Keeping his head low so as not to get it shot off is not Atkins’ way, however. A veteran of punk’s bloody, gob-covered past, Atkins, a godfather of industrial-rock, has witnessed and experienced just about everything the road can throw at a musician. And now, he’s collected all of his sage advice — and it is “sage” in that if you fail to follow it your band might end up in a Tijuana jail — in a hefty tome called “Tour: Smart.”
For $29.95, you get a wealth of advice and hilarious anecdotes — and when I say “hilarious” I don’t mean it in that “Elks Lodge speech way” that gets only forced, polite laughter from the robots that go to such things.
To put it simply, if you are in a band, or are a musician of any sort, you need this book. It is essential reading for those about to go on tour or in the early stages of planning one. Call it the bible of touring. Call it the Holy Grail of knowledge. Whatever hyperbole you want to throw at it, the book lives up to all of it. Put it this way: Spinal Tap wouldn’t have had little people dancing around a foot-high replica of Stonehenge had they read this.
It is chock full of the kind of advice you wish your father would have told you, that is if he’d been Iggy Pop and you were just going out on the road for the first time. A brilliant summation of life experience Atkins has gathered from 30 years as a touring musician, “Tour: Smart” reveal every pitfalls, every travail, every problem that could possibly arise, from dealing with the police to promotion to sex on the road to … jesus, who knows what else.
One iron-clad rule Atkins has as a performer is, if somebody, anybody, shows up to see you play, you better damn well give them a show. That’s something he would teach in his “The Business of Touring” class at Columbia College Chicago.
“There were times with Killing Joke where I was just so frustrated by the band’s stubborn refusal to play an extra hour for the audience,” says Atkins. “I remember a rainy night in Philadelphia, we expected 800 kids. There were about 400. It was a horrible, rainy night, and everybody in the band said, ‘That’s it. We’ve done an hour.'” Atkins, on the other hand, proposed going out and playing 10 more songs.
Commercially speaking, the biggest project of Atkins’ career involved Nine Inch Nails. It was he who worked with samples and drums on “Wish,” the first single off the NIN guitar-centric EP Broken which earned Trent Reznor a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance. The drums reminded Atkins of Sweet’s “Ball Room Blitz.”
“We laid down a beat to a click loop so we could do what we wanted later on,” says Atkins, who also owns the Invisible Records label and Mattress Factory Studios in Chicago. “It was great working with Flood (the post-punk/alt. rock producer).”
Up next for Atkins are compilations of avant-garde, underground Chinese music he recorded in Beijing last year. Atkins signed several a number of bands while there, in addition to shooting 80 hours of video and live shows at the D-22.
One is called Look Directly Into the Sun, which features 18 Beijing pop, punk and rock bands. Among them are Snapline, China MC Brothers and Carsick Cars, a band that is opening for Sonic Youth on the punk legends’ performances in Vienna, Prague and London. The Scoff, PK-14 and Joyside, three other Atkins’ discoveries, will open for NIN at the Beijing Pop Festival this year.
The other is Atkins’ own China Dub Soundsystem’s Made In China, a tornado of wild experimentation, post-punk, dub and traditional instrumentation that’s about as original and fresh as anything out there right now.
To find out more about the book, available through IPG Distribution, visit www.tstouring.com.
As for Martin’s memories of the early days of punk, go to www.goldminemag.com to read about his relationship with John Lydon in Public Image Ltd. and other touring experiences.
As for punk’s heyday, Atkins remembers the time fondly. “It wasn’t a single-minded thing, like ‘be a punk or else,'” says Atkins. “It felt like enlightenment.”