Misadventures, Missed Turns and How Not To Be Famous On Tour:
A Passage to India: Part I
By Xiren with Ben Jansen
My opinion: Slum Dog Millionaire was the best movie of 2008 and proved fairly accurate – except you can’t smell Mumbai’s open sewer system in the theater. It is simply amazing what you can’t know from 8000 miles away…
In the Spring of 2008, a company called WOA Records recruited me for a tour that promised to deliver a respectably broad 20 city tour of India with 10 other international acts.
Fast forward to a brief history of hell: My 5 weeks in Southern India would include facing extortion, hallucinations, being thrown from a cab with a thousand pounds of music gear, losing my credit cards and – more tragically – losing my sense of humor. This is the story of a con man, sacred cows on the beach, and an Indie musician who set out on a hobbit’s (mis)adventure to learn life lessons.
It always starts with flattery and the allure of success. For those of you who have been selected through a Sonicbids process it’s kind of like seeing a Sasquatch: other people have reportedly seen one but it’s rare; a personal sighting. If unfamiliar with Sonicbids.com, it’s a fee-based online gig resource allowing musicians to browse, search and submit to tours, clubs, festivals and other things in just about any corner of the world.
After paying a $20 submission fee, WOA Records chose me for a 20 city tour in India leaving just after Christmas. Wow! Kick ass. As an avid Yogi I had always wanted to visit India, and what better way than on an international tour – it’s a big reason I signed up to be a musician! After assurance from Sonicbids that their vetting process was thorough, albeit “secret”, and after a few phone calls with the Indian Tour company, I was sold. I bought my plane ticket, started my malaria meds (warning: may cause hallucinations), and coordinated my backing band (a great group from New Zealand, Mana3, also on tour). Then, of course, came a thousand other details to wrap up including finishing my latest recording release, Trip-R.
Lesson One: trust that feeling in your gut. In retrospect, there were many clues that this tour smelled funny. When WOA rescheduled the initial start due to the Bhutto assassination, I began getting phone calls from other bands around the world who were, like me, preparing for the tour. Through Myspace, Skype and dozens of emails, bands expressed clear concern about the lack of details around travel arrangements, contract concerns, and performance details. The great unknown of India loomed large, and these concerns played heavy into the general anxiety preceding any tour, just amplified about ten times. So, I anointed myself ambassador for the other bands and called the tour company in hopes of finding clarity for all.
I remember Pete Saunders of WOA International saying “give me the names of anyone who has a problem and I will kick them off the tour”. Whoa, there big fella… I figured that Mr. Saunder’s response represented a typical overworked and underappreciated overreaction, combined with possible cultural differences. Therefore, I handled it with an appreciative comment and continued forward. (Note to self, anytime respectful, clarifying questions are met with brutal threats of termination, something ain’t right in the Shire). Oh Sonicbids, you beautiful little oasis for all musician’s booking needs. You bastian of value and champion of all things Indie, how hath thou forsaken me?
Eventually, WOA appointed a tour manager, Alan Alvarez, who published tour itinerary, modified contract points and, along with Pete Saunders, gave reassurances that this is “how things work in India”. We were back on track and ready to roll, or so we thought.
Lesson Two: Guns don’t kill people, cabdrivers do. The flight to India took over 24 hours and we arrived in Mumbai at about 1AM. A crowded city of 20 million people, humid 100 degree weather, 50% homelessness and an open sewer system, Mumbai comes on like a SEAL Team assault on your senses. After prepaying for the cab before leaving the airport and never, ever, taking my eyes off my stuff, I managed to load 2 guitars, a pedal board, my laptop & recording gear, a duffel full of gig necessities, my personal luggage and a 35 lb. power transformer without incident. Let me tell you, the taxis rides in Mumbai go toe to toe with any modern amusement park ride, bar none.
My Mumbai cab looked like a car on the outside but lacked most of the “vehicle identifiers” typically associated with an American car like gauges, a radio, or any other interior comforts like seat belts! It was kind of a big, dated-looking bumper car powered by a lawnmower engine… but this bitch could zip. Wow! I found myself being transported back to my childhood visions of starring in Raiders of the Lost Ark. No rules, just rough roads and the mystery of the night. Instead of getting me to my destination, however, it turned out that cabbie had no actual idea how to get to my hotel and only spoke Hindi. Then, the yelling started.
Whether it was his frustration over being stuck working the night shift, or that he was lost at 3AM with a foreigner in his cab or because I wasn’t acquainted with our hotel route, I got a yelling like I had propositioned his daughter. After my initial Hindi scolding, he pulled over and had me show my iPhone screen to 2 men sleeping on an abandoned car, and then proceeded to yell at them. Apparently he asked for directions from these gentlemen and, though the car sleepers appeared confident in their reply, cabbie didn’t get what he wanted. So, we stopped several more times so the “rich American” could wave his iPhone out the window at a couple more people to ask for directions. Somehow, around 4AM, we arrived at the hotel where I met up with the cavalry – my backing band, wonderful people who had been here before and could show me the ropes.
After a day in the big city we excitedly headed south to Goa, India’s coastal version of LA. In GOA, we would rendezvous with the other bands and finally meet face to face with all of our tour coordinators that we had been communicating with online. I think all of us expected that this trip would capture a bit of the exotic, but none of us predicted what would happen next.
Stay tuned for next month’s installment, A Passage to India: Part II. Here’s a primer:
Q: What do Pete Saunders, Alan Alvarez and Prometheus have in common?
A: They only exist in mythology.
Follow along with this article on www.xiren.net/india