Road worriers

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  September 4, 2008

Well, almost nothing. Parish admits that, as gas prices have crept up (an increase of roughly $2.50 per gallon since they started touring six years ago), it hasn’t been uncommon for whomever is manning the pump to nudge the gauge just to the point where the needle taps the “F” — but no farther. “It makes us feel like we’re full.”

This sort of psychological fuckery is crucial to surviving the types of tours that Ho-Ag undertakes — that is, good old-fashioned ones. Skronky, bombastic musical tendencies aside, Ho-Ag is, at heart, the very model of a modern minor indie-rock band: five members, a shitload of gear, and nary a trust fund in sight. Like the majority of independent bands who tour, Ho-Ag’s itineraries are arranged largely through MySpace — without the help of booking agents, tour publicists, radio support, or written guarantees of payouts (let alone riders). In six years, Handsome and Co. have embarked on seven national tours — most of them reaching into the six-week range.

While Handsome’s net emissions over the years might jeopardize Ho-Ag’s chances to headline Greenpeace’s company picnic, the band has learned to approach its travels with an impressive level of personal efficiency. Derryberry stockpiles vacation days to grant himself the illusion of a weekly rock paycheck; guitarist Kristina Johnson scored a satellite card from her employer to put in full days of work from the van; and the rest of the band squirrels personal cash aside to assure creature comforts (such as extra guac) that small performance payouts can’t.

“You don’t make money doing this,” notes Parish. “Your first three or four tours are just an investment. You have to keep going back to these places — and that doesn’t mean they’ll get better each time.”

Sometimes, they get much worse. Dates get abruptly cancelled, or mysterious “special guests” on bills turn out to be products of a lazy booker’s imagination — or the promoter’s dad’s band. One time in Oakland, Parish got jumped for his wallet and phone by a gang of brutes right outside the apartment where he was staying, landing him in a distant hospital for five days. (“People are always getting shot in Oakland,” he says, recalling how he was kept in the hospital awaiting surgery for the better part of a week. “So I was never next in line.”) He actually suffered pretty serious injuries: three weeks’ worth of shows were called off, hundreds of dollars were lost, and Parish spent six weeks with his mouth wired shut.

“You don’t think about these types of things when you’re 13 in Lima, Ohio, dreaming of touring while reading your Black Flag book,” says Derryberry, who currently is scratching his tour itch by booking his solo electronic project Zoig-Ma-Noig on as many Boston dates as he can manage through the month of September (see how he’s doing at myspace.com/zoigmanoig). Despite the frequent hardships, he maintains that touring in a band remains the best way to travel, and that a little optimism can go a very long way — maybe even further than Handsome.

“I just feel like real life sucks,” he adds, decisively, “but being out there with your friends is awesome.”

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