Road worriers

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  September 4, 2008

“Next time, I’d like to actually incorporate the bike into the performance. I’d like to get it so that someone has to pedal and power the beats the whole time.” Geissler says this studiously, as though the schematics for his pedal-powered punk party have been on the drawing board in his head for some time.

“I want to be completely self-sustainable.”

080905_audrey_main
The need to be heard
Starring Audrey Ryan

“Good, fucking, luck.”

Audrey Ryan’s message to touring hopefuls might sound a tad brusque, but she oughta know: having taken upwards of 30 tours across America and Europe, and accruing thousands of fans in dozens of regional fan bases all over the world in the process, the Somerville-based singer/songwriter/one-woman-phenom has had to make some serious changes to maintain her upward momentum, and preserve her goal of living as a full-time touring musician (hence that “one-woman phenom” bit).

After touring with a full band in a van in those halcyon collegiate $2-per-gallon days (“We could only do it because it wasn’t our job”), Ryan noticed that it wasn’t so much that the returns were diminishing — they were never even there to begin with. She went from touring in two cars, to a 15-mpg van, to a 30-mpg Subaru Forester (and is currently eyeing a Jetta). She also streamlined her act, transforming her lush, rootsy (and more expensive) full-band presentation into a rich one-woman panoply of guitar, accordion, banjo, keys, vocals, and looped beats — with occasional help from boyfriend Stephen Brodsky (of Cave In) on guitar.

“There is a survival aspect to doing this,” says Ryan. “In hindsight, tours are funny; but at the time, they can be petrifying — especially traveling alone as a woman. People have this romantic idea of how it is, and I basically have to tell them there’s nothing wrong with being a local artist. You really have to be kind of a whore to make it work full-time.” For Ryan, this whoredom entails playing, playing, and more playing — café stages, restaurants, breweries, festivals, fairs. This past year, Ryan didn’t even keep a proper apartment, crashing here and there in between eight months of shows, scattered here and abroad. Full-time touring doesn’t earn you a badge of honor any more than it will a Purple Heart. If anything, it’s more like a job — it earns you more work.

And the job market kind of sucks right now. Ryan groans over a statistic she heard that one in five Americans play guitar, and the real-world implications of such a number for someone trying to make a name for herself are stultifying. Faced with a future jeopardized by an increasingly diluted music market, and buried in e-mails from songwriters inspired by her consistently booked schedule to seek her advice on how to get started on the road, Ryan had no choice but to write the book on it.

The Need to Be Heard, in its current unedited state, has Ryan a bit concerned. She worries about its tone sounding too cynical, even as she stands behind its stern warning to those who might follow in her van tracks. As a guide for newbs, it soundly balances what reads like hard-learned DIY-touring lessons (“Don’t go South in the summer”; “You will inevitably end up eating shitty food”; “Crash at ‘fans’’ houses at your own risk”) with more heavily levied bitchslaps (“If you are a hack or a boring shoegazer, keep it in your living room”; “If the music you play is inevitably derivative, at least create an original image”; “Blame American Idol”).

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