Desolation Tour 2010
UPDATE: Our Kickstarter project is officially online now! Please check it out:
Desolation Tour Kickstarter Project!
This is Battlehooch: Ben (keys), Tom (horns), Pat (vocals), Ryan (drums), Grant (bass) and AJ (guitar).
I've toured with with these fellows up and down the west coast several times, recently extending out to Austin, Texas for South By Southwest in March. Each time we hit the road, we collect source material for online multi-media mash-ups of our experience that we can share with our friends and fans. We are constantly at vigil to capture the madness and random inspiration coming from all angles of this wild nation. This includes video episodes, blog updates, photos, and lots of audio recordings. We've also gotten in the habit of composing a tour song using random snippets we collect from instruments we find and people we meet. Our latest, and perhaps most abstract, is featured above. It was recorded using my Zoom h4n digital recorder and AJ's laptop with a mic and portable interface. The monologue that peppers the track was done by Anton, the violinist of Judgement Day, our good friends who toured with us out to Austin. He had a lot of good things to say about how music nowadays can spread rapidly across the internet.
Every time we go on the road, we find new ways of using technology, and our process gets more streamlined. For example, here are some new tools we had for our trip to the Lonestar State:
-My Kodak zi8 pocket camcorder allowed me to capture on-the-spot antics quickly and discretely. Compared to previous video-capturing devices, this was so unobtrusive that I could capture the action and still participate (at least somewhat). Unfortunately, I dropped it too many times and it finally died on me.
-Tom's Droid phone was super helpful for all sorts of things. For example, we started the tour with only one confirmed SXSW show, and by the time we arrived, we had about a half-dozen due to networking in the van on the internet. There's also a pretty good digital camera, which is always available and covert. Since then, Grant and I have jumped on the smartphone bandwagon.
-We brought along our projectionist, Tyler Freeman (Odbol) and our sound engineer, Gabe Armstrong. Tyler had a Nikkon DSLR that took great-looking video with swappable lenses. He was super helpful for editing together footage from our three cameras (my pocketcam, AJs mini-tape camcorder, and the DSLR). Here is the third mini-episode:
In the video you'll notice there is one particularly psychedelic live performance. Our last show was above Coyote Ugly and there were 2 house projectors in addition to the one Tyler brought. This was enough power to completely fill the room with color and image. Tyler has ingeniously rigged his laptop with infrared sensors, so he can control the video with Wii controllers via Jitter. Our light show is always dynamic and flexible. Also cool, we are able to capture video on the road and add it to his library of source material to draw from.
If you'd like to see more tour videos and tons of other random Battle esoterica, check out our blog:
We had a great time and experienced some great Southwest culture. Personally for me, the highlight of the trip was the first Desolation Tour proof-of-concept demonstration.
DESOLATION TOUR DESCRIPTION:
Many years ago, while discussing the difficulties involved with pursuing a career in rock and roll, I had the absurd idea of playing live to an audience of nobody and everybody all at once. Instead of touring divebars and clubs, we would travel to the most epic inhospitable lands of the Earth, capture a live performance and release it online for anyone to watch. I was thinking it would be a great way to visit Siberia, Antarctica, the Kalihari Desert and the Bermuda Triangle. We would power the show with electricity we collected ourselves from the local environment. Maybe we could get sponsorship from Current TV, or a cutting-edge renewable energy company. Dreams of Richard Branson inviting us to play the inauguration of Virgin Galactic in orbit! With visions of desolation in the back of my mind, I set out to build a silent source of electricity. I had already tried using gas generators to power kamakazi performances before (most notably at a war rally and a massive 420 celebration in college), but they were loud, nasty and the electricity was intermittent. I volunteered to live as an intern for 3 months at a place called the Solar Living Center in Hopland, CA:
The first month was cold and damp in an airstream trailer in the mud; all alone after the staff went home for the night. I had a headlamp, a sleeping bag and a book by Buckminster Fuller. Spring finally came and I learned a bunch about off-grid living. I eventually purchased many of the necessary parts for a battery bank that would power a full band. With the help of my pops and his handy workroom, I built this:
I also attempted to fix some polycrystaline pv panels, but my homemade junction boxes were not up to snuff:
The idea was always to get off oil asap in any way possible. Logistics and pragmatism sank in and one day, I serendipitously encountered a garage sale with a cheap battery charger (with a broken meter). I've been using these alligator clips to charge ever since. The man who sold it to me was a dark Swedish former pop frontman for the short-lived and highly controversial band The World. They appeared on StarSearch and played a song called "I want to fuck you (without protection)," much to the horror of the show's producers.
The battery bank has been super useful for busking and for powering all our electronic equipment while touring. We've used it many dozens of times for powering our stripped-down street performing set-up.
After our last show in Austin, I carted the super-heavy contraption down to 6th Street, where all our equipment was waiting to be picked up. We set up everything to see if the battery could handle the load. For the longest time I was afraid to try because I didn't want to overload the inverter. My calculations hinted that we were over the 1100W limit but fortunately, everything worked! 40 seconds into our first song, the police came and shut us down. I was elated. After all these years, the Desolation Tour seemed doable. The next day, I insisted that we do a trial shoot in the Arizona desert. Around sunset, we were passing through Sedona. It was much harder to find a remote location than I had figured. We had just about given up hope; there was one little trail left that we could see, so we went off-roading past an encampment: "Hello!!! Is anybody here?" No response, so we got out and played. Even though our tripod camera died mid shoot, we still got a pretty cool proof of concept:
*Pay special note to our visitor: We found out that the tent was occupied by a vagabond hunter named Skip who makes money by selling skunk scent glands to other hunters to hide their scent. "I haven't heard music since Boston. You guys gonna play all night?"
So that takes us almost to the present day. I've recently acquired a wheeled cart to move the battery but it is still super heavy and unwieldy. We are in the final stages of gearing up for Desolation Tour 2010. This is by far our hugest undertaking yet. Here is the tentative route thus far:
We hope to start off by staging a second Desolation video shoot on a cliff in Big Sur next month, then we are carrying on to a full United States tour from mid-July to mid-November. Gabe has been spearheading the Big Sur shoot and has produced a $450 budget (I think we can do it for more like $300), including some serious off-road vehicular action! Here is a shot from the field where we hope to do the shoot, way off the beaten path. Taken by the fabulous Easton Grainer on a scouting expedition with Gabe.
Tyler is away in the Netherlands, furthering his digital art vision. It sounds like they will be able to join us for parts of our tour. However, we have spent all our money (new vinyl and CDs, a new van, stickers, posters, parking tickets!!!, instruments, studio time, mastering, an East-coast booking agent, tee-shirts, promotion, screen-printing supplies, gas, the list goes on and on). My pocket cam is broken. We are in need of new supplies to prepare for our trip. We are going to be on the road for A LONG TIME. We want to continue producing Desolation Videos in beautiful spots across the country, online episodes and tour songs to promote the tour in real time. I consider myself a modern-day gonzo historian. I dream of making a great American tour video of Summer 2010. The better tools we have at our disposal, the better we can serve the muse. America is the canvas, technology the paintbrush. I have compiled a list of things that would really help this massive undertaking:
-Photovoltaic panels for roof of van: A 200W panel or two from Evergreen Solar would be awesome ($600 each).
-Pocket camcorder: Zoom Q3 ($190), Kodak zi8 pocket digicam ($180), or Kodak playsport Zx3 ($150). There's also a new Flip cam that looks rad.
-DSLR camera: Canon Rebel T2i ($850-1,100 w/lens).
-Flexible, gripping tripod: $30
-Food/ extra cash to entice videographer: $?.
-Big Sur video shoot ($300): includes tripod rentals, reflector panels, off road vehicle rental, food, wood planks and gas for borrowed vehicles.
-Trimetric 2020 ($170) to monitor the state of charge of the battery bank.
-"Kill a watt" meter ($30) to see how much power our amps are actually drawing.
-Novatel Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot ($280): May be rendered irrelevant when our 3 Droids get a hotspot upgrade.
Total costs are in the range of $2,300-3,700. That's about the amount we are already in the hole :)
I had a vision of putting flexible thin-film panels on the roof to charge the battery bank as we drive, but it doesn't seem like the industry is quite there yet. Crystalline still seems to be more economic. Exciting companies such as Nanosolar have not responded to my humble and earnest inquiries :(
I also really wanted to update my batteries from lead-acid to something lighter and denser, like lithium-ion. However, my research seems to indicate that they still are too expensive and mostly reserved for big automotive companies. Plus I'm not sure they would be compatible with my current set-up.
For the real geeks out there, here is the equipment I use for portable electricity:
-2 Trojan T-105 Plus 6V Deep Cycle Batteries wired in series. 62 lbs. 225 Amp-hr at 12V.
-Xceltech XP-1100W Pure-sin wave inverter.
-Xantrex C35 Charge/Load controller.
Recently, I learned about Kickstarter.org, which is a crowd-sourcing funding site for creative projects. I have put together this page as a means to brainstorm and collect my thoughts about the Desolation Tour. I intend to use this as a jumping-off point to start a project on that site and hopefully raise some funding to actually make this happen.
I would love to hear anyone's advice or wisdom!
Some specific questions that come to mind:
-First and foremost, does anyone have any contacts that wouldn't mind having 6 or 7 very considerate and respectful minstrels sleep on their floor anywhere along our route?
-Know of any epic Desolation Sites that would be sweet to play at along our route?
-Are there any solar panel or new battery technologies on the market that would work well with our vision? I'd love to upgrade our current off-grid system but it's daunting, expensive and there are often waiting lines for panels. Potential sponsors? I'd love for Battlehooch to be the spokesmen of the new energy transition that is sure to take place soon.
-Further down the line, what is the best vehicle option for a six-person band, optimizing gas mileage and minimizing emissions? We have a Dodge RAM 13-seater. Pitiful 10 mpg... Tom says a Sprinter would be best. Why can't I find a van of that size that gets more than 20 mpg? I've read about ultra-efficient injection systems, flexi-fuel, regenerative breaking, hybrid systems, clean(er) diesel engines, electric vehicles, ultracapacitors, fully-electric vehicles, etc. So much potential! How do I get in on all that? I hate to see all our hard-earned dollars go to an industry that pops holes in the sea floor, tarnishing the Gulf Coast that we'll be touring along...