Welcome to our new series, where traveling local acts enlighten us about their experiences on and off stage in far-flung places. Susto’s Justin Osborne kicks off Bands Abroad with deets from their last long tour that began in the Netherlands back in January and took them through Scotland, England, Denmark, Norway, capping off in Sweden in March. Though Osborne’s been back to Europe this summer solo, he focused on Susto’s long winter in Northern Europe. “All the solo tours I’ve been on have been so fast-paced that I barely remember anything other than being in a constant state of panic that I’d miss a bus or a train or a plane, and being constantly exhausted from hauling my guitar/merch/and personal belongings with me everywhere I went,” he says. “It’s work.”
Where we slept
To be honest we have had really great experiences with lodging abroad. Outside the US and Canada, we’ve only really toured in Europe so far, so I can’t speak for the entire world, but in Europe and especially Scandinavia, we always each get our own sweet little Euro single rooms that feel a bit like a cruise ship. Unlike in the US, it’s really common for the venue or promoter to provide hotel rooms, which is really nice because touring abroad can otherwise be really expensive. Also, the breakfast in Euro hotels is usually insanely good, in our experience. Sometimes, though, you find yourself staying somewhere a bit strange, but those spots are hard to describe — sometimes they’re like some tiny little seasonal inn with only a handful of rooms. If you’re touring in the winter there may be no one even working there, so the promoter will kinda say, “Here are the keys to the place, the fridge is over there … etc.” Not sure how to explain just how strange and mildly creepy those types of spots can be in the dead of winter.
What we ate
So, Europe is known for incredible food, and it’s there for sure, but at the end of the day tour is still tour and you’re really just always in a hurry to get to the next town, so a lot of times you eat on the go in gas stations. I will say the gas station food can be pretty legit though. For example, Swedish gas station hot dogs are incredible and also all other sandwiches are on a baguette, so if nothing else at least you feel a bit fancier. Eventually though you get tired of sandwiches every day. Luckily, like with lodging, promoters are pretty generous and usually they will try to feed you at least one hot meal at the venue. Again, the free breakfast at European hotels is something you want to take advantage of, because it’s probably the best opportunity to eat (and free) each day.
Where we played
We were honestly really surprised when we got to Europe because almost all of our shows were either packed or sold out, which was a really cool feeling because it took a lot longer to achieve that in the US. I think the most memorable thing was getting to Norway and them telling us that most of our shows there were already sold out: We were just like, “What?” It’s great because people really dig in and they show up ready to have a good time in most cases, so the shows and dance parties that ensue after shows can be really fun, but they do make it harder to get back on the road early the next day.
What we rolled up in
One thing I don’t enjoy about touring in Europe is that everyone tours in [Mercedes-Benz] Sprinter vans or something similar. We are used to the American classic tour rig of a Ford passenger van and a trailer, which, believe it or not, is much more spacious and comfortable than most Sprinters. I will say though that touring with a trailer in Europe would be a hellish nightmare, so I understand why the Sprinter is industry standard over there, but it makes it nice to get back to the Ford van where we can stretch our legs a bit more. We had two separate vans last time we were in Europe — one was a construction-looking van with Polish plates, so everyone just thought we were construction workers everywhere we went. We had a different van in Sweden and Norway that was a bit more comfortable; it was also manual transmission so it was a bit more fun to drive.
What we listened to
Hands down, The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding. We didn’t have cell service in Europe so we relied on radio and whatever CDs we could find. We only had two really that would get played often, War on Drugs and Bob Marley’s Legend. Legend is always a go-to for me and it helps brighten spirits on a long, cold tour, but The War On Drugs album really helped me get through each day; I lived inside of that album.
What we learned
I’m honestly not sure what we learned — every tour seems like a blur sometimes. We definitely learned that touring abroad isn’t a holiday; it’s actually a lot more work than touring in the US, and you have be dedicated to make it work. We also learned that seasonal depression is a real thing, and being in cold, gray places for months on end with little sleep and unfamiliar everything can take a toll. We were all very open with each other about that and I think that helped us get through a long winter tour. We also learned how to channel everything into the set, so I think being pent up in a van all day with no phone, cold, and depressed enabled us to really explode onstage, and we played some really, really fun and memorable shows because of that. Also, though, we learned that no matter how different we are from the people we were playing to, music connects us all and those connections and moments we felt from the stage were very real and will have a lasting impact on us and the audiences.
What we’ll remember
I’m sure everyone in the band would answer this differently, but for me (regarding this one tour specifically) the most memorable moments were the shows and the incredible crowds that made them such a bright moment of each day. One specific memory that I think is my favorite from any tour abroad was this: I got to play a show (solo) inside the Arctic Circle in a town called Tromsø, Norway. It was too far for the whole band to make it up so the promoter flew me in for a solo show. It ended up that I was playing the same venue as Townes Van Zandt had on his last tour of Europe, a place called Blå Rock. The stage was so tiny it was only big enough for a chair and a mic, it was so cool to be on the same tiny stage as Townes, so far north and playing for people who were so genuinely into the music. I’ll never forget it, and afterwards when they told me Townes had played there and showed me pictures of him right where I had just been, it just felt really special to me.
Always pack light. When you think you’re taking just essentials, cut that in half. For some reason, no matter what, I always get on tour and feel like I’ve brought too much. Other than that thought, I’d say if you’re going to Europe in the winter, specifically Northern Europe, make sure you’ve got a warm coat, long johns, and some shoes with grip. It can get pretty snowy some places.