Musician Interview with Martin Newman of Plumerai
August 4, 2017
Name: Martin Newman
Bands: DRLNG, Plumerai, Goddakk, burMONTER & sort of To The Wedding
QRD – What’s a myth about touring you wish people knew wasn’t true?
Martin – That you make up for the money you no longer get via album sales thanks to streaming. Also that it’s dreadful.
QRD – How many shows do you do a year & how many would you like to?
Martin – Used to do approximately 2 weeks on the road & 1 or 2 per months on average a year. That’s dwindled down to 2 total last year & none this year. I’d like to do approximately a month of touring per year, not necessarily all in one go & maybe more if it was more like touring in Europe where things like places to stay, food & lodging are taken seriously by the promoters.
QRD – How many shows does it take before you are in a real groove?
Martin – Usually two if those first two aren’t complete disasters.
QRD – What’s your preferred length of tour?
Martin – I have a feeling two weeks at a time is the sweet spot.
QRD – Do you use a booking agent or book things yourself & what are the advantages of each?
Martin – Never used a legit booking agent. Sometimes a promoter or another band has done the bookings. Which I prefer because I don’t have to put the work in, but also annoying because I like to be in the know in regards to what’s going on & feel like I’m in the dark when someone else does the work & decides what I do & don’t need to be concerned with.
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?
Martin – Social media & making contacts in the city seems like the best way, if you’re social. But it’s still worth it to try & get in the weekly or radio shows (net or traditional). I don’t have evidence that either method helps too much in regards to getting more people out to the show though, but I guess it’s worth a shot as opposed to doing nothing at all.
QRD – How do you think the festival circuit has effected touring & do you enjoy playing festivals?
Martin – We don’t get invited to these things anymore. Theoretically they’re good as far as networking & as an outreach to people that would never see you otherwise. Not being that social, the results for us are limited. As far as how it effects touring, all the bands playing festivals are out on the road at the same time so it makes getting booked anywhere in the region of festivals more difficult & also putting together local shows becomes harder because everybody you want to play with is on the road.
QRD – How do your songs change for your live show?
Martin – Definitely more rocking, but also a little less dynamic as we’re usually short a member & make up for it by being a bit more brash in our delivery.
QRD – Do you keep notes on how to play your songs?
Martin – Mental notes of what everyone else is doing wrong & which pedals to tweak settings on before songs.
QRD – How often do you have line-up changes & how do they effect the band?
Martin – Too often & not often enough. Mostly vocalists & drummers. Both usually mean we can’t play older songs because of refusal or inability to pull it off properly.
QRD – How do band practices differ from live shows?
Martin – We do two sets instead of one & there are smoke breaks.
QRD – When you hear your live recordings are you generally critical or satisfied?
Martin – Critical, same as with studio sessions. I’m never quite satisfied in general but also realize nothing will ever be like what’s in my head.
QRD – Do you think of recorded versions or live versions of your songs as definitive?
Martin – Usually the recorded version considering we’re usually short enough members to play all the parts live.
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?
Martin – Never… “Cobra”, as we lack the instrumentation to do it justice. Every night, maybe “13” as it’s always good fun to play & also a crowd pleaser.
QRD – What do you do to stay interested in your set each night?
Martin – We always mix up the setlist with either a song we didn’t play the night before or switch up the song order. It’s something I think we picked up from seeing The Cure on multi-night stands.
QRD – How does the audience effect what or how you play on a given night?
Martin – We try not to do too many sleepy time songs in a row if we’re playing for audiences that are more there to boogey.
QRD – Do you take new songs on the road or stick with released material?
Martin – New songs. As a songwriter you always think your newest is the best & it keeps the set fresh & morphs the songs into something listenable & ready to record.
QRD – Do you throw in cover songs & how do you select them?
Martin – Not usually, but we did the last tour we did & it was good fun for us & a crowd pleaser. We usually have a reason for learning a cover in the first place, like a comp opportunity. Or like the last tour I mentioned, we learned our Cure/BatsForLashes Mash-up for WFMU’s 100% with Mary Wing show on-air performance because she requests that the bands coming on do one.
QRD – How do you deal with bad stage sound & bad sound guys?
Martin – It’s just a fact of life when you’re playing the club level like we do. The soundperson may have been the doorman that also plays in a band, so now he’s doing sound. Or the disgruntled sound engineer that is just there because they couldn’t get employed elsewhere & is primarily collecting the fee & playing on their phone & ignoring you completely. They’re not all like that, but there’s enough that are that you notice the trend. The best you can do is make requests & hope for the best. I’ve actually got to the point where I don’t think it’s even worth doing sound checks unless you’re on first because it won’t sound anything like it did by the time you start playing. There’s also the ones that thing they’re your boss & try to order you around. Just gotta go do what you’re there to do & not get to worked up about it. Ideally we’d have our own soundperson or someone that can give them tips, which I bet they love. As far as coping with bad sound, eye contact & moving closer to what I need to hear (drums or vox usually) so that I can keep time & also know when the changes are coming.
QRD – What do you do when equipment malfunctions on stage?
Martin – Work through it or get rid of it completely. I’m usually prepared before we even arrive, so I’ve never had amps crap out. But guitars, I generally have a backup & pedals & cables can just re-route, remove, do without & soldier through. Especially now that we’re not as effect reliant.
QRD – What have you learned to do to get better sound regardless of the venue?
Martin – Good sound in, usually good sound out is a good rule of thumb. Try to find the balance between volume & bandmates/soundperson’s recommendations. Remembering that the soundperson more often than not doesn’t know what you’re supposed to sound like. Also, most people in the audience just want to hear the vocalist, so blasting the amps as loud as I can may sound great to me, but ruins everyone else’s night. So dialing it back while still being able to get a decent sound is a good idea.
QRD – What’s something you hate seeing other bands do?
Martin – Roll their cables up on stage after their set; have giant pedalboards, but sound like all they’re using is fuzz or overdrive & delay.
QRD – What’s the best compliment/worst insult you’ve gotten after a show?
Martin – I haven’t directly heard any insults since burMONTER days. We usually get the typical, you just stand around or don’t look like you’re having fun comments (sometimes from band members themselves). They’re usually from people whom I wouldn’t really take their musical commentary seriously to begin with though. We did do a show in Virginia someplace during the burMONTER days & for some reason we were on a punk bill & the venue had bands play upstairs & someone from downstairs did the ever thoughtful “You Suck” shout outs. Liz’s friend once told her the old “looks like you’re having fun”, when she was asked how the show was, so I guess that’s one DRLNG’s had.
As far as compliments, strangers don’t usually come up to talk to me for some reason. Curse & a blessing I guess. But we have some footage where at the very last note of “13”, you hear whomever is standing by the camera give an excited “holy shit” remark. So I guess that’s a good compliment.
QRD – Do you ever tour with bands other than your own as a hired hand & if so how is that experience different?
Martin – Not as a hired hand, but I was sort of a member of ToTheWedding for a bit. & we did a 4 date tour of the northeast. The only difference really was that I didn’t have to do setlists &/or corral everyone into the van & venue. I still somehow wound up doing the bookings though.
QRD – Do you prefer playing with another touring band or just locals?
Martin – Just locals really. Sort of like going on holiday, why would you go to Thailand & eat Cheeseburgers.
QRD – Do you try to listen to the local opening bands on tour?
Martin – If you mean during their set yes, oftentimes to my dismay. If you mean listening to them online beforehand; I don’t make a point to, but usually wind up doing so.
QRD – What makes you like a particular city?
Martin – Consult Dead Milkmen’s Tacoland.
QRD – What makes you like a particular venue?
Martin – Nice staff, professionalism, good sound, built-in crowds don’t hurt, air-conditioned or heated depending on the season & a decent sound system. I recall playing some place in Virginia where not only was there no sound person, they didn’t even have mic stands &/or mic cables.
QRD – What do you have for merch?
Martin – We used to do t-shirts & what not, but now we just do the CD/vinyls & throw in stickers/pins for good measure.
QRD – Do you try to have any specialized merch for live shows?
Martin – It’d be nice, but no.
QRD – What’s a merch item you think about selling but haven’t yet?
Martin – CDs, vinyl & t-shirts. We’re also hopeful about selling download cards too & the one time we did was sort of a disaster.
QRD – Besides band members, how many people do you bring on tour & what are their duties?
Martin – We used to have a merch person, but it turned out they didn’t stay put at the merch table & wound up being more of a hassle than any of the actual band members to have on the road.
QRD – When you’re on tour, does someone take a father figure role of responsibility?
Martin – Yes. It’s split though, usually there’s two people without naming names that think it’s all about getting drunk & having a good time, but that’s because they don’t have to drive or talk business with the venues & sound people.
QRD – What do you do to keep your instruments & personal belongings from being stolen?
Martin – Pray. Bring the essentials into wherever you’re staying. We’ve been lucky enough to never have a break-in or theft.
QRD – Do you rent a vehicle or take out your own?
Martin – Done both but now we rent because it’s so seldom that we need the vehicle.
QRD – What’s the worst car breakdown you’ve had on tour?
Martin – Never broke down on tour. Lost the A/C one summer in the south.
QRD – What’s your ideal touring vehicle?
Martin – A big square shaped van.
QRD – What plays on the radio as you drive?
Martin – Absolute nonsense. In this day & age of iPods generally it’s whatever James feels like.
QRD – How do you occupy time in the van?
Martin – Mostly go on Mind Quests.
QRD – What’s your main activity to occupy your downtime when not in the van?
Martin – Usually there isn’t much time to do anything except eat & play & drive to next location. We’ve tried the wandering about the city, but on a surface level there’s really just eating & drinking. Especially in this day & age where you’ve probably acquired all the things you geek out about via the internet. In the 90s you could go to the record shops & find something you couldn’t get in your hometown, etc. But the internet has done away with that concept. I mean with ToTheWedding we did the whole cheesesteak thing in Philly but that’s still just eating & sometimes you meet up with old friends from whatever town you’re in & then go for something to eat or drink.
QRD – How do you try to find places to eat on the road?
Martin – We’re not that picky of eaters on the road, so we generally just pick something in our general locale unless we know of something ahead of time. We tried Yelp in Richmond & it sorta backfired & took us to a place we all hated.
QRD – What’s your in a pinch fast food meal?
Martin – Cheeseburger with a side of cheeseburger. Would generally just go to a café as opposed to McDonald’s though. A coffee & a pastry will keep me satisfied until we find someplace suitable to eat.
QRD – Do you try to make any meals for yourself on the road?
Martin – That usually never lasts beyond the first day.
QRD – How many days does it take before your body is in sync with the touring lifestyle?
Martin – I’m easily adaptable, so unless I’m sick or something the very first day.
QRD – Do you prefer to stay at people’s houses or hotels & what are the advantages & disadvantages to each?
Martin – I prefer hotels because I don’t want to inconvenience anyone & also when you stay at someone’s place they want to stay up & hang out after you’ve driven all day to play a show & then pack up & get back to their place at 2am.
Pros of staying with someone is that it’s generally more fun if you’re in the mood for it, cheaper than a hotel. Pros of a hotel is that you only have your bandmates to deal with & don’t have to worry about making a bad impression.
QRD – Do you have separate clothes for onstage than daywear?
Martin – Usually change out of what I’ve been wearing in the van all day yes. Not like a costume or anything like that though.
QRD – How many changes of clothes do you take on tour?
Martin – A week’s worth.
QRD – How often do you do laundry on tour?
Martin – Usually only need to do it once because I haven’t been out for longer.
QRD – How often do you try to bathe & how do you schedule in everyone getting bathed?
Martin – Daily. Luckily I haven’t been in a situation where there wasn’t a bathing opportunity available. Except maybe once in Germany, but we went to the Schwimmbad & used the showers there.
QRD – What do you do when a band member has totally different ideas about hygiene?
Martin – Usually deal. Never had to deal with any dire situations in that regards though.
QRD – How often do you try to schedule a day off?
Martin – Never intentional, usually it just winds up happening due to routing & possibilities/offers. We couldn’t get a gig in SF on the way down to LA from Portland. So we had a day off to hang about SF.
QRD – Any tips for not getting sick on the road?
Martin – Avoid foods that are troublesome to you, bathing & dressing appropriately for weather.
QRD – Do you have a set drinking policy (none before performing or a nightly total)?
Martin – Won’t do more than one between showing up at the venue & playing.
QRD – What’s a lesson from touring you keep forgetting & re-learning?
Martin – That when you wake up, everyone is still going to be there. That you should talk to the locals.
QRD – What do you do the week before tour to get ready?
Martin – Equipment checks, get the word out as much as possible, check the bank accounts & get the merch in a suitable state to travel, get small denominations for change at the merch table & tolls.
QRD – How long does it take to convert back to day-to-day life?
Martin – One day of rest & dread.
QRD – How do you test for personality conflicts between band members before touring?
Martin – Yeah right. Beggars can’t be choosers.
QRD – How has touring effected how you feel about playing in your hometown?
Martin – I’d rather play out of town to five people than to a room full of people that are just there because they’re you’re friend & not because they like the music. In addition, it doesn’t really feel like I’m actually doing a show if I spent the day at work.
QRD – How do you feel about fans putting live cell phone videos up on YouTube?
Martin – While I generally don’t like what I see, I don’t really have a problem with it.
QRD – Do you see touring as mainly a promotional tool for your new albums?
Martin – Or the other way around.
QRD – Do you try to practice as a band while on the road or just stick to the performances?
Martin – Just stick to performances. Unless a new member joins along the way we should be well enough rehearsed.
QRD – Do you have time to practice your instrument while on the road?
Martin – I don’t even do that when I’m at home.
QRD – Does your time with your instrument go up or down on the road compared to normal?
Martin – It goes up since I only play when I’m writing, recording or playing a show. However, being mindful of its upkeep skyrockets.
QRD – Do you try to hit museums or any touristy things while you travel?
Martin – If there’s time. In Greece we hit all the Athens sites we could, but say when we go to Fredericksburg, VA. Not really.
QRD – Do you try to get any rudimentary grasp of a language before touring in a foreign country?
Martin – No, but besides Greece we haven’t gone anywhere that spoke a language one of us wasn’t already somewhat familiar with or had a local that was traveling with us.
QRD – Do you have any pre-stage rituals before each set?
Martin – No. Usually I’m concerned with the setlists, equipment & keeping track of band members.
QRD – Does “what happens on tour, stays on tour” apply for you?
Martin – Not by choice. It’s just that nobody wants to be my friend back home.
QRD – Have you ever or would you like to do a bus/train/mass transit tour?
Martin – In Germany I would do this. In the US not in the least bit.
QRD – What are your favorite & least favorite seasons to tour?
Martin – Summer. Hate being hot & sweaty & probably have PTSD from when the A/C cut out. Although I enjoy the winter months, I realize nobody will come to the shows or it’ll get snowed out & cancelled. So I would prefer to only play in the more southern states during the winter. So Spring & Fall are my ideal touring times.
QRD – If money were no object, how many months a year would you spend on the road?
Martin – One or if it was profitable more & if it was profitable & I’d get to have my own room, even more than that.
QRD – What would make you start touring more or start touring less?
Martin – See above answer for touring more. Touring less? When the hassles outweighs the benefits.
QRD – What’s something that would cause you to cut a tour short?
Martin – Deaths, injury, illness both ours & family/friends back home. I may consider financial risks/benefits if the tour is going that badly or the costs are getting out of control.
QRD – What’s something about life in general that you’ve learned from touring?
Martin – That I can tolerate a lot.
QRD – Anything else?
Martin – If you’re in a band & you’re going to release records & you’re not hometown heroes, you should go on tour. Even if you are hometown heroes you should go on tour because it’ll weed out those members that aren’t going to cut it if you decide to “be more serious”. It’s not for everybody, but I’d say it’s definitely an experience worth having.