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.
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. They are a band I love and respect and they’ve worked with some amazingly gifted photographers and filmmakers during the course of their 20+ year career, so in my mind the bar was set pretty high from the get go.
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 engaging in small talk.
We grabbed the merch, then dropped it and him back off at the venue. It was impossible to find myself a parking spot right next to Pike’s Market on a Friday afternoon, so I drove about 10 min away and took a Lyft back to the venue. Colin introduced me to Neurosis’ and Converge’s tour managers who were very kind and gracious to me. While Colin worked on setting up the band’s merch table, 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 afternoon drifted into evening as soundchecks were done and dinners were eaten, and Colin manned the Amenra merch booth for the entirety of the show, save the time he was playing. This struck me as unusual, especially because it seemed like he would need some time to get into the space that performing requires. But nope. He can get himself there just fine.
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 entire evening (still not sure why), so I was able to film and photograph Amenra 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.
Because all the bands are traveling in buses, this presents a logistical problem for me, generally speaking. At the end of the night, the bands load up and are driven to the next city while they all sleep on the bus. Since I can’t do that, I have to leave the show early and try to go to bed early so I can get up early to meet with them later the next day. Tonight, however, they were heading to Vancouver BC and I wasn’t joining them since I hadn’t got my passport renewed in time for this trip. At least I was able to drive half a mile or so to my favorite neighborhood to crash in and settled in for the night.
Today was a “day off” in Seattle, so I spent the better part of the day parked in a café editing photos and catching up on some other work. I’d slept poorly last night, having stayed up till 1:30 after weeks of going to bed between 9:30-10:30. I decided I needed a good jolt of caffeine, so I got a huge Americano and sat down to work. About 2 hours later I was feeling pretty terrible and couldn’t figure out why until I realized I’d had too much caffeine and my body was freaking out. I’m pretty sensitive in general, so I’m usually careful about what I put into my body. Somehow I’d crossed the line and I was feeling sick enough to need to just head back to the van and lay down until the feelings subsided. 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 my friend Nica, enjoying local tacos and deep conversations well into the evening. 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.
Woke as planned and got myself down to Portland by 10 AM. Stopped at my bestie Jeanette’s house to have a long-deserved shower and to hang with her for a little bit. We had an enjoyable morning and early afternoon together before I headed to the venue to join the dudes in taking a walk around the neighborhood. We checked out some used clothing stores, a huge bookstore, and 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.