MUSIC FEATURE: Life On The Road With…CULTDREAMS
Photo Credit: Martyna Wisniewska
We may only be a month and a half in, but 2020 is already looking exciting for lo-fi punk/shoegaze duo CULTDREAMS. February sees the band release their new EP, The Piano Sessions, before embarking on their biggest UK tour to date, so we thought it would be the perfect time to catch up with drummer Conor Dawson to hear his top tips and amazing stories from the road.
Favourite thing about touring:
My favourite thing about touring is getting to do what you love every single night. It sounds really cliché and corny but you can be super down, having your worst day in ages, then have an absolute killer show and suddenly everything is great again. It always seems to be the times when you most need a great show that one comes along.
Getting to play drums every night has been the dream since I was about 13 and first started playing. Sure, the drives can be really long and very monotonous, and playing the same type of venues night after night can be very draining, but on the flip side of that, getting to perform and share your passions with different people every night is the best. Other than that I really love playing in loads of exotic locations, and playing in venues that means I get to see absolutely none of the city that we are playing in. Every single night, our venue will be an hour from anything interesting you want to see in a city, by the time you’re finished sound checked everything will be closed and you end up staying in the tiny dressing room eating fizzy humous.
Least favourite thing about touring:
I used to complain on previous tours about having to set my drums up, because I’m super lazy. I have a joke that I tell to every single person that I see when I’m carrying something big and heavy which is something about “being a singer seems like it would have been way easier” and then I do a silly, dorky laugh. I don’t know if its because I’m older and hopefully more mature now or if I’m just used to the touring routine way more now, but I’ve definitely tried to complain less about setting my shit up these days. Apart from Sin City in Swansea -I think I’m actually traumatised by the 54 metal steps in the rain on the outside of a building.
Being away from family and friends is definitely a tough one. My partner and I got a dog last year and missing taking him out for long walks, and just been able to sit on my couch and have my own space that’s not like a really depressing old toilet backstage area with ten other people and a tub of fizzy humous to pass round, is pretty nice too. You just have to try make yourself as comfortable as possible and understand that other people on the tour aren’t going to be 10/10 happy every single day, and neither are you. We’re lucky that we get to tour with some very compassionate and switched on people and they know when to give people space when they might not be feeling fantastic.
Also to add to this, your friends and family thinking that touring is really glamorous and you get to see the world (see the point I made at the end of favourite thing about touring). We had a day off in Venice last year of tour and we’d driven four hours to get there and had an hour before we needed to be back at where we were staying that night before driving for another four hours the next day, and we all posted some pictures of us on a boat going into Venice, and within about fifteen minutes, all of our partners had text us to say “oh looks like your having a great time on tour.” It was great, and one of the great things about touring is the occasion day off where you get to go to Venice or something like that, but that was our first day off in ten days – the rest of the time we were driving or staying inside the venue. Also I just really like complaining.
Five essentials for the road:
1. Water – I always seems to have some awful headaches on the first night of tour, I remember it happening the first time we played in America, where I had to play pretty much our entire set with my eyes closed because my head was pounded so much (playing drums really doesn’t help with that). I thought it was just a one off, but then the same thing happened with our Canada show and pretty much every time I have to fly in to play shows. I don’t know if it’s to do with the pressure changes, but I always seem to get a banging headache after the first few songs, and on our last tour our first date was in Leeds and I was sat backstage saying that I had a massive headache and Lucinda was asking if I’d drank enough water. Since then I’ve been well paranoid about me drinking enough water when I’m on tour, so every chance I get now, I’m chucking big pints of water back to try and see if that helps.
2. Phone/Laptop – Being able to keep in touch with friends and family whilst on tour is very important for your mental wellbeing, just been able to call your partner after a show and talk through your day and their day and just do normal stuff whilst on tour is very healthy. Plus getting sent dog pictures is great.
3. Drum Key – One thing I always manage to forget or misplace is my bloody drum key. It’s just really handy to keep one on your keys for fine tweaking your pesky snare that always seems to drop tuning. Drum shops are pretty well known for chucking in a free drum key if you ask when you buy loads of stuff from them, which I tried recently at the start of our last tour, and they charged me £4.50 for one. I must be the only drummer in the history of the world to pay for a drum key.
4. Football Scarf – Touring can be cold, and I like Leeds United, so if I can wear a Leeds United scarf when cold, then it’s win win. Also it looks really cool when you tie it round your cymbal stand.
5. Medication – It’s pretty self explanatory. I have Crohns Disease so touring can be pretty poo at the best of times (pun definitely intended) and I get to know the inside of some pretty disgusting toilets in “punk rock venues” around the world. (Dawsons Law 1 that I invented says that a toilet in a rock venue anywhere in the world can have either a door that locks OR toilet paper but never both.) At least some of the sharpied insults or shit band stickers are fairly amusing. Anyway I’m getting off topic, yeah don’t forget your fucking tablets otherwise you’ll have an even worse time that you would do if you remembered to bring them Conor you idiot.
Bonus Essential – NONE FIZZY HUMMOUS.
Your favourite way to pass the time:
Recently I’ve been taking a book with me on tour, especially if I know there are going to be some long drives. We also listen to loads of music in the van, anythings from The Cure to Little Mix – we are honestly not fussy. It’s either these two things, or sleeping. I like to mix it up between the three. Also eating loads of humous left over from last nights rider in the back of the van, only if its not fizzy though. Fizzy humous if the worst.
This is impossible to pick just one from playing in bands for over ten years. Playing 2000trees a few years ago was definitely up there. I’d been going to the festival with some friends since 2010 and it had always been a big dream of mine to play, so it to finally get the chance to play after going for so many years was really great. Also the same goes for playing The Fest in Gainesville, Florida. I owe a lot of my friends to that festival at the bottom of America, and so many memories are attached to it, we played maybe our biggest ever show there the last time we played, at The Wooly, and it was packed out. The first time we played was after me and Lucinda had been a two-piece for maybe eight months, it was our first show outside the UK and it was when we only had one song released, before SAD even came out. We played and it was amazing, packed out room, everyone having a great time. I came outside the venue after our set and Andrew WK was playing the outdoor stage opposite where we played and I just remember sitting with our friend Zack from Michigan and telling him how grateful I was to have these experiences in my life.
Honestly, any time we tour with Nervus. They are the funniest band on the planet to tour with. I get off tour and I’m more exhausted from laughing for two weeks than I am from playing the shows. We have stupid in jokes that crop up every tour and change, because Lucinda plays in Nervus too – they have their stupid in jokes so I have to get up to speed as quick as possible with it. The very first time we toured with them, they drove up from Watford and picked us up in Leeds, we were going up to Dundee to play the first show. The van pulls up in the Co-Op Car Park in Guiseley where I’m waiting for them to pick me up, the side door of the van opens and the first thing I heard is the phrase “IS THAT A MAN RIDING A SHRIMP?! YYEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW” and everyone is screaming at me and rolling out laughing, and I’m thinking what is even going on. By the time we were driving from Edinburgh back to Jack’s parents house in Northumberland, only to find the A1 closed and we have to take a huge massive detour, we’re screaming “I get knocked down, but I get up again, are you ever going to RIDE THE SHRIMP” at three o’clock in the morning and it’s like I’ve known them all my life.
To say I’m such a clumsy bastard, I feel like I’ve limited my embarrassing moments on stage to a minimum. I fell off stage in Cardiff on the last night of our first tour with Nervus – luckily it was in sound check, but that really hurt. The stairs to the stand were just beer crates pilled on top of each other, and I must have stepped on them with too much sideways motion and they all collapsed to one side and I went with them, I crashed into a table with Lucinda’s guitar on it. Luckily the guitar was in a hard case so my ribs took most of the impact, I was totally fine though don’t worry.
Probably my most embarrassing actually happening on our second tour with Nervus which was in the EU. So we played a festival in Paris, it was great fun, and we head back to where we are staying for the night, and Em from Nervus takes a picture of us all hanging out in this apartment getting ready to go to sleep, and I’ve just put my shorts that I sleep in on and I think I was rearranging the back of boxers but I didn’t realise there’s a big window behind me, so the flash goes off and unbeknownst to me catches me in full rearrange mode in the background of this picture. None of us realise until the next day when we wake up and realise that loads of people have commented on it on our Instagram asking what I’m doing in the back. Then to make matters even worse, the very next day, we’re driving into Belgium to play a show and we stop in the middle of nowhere, off the highway for a little break, I go for a quick nature wee round the other side of the van, and guess what, there’s another group photo, and in the background of said picture you can see me having a wee round the back of the van. I wasn’t having a good few days.
It feels like our entire West Coast tour from 2016 was massively outrageous. We got to tour with a great band called No Better, we had no gear with us and flew from the East Coast after playing Fest to LAX, met Rob who runs Wiretap, he took us to his home and we got to meet his two kids, then drove us to Josh’s house and from there we got in their van and went on a two week tour with them all the way up the West Coast, then back down again.
I remember driving to the first show in Redlands, Cali, and we were driving on the big Interstate Highway there in LA and Wayward Son by Kansas was on the radio – it was one of those silly life affirming moments for me. There was six of us in van that only had four seats, so two of us were always on the floor of the van, all their gear was in a U Haul trailer that they couldn’t work out how to attach on the first day because their van was super old and had a weird bracket on it. We played 924 Gilman St, a skate shop in Fullerton, and with Dave Hause in LA. It was just a very, very silly tour that will probably be one of my favourite tours and fondest memories forever.
Also, bonus outrageous moment: we recently played a sold out show in Oxford – it was great we all had a great time. Kev from Big Scary Monsters said I wasn’t allowed to call my favourite book shop my favourite book shop because I’d never bought anything from there, anyway the book shop has closed down now and I never got a chance to buy anything from there, so I’m currently looking for a new favourite book shop, apparently. Anyway, we get back to our friend’s house and I run inside like a small child at Christmas because I have the left over rider in my bag and I’m super hungry, so I put the Tesco bag for life down on their kitchen table and go straight for the carrot sticks and, you guessed it, the Tesco Finest Humous. So I crack it out and take a big scoop of that delicious chickpea mush, only to find…Fizzy Fucking Humous. Absolutely Outrageous!!!
I’m fairly sensible when it comes to drinking loads I feel. It takes me a lot to get drunk and I always feel so awful the next day, so i try and stick to a couple of beers and that’s it – maximum two before I play, then one or two after we play depending on where we are and what time we’re playing. The most drunk I’ve ever been on tour was probably in the early days of me and Lucinda playing music together, when we were in our old band Hearts & Souls. We’d driven up to Sunderland to play a weekender with another band called Calls Landing, and a couple of our other friends from Leeds. Our friend who was at Uni there was putting the show on with help from the Uni, so she had a massive budget which she spent entirely on alcohol. So the show starts, it’s in a huge venue and there’s not that many people there, so we work our way through all these spirits and we play and it’s great, then Calls Landing play and I think that its a great idea to “introduce” them, so I go on stage and do some stupid intro to their set, then decide its a great idea to jump off the stage rather than go down the steps like a normal person. I jump off and twist one ankle really badly and did something else to the sole of my other foot, meaning that I’m a big limping mess for the rest of the weekend. The night ends with us all going back to the promoter’s student house where she’s having a big party, and our guitarist tries to punch one of our friends and ends up punching the wall and I tried my best to drink a whole bottle of Amaretto and fail miserably.
Also, honourable mention to any night at Fest, most of them end up with me drinking too many gin and tonics in Rockies with our Michigan friends, especially Joel and Josie. Also every final night at Fest for the Great Canadian Beer Purge, where I did my first ever keg stand in 2015.
Rewarding moment is also a tough one. I find it massively rewarding whenever anyone compliments me on my drumming. I have massive imposter syndrome and feel like I’m an awful drummer 99% of the time and that I don’t deserve to tour with so many ridiculously talented and amazing people. So when people come up to me and say they think I’m good at the drums, I’m massively grateful of that. I have a lot of stuff band wise that I love ticked off the bucket list, playing certain festivals, venues or touring with certain bands, are always really rewarding moments. Also just stuff like recording new music too, its also really nerve wracking the few weeks before you put stuff out and hope that people will care enough about it and talk about it, which we were lucky enough to happen with our last album Things That Hurt.
CULTDREAMS‘ new EP, The Piano Sessions, is due for release on 13th February via Big Scary Monsters.
See CULTDREAMS live at one of the following dates:
Fri 21st – MANCHESTER – YES*
Sat 22nd – LEEDS – Hyde Park Book Club*
Sun 23rd – GLASGOW – Poetry Club*
Mon 24th – BIRMINGHAM – The Sunflower Lounge*
Tue 25th – BRISTOL – Exchange Basement*^
Wed 26th – LONDON – Boston Music Room*
Thu 27th – BRIGHTON – The Prince Albert