The glamour and glory of the life of a rock star is something recounted ad infinitum in pop culture, but the reality is bleaker: sleepless nights, cheap beer, dirty toilets. And when they’re not dealing with the lack of creature comforts, bands have to think like businesses, working their social-media savvy on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook to help stay connected to fans globally, market their brand, and promote shows and albums.
As they kick off their North American tour “Mega Deaf II” in support of their latest album, Heavy Fruit, North Carolina rock and roll band He Is Legend made an early-November stop in New York for an earsplitting show at Webster Hall. They invited Fast Company to pull back the curtain on a day in the life of a rock band. This is what it really looks like.
1:27 PM: The band is unloading a trailer full of equipment they just lugged overnight from their home base of Wilmington, N.C. He Is Legend just wrapped a European tour where they leaned on social media to rally fans, tweeting out an impromptu DIY show at The Fighting Cocks hosted by Banquet Records in England, and confirming it on Instagram. “The power of social media is bringing back the control to the bands,“ says HIL tour manager Cory Desloge.
1:50 PM: At the studio at Webster Hall, drummer Sam Huff stands in the middle of the vacant standing-room floor. You can hear his contributions on the band’s latest album Heavy Fruit, released in August on Tragic Hero Records. The band, which took a hiatus from 2009 to 2011, disclosed that they would be starting the writing process for a new album in January 2015.
1:50 PM: Vocalist Schuylar Croom is beyond jet lag. “I haven’t felt myself,” he muttered under his breath while sipping coffee. In the the green room backstage, he lights up a thick piece of incense.
1:51 PM: Croom organizes his belongings. No sign of nail polish, but he is freshly manicured. His cigarettes are roll-your-owns.
2:07 PM: As Croom wraps up his “me time,” the band assembles on stage.
2:20 PM: Time for sound check. Huff is tuning his drum. Unhappy with what he hears, he changes the drum skins. The artwork that is featured on the drum kit and the Heavy Fruit album cover was commissioned by a friend of the band, Kate Sinclair.
2:22 PM: Bassist Matt Williams swaps out the broken strings on his instrument before sound check.
2:31 PM:The band runs through a few songs; Croom is screeching with ease.
2:41 PM: “Okay, you guys are too loud!” the soundcheck engineer shouts over the PA. “This is a tighter room so your normal settings won’t be needed.” After a couple of adjustments, and one more song played through, the soundcheck engineer gives the all clear.
2:49 PM: “I couldn’t hear myself play,” Denis Desloge tells his brother, tour manager Cory. “The pressure has been fucking me up, hasn’t gone away,” he says, referring to lingering effects from all the air travel.
5:31 PM: The band finds its way to the Brazen Fox to grab a bite to eat; the loud football game on the bar’s screens reminds them of home. Food and cooking is a bonding ritual for the band; they have a grill and to-go chef kit in the van and try to eat healthy on the road, Croom is a vegan. The band reveals the mundane, banal realities of life on the road. “There’s always that question, ‘What is the craziest tour story?’ assuming that rock and roll is still at the height of what it was when, say, David Lee Roth was having night after night of experiences,” laughs bassist Williams. “You wanna know my craziest tour story? This one night I didn’t have to shit in a shitty toilet.”
6:02 PM: Williams holds up the new tour laminates for Mega Deaf II tour, a design based on the movie Friday; NWA was the inspiration for the last Mega Deaf tour design.
6:57 PM: Aphex Twin graffiti is spotted on the streets of New York. Croom stopped and posed: “You need to get this picture.”
7:58 PM: Croom shows his love for Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick on his sleeve. His newest tattoo design is inspired by The Shining. (He also wears a Stephen King pin on his jacket.)
7:59 PM: Williams writes out the set list:
- Intro (Custom made intro, written recently.)
- Widow (The Widow Of Magnolia)
- Fangs (Everyone I Know Has Fangs)
- Never Works (This Will Never Work)
- Be Easy (Be Easy)
- Abra (ABRACADABRA)
- Primarily (The Primarily Blues)
- China III (China White III)
- Nasty (That’s Nasty)
- MC (Miserable Company)
- Shadows (Mean Shadows)
- Seduction (The Seduction)
9:38 PM: The backstage prep is a quiet process, but does offer abundant frosty provisions.
9:40 PM: Guitarist Desloge prepares for the 10 p.m. stage time with finger exercises.
9:42 PM: Adam Tanbouz, lead guitarist and songwriter of the band, reveals his writing process: “I wake up at 5 a.m. There’s nothing like weed in the morning; I like splifs with my coffee, he says. “Nothing puts me in a better mood then seeing a bright sunny morning.” The writing process starts early in the morning and continues throughout the day; he records voice-memo song ideas on his phone, which he lost on the European tour. “It was on the way to the airport coming back…I left my phone on top of a car, all my voice-memo song ideas, gone,” says Tanbouz. “I guess I’ll have to re-start writing for our upcoming record, which is kinda refreshing.” Croom then bursts through the door, laughing. “The bouncer thought I was a homeless dude,” he says.
9:49 PM: On the road, the band has been listening to the Serial podcast. “It’s a great idea to play out a story over time. It’s like old-timey radio–‘tune in next week!,” says Croom, imitating a radio announcer.
After the show, the band listens to Sigur Rós (Tanbouz’s tattoo pictured), Tycho, Trentemøller, or even Mac DeMarco.
9:49 PM: Sam Huff and Denis Desloge have deep rooted history going back to kindergarten; they share a tattoo with the initials of a friend who had died.
10:13 PM: “If I move my fingers in a current way, I can make the listener feel something different,” says Tanbouz, who plays with his eyes closed for clarity. “I can see better with my mind’s eye and play as hard as I can.”
Inspirations? “I feel like both Dimebag Darrell and Jimi Hendrix knew that their end was coming, that’s why they were so intense,” he says. “I fucking love the Foo Fighters.”
“Look at the Beatles, they are legends because they kept it simple” chimes in Denis Desloge.
10:16 PM: With Denis Desloge and Huff, the newest members of the He Is Legend gang, aboard, Croom says “the vibes are right with these guys, we feel like a family for the first time in a long time. Sometimes pieces just fall into place.”
10:21 PM: Steven Bache, the previous drummer, parted ways with the band in 2009, and the band went on hiatus. Huff was a drummer from an old cover-band project that Williams was a part of, and thought of Huff when Bache departed. Huff mastered all the older material with cheat sheets, a method he picked up from Saturday Night Live drummer Shawn Pelton in a drum clinic he conducted; it’s a mix of music notation and shorthand to know what to play when.
10:27 PM: The band is a fan of Spotify. “It’s just like Netflix; I use Spotify to discover music on the road,” says Croom. “Recently i just heard of Balance & Composure, and you know what, I went out and picked up their record first chance I got. I think that’s how streaming music interaction is with new fans. We think most of our fans consume our music on YouTube, but I can’t be too sure.”
10:29 PM: Halfway through China White III, the band smoothly strikes the notes, rhythm, and lyrics of Ms. Jackson by Outkast and incorporate it back into their original song. It is something that the band does as both an inside joke and to entertain themselves. The band also managed to mash up their Miserable Company with No Quarter by Led Zeppelin. It’s truly Impressive.
10:54 PM: There was a hard close set for 11 p.m., not enough time for an encore. The band ends with a bang, the lead single from their debut album I Am Hollywood, titled The Seduction. As the song erupts, so does the crowd. Beer is tossed and falls down like sheets of rain.
11:14 PM: Like classic rock bands, the lead singer is the face of this company. A fan managed to get the set list after the band’s performance and snuck into the green room for Croom’s autograph. Tanbouz walks shoulder to shoulder with the fan on the way out of the green room, but the fan doesn’t notice.
11:16 PM Croom is also a people person, shaking hands and posing for Instagram shots.
11:40 PM: An EDM show starts at the venue; Croom said if he could, then he would be in there shaking it.
11:52 PM-12:48 AM: The band loads up the van, and preps for an all-night drive to Albany, New York, but not before heading to a bar called the Black and White, for a post-show drink.
Photos & Interview: Joel Arbaje for Fast Company