For the 10th anniversary, Reno punk band Vampirates set sail on their fifth national tour
To celebrate their 10th anniversary as a band, the members of Reno’s Vampirates hit the road for an 11-week national tour, traveling coast to coast, covering 29 states in every region of the country. They kicked things off with a show on Feb. 28 at Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor, and will return home for a show at 40 Mile Saloon on May 5 with Actors Killed Lincoln. In between those two local shows, the group is playing gigs just about every day—at bars, clubs, houses and record stores—all across the country.
This is the hardcore punk band’s fifth national tour—“the fourth that’s really extensive,” according to the group’s vocalist and sometime drummer Dave Masud. Over the course of their career, the group has played over 40 states.
Though the band is a four-piece for home games in the Reno area, regular drummer Chris Tufino isn’t usually able to tour, so when the group tours, they usually do so as a trio—Masud, guitarist/vocalist Chris Fox and bassist/vocalist Pat Mayfield.
We caught up with the touring band members by phone on the fifth week of the tour, just before their gig in Long Island, N.Y. The hardened road warriors seemed comfortably in the groove of touring. Most of the shows, they said, had been great—with the shows in Knoxville, Tenn., and Asheville, N.C., being the highlights thus far.
“That place is always so awesome and really supportive,” said Masud of Asheville. “It’s a smaller, college, artsy town in western North Carolina, and they just have a really good underground music scene. A lot of kids come out to just about every show. … We’ve played 13 shows in total over the last four years there, and we’ve never had a bad show there.”
Of course, they’ve also had a couple of strange experiences already, including seeing a car shot at in Oakland, and playing the after-party for an all-male burlesque show in Florida.
“It was packed for the burlesque show,” said Masud. “It cleared out when we played and then filled back up when we were done.”
The played a few gigs in Austin during the annual South by Southwest festival, one of which was a part that turned too frightening even for this generally ferocious band of swashbuckling bloodsuckers. Their brand of fast, high-energy punk often teeters on a knife edge of violence—but this gig spilled over in a way that surprised even them.
“We played this party for this really, really crazy club,” said Masud. “The party was terrifying. We actually ended up having to leave before it was over, which is good because they set off a bomb—a propane bomb connected to a toilet full of shit and ignited with a shotgun. The police came and started arresting people.”
Fortunately, the Vampirates had played first, still early in the party, when everyone was relatively sober and before the craziness got out of hand, and perhaps even more fortunately, the band was well received.
“They loved us,” said Masud.
Still, as sketchy or frustrating as some of those shows might have been, they’re better than the worst kinds of shows: the canceled ones.
“Two nights ago the show in Pittsburgh fell through, which was a bummer after driving a long ways to find out the show’s not happening,” said Fox.Tour de force
So, what are the secrets to maintaining a well-oiled touring band? (Besides maintaining a well-oiled touring van?)
“Definitely make sure that the members of your band are your friends and people you can handle being in a band with and always being around every day,” said Masud. “That’s the most important thing. Learning how to screenprint has been extremely beneficial for us.”
The group members makes their own merchandise while on the road. Every couple of towns, they buy blank shirts and set up “merch factories” in friends’ houses. They screenprint shirts, sew patches onto hats and jackets, and even dub tapes. Having low-cost merchandise like this ensures that they make money even at under-attended shows.
“The only thing that we don’t make ourselves are the CDs,” said Masud.
“Take showers if they’re available,” says Fox. “Take advantage of any laundry or showers. Eat food if it’s there. Appreciate the small things, like food or laundry or a bed or a floor to sleep on.”
It’s worth noting that this is good advice not just for touring bands but for life.
“Watch the band you play with, because you might find some of your new favorite bands,” said Fox. “Make friends. Don’t be a dick.”
It’s easy to become jaded on the road, so a genuine interest in discovering new music is essential and it pays off in other ways in the long run.
“A lot of times just playing with good bands makes a good show for me, regardless of turnout or pay or anything—just getting to see a bunch of rad bands for free,” says Fox.
That essential curiosity about other bands leads to developing friendships and building a network—it’s how a band like Vampirates is able to tour on the cheap, with well attended shows. Every time gets better, the members say—easier to book shows with better bands and better audience turnout.
“In the beginning it was definitely a lot harder when we didn’t know anybody anywhere,” says Masud. “We were basically cold calling each town, just looking people up on the internet, talking to other bands and getting their contacts. The more times we’ve done it, the more friends we make, and we kind of grow the network each year. … It definitely makes it easier. The more people you know, the less you have to sleep in the van.”
“It’s like building a small community or a family,” says Fox.