Chain and the Gang: Tour Diary

Fiona Campbell is originally from New Zealand, where she drummed in the band the Coolies. She eventually moved to NYC, and took a break from drumming to become a vital part of the all ages music scene – and a professional aesthetician. Campbell worked with promoter Todd P, helping run venues such as Death by Audio, and co-organized SXSW showcases and the 2010 MtyMx fest in Monterrey Mexico. Later on she booked and promoted shows at her home/warehouse space, Dead Herring. During this period she returned to drumming, formed the duo Coasting with Madison Farmer, and later joined Vivian Girls and toured with both bands extensively. She currently drums in Chain and the Gang and co-runs the awesome record label M’Lady’s with bandmate Brett Lyman in her new hometown of Portland, Oregon. Here’s a bit from her on her most recent tour. Enjoy!

The day before Chain & The Gang leave for our European tour we are woken up by loud banging, car engines revving, and is that a horn section? Howard University of Washington DC is having their Homecoming and the parade was passing right outside the house, and we are treated to several amazing drum lines, marching groups and dance teams. Growing up in New Zealand we didn’t have anything like this and I was always a little jealous of fellow drummers who got their introduction to rhythm through their high school band and marching groups, I think mostly for the rad uniforms.

All members of Chain & The Gang are permanent, but for the purposes of this particular tour, the personal includes Singers Ian Svenonius and Katie Greer, guitarist Brett Lyman, bass player Fabiola Reyna and myself, Fiona Campbell on drums. We will be joined by our driver Nuno Geraldes from the Prague based tour company Fluffwheels. Even though our origins and current dwellings include Washington DC, Portland, Detroit, New Zealand, Mexico, Portugal and Manchester, UK, for the purposes of this tour we are a group, a group from the USA, carrying our musical messages to new people in old countries.

We land in Berlin and we are staying with a US expat who is living in East Berlin, her apartment was previously occupied by Stasi, being of high enough rank to live somewhere where you can see into the West. She takes us on a Squat tour and the East Side Gallery, the largest remaining piece of the Berlin wall.

I anxiously await the arrival of my drum kit at the club, Festsaal in Kreuzberg, the scene of our first show, I don’t know what it will be like, I hope this will work out! I have traveled with only my cymbals, a set of very bright Istanbul Xist’s, they sound awesome live. Somehow I scored a sponsorship with C&C Drums, where they lend me back line around the world! They are an awesome small scale company run out of Tennessee who make the most beautiful modern drum kits I’ve ever seen. Andres from Southern Records arrives with the gear, I cross my fingers and open the cases. To my delight I find myself in possession of a Turquoise and silver striped Sprakle kit with a 20 inch extra long kick, 16 inch floor tom, 14 inch 6 inch deep snare, and a 13 inch rack tom, its so pretty!!!

Opening the show is New York homies K-Holes which adds to the familiar feeling the very international Berlin already has. The place fills up and the show goes off well, I felt a little stiff and nervous, but I think the jet lag helped combat that. Our merch table gets slammed after the show and we sell out of the few copies of Ians new book we are carrying “Super Natural Strategies to Making a Rock n Roll Group”, which isn’t out till January. We also have with us Chain & The Gangs 3 Albums, 2 singles, a Tape, some t-shirts, Ian’s first book “The Psychic Soviet” and Fabi’s new magazine “She Shreds” all about female guitarists, quite a good selections of souvenirs and artifacts.

We are playing in a giant World War II bunker, its 20 storeys high, and the width of a New york city block. Inside is an audio engineering School, a music instrument store, a cafe and several venues. The promoter tells us this is where his Grandmother along with the rest of the town took shelter during the war. Out “backstage” area is a tiny weird concrete circle of a room that the XX apparently playing in once, and off to the side of it was a beautifully kept roof garden that overlooked the city. After the show I work on my “break down” dance with the sound guy. Being the drummer I’m usually on stage breaking down first because I take the longest and I take up so much room with all my cases. Each night I have to navigate a small space, usually at the same time as the sound person is breaking down the mics. I attempt to do this without standing on their cables, wacking a mic with a cymbal or accidentally giving them an ass in the face when we are both bending down for something. I love setting up and breaking down a drum kit, its like when Leonardo DiCaprio, spins his totem in the movie “Inception”, especially with this lingering Jet lag, it truly feels like a basic repetitive connection to reality.

Its fucking freezing, beautiful, but fucking freezing, and I’ve been lying to myself about not being sick. A hacking cough has settled most inconveniently into my chest. Bah. They insisted we arrive early for a sound check then greeted us in utter surprise we showed up on time, we are the first band to do so in 6yrs, curse all the people who created the term “band time”. Chain & The Gang has a stream lines live sound, we are a sound guys dream, the guitar and bass have no pedals, and the kit is classic basic set up, most of the time I don’t need anything in the monitors, unless its a massive stage and we are far way from each other. So these standard European 2 hour sound checks are affording us a lot of play time, what do European bands do with all this sound check time? There’s only so much you can figure out in an empty room. The openers are called “Beyond Pink” a kick ass local all female band who remind me a little of The Hysterics. The show reminded me of ones back in Auckland, NZ, there was one incredibly drunk excited guy yelling at us the whole time and the rest of the crowd was toned down seemingly trying to counter act this guy and disassociate themselves from him. Oh, I remember that horrible feeling of being responsible for your town drunk, I also think I was that guy a couple times.

We arrive early and spot a church with ornate gold staircase spiraling up the outside, an excellent place to get a birds eye view of the city, my most favorite thing to do upon arriving in any city. The steps inside are wooden and ancient, they wind up forever, from the top we can see Tivoli Gardens an old timey baroque amusement park, the shimmery Royal Bibliotech as well as the punk squat heaven and alternative economic district of Freetown, Christiania. Walking through the arches of Christiania, it feels way more chill than I had expected, families meander taking photos and checking out the art galleries and shops. Ian points out the building his band Make Up had played in the 90s, a young band was loading in gear with hand pulled elevators. It wasn’t until after I passed a clothing market I saw a big sign saying “You are leaving the EU, and entering the Green Light district”. There were 3 rules, 1 No Photographs, hash is still illegal, 2 No running, it causes panic, 3 be kind to each other, pretty good rules I thought. The cobble stone streets had little stands peppered on them people selling different kinds of buds assembled in different big glass jars, and hash in the hugest bricks I had ever seen. At the end of the cobblestone street was a food cart pod, not dissimilar from the ones at home in Portland. Tonight we are playing at a student cafe/restaurant of some type, we are greeted with shrimp and onion sandwiches for dinner, I have one bit and decide against it. What is the etiquette of sharing a backstage with another band? All in together now, is what I glean as the drummer in the first band takes off her pants in front of me and slows cigarette smoke in my face, good thing their band was great.

Our show tonight is in a bar that used to be a punk squat that’s been turned into a youth center 8 years ago. In the basement is practice spaces, the ground floor is the bar and venue, the 2nd floor is a kitchen and lounge, and the top floor is a computer room and sleeping rooms with mattress for us. The awesome team at the Die Friese have made us a home made meal of vegan goulash with Kanoodles, these delicious balls of delciousness, and pumpkin and ginger soup. I chew on some of the raw ginger, it helps my throat as I woke up this morning with no voice, thank christ I don’t sing in this band. I cannot over state how much a good meal can mean to the group, and its a tall order to satisfy the diverse needs of a group in one prepared meal, but this meal more than hit the spot and we are revived as a unit. Breman is the town in the Hans Christian Anderson story where the four animals leave their home to become famous musicians, everywhere there are t-shirts and toys and posters of a rooster standing on a cat, standing on a pig, standing on a donkey. I like this town alot, I hope the Die Friese gets to stay open, brand new condos are opening up in two weeks across the street, they have put up a big sign outside the venue welcoming the new people to the neighborhood so they know there’s a venue there. But this is the city life cycle, first the artists and bands move in, then the cafes and commerce to satisfy them, pushing the rent up and pushing out the previous groups and culture, then the yuppies move in with often no room for coexistence.

We roll up to a deserted industrial area, the vibes are bad, we are the only non-cover band to have played here all year, and I can’t find Mannheim in my European guide book. The club is one of those smokey black boxes, they are blasting some kind of industrial techno, the sound guy and bar people don’t seem too pleased at our arrival. We have a quick sound check and decide to go check out our accommodations, we arrive at a set of apartments, we are told we are staying on the top floor. We get to the top of the 6 floor building and open the door to a plush private two storey apartment, what the hell? We each get a room and I call shotgun on the bathtub for later. We get back to the club and its packed! We play the fun-est show of tour so far, the audiences energy was bursting, Europe is full of surprises.

Words by Fiona Campbell

Intro by Lisa Schonberg

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