Spelling Bee Returns From A Tour That Included A Break-In And Several Great Bands

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PHOTO BY MABEL SUEN
  • Photo by Mabel Suen

Noise-rock duo Spelling Bee recently embarked on a tour that took members Joseph Hess and Mabel Suen to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Bost and more. We explored the band's approach to D.I.Y. in a feature as the tour was kicking off. Now that they've returned, we asked them about some highlights (there were several) and lowlights (a break-in in Brooklyn was a real setback).

RFT Music: What did you travel in?

A Mini Cooper. It's a tricky game of Tetris getting all our equipment to fit every time, but worth it because of great mileage and relatively easy parking wherever we go.

What was your cheapest meal?

Peanut butter and honey sandwiches plus clementine oranges. We were also lucky enough to have some memorable home-cooked meals along the way. Brian Chippendale cooked us a lovely lunch, our good friends from Mother Night in New Bedford, MA made us some killer grub, and we even got treated to super healthy homemade breakfast smoothies (egg yolks? bee pollen??) by a swell fella named Kevin in Cincinatti.

Which venue treated you the best?

So many great friends went out of their way to set up shows in houses and other unconventional spaces for us. The guys at The Paragon in Providence, Rhode Island and The Flywheel in Easthampton, Massachusetts were super sweet to us and are definitely noteworthy as well. It's always the best experience whenever we get to work with people who take pride in and are completely passionate about the spaces they are involved in. With the exception of one jerk in D.C., the people in every city were especially kind.

Where did you sleep?

Something freakish happened this time around because we were offered a bed of some sort almost every night. OK, some of these were fold-out beds with dirty socks hidden in them, but it was still a luxury nonetheless. We're always humbled by the level of hospitality offered to us by friends old and new.

Who was the most interesting person you met?

We meet so many awesome people on tour -- it's hard to pick just one. We met Brian Chippendale back in April when we had the opportunity to open for Lightning Bolt at the Luminary Center for the Arts but got to know him even better during this trip. He's definitely one of the most interesting and creative people we know, and it was really cool getting to hang out with him in his art-packed warehouse living space. We also became good friends with two entirely new dudes -- Brandon (the guitarist of Tinsel Teeth) and a gentleman named Thor in Baltimore.

What was your best show?

We got to open for Black Pus, Tinsel Teeth and Bad Drugs at an unbelievable warehouse space called The Paragon in Providence. We performed with this wonderful band in Brooklyn named Bangladeafy, and a cramped Philadelphia basement had us playing with Bubonic Bear and Heavy Medical. Baltimore was especially fun because we met up with old friends and played Harco's final show. So many great shows on this tour!

What was your worst show?

A metal show in the basement of a house in Washington, D.C. It was a horrible experience in more ways than one, but at the end of the night, we still got pizza with friends along with Ian Mackeye porch stories (apparently, he's a really lousy babysitter), so we can't really complain.

What did you bring with you in the way of merch and music, and what sold best?

We had our full-length on cassette tape and CD along with our split 7" record with Glass Teeth. Everything sold fairly well, and we're down to less than 30 copies of the split 7" and less than 10 copies of the cassette tape.

What was the best band you played with?

Some favorites are Arvid Noe from Boston, Black Pus from Providence and Heavy Medical from Philly. We will supply a handy list of links at the bottom of the interview.

What piece of advice do you have for other bands heading out on tour?

Take pictures and video if you can! So much happens so quickly on the road, and it's always nice to bring something home to share. Our plans were foiled by an unexpected break-in in Brooklyn, but we're hoping to do a full tour blog the next time we're on the road.

What did you give up in order to go on this tour?

Money. We have never struggled so much with money than we have this Summer. Both of our amps went haywire (and for different reasons) only days before we were slated to leave. We had to cancel our date in Iowa City to have both amps repaired. That was over $200 right away (tube amps are worth it, though). Day 8 of our tour had us performing in Brooklyn, where one of our car windows was smashed in during the concert. Luckily our equipment was inside the venue, but our personal belongings were stolen out of the car. This included a laptop computer (which had MANY photos and videos from the previous week), other small electronics and all of our clothes and bath supplies. We spent day 9 scoping thrift stores for clothes (and Target for underwear). The window replacement set us back an addition $400.

What did you gain on this tour?

Every tour leaves us with similar feelings. After six tours, the feelings only get stronger. We perform alongside wonderful artists on the road and return to St. Louis, hoping to integrate what we've learned into our music. Spelling Bee started as an excuse to travel and enjoy experimental music in other cities. Because Mabel starting playing guitar specifically FOR Spelling Bee, our sound had literally been shaped by our experiences in and out of the city.

Here are our picks from our August 2011 Tour:

Coping (Chicago, IL) The Reptilian (Kalamazoo, MI) PONDS (Easthampton, MA) Jack Topht (Buffalo, NY) Dope Body (Balitmore, MD) HUME (Washington, D.C.) Wume (Chicago, IL) Black Pus (Providence, RI) TINSEL TEETH (Providence, RI) Bad Drugs (Chicago, IL) Mother Night (New Bedford, MA) Arvid Noe (Boston, MA) Pile (Boston, MA) The Sediment Club (Brooklyn, NY) Bangladeafy (Brooklyn, NY) Bubonic Bear (Philadealphia, PA) Heavy Medical (Philadelphia, PA) The Fordists (Washington, D.C.) Sign-Off (Athens, OH) Gnarwhal (Nashville, TN)

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