Musician Interview with Nathan Amundson of Rivulets
Name: Nathan Amundson
QRD – What’s a myth about touring you wish people knew wasn’t true?
Nathan – That it’s a big party all the time. It can be a party, but it’s also a lot of work. We spend 90% of our time sitting in the van, traveling. It’s non-stop motion, just relentless travel every day. Then we get to the venue, unload our gear, setup, soundcheck, hopefully have time to grab dinner, play our show, tear down our gear, re-load it into the van, go to the hotel, get up & do it all the next day. It’s work.
QRD – How many shows do you do a year & how many would you like to?
Nathan – I think about 100 shows per year is ideal. Maybe 3 tours per year, about a month long each.
QRD – How many shows does it take before you are in a real groove?
Nathan – Two or three. We never practice, but we have great chemistry so it comes together real quick.
QRD – What’s your preferred length of tour?
Nathan – Four or five weeks. Somewhere into the fifth week I start to get weird, just ready to be home.
QRD – Do you use a booking agent or book things yourself & what are the advantages of each?
Nathan – We use a booking agent. Sometimes people will ask me to do one-off or private solo shows. Those are rad because I get to work with the fans directly to set it up. For the band, it’s always our booking agents. There are too many moving parts for me to set band tours up myself. I don’t have the time, or the interest, to be honest. Our agents are pros - literally all they do is book tours for a living - so we let them handle it.
QRD – With so many venues no longer having an in house promoter & promotions relying so much more on the band themselves how do you get the word out to cities you’ve never been to before or rarely go to?
Nathan – Our agents work with the same trusted promoters again & again. People who we have enjoyed working with in the past, people who are friends at this point. If we get a sketchy feeling about anyone we just don’t work with them.
QRD – How do you think the festival circuit has effected touring & do you enjoy playing festivals?
Nathan – It doesn’t affect us at all, we are never invited to those things. We totally would, we are just never asked. People come specifically to see us (as opposed to some huge multi-stage roster of acts). I like that.
QRD – How do your songs change for your live show?
Nathan – A lot. They can get longer, stranger, louder. It all depends on the night & the audience & how we’re feeling.
QRD – Do you keep notes on how to play your songs?
Nathan – I note on the setlist what tuning my guitar should be in & what fret the capo should be on. That’s it.
QRD – How often do you have line-up changes & how do they effect the band?
Nathan – We’ve had the same lineup for over a decade now. It’s me & those guys, or it’s me solo.
QRD – How do band practices differ from live shows?
Nathan – We don’t practice. All three of us live in different states & countries. We only get together to record & tour.
QRD – When you hear your live recordings are you generally critical or satisfied?
Nathan – Sometimes people send me live recordings they have made, but I rarely do much more than skim through them. The moment has already passed.
QRD – Do you think of recorded versions or live versions of your songs as definitive?
Nathan – Neither. They are both just moments in time. Each one is as valid as any other.
QRD – Is there a song in your catalog you wish you never had to play again &/or one you wouldn’t mind playing every night?
Nathan – I stopped playing “you are my home” for a while because I had played it at every show for years & I was no longer personally connecting to it. It’s a good song though & I’m sure we’ll come back to it.
QRD – Do you do the same set every night on a tour?
Nathan – No. Even if it’s the same setlist, it’s going to be a different set. Different city, different venue, different audience energy… We respond to all those factors & they all inform how & what we play.
QRD – Do you throw in cover songs & how do you select them?
Nathan – I used to do covers solo, but at this point we have so many songs it’s enough work just deciding which of *our* songs to play.
QRD – How do you deal with bad stage sound & bad sound guys?
Nathan – Listen, the soundperson is your best friend. Every night they are dealing with more bands who all think they are the next big rock stars. Just be a friend & a decent human being & everything will be OK.
QRD – What do you do when equipment malfunctions on stage?
Nathan – Keep going. I’ve finished a set completely unplugged before. People came to see you, they don’t care about your equipment. Except for some geeky gear-heads, but they’re harmless.
QRD – What have you learned to do to get better sound regardless of the venue?
Nathan – I always bring my own vocal mic. Venue mics are disgusting & my mic sounds best for my voice. Also we are really particular about amps, guitars, etc. We use nice equipment because it sounds better.
QRD – What’s something you hate seeing other bands do?
Nathan – Taking too long to setup or tear down their gear. Playing too long as an opener. Getting amateur-hour drunk at a show.
QRD – What’s the best compliment/worst insult you’ve gotten after a show?
Nathan – “Your music really helped me through a tough time.” That’s what it’s all about.
QRD – Do you prefer playing with another touring band or just locals?
Nathan – It’s cool to meet up with fellow touring musicians, exchange stories about this place or that… What did you eat there? Were they nice? It’s fun to meet the locals too. That said, I’ve grown to enjoy being the only band on the bill, where we can tailor the whole experience to be just how we want it to be.
QRD – Do you try to listen to the local opening bands on tour?
Nathan – Not really. I’m focusing on our set & what we are going to do.
QRD – What makes you like a particular city?
Nathan – Friends we know are there that we are excited to see. Great vegetarian food options.
QRD – What makes you like a particular venue?
Nathan – Friendly staffers who are excited we are there, that we don’t feel like just another band of assholes rolling through. Honestly, that they read & provided what we asked for on our rider. That makes us feel like we are being taken care of & that things are going to go smoothly.
QRD – What do you have for merch?
Nathan – CDs, vinyl LPs, vinyl 10”s & 7” singles, T-shirts, stickers, buttons/pins.
QRD – Do you try to have any specialized merch for live shows?
Nathan – We try to do a new T-shirt for every tour.
QRD – Besides band members, how many people do you bring on tour & what are their duties?
Nathan – Just one other person as a driver/merch person. They drive us around & are responsible for safely parking the van, handling all the merchandise sales & inventory, setting it up, tearing it down, etc.
QRD – When you’re on tour, does someone take a father figure role of responsibility?
Nathan – I guess that would be me. I’m the one at the end of the night trying to corral everyone so we can pack up & go back to the hotel.
QRD – What do you do to keep your instruments & personal belongings from being stolen?
Nathan – We have a thing in our rider where we ask that we can check in to the hotel *before* soundcheck. This way we can shower & drop off some of our more expensive personal items like laptops, etc. The instruments have to be at the venue, so we just keep an eye on them.
QRD – Do you rent a vehicle or take out your own?
Nathan – We rent a van for band tours, or the smallest car we can get for solo tours.
QRD – What plays on the radio as you drive?
Nathan – A lot of times, nothing. Everyone has their own iPhones, iPods etc. People listen to whatever they want, or just silence. Silence is really nice when you’re in noisy venues night after night.
QRD – What’s your main activity to occupy your downtime when not in the van?
Nathan – We don’t have much downtime. We’re usually hustling to get to the next show. If there is time for a nap in the van or at the hotel before soundcheck, that’s a good option.
QRD – How do you try to find places to eat on the road?
Nathan – We always ask the locals where they go, what they are excited about. We also hit up grocery stores & keep a bag or two of fresh groceries in the car that are fair game for anyone. This way we don’t fall back on shitty rest-stop food as much.
QRD – How many days does it take before your body is in sync with the touring lifestyle?
Nathan – One day, son! Just stay up & go to sleep at local time. Get up at local time & you’re good to go.
QRD – Do you prefer to stay at people’s houses or hotels & what are the advantages & disadvantages to each?
Nathan – Hotels. I’m a total introvert & need to recharge by being alone before & after the show.
QRD – Do you have separate clothes for onstage than daywear?
Nathan – Yeah. I didn’t always, but lately I have a nicer shirt that I’ll put on for the show. People are paying money to see you & you’re not the Ramones. Make an effort.
QRD – How often do you try to bathe & how do you schedule in everyone getting bathed?
Nathan – Every. Single. Day. Sometimes twice per day.
QRD – What do you do when a band member has totally different ideas about hygiene?
Nathan – You gotta put ‘em on blast, in a nice & respectful way. Everyone is sharing the same van, day after day. It’s not cool to make it gross for everyone else.
QRD – How often do you try to schedule a day off?
Nathan – Maybe one day every couple of weeks. But even those days are usually not true “off days”. Usually those days are for extra-long travel days.
QRD – Do you have a set drinking policy (none before performing or a nightly total)?
Nathan – Nope. Thankfully that’s never been a problem in our band. We all drink, some more than others, but none to the point where it becomes a problem.
QRD – What’s a lesson from touring you keep forgetting & re-learning?
Nathan – It takes a week or two to adjust to being back home. I get so used to the go-go-go momentum of being on tour that when I get home I’m still kind of speedy & it takes me a while - sometimes a long while - to settle back in to normal life.
QRD – What do you do the week before tour to get ready?
Nathan – Practice. Exchange endless e-mails with our booking agents & my bandmates. Just a whole lot of communication. I’m ready to leave for tour when I am just wishing that all the e-mails would stop.
QRD – How do you feel about fans putting live cell phone videos up on YouTube?
Nathan – It’s fine, but… it’s not representative of what actually went down at the show. A little jittery cell phone video does not capture the feel of the mood in the air that night. It’s kind of disappointing to see people watching the show through their cell phone. Just be in the moment. Be present.
QRD – Do you see touring as mainly a promotional tool for your new albums?
Nathan – Not at all. The industry machine still runs on “release a new album, tour to promote that album”, but albums & shows are separate things for me. We’re playing songs that are 15 years old, we’re playing songs that I wrote last night. I think of the album almost more of a souvenir from the show.
QRD – Does your time with your instrument go up or down on the road compared to normal?
Nathan – Way up. I am extremely busy in my personal life & almost never pick up a guitar unless I’m about to record or tour. That’s shameful to admit, but it’s true.
QRD – Do you try to hit museums or any touristy things while you travel?
Nathan – We have no time for such luxuries. It is go-go-go, all of the time.
QRD – Do you try to get any rudimentary grasp of a language before touring in a foreign country?
Nathan – Yes. It’s good to at least know how to say “please” & “thank you”. Being polite goes a long way.
QRD – Do you have any pre-stage rituals before each set?
Nathan – Sometimes if I can sneak away somewhere private, I will meditate. Mostly just hang out with the band & the promoters, make sure everyone has what they need & is ready to roll.
QRD – Does “what happens on tour, stays on tour” apply for you?
Nathan – Absolutely not. Everything is public these days.
QRD – Have you ever or would you like to do a bus/train/mass transit tour?
Nathan – I’ve done it. It is extra taxing, physically & emotionally. I prefer to be in charge of my own transportation.
QRD – What are your favorite & least favorite seasons to tour?
Nathan – Fall & winter are the best. Summer is hot & uncomfortable & there are not as many people around going to shows.
QRD – What would make you start touring more or start touring less?
Nathan – Just more invitations. More offers. I love to tour.
QRD – What’s something that would cause you to cut a tour short?
Nathan – It would have to be something really horrible. Something I wouldn’t even want to guess on.
QRD – What’s something about life in general that you’ve learned from touring?
Nathan – People everywhere love their partners & their kids & are just trying to do the best they can to get by. Most people are generous & will do anything they can to help you if you ask.
QRD – Anything else?
Nathan – Take three deep breaths.