Misadventures, Missed Turns And How Not To Be Famous On Tour:
A Passage to India: Part II
By Xiren with Ben Jansen
To recap, last year I joined a handful of international indie bands for a 20 city tour of India hosted by WOA Records and supposed Indian star Oliver Sean. What could go wrong?
I arrived exhausted at my Mumbai hotel and met my backing band, Mana3. Wonderful people. The next morning we caught a flight to Goa. After a mid-route change of hotel plans (hmm…), we arrived and met Lloyd, the “new” tour manager from WOA and Edson, the all-access documentarian. Fine. However, Edson was filming with an archaic camera that had no chance of producing broadcast quality footage. Hmm…
We were told to get settled and meet pool side at 4PM for a kick off meeting. We were excited – but nervous. Bands had come from around the world without communication yet from WOA directly. Three hours later, Lloyd arrived and prepared us to meet Oliver Sean (you sit here, you sit there). We waited. And waited.
Oliver arrived much later offering no apologies or explanation. He pronounced that in a couple of weeks we would be celebrities in India, playing a fully produced, filmed concert with a 30,000 strong audience! We sat stunned, speechless. He described a tour that would be legendary and quite possibly…impossible. I asked Oliver about Pete Saunders and Alan Alvarez, the two people I had coordinated with in the States and was told that they would be unavailable during our trip. They were (I kid you not) on “a secret expedition” and incommunicado. All communications would go thorough Oliver for now. Hmm…
Lesson Three: 35 days in a hotel is not a tour. Abso-fricking-lutely nothing happened after that – well, almost nothing. Shows were cancelled daily. We had a small press conference pool side for a local access cable show and some of us were interviewed on a local radio station. It was painfully quiet until quite suddenly we were kicked out of our hotel! While I can’t confirm it, it may have had something to do with the fact that WOA’s big advertising effort for this 30,000 person rock concert was one illegible, dark, black and green billboard upon which our hotel had a small invisible bottom corner logo. Quite possibly that didn’t impress the hotel who had traded that advertising for lodging and morning meals for 7 bands.
Lloyd called us as we were leaving the hotel and told us that WOA had moved us to another hotel.
Great. Three weeks into a six week tour we hadn’t played a single show. Prior to the tour we’d been shown a full calendar playing paid shows coast to coast all over the country – about 3-5 a week! Demoralized, we realized that there really was no tour.
We complained. Oliver told us to sit tight and remain “rock stars” while his team did the work. On one fact-finding call to Oliver he said to me “give me the names of anyone who has a problem and I will kick them off the tour!” I experienced a nauseating sense of déjà vu – these were the exact words “Pete Saunders” said to me in a call 2 months ago. Things clicked: we can’t meet any of our original coordinators from WOA because they never existed! Pete Saunders/Alan Alvarez was Oliver. Oliver was WOA!
I shared my epiphany with the others and we agreed that Oliver Sean needed a chance to explain…about anything. I called a meeting, and Oliver arrived and listened while we delicately expressed our concerns about a tour that looked precarious. Oliver delivered the same rhetoric as before, not missing a beat. We felt conned and one band nearly beat him physically, but we were able to cool them off and let him leave.
Lesson Four: Always have an escape plan. There was one show left in Mumbai that hadn’t yet cancelled, so Mana3 personally confirmed the show without Oliver. We weren’t afraid of Oliver, but his calls were getting stranger and stranger like, “Xiren, don’t you worry if something were to happen to Mana3, it won’t affect you. You are the star”. What?
We played the show at Jazz By The Bay in Mumbai. Whoopee. I immediately took myself and gear to Mumbai International Airport to fly home. A simple plan. Of course it didn’t work. After hours of bribing employees to move my flight, a successful passport kidnapping & ransom exchange by my hotel (don’t ask) and with 40 minutes left before takeoff, I threw my baggage on the scale. The rep looked up from his screen and said, “That’ll be 20,000 rupees” (about $400). I opened my wallet to find no credit cards – they’d been stolen somewhere along the way and my hotel took the last of my cash. My gut did a summersault and sweat froze on my skin. “Desperate” didn’t describe me. I looked the guy square in the face, told him I had no money and pointing to my Telecaster said, “See that guitar? I bought that just after high school and it’s been around the world and at every show I’ve ever played. I will leave that guitar and everything else behind to get a boarding pass home.”
I bet it had more to do with the look in my eyes than my words, but the man shut down the ticket line and escorted me through the airport having frequent, curt conversations with the luggage handlers while handing them cash. Temporarily disoriented, I finally realized what was going on. I asked, “Are you paying for me out of your own wallet”? He smiled and answered “Yes, but don’t worry, I have a big heart”. I love that my disastrous trip ended with such a redeeming act of benevolence by a true angel. This was the real India.
Since then, bands have complained to the Indian Board of Tourism as well as Sonicbids.com who claimed a thorough vetting process. Oliver Sean claims that we are all drug addled felons and racists. Nothing meaningful has resulted. WOA still exists and tours are still planned.
Indie music, what a life!
Follow along with this article on www.xiren.net/india