“The further we can go, the better,” he says. “If we are going to lose money, I’d rather do it somewhere that I’ve never been. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors to touring: you have to sacrifice so much to look busy in order to attract people and achieve something that will actually make you busy. It’s hard to keep it up.”
Even with a carefully compiled list of cost-cutting strategies (a $1 taco can be made into a deluxe salad with the right salsa bar; WalMart parking lots allow 24-hour parking — and sleeping; merch moves better at house shows), Penna is fully aware that the numbers don’t add up — or, rather, they do. They add up a lot.
“There are a lot of bands touring right now,” he says. “I’m always amazed by how many. It’s good in some ways, but you can also see it like cholesterol in the blood of the music industry.” Currently the band is hoping to antioxidize the situation here a bit by taking their show to Europe and Brazil, but gas prices be damned, they’re not giving up on the States.
“I’d play 360 days if I could,” says Penna. “Come home for Christmas and Thanksgiving. New Year’s, maybe. No, I’d probably do a show on New Year’s. For me, being onstage for that 30 minutes is all that matters. It makes you a better band.”
HUMANWINE don’t have a cute name for their vehicle, either. They just call it home.
In a warehouse lot in Allston sits a 45-foot Blue Bird school bus, painted black and guarded by Fern, a mini-greyhound/Chihuahua mix, prone to sunning herself by the back bumper. When Holly Brewer and M@ McNiss scored this monstrous conveyance off of Craigslist for $1500, all they could see was potential — and the past few months have been spent collecting spare plane parts, wood scraps, and anything recyclable to bring that potential to freewheeling fruition: that is, a fully sustainable, highly affordable, ostensibly perpetual touring model. Life on the road, indeed.
“We’re in Rome,” Brewer says metaphorically, leading me onto the bus. “And it’s falling. We need to make art now — seize the day.”
Since Brewer was 14, she has performed in punk bands, criss-crossed the country “singing like a diva” over techno tracks, joined the puppet-heavy Discordia Circus, and, four years ago, found herself in Boston, where accolades for HUMANWINE’s theatrical/political/punk-pop pile-on have piled up and show offers roll in with assuring steadiness. Thinking about this freaks her out a little bit.
“I’ve never been anywhere this long,” she says, stunned. “But I guess it’s like any other city — you get there and it’s big, but then it shrinks, shrinks, shrinks!” Brewer and husband/bandmate McNiss have been in perpetual motion for years, and touring has become the natural mission at the heart of their lifestyle.