In the first of a three-part tour diary on their way to SXSW, Wellington band Hex arrive in California to find a New Zealand community halfway around the globe. Kiki van Newton (bass, vocals) reports.
On the first day of March we touched down in LA after four months of hard-out organisation. It wasn’t until eight hours into our flight that I really realised we were on our way to California. Those months had failed to make concrete a highly theoretical plan which up until two days before we left hinged entirely on whether we would get the correct visas in time. Last November, when we were invited to play SXSW, I was 16 years old and full of youthful vigour. Now I am a tired elderly woman, hunched in the middle seat of an aeroplane row, covered in aeroplane polar fleece.
Our entire time in LA it rained a tide that people were obviously unprepared for. All the terracotta tiled floors were left dangerously slippery as we drove around the city completing our various errands – Guitar Center, Ametron, A&T, Trader Joes. We slept in five beds in a single room in a dreary suburb tucked between huge studio complexes. Our second night we played our first show at a cute little club downtown called La Cita before heading out of the city for our first dive hotel experiences.
From what I could tell Palmdale comprised three or four chain motels, two gas stations and a beaten up taco restaurant. It was 2 am when we pulled in to EZ 8 and lay our bones across two rooms that smelled like cigarettes and cheap laundry liquid. The next morning I looked from our third-floor balcony across to the gas station that had provided late snacks the night before – hot chocolate, cookies, giant bags of crisps, and some miscellaneous ‘bakery’ items. Our tour regimen of carrot sticks and apples had lasted 1.5 days. By 9:30 on our third day, we were on the road to meet one of the New Zealand music’s most dedicated and kickass fans, the legendary Martina Brito.
Lancaster is a small city a couple hours north of LA. Martina met us dressed in full fangirl regalia: a Salad Boys t-shirt, badges from New Zealand Music Month, RDU and a bunch of New Zealand bands, and carrying her famed iPad, covered in autographs and scrawled messages from some of the biggest names in New Zealand music. She jumped in our van and thus began a couple of hours finally getting to know the woman otherwise known as badreligiontina. Martina directed our unsteady driving to Denny’s where we ordered a vast selection of beige yet delicious food and bottomless coffee. She regaled us with stories of growing up, her favourite bands in the US and New Zealand, her life in recent times, her studies, and the general trouble that she and her friends get up to. We ate and talked and took selfies and by the time we were ready to go, we’d all fallen thoroughly in love with Martina. (Thank you for everything!!)
On the road again, we barrelled through California towards Bishop, a frontier town in the high desert at the top of the Mojave, in the middle of endless tumbleweeds and rocks, ringed by gigantic mountains covered in dense snow. Before we arrived we discovered there had just been a huge avalanche that saw 25,000 people evacuated from Mammoth Mountain in a large-scale emergency operation. We were told this by an elderly gent in a hunting and fishing shop in Lone Pine that sold mugs where the handles were guns. He joked “at least I can sell those without a licence” as my eyes hovered above his cap peak to read the slogan ‘The Second Amendment: the Original Border Control’ with NRA embroidered at a jaunty angle to the side. I swayed from foot to foot nervously while I excused myself from his store to scurry across the road into a crystal shop.
You can see your breath in Bishop at this time of the year, while the sun still manages to cast its hot rays across your eyes. That night we played a show to the crowded Mountain Rambler, a local brewery heaving with young snowboarders and Bishop’s creative residents. We ate delicious tacos, drank incredible beer brewed onsite, talked to so many interesting and passionate people, and then all passed out in a nearby apartment. That night I had nightmares where I woke others with my screams, and from what I can recall they were all about breaking microphones.
The next morning we were up early for a long drive, but not before heading to Tricia Lew’s house for breakfast. Tricia is the original New Zealand music fan who began bringing bands to Bishop, starting with The Phoenix Foundation a decade ago. Since then she has played host with the most to New Zealand bands of all kinds heading to Bishop. Tricia filled in so many gaps in the New Zealand music family tree that even we didn’t know about, while filling us up with scrambled eggs and sourdough, sachets of Berocca and pots and pots of coffee. We left Bishop feeling grateful that there are people like Tricia and Martina in the world and humbled that our New Zealand music community extends deep into the hearts of people halfway around the globe.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.