Musician Interview with Lucio Menegon of Prehistoric Horse
Name: Lucio Menegon
Bands: Rev Screaming Fingers, Paper Balls, Prehistoric Horse, Zebu, Ramona the Pest, The HO, Bodice Rippers (sideman with Adobe Collective, Victoria Williams, Myshkin, The Renderers, blah blah)
QRD – What’s a myth about touring you wish people knew wasn’t true?
Lucio – That it’s easy or some kind of vacation. That you have all the time in the world just to hang out. While gratifying & often fun, it is a crucible of sorts & forges a way of living & playing that is completely different than playing around a base or hometown. It makes you damn good at what you do, but if you can’t be a real person, a good person, things will fall apart - music, life, friendships. When you are younger pretty much anything goes, but as you get older & more experienced it’s way more about the relationships with the people you meet & going to new, interesting places, venues. For me, whatever happens every day is an avenue to the performance every night. I always liked a quote from Keith Richards where he said something along the lines of “the stage is like your living room - it becomes your home every night. Everything else that happens that day leads to that & fuels the performance.”
QRD – How many shows do you do a year & how many would you like to?
Lucio – The past few years I’ve cut way back on touring & been playing shows locally. It has varied from 50-200 shows a year. Unless most ties are jettisoned & the road is your life, it takes a lot of effort to be out there for extended periods, DIY. If it could be done with more comfort & income, I’d stay on the road more, because I love to travel.
QRD – How many shows does it take before you are in a real groove?
Lucio – Usually 3 or 4. Depends on the group. You definitely feel it when it kicks in. Once you have the burn, it is awesome. A lot of what I tour now is 100% improvised (instant composition) so it is even more noticeable. Last year Paper Balls, a new trio collaboration, did this short 10 or 12 day thing & after the 3rd show something clicked & we never looked back.
QRD – What’s your preferred length of tour?
Lucio – If it’s DIY, 2-4 weeks. If there is more logistical support etc, it could go longer - say up to 3 months. Hard to say because once you have that burn, that roll, you just don’t want to stop. At least until things are not good & then all you want to do is get home. It can be a fickle thing.
QRD – Do you use a booking agent or book things yourself & what are the advantages of each?
Lucio – DIY shared responsibilities & heavy reliance on contacts, very little cold calling. I’d love not to have to book, but the less fun work is something that we must do; the key is to do it with minimal friction. Sort of a life philosophy, really.
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?
Lucio – Having done the band in clubs grind in the 90s & 00s this was an issue. But now with many shows being in private spaces, basements, house shows… they are often set up by local musicians & promoters & they do (or don’t do) a lot of the work. The key is for an event to have a built in audience, something locals already come to with an idea that something new is coming thru rather than being there specifically for us - though that happens too. I’ve curated/set up many shows at home as a way to pay back into & understand both sides of the equation. It’s a lot more like the old punk rock scene (one I was part of with Zebu in the 90s) with built in crowds that were there for the scene, the music, bought merch, knew what the deal was, etc. The support is a little more ephemeral now, as some folks/places don’t have much experience with supporting touring artists. This culture where many things are or “should be” free is sometimes readily apparent, while in other places the support is very tangible & appreciated.
QRD – How do your songs change for your live show?
Lucio – I rarely play the same solo or version if it’s composed music. I like music to evolve, but there are certain anchors in a song that are important if not readily apparent to the listener.
QRD – When you hear your live recordings are you generally critical or satisfied?
Lucio – I used to be a lot more critical, now they are all simply a reference point for what is an evolving process.
QRD – Do you think of recorded versions or live versions of your songs as definitive?
Lucio – It is more about the translation of the song or piece; the players & gravity of the moment. Being there (& physically affecting the performance) is so much part of live & though it might be the definitive version, something is often lost in translation. The creative aspect of the studio is fun (after capturing the backbone live) & is more of a more drawn out painting process versus live, which is more of a “one stroke” process.
QRD – What do you do to stay interested in your set each night?
Lucio – Walk on stage with absolutely nothing in my head & anything can happen. When this breaks down sometimes, that is not frightening. It took years to get to this place, but it totally set me free. Sort of an eastern philosophical approach.
QRD – Do you do the same set every night on a tour?
Lucio – Rarely.
QRD – How does the audience effect what or how you play on a given night?
Lucio – Enormously - though when the burn is on, there is a critical mass of awesomeness that is undeniably its own unstoppable thing & can circumvent any bad juju out there.
QRD – Do you take new songs on the road or stick with released material?
Lucio – With improvisation it is all new, though there is a certain sound going on. With composed, the new & even unfinished get a work out
QRD – How do you deal with bad stage sound & bad sound guys?
Lucio – Always be nice & roll with the punches. Be able to translate what is happening with or without sound & you are unstoppable
QRD – What do you do when equipment malfunctions on stage?
Lucio – Ignore it or use it to my advantage, as an opportunity to try something new. I will never forget seeing The Zulus in Boston in the 90s & Rich Gilbert breaking a string on his Bigbsy Les Paul, sending it way out of tune & turning this into an absolutely transcendent solo, eventually ripping all the stings off. Or watching BB King change a string while singing & playing, like it wasn’t even happening. Recently I was doing a song at Pappy’s in Pioneertown at a tribute after Bowie died. I was using my friend Victoria (Williams)’s ‘53 Deluxe & it was constantly cutting in & out, so I used the opportunity to make it part of the song, which everybody loved. I can’t stomach performers going the other direction, stopping the song or somehow drawing attention to their “plight”.
QRD – What have you learned to do to get better sound regardless of the venue?
Lucio – Be as self-contained as possible & always have my gear together & sounding the way I want. I recently picked up a Furman power conditioner at a thrift store & it rocks - no hum anymore despite the situation. If I was doing something acoustic, I’d bring along the mic it sounds best with. If singing, my own 58.
QRD – What’s the best compliment/worst insult you’ve gotten after a show?
Lucio – “Hey what year is your guitar?” depending on how it’s introduced or phrased.
QRD – Do you prefer playing with another touring band or just locals?
Lucio – Both. But touring with another band can be so much fun if you are getting along.
QRD – Do you try to listen to the local opening bands on tour?
Lucio – Often it’s hard with so little time if you’ve been driving all day etc. But if they catch my ear, I’m there.
QRD – What makes you like a particular city?
Lucio – The vibe, the experience, the gravity. The availability of good food & coffee.
QRD – What makes you like a particular venue?
Lucio – Getting treated with some dignity
QRD – What do you have for merch?
Lucio – Usually an array of tapes, CDs, vinyl, download cards attached to thrift store objects, etc. Haven’t had t-shirts/stickers in ages. Need to get on that.
QRD – When you’re on tour, does someone take a father figure role of responsibility?
Lucio – That’s a tricky one. I’ve taken this on & been too much of a hard ass, which only made me into the old man figure. But organization is a necessity & can be done properly. Really, if everyone just abided by Thor Harris’s guide to touring, most things in a group situation would be easier.
QRD – What do you do to keep your instruments & personal belongings from being stolen?
Lucio – Keep my most precious things in sight & with me at all times. Have a very good tour vehicle with a nearly impregnable trunk or gear lockup.
QRD – Do you rent a vehicle or take out your own?
Lucio – Own or other band member vehicle 99% of the time.
QRD – What’s the worst car breakdown you’ve had on tour?
Lucio – I have always put a priority on keeping my vehicles in as top condition as possible, so never had anything truly major go down. I remember losing something in the coolant lines in my ‘89 Dodge Van on the way to a show with Ramona the Pest. Pat Spurgeon (Rogue Wave) & I got the doghouse off, & jury-rigged some kind of hose patch that was a pain but pretty brilliant. We made the gig. I think Pat & I had to rebuild a wheel bearing on a tour we did together too.
QRD – What’s your ideal touring vehicle?
Lucio – With band: Dodge or Ford Van. The best was a 2002 E350 extended cab 7.3L diesel ambulance conversion. I seriously tricked that van out. At the time it was basically a poor man’s Sprinter. Solo: my 2004 TDI Jetta cannot be beat.
QRD – What plays on the radio as you drive?
Lucio – RADIO?! They still have that. I remember listening to Art Bell in the middle of the night on the way to a show in Tucson once. College radio used to be great & in a few towns it still is.
QRD – How do you occupy time in the van?
Lucio – Chat, debate, inform each other. I like to look out the window a lot, which ends up influencing many things down the road. Being in the moment. Having a good soundtrack for that is important. Rarely is there passive music listening.
QRD – What’s your main activity to occupy your downtime when not in the van?
Lucio – THE INTERNET. Thrift stores & yardsales. I like to collect vinyl, books, electronics. Read.
QRD – How do you try to find places to eat on the road?
Lucio – Back in the mid 90s we had this book that had a list of all the co-ops & health food stores in towns across the US. That was great, but pickings were often slim. Now they are everywhere. Or Whole Foods is. But that gets very expensive. One thing I noticed in the mid 2000s was how most towns (especially in the midwest) had gained a Mexican/Latino part of town often with good food.
QRD – What’s your in a pinch fast food meal?
Lucio – If you plan ahead with snacks, etc, it is a very rare need. First would eek out a diner. Otherwise, Del Taco or In n Out Burger out west. Waffle House in South. They have maybe one or two things on the menu that are ok.
QRD – Do you try to make any meals for yourself on the road?
Lucio – Absolutely. Gertrude (the E350 ambulance) had electricity, so we would bring a rice cooker & make the most delicious vegi-combo meals in that & save a lot as well. I have also brought a Vitamix/juicer. On one tour with Prehistoric Horse I remember thinking we should set up a smoothie/juicer booth instead of merch & would probably make more money.
QRD – Do you prefer to stay at people’s houses or hotels & what are the advantages & disadvantages to each?
Lucio – There are three types of hosts: good, experienced, & bad. The good ones are very accommodating, but sometimes reside in the camp of thinking you have all the time in the world to hang out. The experienced ones (often musicians or house show hosts) give you a clean place to crash & know to give you some alone time. The bad ones drain your energies &/or have just unbelievably filthy habits, so you’re better off in a hotel or sleeping in the van. Every week or two a hotel can become a necessity. For a while in the post 2008 economic wasteland, I got into this thing with that William Shatner app/company where you could bid on hotel prices & we’d get 3.5/4 star stuff for Econolodge prices. Big difference in comfort.
QRD – Do you have separate clothes for onstage than daywear?
Lucio – These days, yes. In the past not as much. Val Esway, my ex & bandmate in Ramona the Pest once used the term “tour uniform” which was usually black jeans, a T & a hoodie. Especially awesome in the Northwest. I often go with comfy travel & load in clothes then into a separate stage outfit. Usually a suit.
QRD – How many changes of clothes do you take on tour?
Lucio – Very few. Thrift stores assure too many by the end of it. Years ago I discovered these great “travel undies” that you can wash & dry in a jiffy. Expensive, but you only need two or even one in a pinch.
QRD – How often do you try to bathe & how do you schedule in everyone getting bathed?
Lucio – A real shower every few days is fine by me, with birdbaths in between.
QRD – What do you do when a band member has totally different ideas about hygiene?
Lucio – Avoid them.
QRD – Any tips for not getting sick on the road?
Lucio – Read Thor’s touring rules.
QRD – What’s a lesson from touring you keep forgetting & re-learning?
Lucio – That the tolls between NYC & DC are $50 each way. That I don’t need as many things to keep me occupied
QRD – How do you test for personality conflicts between band members before touring?
Lucio – Not tour with unknown entities if at all possible.
QRD – How do you feel about fans putting live cell phone videos up on YouTube?
Lucio – Some need to gain some basic editing or curating skills, otherwise it’s just about them.
QRD – Do you see touring as mainly a promotional tool for your new albums?
Lucio – No.
QRD – Do you try to practice as a band while on the road or just stick to the performances?
Lucio – Sometimes.
QRD – Do you have time to practice your instrument while on the road?
Lucio – Rarely.
QRD – Does your time with your instrument go up or down on the road compared to normal?
Lucio – Up.
QRD – Do you try to hit museums or any touristy things while you travel?
Lucio – Yes, sometimes.
QRD – Do you try to get any rudimentary grasp of a language before touring in a foreign country?
Lucio – Always.
QRD – Have you ever or would you like to do a bus/train/mass transit tour?
Lucio – I have done a few & they are cool but challenging. You have to travel with almost nothing or suffer.
QRD – What are your favorite & least favorite seasons to tour?
Lucio – Favorite: Autumn Least: Late summer or early winter (near holidays).
QRD – If money were no object, how many months a year would you spend on the road?
Lucio – I don’t have a family, so many more would be likely if there was a good project to do that with.
QRD – What’s something that would cause you to cut a tour short?
Lucio – Someone getting too sick or going thru some kind of withdrawal (which has happened).
QRD – What could happen to make you stop touring?
Lucio – If I felt I had nothing to present.
QRD – What’s something about life in general that you’ve learned from touring?
Lucio – The world is an amazing place &, glorious sights aside, it’s the people you meet more than anything that makes it that way.