DS Exclusive Interview: Adam PW Smith talks about heading overseas with The Dreadnoughts

DS Exclusive Interview: Adam PW Smith talks about heading overseas with The Dreadnoughts

In 2009, Vancouver photojournalist Adam PW Smith took off with fellow Vancouver folk-punk band The Dreadnoughts for their first-ever European tour. Last month Adam put his experiences, in the form of tour diaries and pictures, into a debut book called “This Place Is Awesome: A Strange Funny Drunken Sad Noisy Week with The Dreadnoughts.” Adam recently sat down with Dying Scene to talk about the tour, as well as some info and an excerpt from the book, which can be purchased here.

DS: What made you decide to leave home for a week to follow a band like The Dreadnoughts on an overseas tour?

APWS: It was a combination of factors, but primarily it was because the boys are all friends and I love their band. I’d been documenting them for almost three years at that point – I have literally thousands of photographs of them playing live. They have been steadily gaining attention and fans for some time and I wanted to be there if and when things started to really lift off the ground for them.

DS: Have you done similar things with other bands? If so, how does this tour compare to others? If not, would you consider doing it again, and with what bands?

APWS: I’ve done little trips – two or three days – with various bands and in various capacities. When I was younger I would go along as a roadie. But I’d never done a “real” tour. One of my strongest influences and inspirations as a photographer is a book that Penny Smith did many years ago called “The Clash: Before and After”. It’s sadly out of print, but if you find it in used bookstore, buy it. I own two copies so that I can lend one out without worrying about losing it. The book is just photographs of The Clash on their first American tour. It’s not photographs of groupies and orgies and drugs, it’s them getting out of the tour bus in Manhattan, or sitting by the pool in a very modest hotel, or backstage getting ready to go on. It completely opened my eyes to the difference between what people -think- it’s like to be a band on tour, and what it’s really like. I’ve always been fascinated by that.

I can say with some degree of confidence that The Dreadnoughts were touring at the hard end of the spectrum. There was almost nothing in the way of creature comforts. In a world were being a “punk” band has lost most of it’s meaning, these guys were doing it in the real DIY tradition.

Would I do it again? Yeah, but I’m picky. That’s true about live music in general – I have high standards. A band has to have real presence and energy on some level for me to feel satisfied. There are hundreds of bands in Vancouver but I would only consider going on tour with a very small group of them. But I would go in a heartbeat with any of them if the opportunity arose.

In fact, I went on tour with The Dreadnoughts again (proving that the mind’s capacity for remembering pain and suffering is approximately 18 months) this past July. I met up with them in Poland and spent nine days traveling the country with them. This time around they had a driver and accommodations every night. The accommodations were frequently shoddy hotels on the outskirts of town, but just having those two things to count on made the experience completely different. Instead of stills I shot the whole thing in HiDef, which is where the video for Polka Never Dies came from (watch that video here). When I get the chance I’ll go back to the 42 hours of footage I shot to see if I can make some kind of a documentary out of it.

(For the full interview, click here.)

DS: Obviously each band brings something different to their travel experiences. Do you think The Dreadnoughts have a unique touring experience all their own or is it reflective of the way a majority of punk bands manage on the road?

APWS: I don’t know if I can speak definitively in terms of comparisons, but what do know suggests that what the boys went through is not unique. And that’s part of why I wrote the book – I wanted to tell the story of what it’s like for hard working bands that are giving it a go on their own terms. Of course The Dreadnoughts put their own personal spin on it, but I think the themes are recognizable to anyone who has toured like that. Normally those stories don’t get told, except as a footnote once they become “famous,” but for me this is where all the real magic happens. As I heard Dan Mangan say the other day, “it’s very real.” Without any managers or publicists or handlers, there are no buffers or insulation from what’s happening. It’s a very direct and personal experience.

DS: Can you share a particularly comical/crazy/insane/whatever story with our readers?

APWS: I’m happy to have you run a piece of the book:

Day Two

July 2 – Bristol

The day started slowly. Nick, Andrew, Drew, and I rose from our bed, couches, and floor respectively and lazily wandered around the house. Seamus and Marco had slept in the van. Once everyone was up and about, the decision was made to walk down to the High Street in search of breakfast. The boys settled easily on a standard English breakfast at a local cafe, which they devoured with inexplicable zeal. I had to wonder just what they’d been eating for the previous month and a half that blood pudding, greasy eggs, and fried tomatoes seemed like something to salivate over. I thought about the time I excitedly told my brother how my new girlfriend had introduced me to the food of her heritage – sushi.

“You need to introduce her to the food of your ancestors now” he said. Our parents are English immigrants to Canada.

“How do I do that?”

“It’s easy. Just boil the shit out of anything.”

Food is not Britain’s greatest gift to the world.

“There are no vegetarians in a tour van” is the modern equivalent of the old line about atheists and foxholes. Seamus gave up his vegetarianism for the most part on this tour. In places like Switzerland and Germany it’s virtually impossible not to eat meat. For Seamus, who has no choice about not eating wheat products, the choices start to get very thin. Given the option, Seamus will eat a vegetarian meal, but he had to embrace his inner carnivore more than a few times on this tour.

After breakfast Nick split off from the group to find a doctor who could attend to a vaguely defined, flu-like illness. We left Nick to make his own way down to Plymouth. To this day I am unsure if Nick really was sick, or just sick of being around that same group of people – either seems entirely plausible and understandable to me. He sadly missed what was probably the best day of the British tour, as far as “local colour” was concerned. I sincerely hope he was off quietly and happily experiencing it all in his own way. Lord knows I needed to get away from these clowns after only a few days on the cider express. Sadly, his version of local colour may have been waiting rooms and train stations.

The rest of us spent the morning at St Paul’s Carnival, a celebration of Caribbean food, music, and culture that dates back to 1967. Seamus was delighted to find great food in abundance. I basked in the colon-thumping speaker stacks that assaulted me from the sound systems located at every street corner. Andrew caused people to stare and frightened a few small children.

In a moment of curious incongruity, I saw a sticker on a lamppost that said “Resist the 2010 Olympics.” Just how pissed off were the people of Bristol about the street closures and overspending on the Olympic Village in Vancouver? It seemed like a hard sell in terms of generating local public outrage.

On returning to Zoey and Kev’s place our help was enlisted to bring down some branches that were blocking the satellite dish perched on the top of low roof around the back of the house. Andrew climbed a short ladder and ripped a sapling out of the crag it had rooted in. Zoey was delighted and told us that “this is what I imagined Canadians were like.”

“You mean helpful?”

“No, lumberjacks.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that what Andrew had done was more akin to weeding than felling. She seemed so pleased.


DS: Any words of wisdom/warning/legal advice for the touring bands out there?

APWS: Oh man, I am so full of advice and opinions it would take all day. Let’s try going with something simple…

Live performance is the one place where you can’t really fake it – you either have presence or you don’t. When it’s just you, your instruments, and half a dozen poorly aimed, dim lights, it all comes down to how entertaining you can be. Don’t be one of those bands that hides in the corners of the stage – take control of the room. You’ve got between fourty five minutes and an hour to get those people to love you – don’t waste any of it. As Iggy Pop once said, “it’s okay to be bad, just don’t be boring.”

DS: Don’t forget to head over to Adam’s website to order the 2nd edition of the book, or a limited edition numbered and autographed version.

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