Throwin’ rocks with Iska Dhaaf

by Nikko Van Wyck

photo by inspokane

Jase Mitchell and myself, of Vacationeer, recently got invited to join Iska Dhaaf (Benjamin Verdoes of Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band and Nathan Quiroga of Mad Rad) on the road for their sophomore album release, The Wanting Creature. It’s been a marriage of two piece bands, which has been more than fantastic. We were invited as performers mostly because that’s what we all wanted to do, was perform. I think what we’ve all learned is that being a two piece band is amazing; collaboration is incredibly fluid, communication is beyond easy, and scheduling rehearsals or shows is as simple as a phone call and a “What’re you up to right now?” With that being said, being a two piece, especially one with a lot of moving parts, like Vacationeer or Iska, really does not lend itself to being entertaining and engaging while performing live. We all agreed that as musicians, we’ve gotten to the point where we can stand on stage and go through the motions to make the songs sound full and over the top live as two piece groups, but as far as entertaining, we all looked like statues. Joining up as a four piece has been ideal in the sense that it’s freed  us to let loose. It’s allowed all of us to really, really focus in on our instrumentation and performance, and for the first time since Candysound, I’ve been able to just go ham on the guitar without having to worry about loops or singing.

We’ve been friends with Benjamin for the last decade, him being an educator at our high school when we were teenagers, and us always admiring his drive to create art. So, when they invited us to join them, it was a no brainer to put stuff on the back burner at home and hit the road. This tour, especially for myself, was a really great way to push myself as a musician. We had maybe 14 hours total of group rehearsal time before our first performance in LA, and Jase and I crunched to learn about two albums worth of tunes. Our first show was out in Fullerton, and it was pretty humbling. We were playing alongside Spencer Moody of Murder City Devils, and to just get to meet him and hear him say that he dug what we were up to was more than a little surreal for me. I also got to pick up his Classic Peavey 50 for tour, creamiest tube amp sound ever and I’m eternally thankful for it. Our next night was at the Bootleg Theatre, which Ben and Nate had spent the month at during their LA residency. The energy of the room that night was vibrant. That was the show that really made me feel like I’d stumbled into something fantastic. Somehow, with as little rehearsal as we fit in prior to this tour, it all just matched up perfectly that night and set the tone (mostly) for the rest of the trip.

After our California adventure (which included spending a week on the beach in Venice, seeing Roy from the Office and Usher, and watching my rental car place get robbed while trying to return my car, different stories for different times) we started breaking east, our farthest destination being Chicago. We played the Rogue out in Scottsdale, which is a great dive, reminded me a lot of the Swillery, and then we headed up to Denver. Denver was…interesting. Don’t get me wrong, completely awesome crowd, I even ran into my old friend Audra Robson and got to party with her at our show spot called Juice Church. Take Bellingham’s Karate Church, then make it slightly larger with a lot more building degradation, and you have our DIY Denver house show. Oh yeah, add snow with minimal heat in the building. It was fun!

Proceeding from Denver is where the craziness starts. We headed east to Omaha, to a spot called O’Leavers, which is apparently Cursive’s haunt. Nebraska is flat, and after spending time there I can see why Cursive and Bright Eyes made the music they did. Omaha is almost like a soul suck, like walking through mud, which is probably how it got founded. Some settlers were probably heading west and it was really rainy and muddy and they said “Screw it, no way I’m walking farther, this is fine.” It was probably our most difficult night on tour, we had just truly gone from the warm and familiar confines of the west coast, to the flat dreariness of the Midwest, and the bar itself embodied that, it was dark and the crowd was unforgiving. This is also the place where I started talking shit with Ben about how far we could throw rocks. It’s an ongoing thing at this point. He’s got about a foot in height on me, but I definitely can give him a run for his money. For someone so tall who has a baseball history, you’d think he’d be better at throwing rocks. His trajectories are also a little skewed, he needs to throw straighter for it to be a fair competition. Jase and Nate suck at throwing rocks. I mean they can probably throw rocks farther than most people, but not as far as Ben or myself. Ben won the rock throwing contest this tour, but just barely, and it is now a goal of mine to up my rock throwing game so I can humiliate him at rock throwing when the time comes. ANYWAYS, back to tour.

From Omaha, we had to make a mad dash to Davenport, Iowa, we had a Daytrotter session at 11 a.m. We barely slept. The drive from Omaha to Davenport is a good 6 or 7 hours, and we pulled out of O’leavers at about 1am, getting into Davenport about 8am. Performing a Daytrotter session has always been a huge goal of mine, but I was worried that I was really gonna screw it up being that I was running on 2 hours of sleep, and super hangry. We somehow pulled it off and it sounded great, which I think speaks to the chemistry the four of us have together. The studio they had us perform in is awesome. It’s got that old vintage smell and is full of so much awesome musical gear. I had a fun time imagining my favorite artists strolling through it, knowing that they were in the same setting that I was standing in that produced such awe inspiring sessions. Davenport and the Daytrotter session was my favorite day on the road. I’m just going to leave it at that, too many hijinks that don’t necessarily belong in print.

From Davenport we hit Chicago, Minneapolis and Champaign. All great shows, met and stayed with fantastic people, including this farmhouse in southern Michigan that reminded me of home so much it hurt. After Champaign we had another crazy drive, straight to Boise. Tour lesson; driving in the Midwest is tedious. Once we rolled into Salt Lake City, I immediately had this sense of familiarity. Usually that feeling hit me in southern Washington, but after being out for that long and going that far East, driving up I84 to Boise felt like seeing an old friend. This was also a challenging part of tour, the shows were all fantastic, the hosts and venues more than welcoming (we got to hang out with the City Hall dudes in Boise and Spokane, talk about good tour timing) but being so close to home without actually getting to visit home gave me real yearning to just get it over with, which was a dumb feeling because touring is awesome.

All in all, this was the most fun I’ve ever had on tour. I learned a lot, mostly that I have the real potential to beat Ben in a rock throwing contest whenever he wants to throw down, it’s just gonna take a little work to get my arm dexterity up there. Looking forward to the 50 day tour we’re currently planning for the fall.

And come catch Vacationeer and Iska Dhaaf at the Shakedown on June 2! We’re in Bellingham to celebrate our album release and homecoming!

Published in the June 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine