Svalbard Tour Diary

By on 14 July 2016

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UK hardcore crew Svalbard always seem to be on the road (they’re playing London tomorrow in fact!), so we asked vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry to put pen to paper and document their recent jaunt across the Channel into Europe…

Day One

Touring begins the day before tour starts. First and fore mostly there’s the critical task of picking which band t-shirts you’re going to wear. I lay mine out across my bed and segregate them into “A” and “B” categories. I feel a pang of guilt as Heaven Shall Burn yet again fails to make the suitcase cut. Yes, you have killer riffs but your merch is so grey! And that college font is just too sporty! What if a local stops and asks me where the nearest gym is?

No, this month, I favour the black metal shirts because lets face it: black metal has the best aesthetic. High contrast, spiky white logos on black, gnarly Old English fonts plus goats and skulls aplenty. Who wouldn’t want those things emblazoned across their chest? Like the Spice Girls nicknames, these black metal shirts also help distinguish which “one” I am in the band. I am The One Who Trem Picks.

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Next, I take an incredibly long shower. You’ve got to make the most of this opportunity to wash yourself because you don’t know when your next one will be. It’s lovely and warm and steamy, yet tainted with the awareness that the next shower is probably going to be freezing cold in a squat.

Then I complete the next painstaking task of picking CDs for the van. I always lean towards what I would call “van-friendly” metal – well produced records that will still sound good against the motorway din. Agreeable stuff, like Ghost, that is both easily enjoyed or easily ignored. I also make compilation CDs so that if my band mates hate one song, there’s at least chance they may like the next.

When you tour on a DIY level for a while, you pick up tricks of the trade – such as what vans to hire that are short enough to pass for a “Car” on the Channel Tunnel. It’s exciting stuff; definitely up there with sorting boxes of your own merchandise according to size and popularity. Such are the tasks of the Band Mum. I am rejoicing over this tour because we are only taking breakables. This feels like such a luxury. No lifting heavy cabs! Just lifting heavy amps! What a treat.

We leave the evening before the tour starts because Bristol is on the complete wrong side of the country for getting to the mainland. We crash at Stephen from the band Human Future’s house. He also runs the record label Truthseeker Music, so inevitably every room in his house is stacked full of vinyl. We nestle between the boxes of records and I fail to sleep to the soothing sounds of band mates snoring.

 

Day Two

 

We leave at 10.30am the next day, and arrive in Amsterdam at 7.30pm. There’s heavy traffic and delays getting onto the Channel Tunnel due to Le Mans. Our van is directed into a jam packed holding area; when it comes to boarding a train it appears to be every Le Mans for himself. All this faffing about results in having no time to stop for food. I scoff my entire emergency double pack of Maryland cookies, which I was hoping to save for more than one day into the tour.

I can’t wait to get to the Netherlands. It’s my favourite country. Mostly because of De Efteling; but secondly because of the funny warm snacks they sell in service stations. “Kaassouffle” is a bit like an upmarket Findus Crispy Pancake, and it tastes divine. I feel a bit frustrated as we drive past service stations brimming with these snacks; but also strengthen my resolve to seek a Kasssouffle out after the show.

It’s not hard to miss the venue we are playing tonight. OCCII was originally an intricate, ornate stable designed by Russians, and it honestly looks like the house from Hansel and Gretel. Now it’s a Cultural Centre with DIY punk ethics, and it’s really fucking cool. I’m looking forward to seeing the headliners Totem Skin again tonight. We played with them in Stockholm earlier this year and they are one of the best bands I’ve ever seen.

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We go onstage at around 9.30pm and the sound is pretty awful. Sometimes you get stages where the sound just seems to bounce all over the place and create this indistinct cacophony where it’s impossible to pick anything out. Bad sound makes me feel quite self-conscious on stage. I get paranoid that I’m unaware of being out of tune or playing the wrong note. I try to windmill away my concerns but they fail to dissipate. Still, the crowd are getting into it, which is always amazing to see.

One of the things I pride myself upon is how quickly I can pack my equipment down. I have a whole system for maximum efficiency. That immediate post-performance time is a prime opportunity to sell merchandise. If the band has a front person, they can simply put the mike down and become a sales person. But we don’t in Svalbard. We all have valve heads to cool and pedals to pack away first. I drag my gear off stage in a record four minutes, then dash to the merch table to sweat all over our produce.

Here I have some really lovely chats with people. I’m always amazed when people tell me they love the record. They could have bought it and thrown it in the bin! Or used it as a giant Frisbee! But no, they actually listened to it and want to talk about the lyrics or their fave songs. I just can’t believe it. This is so heart-warming.

It’s now time to watch Totem Skin, who have a different line up on this tour. Usually a sextet, they have streamlined down to a quartet; because another joy of DIY touring is that not every band mate wants to do it all the time. Or sometimes they can’t get the time off work. It’s a struggle, but of course the incredible Totem Skin can make it work. Sometimes I get a bit envious of their guitar tone throughout the set. It’s just so atmospheric yet heavy!

They wrap up their intense set, then it’s time to go back to the merch table. One of my biggest annoyances is people putting their beer on top of our records. Our album is not a coaster! One lady goes one above and spills beer all over our merch. You know when you can predict something happening and see it in slow motion as it does? This is the epitome of that. One record and two t-shirts were instantly unsellable. The Customer Service Assistant in me prevents me from expressing any irritation. I laugh and smile along with beer lady, whilst wringing out our shirts. She has after all, bothered to come out to our gig. She could have stayed in eating Kaassoufle all night, I know what I would have done.

 

Day Three

 

After staying at our friend Moss’ from the band ‘Mary Fields’ house; we have a massive long drive to Jena today. When you’re in a van for 12 hours it starts to feel like some sort of sensory deprivation chamber. Slowly, the conversational madness sets in and we spend a great deal of time discussing the film ‘Deep Blue Sea’. We conclude, in our van crazed state, that it is the greatest movie ever made because it features sharks that can swim backwards.

After just one gig, my bangover has already kicked in hard. I start to worry that I am too old to rock, because I shouldn’t be needing a deep tissue massage after one show. You know everyone has their idealistic dreams for when they sell out? The common fantasy is blowing all your hard rock earned cash on beer, sex and drugs. Well, if I ever sell out, I want a masseuse. That’s what I would spend excess money on – 24-hour back rubs. I shift uncomfortably in the van and try to think of a catchy chorus…

Humorous van highlight comes in the form of changing the words to the indie hit ‘Sit Down’ by James to reflect the popular requests of sound engineers when we play. “All turn down, all turn down!” Still giggling away, we arrive in Jena at a venue in the middle of nowhere. Totem Skin are really late, and as they are providing the backline, there’s nothing to do but chow down on the delicious vegan kebabs the promoter has made for us. Easily some of the best food we have ever had on tour, they were delicious!

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Eventually the gig proceeds, and is surprisingly rammed for a venue nestled in a forest by a lake. The atmosphere is really nice inside, with ’80s classic pop tunes being played on the PA between bands. I mostly appreciate this music choice when it’s time to set up; it’s so much easier to get ready to play without a PA blasting grindcore in your face.

Some people tell me they had driven from Berlin and Chemitz just to come to the gig this evening and I am really touched. They could’ve driven to The Netherlands to eat Kaassoufle instead! I love it when people make such a great effort to support small DIY bands.

A few hours later I am lying awake, contemplating killing my band mates. Two of them are snoring so loudly, completely out of sync with each other. It’s like listening to an ensemble of fog horns playing free jazz. In the end I have to leave the room and sleep on the landing floor. When I say sleep, I mean roll around in a sleeping bag failing to get comfy. Oh well. You win some, you lose some sleep.

 

Day Four

 

It’s a relatively short journey to Kiel. We are playing Kiel Explodes Fest and the line-up is killer. We arrive early in time for the vegan cupcake display and see loads of awesome bands in this huge squat venue. The sound is brilliant, but the toilets are disgusting. I suppose everyone has their priorities. And it’s not really a punk gig if the toilets aren’t gross, is it?

It’s late when we take to the stage. I am nervous about how many people have come to watch us. I sound check by playing Dissection riffs and fluff up the lead of ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’. I hope no one noticed.

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As we play, a drunk man starts doing some really aggressive moshing into people who clearly do not want to be moshed into. I find it really distracting and decide to call him out. Normally I don’t talk on stage because I have the clumsy elocution of a donkey; but I felt I had to say something. I think sometimes people forget that the meaning of a “safe space” is not just somewhere you can express yourself through violent dancing; but somewhere where others can stand and watch without getting hit. Why can’t these two notions co-exist?

Sometimes you get the odd… odd person too. After we played, a man started following me around. He told me he didn’t want to buy a Svalbard shirt but he “wanted to take the shirt off my back”. I don’t think it would have fit him, to be honest. But he made it loud and clear that’s not what he meant. He then revealed that he had spent our entire set trying to take photos up my skirt. What a charmer!

As I sat behind the merch table I got chatting to the band next to me, Parents – all the way from New Zealand. They were really cool, friendly guys and it was great to discover they were also playing a show with us the next day. One of the best things about touring is making new friends and connecting with people through music.

Amygdala closed the festival with a crushing set, then it was time for Standing Around Doing Nothing – which is a staple part of tour. There is so much waiting around when you are trying to pack down and leave a gig. Everything seems to take forever. Especially when you have had very little sleep. We ended up leaving the venue at 3am, to stay at the promoters house with one of the other bands. One of the other bands who also snore like fog horns. Oh my God! What is wrong with these people?! How do they not wake themselves up with their high volume honking?

 

Day Five

 

Luckily, the final gig in Duisberg was a matinee show. These are brilliant! All shows should be matinee shows! You get to be in bed at a reasonable hour – not very rock ‘n’ roll I know, but it’s something that I desperately needed at this point. The show was held in a University Campus venue, there was a Vegan BBQ and some excellent bands. Parents played a corker of a set, they were so good I didn’t want to go on after them.

Alas, I struggled through our set, it was difficult to find the energy to perform on such little sleep. The mini-jack between my effects pedals broke; technical failure is an annoying occurrence on stage but at least it was the cheapest element of my set up to replace. I also start to feel my voice going, which is quite alarming. I chide myself for not having a more developed technique; but at the same time: I feel like part of screaming is the letting go, the emotive release that doesn’t happen when you turn it into a controlled noise.

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By 8pm, we say our goodbyes and hit the road to get to the cheap F1 hotel we have booked en route to the Channel Tunnel. Of all the places we have stayed this tour, the hotel is the worst. It’s grim, and thanks to added City Tax, it ended up costing 98 Euros to stay in this Museum of Various Stains.

And that was that, we headed back to the UK. There was no particular high to end the tour on, but we had a smashing time and got back in one, albeit sleep deprived, piece. After doing three European tours this year, I felt relieved to be coming home and happy about concentrating on writing our new album now instead of hitting the road. But mostly I was excited about putting the washing on, going to bed and sleeping for a small eternity.

Svalbard play London’s Unicorn tomorrow

‘One Day All This Will End’ is out now on Holy Roar

You can find Svalbard on Facebook

About Kez Whelan

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