On the 400 Bones Single Tour

Gusto just finished our second big tour, an odd collection of ten sets in three states across just over a month.

We were touring to launch our new single ‘400 Bones’. It always feels a little weird to release singles as an instrumental band, it doesn’t really tie into the whole internet marketing machine – we can’t release lyric versions of our songs on Youtube, and if people hear our song in a random playlist they often struggle to find it again later (googling ‘clarinet, violin, uptempo song’ doesn’t really work).

For the most part instrumental song names are fairly arbitrary, check out any of the post-bop albums of the 1960s. Without lyrics, meaning is a little harder to parse, and I often find I’ll write a piece of music with a place-holder title (inst. funk 3) and attach a title to it later based on the feeling it evokes. I’ll occasionally write using a title as inspiration – ie ‘Anathema Anthem’ from Gusto’s first EP, and it’s a nice creative exercise, but at the end of the day does calling a song ‘Amelia’ give it further depth, or imbue it with a stronger back-story?

Marketing music now is all about the strong back-story, so I constructed one for ‘400 Bones’, quite some time after we’d actually recorded the song. The title is actually borrowed from Scottish indie-rock band Frightened Rabbit. Their song ‘400 Bones’ is a brilliant love song, written in Scott Hutchison’s typical despondent self-deprecating style. His lyrics lay out that the human body contains just over 200 bones, so running with the metaphor I called our song 400 Bones for the idea of two people on the dance floor, moving to a song.

This ties neatly into the middle section of the song where the clarinet and guitar solo together over top of the band. We milked this imagery for the live video we just filmed for the song (you have to watch more than half the song for this to make sense).

We recorded the single back in March, and then we took it on tour over June and July.

The tour was a success by all metrics. We played shows, people danced, we sold some merch, we made some new friends and we got to have some truly whacky experiences. It kicked off in Geelong for the most wholesome show of the tour – playing a tiny little community centre with our friends Seal Prince and The Roof Rats. There was about forty people there and the room was at capacity, lots of kids dancing up the front, very fun.

We played the Espy in St Kilda, which I hadn’t seen since it closed down and got refurbished. It’s always a struggle crossing the river, most of my friends and family live north-side, but we had a decent crowd and a fun night until they closed the basement bar and pushed everyone upstairs into the main bar which was blasting contemporary dance music. Bit of a post-gig vibe killer, not a great place to catch up with friends.

We spent a weekend at the snow for Peak Festival – driving eight hours to Perisher to play three sets with a bunch of old friends. Each venue had its particular quirks – the first night was a tiny stage which could only fit half the band, so the other half were just standing on the floor on either side of the stage. The second venue was a literal cafeteria with a couple of hundred people in full ski gear sitting around drinking hot chocolates, and the third venue was a pub which had some unfortunate EFTPOS issue just after we finished playing which meant they couldn’t sell any drinks. Then someone burnt a pizza in the kitchen and they opened all the doors to air the room out, so we were sitting in the freezing cold dining room, beerless and smokey. We got to spend a little time playing in the snow which was cute, and caught up with a bunch of friend’s bands, then drove eight hours home.

We spent one night at an actual castle for Questival, dressed up in cloaks as thousands of peope in witch and wizards costumes danced and completed quests. One of the oddest gigs I’ve ever played, but we committed to the bit and Peny our trumpet player sewed a cloak for everyone in the band. The highlight of the night for me was wandering outside to find a dragon strutting down the walkway. One of my childhood favourites was Anne Mccaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, and it was a particularly misty night, and I got a beef and gravy roll at eleven pm which pretty much made the night for me. We ran into lots of old friends here too.

The final weekend of the tour was a hectic three show run from Canberra to Katoomba to Sydney. We’d planned the weekend around the middle night, a slot at Winter Magic Festival in Katoomba, but I figured if we were taking the band ten hours away from home we should probably tie in some other shows to make it worth it. We played a delightful show at Smith’s Alternative in Canberra – an old bookshop that’s been turned into a café, then expanded into a live music venue. Local Peruvian tropical rock band Chicharrita Club supported, and they were awesome. Such a joyful experience, dual guitars, heaps of percussion and a front man who really liked yelling in between his vocal lines. We’d played a great show at Smiths at the start of the year, and we managed to double our audience for this one, so we came away feeling really happy. Then we had to drive four hours into the Blue Mountains with seven people plus gear in a single car. We had a little car pod for the roof planned to make the journey less squishy, but unfortunately we couldn’t find the key for it, so everything got put on someone’s lap and off we went.

The car surprisingly made it ok, but we were stuck in first gear going up a hill at twenty km an hour and I was a little worried. The accelerator was flat to the floor and I was about ready to ask someone to jump out when we finally summitted, and then drove back down the other side in first gear to save blowing the brakes out. We did have to get everyone out of the car when we finally parked because I couldn’t get it into the parking lot without the back of the car scraping on the tarmac. We checked into the backpackers hostel we were staying at, had a little nap, then wandered into Winter Magic Festival. The weather was delightful, sunny and calm, and it didn’t feel at all like the middle of winter. Katoomba is notoriously hilly, being in the middle of the Blue Mountains, and the festival was completely set on the main street, running straight down the biggest hill, with a couple of different venues off each side. Our venue was the carpark out the back of the Carrington hotel, which was set up with a long marquee that turned into a big wind tunnel as soon as the sun started to go down.

The act before us  was a traditional hand-fasting ceremony, a Celtic tradition where people commit to be together forever and then get their hands tied together. Very wholesome, but it ran twenty minutes over time, which was a little stressful as we were only playing a thirty minute set and we had a strict cut-off as they were pulling down the whole PA system when we were done.

We ran on-stage, got everything set-up and played the wildest twenty minute set ever. It was ludicrously cold, the coldest I’ve ever been onstage, to the point that Laura couldn’t play her clarinet and spent most of the set just jumping up and down. The crowd jumped with us, and when I announced our last song they called and called for an encore. The MC wasn’t having a bar of it because they had to pack down the venue, so everyone left warm and slightly disappointed.

We dropped our gear back to the backpackers then walked up the hill for dinner and beers. By this point most of the festival stalls were gone, but all of the festival goers had gone to the various pubs in town. We managed to skip the line into one of them by barging through the smokers area, got some beers and pizza and settled in for a night. It was super hectic, hundreds of people in lines smushed up against the bar and we sat as a band in the corner doing some colouring with some scrap paper we found on the table. I turned in at ten, various band members kicked on until 2.30. There was an absurd amount of snoring overnight, one band member making little lion noises in the corner bunk and the other six of us lying awake, which we only found out the next day. I mentally debated the ethics of rolling band-mates over to stop their snoring.

Then we did a little sight-seeing, stopped to see The Three Sisters, a weird rock formation on the edge of the mountains, practiced a little clapping in a cave, and drove to The Petersham Bowling Club.

We got to Sydney bang on our set-up time but were waiting for the support act Queen Porter Stomp who were supplying bass and drums. The band was all feeling a little low after the lack of sleep, so we lounged around the venue for a bit, ate parmas and drank free ginger beer until the other band turned up. They were great, a trad-jazzy banjo band with an awesome drummer and a banjo player who played a six string banjo.

They brought a big old crowd with them. Lots of swing dancers who seemed puzzled by our music but gamely had a crack anyway, then we dropped half the band at the airport for the flight back to Melbourne (which I’d accidently booked to Avalon instead of Tullamarine, whoops, apologies for the long drive home), and the rest of the band headed to Newtown to stay in a very grungy backpackers. I took myself out for dinner, a Tokyo Taco which is basically half sushi roll, half taco, all wrapped in a deep-fried slab of seaweed. Not sure if I liked it, which is what I told the fifteen year old behind the counter when he asked.

On the Monday morning we got up at 8.30 and drove the nine hours home. Tour done, no more Gusto gigs till October when we launch the next album!

It’s been nice to be busy, it’ll be equally nice to have a little down-time, although the next three months are looking relatively busy with an EP launch for The Backyard Banjo Club (still got to finish mixing it uh-oh), some fill-in gigs with assorted projects and a trip to Tassie with Casabella – my background jazz band (touring the background jazz? why not!)

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