#IndieGoesInternational: How Artists are Clinching Overseas Tours
Battling the strains of acquiring visa, work permits, sponsorship and equipment isn’t easy but local bands won’t give up
Consider meeting an internet acquaintance for the first time, except you’re taking a long-haul flight and paying a few lakhs to go and see them and hope they make good on their promise of giving you a string of shows and everything else they’ve promised. Mumbai death metal band Gutslit’s bassist Gurdip Singh Narang, who has plotted out a two-week tour of Asia in September, says, “The amount of research one has to do is at par with the amount of research Indian parents put in when it comes to an arranged marriage.”
Uddipan Sarmah, the entrepreneurial frontman of post-rock band Aswekeepsearching, says the toughest part is “to make people believe in us.” After two years of establishing friendly contacts with Swedish instrumental act Pg.Lost and American prog band Tides of Man and more in Europe, there’s a 15-date tour underway in May. “It’s a completely different business model [compared to touring in India],” Sarmah says.
The Mumbai-based band have saved up from shows and merchandise sales to put it into a tour. With the tour dates confirmed, the next step involves getting an invitation letter from the hosts—in the case of Aswekeepsearching, it’s Dunk! Festival and their supporting bands— that mentions each traveling members’ names, passport numbers and dates of visiting. While filing for a visa in Europe as well as in the States, artists are also required to send in proof of confirmed accommodation, bank statements to prove regular income and for Europe, even confirmed flight tickets.
In March, Mumbai indie rockers The Koniac Net were invited to play two shows in Finland, making it their second international show after Bhutan. Unlike Singh or Sarmah, founder and frontman David Abraham was a fan of a Finnish band named Penniless since 1997 and had emailed them The Koniac Net’s releases in 2012 and 2014. Abraham says, “They never really replied [then], but eight or nine months ago, I got a reply saying they loved the music. I thought it was spam.” One of the most expensive countries in the world, The Koniac Net flew out to Helsinki on the invitation of Penniless, who—unlike their misleading name— generously provided the Indian band 50 percent of their airfare, along with stay and food. Abraham says vehemently, “They’re the kindest people we’ve met in our entire lives. We were worried about so many things, but they made us feel at home.”
Gearing up for the show
Once there, of course, it’s all about gearing up for the stage, with the operative word being “gear.” While Sarmah notes that Aswekeepsearching are sharing most of their backline with the headliners on tour, artists have to be fully prepared with all their equipment on stage and on the road. Unlike any of the bands on tour, New Delhi-based acoustic artist Dhruv Visvanath was in the U.S. for a few shows as part of his appearance at South By Southwest in Texas in March and is now gearing up for a showcase performance at Canadian Music Week in Toronto in May. Both were application-based selections, which he likens to “handing in your resume”. Visvanath—who released his second album The Lost Cause in April —says, “If anything goes wrong, you’re 20,000 miles away from home. You have to get it right.” Apart from paying for applications, Visvanath is covering for travel, visa and stay expenses on his own, taking the gig as an opportunity to promote The Lost Cause as well.
The toll of touring
Prep was everything for prog band Skyharbor, who have been used to the tour life for about five years now. With members in the U.S. and India, Skyharbor wrapped up what was supposed to be a month-long American tour between March and April, missing some of 26 shows and later making up for a few with an acoustic duo set featuring guitarist Devesh Dayal and vocalist Eric Emery, while the rest of the band waited for their work permits to get approved. Guitarist and founder Keshav Dhar said patience and band togetherness was essential as they sat around missing shows for a tour that was all planned out.
Dhar says it plain and straight, “For most bands, the amount of logistical, financial, physical and emotional stress that comes with touring simply outweighs the joy they get from playing the music.” He adds later on, “I don’t think touring will ever really be comfortable when a band is just starting out. It’s simply the nature of the game, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.”
Being on tour with alt metal biggies Deftones last year was certainly an exercise in making Skyharbor as efficient as possible, getting stage-ready in 15 minutes. Like Aswekeepsearching, it helps massively when you have your own sound engineer who knows the drill. Dhar says, “There’s literally zero time to troubleshoot, and you need to have everything 100 percent sorted going in. This is where we spend many days before we fly out, and two days before the first show, literally just tightening up every aspect of the tech side of things. From making sure our MIDI patch changes are accurate to the millisecond, to making sure all the in-ear monitors and related lines are patched correctly and everyone’s hearing what they should, to knowing how to set up and mic a drumkit in five minutes.”
Patience is key
While Gutslit are flying in and out of countries for their shows in Asia, which makes timeliness an important element, most bands touring Europe or just one country hire out vans for equipment storage and travel, while staying in hotels each night or sometimes making space in the van itself. Singh says before all this, when you’re waiting for your tour to all come together like you once vividly imagined a poster for, patience is key. He adds, “Even the best bands I know don’t get programmed for so many festivals. You have to make sure you make the best music you can while you approach the festivals or shows. Don’t stop making music just because one dozen festivals didn’t reply to your email. If your music is up there, you will eventually get there.”