Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For 'Tour Tales,' we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it's still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on 'Tour Tales.'
Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot could utilize a good time if they wanted to. Signed to J. Cole's Dreamville Records in 2017, the Atlanta, Georgia duo; better known as EarthGang, are as hilarious to speak to over the phone -- comparing studio sessions to Scooby Doo -- as they are galvanizing to see live. Their live shows are full of diehard fans willing to give sweat, their voice, and even a few bones, to enjoy the full EarthGang experience.
"One girl broke her rib. I guess she got caught in the moshpit or something and that rib snapped," Johnny told REVOLT TV. "We linked up with her later through the DMs. Checked in on her to make sure she was alright. That's wild as hell to me."
For this installment of "Tour Tales," EarthGang discuss their evolution on the road, being ready to battle Tory Lanez if it came to that, and how their upcoming debut album, Mirrorland; will sound like a live show.
Your first EP, The Better Party, came out in 2010. What was the first time you two ever performed together?
Johnny: We performed at [Benjamin Elijah] Mays High School graduation in 2008 at the Civic Center in Atlanta, Georgia and I've been on a tour. We wrote our class song for the graduation. The piano teacher, who also was writing the song, was in charge of us. She knew we would sneak out of class, go to the music hall and work with some of the equipment in the studio they had. She reached out to us and extended the opportunity to us to write the song. We wrote our verses, and we all wrote the chorus together with her.
I remember we were presenting it to the class during the last couple of days of schools when the seniors weren't doing anything, but practicing for graduation. It was a big party. A lot of cats we went to school with were down. They were like, 'It's ridiculous, actually, y'all fools got the opportunity because y'all class clowns. But, let's go.' We performed at the Civic Center. Everybody was standing up and clapping. It was really dope.
What do you think is the most memorable show you guys have had?
Dot: Hmm. That's a good question. We've had a couple of memorable shows. We did one show early at South by Southwest (SXSW), might have been our first show at SXSW. We ended up getting an encore. They made us get back onstage. Nobody knew us. We just hopped up, killed the songs, and they were like, 'Yeah, come back.' Those kind of shows I miss the most. The crazy, early ones where the venue isn't that huge, but everyone's going crazy. Madison Square Garden was also crazy (laughs).
SXSW and Madison Square Garden are different levels of performances. What did you have to adjust about your performances to fit the bigger stages?
Dot: I think natural evolution of crowd control comes from doing more shows. It's infectious to see that control over a big size crowd. But, you learn those kind of skills from doing those smaller venues. You just implement them over and over again no matter where you at. So, there's crowd control, and then there's songwriting. You see what style song moves the crowd. You see when you say certain things a certain way, what reaction you'll get. Everything just evolves naturally the more you do it.
Johnny: For me, when we used to come through the chitlin circuit and all the little shows here in Atlanta at the bars and stuff, we used to just come out with such fury just because you have to make an impression.
Johnny: You have to hit the ground running. You have to show them you go hard. It don't matter if we have 5 minutes or 15 minutes, we're going to have your undivided attention. But, when we started to do longer sets and larger crowds, we got the opportunity to pace ourselves. So, we can receive the energy the crowd is giving us, too, in a better way. When you're doing the small shows and people don't know you, you'll get folks standing with their arms folded, folks ordering drinks and stuff. People aren't really interested. So, I'm going to give you the energy, whether you like it or not. But, when we started opening up fo Cole, we're going out to Australia. We're doing SXSW or Rolling Loud and we see it's a mutual give and take. So, you get to adapt to what the crowd is giving you so far. I appreciate those opportunities to be silent onstage and just hear the crowd go crazy. They start yelling out songs they want to hear for an encore. That's pretty dope to me.
Now, you're doing shows overseas and in arenas. You're about to go on an European tour with Billie Ellish. What are things you did while on the 'These Days Tour' with Ab-Soul that are totally different now?
Johnny: We ain't got to sit in a car for half a day, 20 hours, with eight people. When you asked about what was the most memorable show, to me, it was the 'These Days Tour.' That was the most memorable moment. We were eight deep in a Chevy Traverse, driving from city to city. These cities are 10 hours a part. It's not like you can hit the show and then, get on the bus and go to sleep. We sleep [by] sitting up with a bag on our neck and our head on the window driving to the next show (laughs). Our manager is driving, he's pulling up, and we trying to get our rest in. Sometimes, we were really getting out of the car putting on clothes. Sometimes, we didn't get a chance to put on clothes. We just get out the car and then, get onstage.
Dot: Yeah, we be onstage with sweatpants on (laughs).
Johnny: To me, that was the most memorable thing. Compared to right now, you get a better chance to rest a little bit more. You get a chance to kind of enjoy it and even go out sometimes, or go see what cities you're in. Pull up on people that you know in certain cities that have been rocking with you since the 'These Days Tour.'
Dot: Back then, let's say we finally get to the hotel at 12:00 a.m. We sleep for like two, three hours. We get up at 3:00 a.m. and drive to the next city. By the time you get your little car nap in, you gotta go because you have to go on first. So, whenever you make it there, you have to go on immediately. So, you have to hop out of the car and whatever you slept in the night before, it's whatever.
How has your rider changed over five years?
Johnny: We got water. We used to have a whole lot of liquor. Now, we just have good liquor. We got backwoods, fresh fruit, vegetables. Whatever we feel like getting at the moment, we'll just throw that on there.
I coined this term "tour hits" in reference to songs that were never pushed as singles, but were deep album cuts that get live audience reactions, as if they were singles. What is the biggest EarthGang tour hit?
Johnny: 'So Many Feelings.'
Dot: 'So Many Feelings' is like a party within a party.
Johnny: Yeaaah. We get volunteers to come up onstage and do their thing. The fans love that song because we're all in it together. It's not even a show anymore. It's a party.
By the time you get on tour with Smino in mid-March, that'll make four tours y'all have been on since May 2018. Why does EarthGang tour so much?
Johnny: That's to build that solid fanbase. When you got that fanbase and you show them you can perform, that's longevity, bro. More than anything, we hitting y'all with these classic records and longevity because that's what lasts and makes things larger than life. You don't want to be no fly by night artist where, 'Oh, they have a big song, They're booming right now. But, in ATL nobody know what their show is.' Or, 'They got a big song, you pull up to the show and the show is trash.' Nah, we want to have good songs, good fanbase, [and a] good tour. So, when people come, they think we're the real deal. That's why we stay on the road.
Being on the road can be pretty isolating. What are some fun things y'all have done?
Johnny: Cole had rented out a movie theater and we had gone and seen that Mission: Impossible [Fallout]._ Everybody was in there vibing out. Eating whatever, doing whatever, watching the movie. I forgot what city we were in, but we were still on tour. It was cool just to kick it. It wasn't no regular movie theater. It was exclusive. They brought stuff out with trays, had exclusive bathrooms, the seats would go back. It was only like 25 seats in there. You had to walk through a fridge to get into the theater (laughs). That was pretty dope.
Being on the road is also how artists make most of their money, as opposed to the fly by night artists you spoke about with just a hot song. Do you ever see how your life is better than artists who don't tour as much and just have hot songs?
Dot: I don't really compare my life.
Johnny: l don't think like that. But, I know a lot of our money comes from touring. A lot of our push comes from people saying, 'I remember seeing them live.' A lot of our fans see us live for the first time and tell us, 'I'm a lifelong fan just from that show.' I know that joint really mattered. Word of mouth and having that experience travels way faster than something you hear on the radio. If your friend pulls up on you at the cookout and you playing EarthGang, you might be like, 'You fuck with EarthGang? I saw them in San Francisco. That joint was crazy.' Y'all got that moment to share. To me, that's a lot more authentic and organic than just a song on the radio boosted out of nowhere.
So, will the debut album, Mirrorland, sound like what an live EarthGang show sounds like?
Johnny: Yeah. Basically, it's going to be EarthGang in a nutshell. Our whole life. It's going to be bars and atmosphere in those Dreamville sessions. It's going to be a microcosm of our life since we've been creating this album.
When did you record your new single with Young Thug? Was it during the 'K.O.D Tour'?
Johnny: We were getting it in with Thug while we were on tour. But, after the tour, I think it was a few days before Thanksgiving, we flew up right New York.
Dot: It was literally the week of Thanksgiving. I think it was a couple days before.
Johnny: I flew up there that Sunday and I didn't leave until Thanksgiving morning. We were up in Electric Ladyland [Studio] and the vibes were so crazy in there, bro. I felt this is the place. Jimi Hendrix wanted us to the record this song here. He wanted us to create this song right here, right now.
You're going on tour with Smino in March and you both were at the Dreamville sessions. Are there plans to perform any of the songs y'all may have recorded together?
Johnny: Ohhhh. sings, 'You tryna get the scoop. Tryna get the scoop.' That's where we even decided to go on tour at -- those sessions. We were like, 'We got to make this happen.' We met them earlier in L.A. in early 2018. It was good seeing them again, a whole year later, really rocking.
Dot: Actually, you might not remember. But, we met Smino here in Atlanta even before that. A year before that, he did a show here [at Vinyl in May 2017]. It was him and Monte [Booker] and we just pulled up on them.
Johnny: My bad. All the shows are running together. My life is a Dreamville session right now. Room to room. Studio to studio. You know how on Scooby Doo, when they be running into one room, and then another room, and then the hallway, and another room? For the Dreamville sessions, you'd go in one room, leave out and go to the next, and somebody who you were just in the other room with is in the next one. 'You were just in the other room with me! How'd you get there before I get there!'
Yoh from DJ Booth wrote about those sessions and how magical they were...
Dot: We didn't let just anybody in those sessions. We didn't let your boy in them sessions, and you know who we're talking about, too. He tried to come, if you want some scoops.
Hey, you want to say who or should I imply who?
Dot: (laughs) Hey, man. It's a sensitive time, right now.
Oh, it is pretty sensitive times. Are you going to bar up soon and defend the Dreamville name?
Dot: Hey, a shot ain't been made until he put it on wax, champ. We'll put something on wax if he talking to us. Best believe, bruh. Best believe. Before we all announced the Dreamville sessions, we been on some training in the dojo shit against each other, all the time. Cole would hit niggas up like, 'I got an idea for this. Who want to hop on this?' So, we all come at him with like 50 ideas and you want to always go your best.
Does that same kind of dojo-style dedication come to preparing the live show?
Dot: Mamba mentality come in everything.
Johnny: We were just rehearsing before you called for this in-store we're doing with a live band.
What are your plans when you go on tour with Billie Ellish in Europe in February?
Jonny: Aww, man. We're really going up. We getting to a whole new fanbase. I'm really excited. It's a whole new level of people that can rock with us to take us to that next level. We're going to plant these seeds. So, when the album drops, you're going to hear this joint at Target and you're going to hear this at the strip club.
Since Dreamville members are all on the road and each have sizeable fanbases, has there been any discussions about a Dreamville tour? I know the festival was rescheduled for this year.
Johnny: Hey, man. We can't even speak on that. But, you better get your tickets to this festival before it's sold out.
Dot: Everybody doing their thing right now. We're firing on all cylinders. We have to cover this whole world right now. We're really like the Avengers.
Johnny: You better get your tickets.
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