You know the curious, almost out-of-body feeling you sometimes get when you wake up in the middle of the night, where everything seems a bit fuzzy and you’re not sure if maybe you’re still dreaming? It’s a state Greta Morgan perpetually revisited during the second half of 2015, when she was writing and recording the new Springtime Carnivore album, Midnight Room. “I was on a really jagged sleep schedule,” says the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, describing the months during which she worked on the follow-up to her critically adored 2014 debut. “It was the first time I’d ever lived by myself, and there was this bizarre feeling at night of the house being so quiet and being so totally alone. And Midnight Room came out of that.” The record is out now, via Autumn Tone Records.
(Photo credit: Lenae Day)
This article appears in the zine AdHoc Issue 15, a special collaboration with the Talkhouse.
On tour, I think about this Neko Case quote almost daily: “Playing in an independent rock band will eventually make you equal parts truck driver, gladiator and mule. Glamour is for those with trust funds.”
Touring requires a unique type of emotional and physical resilience. You live in extreme closeness almost 24/7 with your band mates. All your belongings are in one suitcase. You’re away from the comforts and solitude of home. You can’t cancel unless there’s an emergency. Often, there’s bad food and poor sleep, but you are compensated with late-night confessional conversations, adrenaline rushes and a lexicon of inside jokes. There’s a rare type of bonding that occurs where your group begins to feel like a musical misfit family. There are rituals, initiations and pranks. There is a tight daily schedule. The worst-case scenario is that you return home thinking, “I will NEVER do that again.” The best-case scenario is that you come home with a handful of cherished new friends, a head full of experiences and a clearer sense of who you are.
You know what else that sounds like? Summer camp.
From ages ten to fifteen, I spent one to two months each summer at a camp in northern Minnesota. My bunkmates and I shared cabins without electricity and bathed in a lake using biodegradable soap. Here is my cabin, which probably smelled like Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon spray (to cover the seaweedy lake smell).
Here is the lake we bathed in.
This is a camp bunk.
Doesn’t that camp bunk kind of resemble a tour bus bunk?
That guy is my friend Daniel, who taught me my first song ever on guitar. It was “Eye of the Tiger,” closely followed by an Alkaline Trio guitar riff.
My last summer at camp was at age fifteen; the following year, my first band The Hush Sound was signed. I began touring soon after, so much of my life has felt like a continuum of strange adventures that fall somewhere between Salute Your Shorts and VH1’s Behind the Music. Here are a few examples of ways camp prepared me for life as a touring musician:
Sleeping in Strange Places
Age twelve, Camp Mishawaka
I slept under a canoe in the rain. I slept on the deck of a small sailboat for a few nights. I camped in the woods. I mostly slept in a bunk in a cabin without air conditioning while being gnawed on by Midwestern mosquitos.
I usually listened to Wilco’s song “Sunken Treasure” (Being There, 1996) on repeat on my Walkman before bed.
Ages fifteen through twenty eight, on tour
I slept on a tour bus on which our German driver blasted Rammstein at all hours. I slept on Ford E350 passenger van benches and floors. I occasionally took naps in my keyboard case, which is just large enough to fit my frame and only sort of felt like a coffin. I mostly slept in budget hotels or the homes of generous friends and family.
The worst hotel I ever stayed in was one in Odessa, Texas. It had curtains on the walls, but no windows behind them. We tried to draw the curtains back and saw that the room was just a concrete box. There was a piece of someone else’s dirty laundry on the floor when we arrived, but we were too exhausted to move to a different hotel. When we turned off the lights, there was a ceiling full of glow-in-the-dark stars. The next day, I discovered a half dozen cockroaches hiding behind the bath towels.
I still often listened to Wilco’s “Sunken Treasure” before bed.
Dealing with Critters
Age eleven, Camp Mishawaka
I stepped out of the lake after an afternoon swim and discovered a large leech sucking on my ankle. There are two ways to remove a leech: you can shake salt onto it so that it shrivels up, or just rip the sucker off. I tried the second method, only to discover that there were a bunch of baby leeches beneath it. Someone ran to the dining hall for a saltshaker and we “assalted” those bad boys until they shriveled up and moved into their next lives.
Age twenty, The Hush Sound’s summer headlining tour
I had been itchy for a few weeks on this tour, but figured it was nerves and the heat. On a day off in Redding, California, I was blissed-out and relaxing by a river when I scratched my head and saw tiny monsters beneath my fingernails. I had lice for the first time in my life. I bought lice shampoo, cut off ten inches of my hair, and despondently combed the bugs out while watching a Law and Order SVU marathon in our Best Western day room.
Since the boys miraculously didn’t get lice, it was my responsibility to delouse our tour bus. I spent the night sterilizing sheets, clothes and other fabrics from the bus in a trucker laundromat and fell asleep, exhausted, in the trucker movie theater at 5 a.m. I woke up next to a toothless man when he erupted in laughter at a joke in the TV show Wings.
Dealing with Rejection
Age twelve, Camp Mishawaka
I made a friendship bracelet for my number-one camp crush and wrote him a letter saying, “Dear David, I like you. If you like me back, wear this to breakfast at the dining hall tomorrow so that I see it and know we feel the same.” Guess who was NOT wearing the bracelet at breakfast.
One of his friends brought me the envelope with the bracelet still inside and a note that said, “Sorry, Greta. I just want to be friends.”
I didn’t make eye contact with David in the dining hall or at dances for the rest of the summer.
Age nineteen, in Chicago, Illinois
The Hush Sound received our first heartbreakingly negative review on our record Goodbye Blues, which I’d poured my whole heart into. The writer isolated all the weaknesses that I was insecure about, and it resonated with me as an accurate statement. It was brutal for my nineteen-year-old self, as I’d not yet grown thick skin. I felt ashamed of the record I’d worked so hard on, and questioned whether I should continue playing music. We had a show that night and the writer’s words were haunting me. While performing the songs, I felt my throat tighten because I wanted to cry. I had a hard time singing and felt embarrassed afterward.
Despite the challenges, touring is one of my greatest joys. I feel driven to do it. I was built for it in certain ways, like how I find the hum of an engine to be a soothing lullaby, or how I’m comforted by the minimalism of packing only one suitcase. I love the shape of travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner and airplane-sized liquor bottles. I love the camaraderie of being with my band mates. I love playing shows. I love seeing new cities. I love the long hours for thinking, reading and reflection as we drive many hours each day.
I love how touring creates chapters of time with clear beginnings and endings. It feels like dividing the actual seasons into smaller seasons and gives me a way to measure my life and creative path.
This quote from writer Lin Yutang has also always rung true to me: “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”
At the time of this writing, I’m about to head out with La Sera to play the new Springtime Carnivore record Midnight Room (out October 7, 2016). Wish me luck — and let’s all keep our fingers crossed for no leeches this time around.
Order a physical copy or AdHoc Issue 15 here — or download a PDF version. Print copies are available for free at shows across NYC, or at one of the below locations.
Academy Records, Greenpoint
Artbook @ MoMA PS1, Long Island City
Cafe Grumpy, Greenpoint
Commend, Lower East Side
Coop 87, Greenpoint
LIC Corner Cafe, Long Island City
Little Skips, Bushwick
Printed Matter, Chelsea
Spoonbill & Sugartown, Williamsburg