Our contributing writer Ali Carter toured the east coast with Boston-based musicians Pariuh and Couples Counseling for two weeks in June. Read her tour diary for a city-by-city account of their do-it-yourself saga, featuring grimey basements, waterfalls, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and more, which we’ll be running in a five-part series over the next two weeks.
On the drive to Asheville we wound through the great Smoky Mountains. The road seemed more like a river cutting through these lush, verdant mounds of earth. As the sun began to set, I noticed a sign pointing to a scenic overlook. There was a quick consensus, and we get off at the exit. We parked and took off in different directions, searching for the advertised breathtaking sight.
Virginia and I started climbing up the ramp to what we supposed was it. We looked out and saw rolling hills of green. Chris and Adam soon joined us, and I took a photograph of the three people I would be spending the next two weeks with–one whom I knew well, one whom I knew decently, and one whom I knew hardly at all. We walked back to the car, and as we were getting ready to leave, an older couple wearing pro-life t-shirts pulled in next to us. Adam found a dead honey bee. He said he was thinking of giving it to a girl he met on tour. Virginia offered him an old film canister to keep it in.
I had heard Asheville described as a sort of hippy paradise in an otherwise conservative state. We pulled up to Thee Haus Ov Dar, a rancher-style house with bright orange flowers out front and a small wooden ramp that turned into a front porch. It was warm, but not humid, and a few people around our age were sitting outside. We walked up and introduced ourselves, and after ogling the house’s expansive tape collection, we started bringing equipment into the living room where the bands would play later that night. As a matter of fact, two of the Dar residents had their own small tape labels–Salvation Salivation, run by North Carolina native Andy Loebs, and Housecraft, Asheville via Florida Jeff Atsin’s project.
The group of seven friends who lived there was an anomaly in the otherwise upscale, family-oriented neighborhood. They were more or less getting kicked out at the end of July. Chris made some tour t-shirts in the downtime before the show, citrisol transfers of the phrase “DIY IS DEAD”, while Virginia, Adam and I went with a couple of the housemates to pick up beer.
People started to arrive and scattered between the porch and living room. Andy started off the night with a DJ set that was akin to a surreal sound installation, mashing up videos from distant corners of the YouTube ether on his iMac. After charged sets by Couples Counseling and Pariuh, Andy and Jeff played synth noise slow-burners as the Madison Square Garden Ov Earthly Delights. Joe Moresi, AKA Tann Jones, who helped set up the show, closed out the evening with a minimal techno drone set, performing to a mostly seated, chilled-out crowd.
Soon after the show ended, the living room transformed into an ad hoc bedroom. Joe and his girlfriend curled up on a mattress that was leaning against a wall earlier that evening, while Chris and Jeff slept on the carpeted floor. Adam crashed in a bed in a spare room, and Virginia and I passed out on the communal tour air mattress.
The next day, inspired by the idyllic scenery, we took a side trip to Hooker Falls, a spot Virginia found about an hour from Asheville. Towering trees and tropical plants with leaves the size of small children lined the trail. We walked past a Spanish-speaking family. The place seemed to exist outside of time and space, and for a moment I entertained the idea that we were in South America. I felt small as we approached the gargantuan falls–this amoral force of nature that could kill us should we venture into its current. After taking a dip in a calmer part of the river, we took off for Athens, our wet bathingsuits clamped in the car windows, flapping in the wind as we sped down the highway.
Athens was a small college town, home to the University of Georgia, but also, I learned, a well for artist types. Go Bar was like a converted garage, with no divide between the walled-in stage/bar area and patio. The place seemed more free-spirited than most bar venues, providing a space for off-kilter, lesser known acts. Tonight also happened to be karoake night. We met Nathan Sheets, who booked the show. Laidback, friendly and not so fond of interviews, he described Couple Counseling’s “hope u never hear this” as his favorite song of 2014 so far.
We went to a recommended Mexican spot called Tlaloc off of the main street that was probably overlooked by most out-of-towners. As Pariuh’s set time approached, it was clear our food wouldn’t be ready it time, so I dropped off Chris, Adam and Virginia at the venue and went back to the restaurant, sipping on a complimentary margarita and chatting with the owner as I waited for our order. I returned to Go Bar, dinner in hand, just in time to catch their performance. I started learning their sets, watching for subtle changes. It amazed me how each night they seemed to bring new energy to each song.
Half Acid, a bizarre choral three-piece with violin, was the closing act. They appeared on stage like goofy apparitions. Their wigged heads poked out of a single floor-length, white sheet, and they looked twice the height of the average human. Aside from an eery rendition of “Amazing Grace”, they sounded like aliens reciting poetry.
The stage was cleared for karaoke. I was surprised by the impressive selection. There was the expected “Remix to Ignition” by R. Kelly, but there was also an incredible rendition of “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie. I picked out “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, and I convinced Virginia, reticent at first, to sing with me.
When we got to the venue, we didn’t know where we were sleeping that night. It wasn’t long before we were talking to people in the crowd, and a few kind locals offered to take us in.
After a quick one and a half-hour drive, we arrived in Atlanta at the rustic house of David Courtright, who makes gorgeous fringe pop as Suno Deko. David wasn’t home yet, and instead we were greeted by his partner Jonathan’s sweet limber pup Jay. The place was a dream. Jonathan’s colorful paintings hung throughout the house. A rock collection was arranged on a mantle in the living room. The walls were a bright white, and sunlight gushed through the windows. The guest room was filled with instruments, books, a typewriter. Chris, enchanted with the upright piano, started playing “Phone Head”. Adam brought in the omnichord from the car, and they worked on the song for a while. Virginia and I lounged in the living room, her reading and I writing.
It wasn’t long before David arrived with juicy peaches he got from work. He showed us his and Jonathan’s hearty garden in the front yard, raised boxes they built themselves filled with carrots, chard, lettuce and more. David casually picked a couple zucchini and brought them inside.
David had received a test pressing of his new 7-inch “Thrown Color,” soon to be released on Stratosphere Records, and we didn’t hesitate to take a first listen. Before we left, David took a moment to write in his journal. He had written every day for the last five years. I envied his discipline. I have stacks of journals, too, of varying colors and sizes, except they are all unfinished.
Writing about people you respect, let alone their art, is tricky. Much journalism–fact worship in the form of reductive, declarative sentences–doesn’t allow for people’s full range of humanity. More often, they become their art–commodities. Sometimes I prefer to experience than explain and preserve the mystery. And then there’s the issue of representation. As I was describing my writer’s dilemmas to David, he said something I’ll never forget: “Whatever I’m afraid of, I approach with 10 times the intensity.”
We picked up David’s equipment at his practice space and grabbed a quick slice from a pizzeria on the way to Big House On Ponce, a collective living/multipurpose arts space that reminded me of the Silent Barn in Brooklyn. The space was beautiful– a large, open room with a few rows of auditorium-style seating and a raised stage framed by black curtains. Suno Deko opened the show with a serenade of soaring vocals and electric guitar loops. Couples Counseling performed to an especially enthusiastic crowd. Pariuh got nearly everyone in the room to stand up and dance. I was taking donations outside part of the time, and even though I had already seen both acts three times already, I was bummed not to be there. Spirit Temple, a one-man casio keyboard/electric guitar project, finished off the night with a cool bossa nova set, his falsetto like a tropical breeze.
We lingered in Atlanta the next day. After getting breakfast in town, we went to Value Village, a thrifting goldmine. Before heading out, we relieved ourselves of the blistering Atlanta heat by taking a dip in the neighborhood public pool, which curiously had to be evacuated on our way out. Every goodbye was harder than the last.
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