Good Trip, Bad Trip: Shearwater

Jonathan Meiburg’s memories of away trips and tear gas…
Shearwater - Jonathan Meiburg

Currently promoting their 2013 LP ‘Fellow Travelers’ (one “l”, this being an American band’s album title; review), Texan troupe Shearwater has been around a bit. By which we mean: they’ve seen plenty of the world while working their musical wares. Their latest collection is comprised of covers – but an all-originals tenth studio set is in the works.

Here, band-founding frontman Jonathan Meiburg (pictured) tackles Clash’s new Good Trip, Bad Trip feature. Which is ever so nice of him. Less nice: gangsters and tear gas, obviously.

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‘I Love The Valley Oh!’, from ‘Fellow Travelers’ (originally by Xiu Xiu)

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Best Trip…

“Do I get to count the time I played a session on Falkland Islands Radio Service in Stanley?”

Worst Trip…

“We played a show in (country name withheld) that appeared to be organised by gangsters.  It was really scary; the promoter’s henchmen seemed terrified of him, and he stared us down in the green room in an eerie way that faintly suggested dire consequences if we didn’t play the show he wanted.  Then they insisted that we go to a club with them afterward, where I didn’t get the feeling we were free to go.  I remember standing outside the club and wondering why my eyes were watering so uncontrollably; was it just the fear of not knowing where I was or how I was ever going to make it home?  And then billows of tear gas started wafting down the street.” 

Our favourite foreign venue…

“Union Chapel in London might be my all-time favourite – I don’t think I’ve ever played a more beautiful venue – except for two things. First, they won’t let you crank the PA in there, which was maddening; just the sound of the unamplified snare drum exceeded their dB limit. Second, the last time we played there, our bags were stolen out of the green room.  Of a church!  So we spent the next day frantically trying to replace lost passports – I keep mine on me at all times now. London, you really know how to turn on the charm.”

We’re surprisingly popular in…

“Anywhere.  The shock of turning up to play somewhere far from home and finding a crowd of people there to see us hasn’t worn off.  I hope it never does.”

Best or worst exotic foodstuff…

“Besides Amsterdam’s magnificent stroopwafels, or pretty much anything they put on the table in Turkey or Italy?  Note to Germany: I’ve had enough bread and cheese for a lifetime.”

The most interesting item I’ve brought home…

“I don’t really collect souvenirs, but I did bring back a pellet of raven vomit from the Aran Islands (in Ireland) once.  It was much prettier than you’re imagining; it was a hard little lozenge made almost entirely of iridescent green beetle shells, like a weird, conglomerate gemstone.  It crumbled to dust in my bag, but if it had made it home I’d have framed it.”

The most intriguing human I’ve met on the road…

“We’ve had some great tour managers over the years. Ben Corrigan can make the grimmest tour into a grand rock and roll odyssey; Jeroen Vrijhoef can talk you out of trouble with the German police; and the great Phil Jones does not appear to need sleep.  But our all-time favourite touring companion probably has to be Rikke Iversholt, an expat Danish social worker who’s somehow contrived to become Scottish and counsels social workers in Glasgow. She brought us rosewater cupcakes for years until we finally insisted that she come along on several tours to sell merch and promote our general welfare. Ask her about the time she had to call Alex Chilton to get him to convince her roommate to pay the phone bill.”  

Worst on-tour injury, illness or infection…

“Many years ago, we played a show in a dungeon in Sheffield that had a total audience of three people; one of them was a drunk dude who wanted me to go out back with him and, I’m guessing, either f*ck or fight – I didn’t find out. The other two were a bashful student couple that wanted to give us their band’s CD. We didn’t have a place to stay and we were flat broke, so we asked them if they could put us up, and after some hemming and hawing they agreed to put us on the floor of their dorm room kitchen at the university. We pulled up at the school and the whole dorm was gathered outside their rooms, clogging the staircases; it turned out the fire alarm had just gone off. It was freezing outside, and the drummer and I huddled together all night on the kitchen floor under a dirty blanket, shivering. Kids kept peering through the door at us like we were some kind of zoo exhibit, and I picked up a nasty, bone-shaking cough I didn’t shake for the next six weeks. 

“On the plus side, we got to spend the next morning thawing out in a small gallery downtown that was showing some original Blake drawings, and outside the gallery in the street I saw a mouldering poster for a band called the B’Eagles. A quote in huge type at the bottom of the poster gushed: ‘A truly accurate representation of the music of the Eagles!’”  

My essential travel item…

“Earplugs. Just the foamy kind you get in any drug store. Wear ‘em on the plane, wear ‘em in the van, wear ‘em in the show. It’s amazing how much they reduce your overall level of anxiety; the effect is weirdly similar to the detached bliss you get from Valium or opiates, and way cheaper. And you can always pretend you can’t hear someone when they’re talking to you. Plus, I have some hopes of still being able to hear birds singing when I’m old.” 

My essential travel tip…

“Don’t take more than you can easily carry; you might have to make a getaway quick-like. And remember: almost nobody sees you for more than one day in a row, so who cares if you wear the same shirt for a month?”

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As told to Si Hawkins

‘Fellow Travelers’ is out now on Sub Pop. Find Shearwater online here

See the band live:

April
30th - XOYO, London

May
1st - Deaf Institute, Manchester
2nd - Fleece, Bristol
3rd - The Haunt, Brighton

Related: Good Trip, Bad Trip: Tokyo Police Club

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