interested in seeing.  Pig Destroyer (more a fan of the name than the music), Mutoid Man (because they’re funny) and Neurosis (because they’re fucking Neurosis) were the standouts amongst a blur of bands who had their own things going but nothing that grabbed me. 

Happy to be done with wandering the hot and dusty festival grounds, I loaded up and drove to Temple Square in downtown SLC just to check it out.  Any time I think about Mormonism, I remember the fantastic book by John Krakauer called “Under the Banner of Heaven”, which is not only an excellent outline of the history of Mormonism (and fundamentalist Mormonism) but weaves in a story of a faith-based murder of a Mormon woman and her child by her fundamentalist brothers-in-law.  Mormonism is crazy, and the area around Temple Square is a gargantuan citadel dedicated to the Empire. 

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I got the hell outta there and headed out of the city, through the flat Utah desert and back into Nevada, ending up in Winnemucca, a tiny town with a rich history woven into the westerly US expansion in the late 19th century.  I found a spot nestled into the foothills on the eastern side of town and thoroughly enjoyed an amazing sunset before making dinner and settling in for the night.

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I woke well before the sun came up and decided I wanted to spend the day exploring Nevada a bit.  I hadn’t been to the Black Rock Desert area in many years and thought it might be enjoyable to visit there before heading to Pyramid Lake.  Google Maps said I could take the boring old Interstate, or I could take a back route that would be 10 minutes faster, which was a no-brainer.  I always choose the back roads whenever possible. 

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Long story short, I found myself going from well-maintained gravel roads to bumpy and rocky roads to deeply rutted and sandy two-lane tracks through a massive expanse of open high-mountain desert.  No cell service, no sign of humans anywhere and clearly no one had been on these roads for many days.  My poor van had to crawl its way through washes and over rocks, rocking and rattling the whole time.  My stress levels went up enough to where I couldn’t maintain the presence of mind to photograph much, even though the Black Rock Desert is an amazingly gorgeous place.  I couldn’t help imagining the van dying or getting stuck in a rut and leaving me stranded way out in the middle of nowhere.  Ultimately I’d be fine, since I had plenty of water and food and clothes and such.  But it sure would fuck up my schedule for the week if I had to hike 30+ miles to find cell service or a helping hand.  All for nothing too, since I elected to take this road without any good reason to do so.  Luckily I made it through fine, though the last 20 miles was an endurance test over severely washboarded roads that just about shook the fillings from my teeth. 

Black Rock Desert

Black Rock Desert

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I limped back onto the gloriously paved highway outside Gerlach and headed south towards Pyramid Lake, where I found the parking lots and shoreline packed with people fishing.  I’d never seen so many people at the lake at once, and wondered if there was a special event or something going on.  Decided the crowds were more than I wanted to bear, so I bailed westward, stopping in Tahoe before heading back to the city by the bay.

Sweet, sweet pavement

Sweet, sweet pavement

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

Music, Mountains & Oceans

Time passes, things seem to move quickly, passing in a blur.  The last month has been so full, and I’m having a tough time keeping up.  Here’s a recap of some of my time since returning from tour.

7/13/18 through 7/23/18

For a number of years, I played drums in my friend Arann Harris’ band on a pretty regular basis.  A little over two years ago, he semi-retired from playing shows with the full band, and I kinda retired with him.  He calls me once or twice a year to play the select show, and this weekend I’d signed up to play with him at the Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. 

Rivertown Revival is held right on the waterfront near downtown Petaluma and is a kinda quasi-Steampunk thing with vendors and food and live music and people in weird costumes.  I hadn’t been in a while, and it was actually enjoyable  to be at a music festival as a performer and not as a photographer this time.  For a few reasons, I consciously decided to not bring my camera at all.  It was pretty nice to just wander and enjoy my surroundings in real time.  I ran into a number of people I love and got to have some quality – if sometimes brief – check-ins.  I even had a total stranger come up and tell me how much she appreciates my photography work and feels inspired by what I do.  I’m always amazed when stuff like that happens, and it’s heart-warming and fortifying. 

We performed as scheduled, and it’s always a treat to play music with these dudes.  Mike James, Jason Carr and Arann are some of my favorite people to play music with, and playing with them is like slipping on a comfortable pair of fur-lined slippers. 

Pre-game

Pre-game

A couple days later I found myself driving to Reno to film my friend Tyler’s band, who were performing in an outdoor amphitheater outside of town.  I left early in the day so I could stop in Tahoe and soak it up for a minute. I’d been pining a Tahoe visit for a while but hadn’t been able to carve out the time just yet.  I stopped at my favorite swimming hole in the South Fork of the American River that runs along Hwy 50 and had a wonderfully refreshing dip.  Made some lunch and talked to my daughter Aurora, who’s been living in NYC for the last number of weeks.  She’s thinking of moving there when she graduates from UC Santa Cruz next year, and the idea of her doing that is exciting.  It means I’ll see her less often (probably), but I think New York has so much to offer her, and I love seeing her get excited about something big and potentially challenging. 

Filmed the gig that night, crashed in Reno, and the next day I woke early and headed back through Tahoe again, stopping for a walk at the top of the pass then taking a long and leisurely drive around the lake through Tahoe City and around the west side.  This is the area where my parents used to own a cabin, and I always enjoy taking the opportunity to say hello.  I’d spent many a summer and winter there all throughout my childhood and feel a super strong connection to it. 

I headed back to the heat miser that is Mendocino County to do a little bit of work, then went to Willits to pick Mickey up and take him out to the coast to escape the heat.  We had a lot of great conversation on the way (as we always do when we take road trips together), and arrived in Mendocino in the late afternoon as the temperature hit the perfect point.  We walked along the beach, enjoying the cold dousing our feet got when the water from the incoming tide gently slid over them.  We walked around town, got some books from the bookstore, then headed to Fort Bragg for some dinner.  Got back to Willits well after the heat of the day had transmuted into the cool of the evening.

But things didn’t stop there.  I headed down to Bodega the next day to film a music video for my friends the Rainbow Girls.  They’d arranged to throw a small party for about 50 close friends, with the event resembling their Bodega Day party that happened back in April.  They wanted to have the video feature their community of musicians/artists/weirdos doing what they love to do;  perform and create and celebrate.  I had lots of time in the afternoon to try and figure out what I was going to do (because I’m a noob filmmaker and had no real shot list or game plan or anything that would be something professional), and began capturing footage as soon as people began trickling in.  Around 6:00 or so, the musical performances started in their little barn, and I began the frantic running back and forth trying to capture that, as well as getting footage of people just hanging out and enjoying the party.  

We filmed the girls playing along with the song for the actual music video part of the thing.  Despite the awkwardness of lip-synching their song, they were troopers and ran through the song a few times and quickly resumed the partying.  There was another run-through or five of the song later in the night when we had a substantial crowd to act as audience for the band and the little courtyard outside the barn was beautifully lit and dreamy.   I was glad to get a little assistance from Bradley Cox, an amazing and talented photographer who lives on the property with the girls and offered to film some footage as well.  We wrapped that part of the evening up and the performances in the barn resumed until the wee hours of the morning

I spent all of the next day parked by the ocean just north of Bodega Bay where I sat in the van and worked on photos from the end of tour and started trying to edit video from the tour as well.  It was a pretty enjoyable way to spend the day, listening to the surf pound on the beach below and having some quiet time to focus and work without distraction. 

 

A few days later I headed back to Ukiah to do some work, not being stoked at all to be back in the stifling heat.  Luckily I’d arranged to connect with my friend Aviva, a talented musician and fellow Capoerista who’d booked time in a gorgeous house on the top of McNab Ranch to record her first record.  She’d hired me to come up and make some photos of the process and just hang out, which I was glad to do.  The road was rough and steep and I surprised myself by getting my van all the way to the top, but not without sustaining a little bit of discombobulation and disarray inside the van from all the jostling.

The time spent with Aviva and her band was magical.  They were recording in a small wooden outbuilding with full-size sliding doors open on two sides, giving the room a partial outdoor feel and letting in lots of natural light.  The property sits on top of the mountain adorned by huge oak and madrone trees and silent in the way that only places far removed from populated areas can be.  Spending time in places like this are what keeps me coming back to Mendocino County over and over again.  There are things about living out in the country that can get old and cumbersome, but relaxing in a hammock suspended between two huge oak trees, surrounded by acres of pristine woods and open meadows with only the sounds of insects and chirping birds never does.

They did some recording, then took a long break for dinner, then resumed recording back in the barn until almost midnight.  The music is sweet and somewhat whimsical, folky and intimate, unique and familiar.  Watching talented musicians work together to create and record a musical moment is something I always appreciate, and making photos of it is something special.

Tour Days - Pt 2

7/9/18 Monday

The first part of my drive today was pretty enjoyable, though after about 10 AM things started getting pretty hot out.  Also, a chunk of land on the California/Oregon border has been on fire for the last week or so and the smoke was thick.  Luckily the freeway was open and that part of the fire had been contained, but it was still pretty crazy to see the acres upon acres of blackened earth and charcoal skeletal trees. Made a bee-line down that doozy of a boring interstate 5, stopping only to gas up and make myself a sandwich.  Arrived in the baking oven that is Sacramento by 4:00 and found the dudes returning after a sweltering walk around the neighborhood.  I took advantage of the Wifi and air conditioning in the bar and worked on editing photos from yesterday, then walked down to a local taqueria for some chow. 

Tonight’s show was just Converge and Amenra, as Neurosis had scheduled this as a day off and the two other bands were in no mood to rest.  The club was pretty small and of course the show was sold out.  It also seemed like the upstairs dressing rooms were the only rooms in the whole building that had no A/C, which was a bummer.  The light in those rooms was gorgeous though, and I took some portraits of the dudes as well taking candid photos as the as the opportunities presented themselves. 

Since the stage was so small, there was barely any room for Amenra’s projected images on the wall behind them.  They opted to have no stage lights and just rely on the projector, which looks pretty great but made it nearly impossible to get any good photos.  I did my best, and enjoyed watching them play again regardless.

The temperature in the venue got swelter-y and gross, and I decided I just didn’t have it in me to get into the mass of sweaty dude bodies to make photos of Converge, even though they thrive in small, packed environments like this and crushed the shit out of it.  I just tried to find cool pockets of air wherever I could, and hung out till the end of the night.  Everyone crashed in the buses outside the venue after the show, so I followed suit.

7/10/18 Tuesday

I attempted to get up early enough to beat traffic into SF but failed.  No matter.  I wasn’t in a hurry anyway.  Joined up with everyone at the UC Theatre in Berkeley late in the morning, just in time to join a few of the Amenra guys to watch the Belgium/France World Cup game in a pizzeria a couple blocks from the venue.  We got there pretty early, which was great considering the place was filled to overflowing capacity within 30 minutes.  The entire place was filled with France fans, including two tables of preppy-looking college age kids right in front of us, all speaking French.  Seemed as though our table of nine or so were the only Belgium fans in the place.  It was OK though, because at our table were the biggest and meanest looking group of dudes, and when the French kids in front of us started yelling insults at the Belgian players on the TV they were quickly silenced by the snarling, mocking response of our Belgians. The kids looked genuinely scared, which I found entertaining.  The game ended with a French victory and we all rose and left immediately, as to prevent any resentful Belgians from starting fights with snotty French kids. 

Hurry-up-and-wait commenced back at the venue, and I took the opportunity to do some video interviews of a few band members in addition to editing photos and taking care of other business. 

Another thunderous, epic show on the part of Amenra tonight, and again I got to shoot/film from the stage and the photo pit both.  They sounded unbelievably good tonight. I have to admit, when I first came across videos of Amenra playing live, I was a little put off by the fact that Colin doesn’t face the audience while he performs.  I later learned it’s his way of communicating that his truth doesn’t have to be your truth, and his performance isn’t as much a performance as it is his own process of experiencing the music. Getting a vantage point that the rest of the audience doesn’t allowed me to see how much this is true, that he’s not interacting with the audience at all but submerging himself in the expression of the music and becoming one with it. 

Converge and Neurosis both crushed tonight too, but I absconded before the show was over to head into SF and spend the night with Megan, who I hadn’t seen in a couple weeks.  It was nice to have such a short drive for a change.

7/11/18 Wednesday

I met up with everyone at a coffee shop in the upper Haight district of San Francisco late this morning, and we spent a couple hours wandering the area, doing some shopping and enjoying the unbelievably gorgeous weather.  At one point as we stood outside a shop waiting for Amenra guitarist Mathieu Vandekerckhove to finish buying an amazing Hawaiian shirt, Colin commented that it “doesn’t get much better than this… spending time with friends, enjoying beautiful weather in a beautiful city in a foreign country, without a care in the world”.  I appreciate a person who can appreciate a moment like that.

Back at the venue I managed to find a place to park nearby that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Went to the dressing room to spend some time editing photos and found Amenra’s bass player Levy looking a bit rough around the edges after staying up having drinks with the venue's owner last night. This legendary and (reportedly) haunted music venue in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has a vibe to it that is really one-of-a-kind and it's one of my favorite spots to shoot bands. 

Megan decided to come to the show tonight, and it was delightful to introduce her to everyone.  As with me, they were very kind to her and even gave her some free merch.  Sadly there was no photo pit for tonight’s show, and now that I’m apparently spoiled enough to not want to stand amongst the riff-raff, I opted to shoot primarily video from the side of the stage tonight as well as getting some shots from the back of the ornate and picturesque venue.

It was another epic set by a magnificent group of performers, and I was, again, moved to watch them play.  It was Megan’s first time seeing them, and she was quite impressed as well. It was a little bittersweet to know this was my last night to enjoy this show from this particular vantage point, but that’s how it goes.

Since today was my last show with the tour, it gave me an opportunity to reflect and appreciate the experience I’d had.  I’d been anticipating this day for the last week, anticipating some sadness and FOMO knowing I was going to head back to Ukiah and resume “normal” life again.  by the end of the night I found I was ready to do just that.  It had been a busy, enriching and fulfilling experience, and sometimes those experiences just aren’t meant to last. Also, I was kinda worn out, and needed to rest and regroup after two weeks on the road. 

I made my rounds giving hugs and saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who’d brought me into their world and made me feel so welcome, then hoisted my bags onto my shoulder and walked alone out into the cold San Francisco night.

Tour Days - Pt 1

It’s been almost two weeks since my last blog post, and the last post only covered up to the beginning of July. I’ve become accustomed to chunks of inactivity and quiet between work excursions which is when I usually take the time to write.  The last two-plus weeks have been so full I haven’t had the brain space or time to write and reflect.  Things are finally slowing down, so I’m going to do my best to pull from my often faulty memory and recount my time spent on the road with some of the most respected names in heavy music; Neurosis, Converge and Amenra.

7/6/18

After spending the better part of a week ambling through the beautiful mountains of Wyoming and Montana I made my way west through the baking plains of Idaho and Eastern Washington to Seattle, where I’d arranged to join up with the tour as a guest of Amenra.  Seattle was experiencing its own heat wave, but nothing like what I’d just driven through in Idaho and eastern Washington so I was happy to get a little relief. 

I’d been messaging with Colin, Amenra’s singer and primary creative architect for the last week or two, discussing logistics and some creative collaboration as well.  He was warm, gracious and engaging in a way I hadn’t expected, and it was gratifying to know that he/they appreciated my photography work as well as my willingness to spend time with them making art.  

Colin

Colin

I picked Colin up outside the venue as previously arranged so we could grab some boxes of merch that had been mailed to a nearby UPS store.   After warm hellos and handshakes, we set off across downtown talking about our families and history, diving into real talk right away.  I deeply appreciate a person who tends towards talking about real shit rather than merely engaging in small talk. 

Back at the venue Colin worked on setting up the band’s merch table and we talked about art, photography, and many of the things involved in making Amenra’s visual component work for them.  He presented a number of ideas and perspectives that totally shook my creative world and immediately pulled me into new ways of looking at what I do as a photographer.  Knowing they work with a number of amazing and talented photographers on a regular basis made me feel some pressure (the good kind) to step up my game while I have the opportunity to do so. 

Colin is a deep thinker, connected to his emotional reality and how it relates to his creative process, and very open about what makes him tick, creatively speaking.  His authenticity is refreshing and unique among artists and people in general.  Also, being invited into Amenra’s little world for a while feels like a unique privilege and some kind of validation of my own work. 

The quiet before the storm

The quiet before the storm

Amenra only have 35 minutes to play, which is challenging logistically (they tend to have fairly long songs) and frustrating for those of us who want to hear them play for much longer.  I was fortunate to be the only photographer in the little photo pit for the first night (still not sure why), so I was able to film and photograph them for their whole set.  Their sheer intensity and raw power are almost distracting in a way… I had to remember to keep shooting and not just stand and stare. 

Converge are a different kind of animal… born from the Boston hardcore scene in the early/mid-90’s, they’re one of the seminal heavy music bands that straddle the lines of metal and punk, though they do it in a way that’s uniquely their own and free from the ugly musical pitfalls many of their successors fall into.  They seem to be getting heavier and more compelling with each album as well, and their reputation as a live juggernaut is still well deserved.

Whereas Amenra’s delivery and performance is solemn, sonically monolithic and visually ritualistic, Converge are the raging animal brain, prowling the stage and provoking the writhing, shoving mass of rabid minions below.  These guys know what they’re doing, and they do it well.

Neurosis are the granddaddies of them all, having established themselves back in the late 80’s and pretty much inventing a genre of metal that countless bands have emulated (and sometimes straight-up imitated).  Their live shows are more subdued now than they were 20 years ago, but the energy that was previously devoted to overwhelming people with volume and visuals and hurling bodies is now concentrated on performing intricate and extensive pieces of music with precision and perfection.  They’re still just as fucking heavy too.

 

7/7/18 Saturday

Today was a “day off” for me in Seattle while the band went to Vancouver BC, so I spent the better part of the day parked in a café editing photos and catching up on some other work.  I ended up over-caffeinating myself and thus feeling super shitty all afternoon, which sucked. It was a bummer to feel like I’d spent most of a gorgeous afternoon in Seattle just sitting in the van, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  I spent the evening hanging out with a friend, enjoying tacos and deep conversations.  Since the bands were going to be in Portland by early morning tomorrow, I decided to split my drive and head south tonight, stopping about an hour north of Portland and parking in an empty lot to crash. 

7/8/18 Sunday

Woke as planned and got myself down to Portland by 10 AM.  After spending the morning with my bestie Jeanette, I joined the dudes in taking a walk around the neighborhood of the venue.  We managed to find a Hawaiian-style shave ice shop, where Colin waited in line for almost 30 min to get himself a towering hulk of fruity goodness.  Back at the venue, soundchecks were done, merch was hung, phones were stared at, and the familiar hurry-up-and-wait scenario unfolded. I managed to spend some time talking with a few folks from the crew and other bands, edited some photos from the last few days, and appreciated the fact there was next to the tour buses for me to pull my van in and park for the evening. 

Tonight’s show was another one for the books.  I was able to shoot Amenra from onstage as well as the photo pit in front of the stage, which is my favorite place to shoot from.  I love getting shots of the audience watching the show, and I also love getting shots of Colin performing with his back to the audience (which he does for 85% of their shows) but facing me.  The entire band is magnetic and a joy to photograph, and I love trying to figure out new ways to shoot them every night. 

The next show is Sacramento and those bus-riding boys were gonna be driven down there after the show.  It’s a nine-hour drive, so I opted to split it up and leave the show a bit early to drive part way again.  Driving that long, straight stretch of the 5 through southern Oregon isn’t quite as bad at night as it is during the day.  With some good music and snacks, I drove till 1 AM and parked myself near a gas station in some anonymous little town.

Heading East

Shoved off from Ukiah early, driving through a part of Lake County that’s on fire, and thinking this is how it’s gonna be from now on.  Fires all summer long.

As I got deeper into Shasta County, then Modoc County, I drove through tiny hamlets that for all intents and purposes, look like ghost towns.  There are the little farm towns, and the little towns that must be there for a reason but that reason was probably forgotten long ago, and the sporadic homesteads.

I passed from California into Oregon, winding down a long stretch of highway that looked eerily like Nevada… places where the highway pointed arrow-straight across long valleys, nothing but scrub brush, dust and hills off in the hazy distance, hot.

I pulled off the highway on a little dirt road that wound alongside a river (the Ogden?), took a walk around trying to find a place where the river was accessible through the weeds and rocks that lined the bank.  Finally did and gave myself a good splash-off to get rid of the sweat and grime from the day.  Did I mention it’s hot here?  It’s probably in the mid 80’s at 9 PM.  Luckily Wyoming will be cooler. 

I realized there are some hot springs nearby.  Do I want to sit in hot springs?  Nope.  There are some people there too, and I’m not in the mood. I’ve had a couple cars drive by and stare into my open door which makes me feel oddly exposed.  But I imagine there won’t be many more, so I’m probably OK.

I fell asleep with no covers and the fan blasting me and woke in fetal position with the covers pulled tight due to the temp dropping by 20˚ overnight. Got up and took a few photos of the dramatic sunrise, then ate and collected my stuff and got on the road.  Had an issue with the van that required attending to, which meant spending the day in Boise waiting. It all checked out, so I ran a couple errands then got myself on the freeway towards Wyoming.

I took the main highway for a bit, then jumped on the 20 in order to drive through the Craters of the Moon National Monument as well as to avoid driving on the interstate.  The northeast section of Idaho was gorgeous… long, broad valleys surrounded by buttes and rolling hills with periodic pine forests and sprawling farmland.

The land here is beautiful.  It’s also been irrevocably violated and partially destroyed by 200+ years of white European civilization.  I can’t help but feel contempt for the sons of the pioneers who think their claim to this land is the only valid claim, or that their way of life is some kind of God-given right that should never be questioned.  Their tradition is white supremacy, resource extraction, and religious intolerance.  Some of them might be nice people and good stewards of the land, but their tradition has blood on its hands.

Anyway… As I drove through the giant basins of irrigated land and expanse of wild prairie, the air was the perfect temperature, the breeze was refreshing and sweet, and there were barely any cars on the road.  A deep sense of satisfaction came over me, contentment at driving down this road at this time, seeing the stunning landscapes and spending time alone with my thoughts. 

As I moved north and east towards Jackson, a curtain of darkness obfuscated the distant mountains and giant sheets of rain swept over the lower hills and valleys.  As I got closer and closer, the setting sun and wild storm clouds coalesced into some of the most gorgeous textures and colors I’d seen in a long while.  I love driving into storms sometimes. 

The rain poured down and darkness fell just as I began ascending a mountain range. I had a harrowing journey on rain-slicked roads that wound steeply up and up into the darkness, then dropped down into more steep hairpin turns.  I’d almost stopped to find a spot to camp an hour or so before, because I wanted to see the mountains and surrounding areas instead of passing them in the night, but decided getting to Jackson was the goal and I was gonna stick to it. 

I finally made it to town and connected with the two organizers of Fire In The Mountains at a local bar.  We chatted for a little while and they recommended a place I could drive and camp not too far from there.  Justin encouraged me to drive all the way to the top of this mountain road, where I’d wake to a majestic view of the Tetons on one side and a different mountain range on the other. I said my goodbyes and jumped back in the van, following directions to the road.  It was rough and steep and lumpy, and many of the lower camping spots were already occupied by scores of other campers.  I charged on higher and higher, watching it get later and later.  Finally, after 30 minutes crawling up this dirt road, I decided to abandon the top of the mountain & found my spot.  Leveled out the van and put myself to bed.

 

Finding Myself

6/18/18    

It’s interesting where I find myself sometimes.  I mean, I’m consciously involved in deciding where I go and when, but there are so many moments when I look around and think how awesome/weird/random it is that I end up where I do.  Take, for instance, the weekend before last.  I attended a wedding ceremony of a queer couple whom I’d photographed back in April when they did their legal ceremony in SF.  Megan was there too, as were a number of people I hadn’t seen in many years and many more I’d never met before.  The cross-section of humans in their endlessly varying gender and fashion expressions was a delight and a marvel to behold.  The ceremony itself was moving, heartfelt and sincere.  The celebration afterwards was joyous.  I’d ended up spending the whole weekend on the farm where the ceremony was held and got to give a tour of my van to a few curious guests.  Beautiful sunsets were enjoyed, much food & drink consumed, and love was in the air. 

Then, I find myself packed inside the Great American Music Hall in SF, strobe lights flashing and fog machines billowing and amplifiers crushing eardrums as I photograph New York noise merchants A Place To Bury Strangers. 

A day or two later I find myself on top of a hill overlooking the Ukiah Valley, walking through a picturesque vineyard taking photographs as the sun slowly sinks below the opposing hills.  Silent but for the birdsong and the leaves of nearby oak trees rustling in the breeze. I wanted to stay there all night, but it wasn’t my vineyard and I didn’t have permission to stay.

Then a day or two after that, I’m in the van with Megan as we drive down the empty, curving roads of Siskyou County watching the Trinity River appear and disappear over and over again through the trees. This was her first overnight van trip with me and I wanted to show her all the beautiful places I’d driven through on my visit there last month.  We did a little hiking, a little river swimming (yep, it was cold), and a lot of driving. Quite a delightful little trip.

And a day or so after that, I’m in Santa Cruz loading my van full of Aurora’s belongings, since her school year just ended and she’s got to move out of her on-campus housing.  We take them all to my parents’ house to be stored for the summer while she travels to New York, then Cuba, then Mexico. My sister and her husband are visiting my parents, so the whole gang is there.  Her husband insists on washing my van for me (which is nice of him but a little strange), and I’m happy to let him do it.  I spend a little time doing some projects in the van myself, but don’t end up staying down there for long.

The next place I find myself is on a beach on the Sonoma Coast with Megan and two dear friends, Dan and Sherry.  My birthday is the next day and we’re doing a pre-game hike & impromptu photo session with the ocean and the ladies as subjects.  It’s a gorgeous day and we spend time walking together or wandering off on our own to think or look for stones or watch the waves roll in.  We meet up with Travis and Lauren later in downtown Guerneville and have a birthday dinner at the taco truck in the Safeway parking lot.  The food is amazing and we’re starving. 

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We make our way back to Dan & Sherry’s house for cocktails and a little fire in the back yard where we tell stories of the past and make each other laugh as we always seem to do. The night closes with a smoke on the porch above the redwood-lined canyon and soft conversation.

My 46th birthday arrives slowly and softly, me raising my head to peer out the window at the morning fog, then rising to make breakfast and join Dan on the porch for coffee and more conversation.  Eventually Megan and I leave to take a walk near the Pomo Trail, just a mile or two from the coast.  We find a snake sunning itself on the road, find the large campground all closed up and abandoned, and walk through the trees and meadows in near solitude.  It feels good to breathe the coastal air and walk with each other.

We check into a sweet little Inn at the edge of Guerneville and spend some time lounging by the pool, lounging in our room, then spending a little more time with Dan & Sherry.  Birthday dinner at the taco truck again (because it’s THAT good), and an early bedtime.  Glad to be alive another year.

Terror in the Northwest - Pt. 1

6/6/18 Wednesday

One of the highlights of my year last year was attending the Northwest Terror Fest, a three-day gathering of underground metal bands, performing back to back sets at two adjacent clubs in the Capitol Hill District of Seattle. Not only did I get to photograph a ton of great bands, but I also met some only-on-the-internet friends in person and make some new ones, establishing a connection with the scene up there that continues on.  So now that I’m mobile-living, of course I wasn’t gonna pass up an opportunity to head back to Seattle for another NWTF and make larger trip of it as well. 

I spent the beginning of the week cramming in as much work as I could in order to leave town free and clear of responsibilities, which wasn’t easy but doable.  I was able to break away midday Wednesday and point my nose north, following the route I’d taken a couple months back when I went out with Marty O’Reilly and his band.  I grit my teeth and slogged over Hwy 20 to the I5, barreling (if I could use such a term) towards Shasta, then cutting off northeast at Weed and heading up the 97.  I was met by a major downpour on that first stretch of highway, forcing me to  reduce my speed and keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  I loved it.  The weather eventually cleared allowing me to enjoy the high desert forests and wide open plains, which, in those moments when the clouds parted to allow scant rays of the sun through, turned gorgeous hues of orange and red and blue.

dinner spot

dinner spot

I stopped outside Chiloquin to make myself some dinner and was treated to an amazing view from my perch on the side of the mountain.  It’s a simple thing, but when I find a gorgeous spot to park and eat, it gives me great satisfaction.  Now properly nourished, I continued down the 97 for another couple hours til it started getting dark and I needed to find a place to stop for the night.  There were dirt roads leading off the highway every quarter mile or so, and it was time to play the game of slow down/crane your neck/peep the dirt road for camp-ability without causing an accident.  I rolled the dice and headed off one of these random dirt roads leading out into the state forest, which did end up providing me with a spot. The air was clear and crisp, the traffic lowly rumbling a short distance away and I decided to treat myself to a little stroll down the abandoned road to soak up the smells and stretch my legs after a long day in the van.

Morning greeted me with overcast skies and temps in the upper 30’s. Not what I was expecting, but the van was still cozy enough to where I didn’t need to fire up my heater.  I made breakfast and coffee and got my ass on the road, continuing up the 97 through Bend and into the Mount Hood National Forest again, which was much greener and lush than the last time I came through in April.  Took the winding roads down past the ski resort, then into the outer Portland bergs and past Portland proper, then back on the I5 the few more hours to Seattle.  I got into town a few hours before the show was supposed to start, so I searched out a pay lot near the venue and walked the neighborhood looking for a place to eat.  Went back to the spot that saved my ass many times during last year’s Fest, a little cantina called Bimbo’s where I was welcomed by awesome 80’s goth and industrial music on the PA and a couple delicious tacos on a plate.

Ford

Ford

Eventually it was showtime, and arriving at the venue I realized the first band had already played and I missed them.  Felt kinda stupid.  Ran into my photobro Teddie Taylor, who’d undertaken her own substantial road trip out here from New Orleans, passing through a number of picturesque places and making some great photographs of her trip along the way.  I also ran into Josh Ford, an amazing veteran photographer I’d met in Las Vegas last year.  I’ve long admired his photography work, and he’s a delightful human being to boot.  Our little photographer gang ranged back and forth between the larger upstairs venue (Neumo’s) and the smaller basement venue (Barboza), shooting the first few songs of one band before heading to the other club to save a spot near the front of the stage and wait for the next band to start.  This went on for five or more hours, for three days straight.