For the average American indie-level band, one motivator to keep writing and playing is the chance to tour Europe. Every aspiring musician has heard rumors of how well even the tiniest bands are treated there — appreciative crowds, cool venues complete with free food and drink, gorgeous scenery and the chance to play one's songs to people on the other side of the world. Then, of course, there are the horror stories. Henry Rollins' Get in the Van and Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life capture, in lurid detail, the reality of puke-ridden accommodations, gross crusty punks blasting Discharge all night while you're trying to sleep and (according to Fugazi) disgruntled hosts writing "You guys are assholes" on your bananas. Still, what young band would deny itself that adventure?
So when German label New Dark Age approached St. Louis' Doom Town with offers of a seven-inch single and a European tour, it's not surprising that they jumped at the offer. For a few weeks in December 2011 and January 2012, the foursome made its way across the continent, passing through Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Czech Republic in unseasonably warm weather. We were curious to know the reality of touring in Europe. The members of Doom Town were kind enough to reminisce with us before opening for Pierced Arrows at the Gramophone.
Ben Smith: ...Europe was some weird utopia for touring musicians. Every place we went, it was already guaranteed and expected that there would be dinner on the table when you got there, a place to sleep and a warm breakfast for you the next day.
Shaun Morrissey: And if there were no people, there was guaranteed to be money.
Mike Appelstein: Some of those squats have been around for decades.
Smith: We played a place in Leipzig called Zoro, and that's been around for 30 years. But yeah, everything was just like a well-oiled machine. Everyone just pitches in. It's all volunteers. It was just amazing.
Bryan Clarkson: When you hear you're going to be playing a squat, you have this vision in your head that it's going to be a burned-out bombshell.
Smith: A lot of them have bar licenses. Zoro was most astounding, though. It was this four-story place.
Ashley Hohman: It had a record store, a bar and different venues and stages. And a fully operating kitchen.
Morrissey: The one thing over there that was very similar to here was we still played in lots of basements. So we were still in the sub-level.
Had any of you ever toured abroad?
Smith: This was the first time for all of us. I did most of the driving. Driving in foreign countries is fun: narrow roads in a big Mercedes Sprinter tour van. It's all standard American driving on the right side of the road, but the Autobahn is tricky.
Morrissey: When our friend from No More Art was driving, he got pulled over in Bremen for having a taillight out. They asked if he had been drinking. He said no, and they said, "Well, we're gonna have to ask you to step out of the car." They take you to the rear of the vehicle and give you a piss test right there.
Smith: They basically ask you to take your cock out on the side of the road.
Morrissey: Because they're crazy in Germany.
Hohman: Afterward, they dumped the cup on someone's lawn.
Smith: We went to the Ramones Museum in Berlin.
Morrissey: We met this awesome dude, Michl, who runs Taken by Surprise Records, and he said, "Tomorrow, when you go to Berlin, you must go the happiest place on earth!" I told him that I don't picture any place being happy in Berlin. He said, "No! No! Ramones Museum!" Then other people told us it was this cheesy museum, not cool at all. But it was cheesy in all the right ways.
Smith: They had handwritten lyrics from the Ramones and a lot of original gear.
Morrissey: Apparently Johnny Ramone sent them a whole bunch of stuff. They had letters from him saying, "This is a set of strings I broke in 1990. I don't know why you want these, but whatever."
Hohman: We actually didn't have much time for sightseeing. It was like any other tour; you're on, you get in the van and get to the venue. We did have a day off when we got to Switzerland. In Basel, we saw this castle sitting very high up on a hill, overlooking the town. We decided we were going to find this castle. There were walls surrounding it; you can't actually get on the grounds. But we did as much sneaking around as we could.
Smith: That was the only serious medieval thing we were able to do.
Morrissey: We did go to a torture museum in Prague. That was the only night when...well, our host was straight-edge. He didn't want to go out to bars, and we didn't know if we should actually ask to go to a bar. We didn't want to seem rude and intrude.
Hohman: So he made our beds for us, turned out the light, and we were in bed by 11 p.m. In Prague.
Did you meet any fans?
Smith: There were people singing along to the songs in Prague. That's mind-blowing, when you write songs, go to the Czech Republic and see people singing the things that you wrote.
Give me a story about a show going completely wrong.
Morrissey: In Brussels, we arrived to find out that we were the only band on the bill, and they only found out then that we were even playing. We showed up, and they were building the bar. We said, "Hey, we're Doom Town, we're playing tonight," and they were like, "Oh...well...we were getting ready for the big anniversary show next week, but...OK, yeah, set up!" Ten minutes before we played, there were maybe fifteen or twenty people there, all between the ages of 35 and 60 years old. I'm sure they were on the phone begging people: "We have this band all the way from America, and I didn't tell anybody about the show!"
Smith: But still, people bought things and were super sweet.
Morrissey: We sold more merch there than in any other city.
Did you play with any good bands?
Morrissey: We only played with good bands.
Hohman: Warsong, Hyesterese, No More Art, Blank Pages, Din from Dresden...
Morrissey: Family Man. This crazy hardcore band that we don't sound like at all, but everyone who was there to see the show, it made sense to them. We do think it's neat over there that it's all punk rock and rock & roll while the show goes on. Then, after the last band is done, it goes straight into Roxette and turns into a great big dance party. And the most hardcore skinheads stay, get down and have fun.
Smith: We met German journeymen. This is something I don't even think a lot of Europeans knew about. We were playing a show in Mannheim at JUZ. After the show, everyone's just hanging out and selling merch. And then these four or five guys come through the door, dressed in...
Morrissey: Bell-bottom pants with almost a cow-country motif. Patchwork motif. Sacks on sticks.
Smith: We thought they were some kind of weird folky band. But in Germany they keep the tradition of the journeymen artisans alive. These were all union labor guys who'd finished their apprenticeships, but they can't work within 500 kilometers of their homes for the next two or three years. So they have to journey across the country, work for free, get fed and wear these traditional outfits. And you have to learn to ply your trade for the Germans. It's great.
Morrissey: Most of these places already have bunks set up for bands, and when they arrive, these places are expected to feed them and give them a place to stay.
Advice for bands thinking of playing Europe?
Smith: Do it! Get a reliable van. Get a GPS.