Gary Benchley, Rock Star

Right Before the Tour

Ah, the glory of indie-rock touring: the drugs, the groupies, the rock. But are all those things negated when you’re forced to wear costumes? Singer, songwriter, fashion plate Gary Benchley prepares to take the country.

Slake started recording in early January, and, according to Donald, had been doing fantastic work. I’d heard their previous album a few times, and while it was a little too much with the drawn-out guitar solos, they were a solid group with Seattle roots. Kevin, their guitarist, could play like the Byrds one minute and Kurt Cobain the next. And while their vocals were whiney, the lead singer, Colin, could deliver a line with authentic feeling. They were pop with enough grit to take the guilt away, and Pitchfork had given them a 7.5 for their first album, And Tomorrow Until the Stars.

Slake, Schizopolis, and Original Syn. We were going to be a merry band of bands, delivering rock across the nation. I fully expected us to bond, to get along. We could teach them what we knew, and they could share their knowledge of the road with us.

As February ended, Slake was finishing up in the studio, and everyone at Original Syn was hoping to take their new album directly to the bank. We went out for drinks. Along with Colin and Kevin came Brad, who played bass, and Mike, their drummer. We met up at Rowboat, on Smith Street in Brooklyn. Brad and Kevin shook our hands, then immediately headed to the jukebox and began to argue over which songs to play.

“So, I want to know, did Chris give you guys that shit about synergy?” asked Colin.

“All of it,” said Scott.

“A pile of crap,” said Chris.

“Chris told me about you guys getting some sweet threads,” said Mike, the drummer. “That is so excellent. I hear his girlfriend is a genius.”

This was a sore spot with us. Chris had a girlfriend who designed clothing, and one part of the synergy model required us to be dressed in her fashions. “What I do is mix,” she had said, when they told us the plan. “You guys mix the sound, and I mix the fabrics.”

“The hats are a little big,” said Jacob. The hats for each of us were a full two feet tall, with wide brims. They were made of knit fabric—a cross between a sombrero and a skully.

“It’s nice to have a look,” I said. “It brings us together.”

“So I hear you want to use our merch girl,” said Colin. His speaking voice was like his singing voice, loud and gravelly.

“If that’s cool,” said Scott. “I mean, she’ll get the same cut.”

“She said she’ll do it for 15 percent instead of 10 percent,” said Colin.

“Donald told us 10 percent,” said Scott. “I thought that was already set.”

“Her call. Besides, we’re not playing anywhere that takes a cut of merch, unless maybe Austin,” said Colin. “So it’s not going to hurt too bad.”

We ran over the particulars. Jacob was carrying a printout of our itinerary. We were playing Cambridge, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Memphis, Norman, Austin, Denton, Albuquerque, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Eugene, and Seattle, carving a huge “U” across America (with a sort of downward dent at the bottom). As we looked at the printout, Brad came over from the jukebox, and sat down quietly, unsteadily. He was clearly already drunk, which was miraculous given that we’d only been there for half an hour. He didn’t say anything, until he looked at Katherine.

“You have wonderful breasts,” he told her. “I would hump them if you let me.”

Katherine picked up her drink and threw it in his face. It dribbled down his shirt, and ice cubes settled on his lap. There was a moment of quiet, and then all of the guys from Slake began to laugh, Brad the hardest of all.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Was that out of line?”

“Asshole,” she said. “And yes, it was out of line.”

Slake, collectively, went, “Ooh!” Brad stood and wobbled towards the bathroom, to towel off.

“I’m sorry about that,” said Colin. “Brad likes to do it up. He’s all professionalism on tour.”

“He’s been a little out of sorts,” said Mike, the drummer. “His bitch just dumped him.” Then, obviously realizing that the word “bitch” could be construed as offensive, he said, “Oh, sorry.”

“She was a bitch,” said Colin.

“I’m sure he was a perfect boyfriend,” Katherine said.

“Yeah, well,” said Mike. “You know.”

Katherine arched her eyebrows, and we went back to talking. Brad came out later and sat down hard, and Mike went over to check on him, to see if he was OK. I admired the way the rest of the band worked around Brad’s drinking. They really seemed to have a grip on it, handling it like experienced musicians. Before long, Brad nodded his head forward and began to snore a little.

They were all planning to rent a van and leave the sublet they’d been sharing in New York, heading back to Seattle.

“Sorry to leave you guys with the drive home from Seattle,” said Colin. “That’s Donald’s planning. Sort of a rough drive.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a chance to decompress.” It would be fine, I thought, to just have a few days of mindless driving after all the tension of the tour.

“You guys got a van?” asked Colin.

“It’s my friend Bob’s,” said Katherine. “He’s renting it to us.”

“Good deal,” Colin said. “Definitely pack light.”