BASS EXPO 2014: Black Veil Brides bassist Ashley Purdy is something of a wunderkind. From a young age he dreamed of doing something big with his life, be that in sports, acting, fashion, or music. Turns out, he nailed the music part and he's on his way with fashion, too, thanks to his very own online clothing store.
While fans say he can be shy in person, onstage he's a melting pot of energy and musicality. Who better then, to give new bands some tips about preparing for their first ever tour, settling in to life on the tour bus, and honing their live performance?
Prepping for tour
How do you prepare for a tour? Does it all start with a checklist of stuff you need?
"Only amateurs would have a checklist! It just sounds funny to me now. I mean, I did it in the beginning, but you just end up over preparing. I think the best way is to throw things in a suitcase just before you go and roll with it. Don't overthink it. A set of street clothes and stage clothes and you're good to go."
What do you pack in your tour bag? Are there certain items you can't live without?
"As we've grown and been continual touring musicians, we pack lighter and lighter as each tour goes. Again, I think when we first started we would each over prepare and bring too much shit. You can learn to live and function on the bare minimal of daily things. It makes touring life a lot more easier the less you are burdened with stuff. That goes for the all encompassing baggage, too, so don't bring baggage from your life or relationships either. Leave home at home and tour on tour. You'll grow to know the difference as they are two separate lives."
If you're touring new Black Veil Brides material, how many band rehearsals do you put in before feeling confident about hitting the road?
"We book out a week in advance in a pre production rehearsal space before we leave for tour. Our crew spends a full eight-hour day getting everything in order. The band itself will spend three to four of those hours going over the material, setlist, and production cues."
Can you talk us through one of those rehearsals? For example, do you concentrate on learning the songs only, or do you work on choreography too?
"The crew arrives before the band and sets up all necessary production, staging, and lighting - we have a general foundation to start the tour on the production side. I'll finalise a setlist with the guys and we'll work the production and lighting around songs in the setlist. The band then goes over the songs and transitions probably four or five times in a day to get the songs down and also the changeovers with the crew.
"During this time, I'm definitely going over my stage performance and gauging the times when there could be audience interaction, when I can move to a different part of the stage, or when I need to be solid on a part of the song musically or vocally. All the timing for hitting accents and performance is worked out here."
What's your advice for any bassist preparing for their first tour?
"If [your tours are] anything like our first tours, there will be a lot of road wear on your gear. I would make sure your equipment is in a highly functional order. I would bring along a spare amp head and cab, as those will most likely go down at some point on the tour. Have a lot of extra strings, cables, and tuners, and bring along extra guitars as those may end up getting tweaked or broken as well. I don't think I finished any of our early tours without breaking a bass or two."
The official video for In The End by Black Veil Brides has racked up over 23 million views on YouTube:
On the road
Imagine it's day one of a new tour. You've just stepped onto the bus. What steps do you take to get settled in?
"Everyone claims their bunk space, their closet space and storage space. By now we have a pretty standard setup where everyone has their continual designated areas. But yeah, it's just making your area of the bus comfortable to spend the next few months in. Being organised and knowing where you're shit is makes things easier."
Many people believe touring is a glamorous affair. Is there a more realistic view you can share with bands who are about to tour themselves?
"It's anything but glamorous. It takes a certain individual to be a touring musician. Just because you're a musician doesn't necessarily mean you're the touring type. A touring individual has to be very flexible. Think about it this way: there are 13 people on one bus, and you are about to become roommates with each one of them in the smallest travelling apartment you have ever lived in.
"So dealing with other peoples living habits and personalities is something you need to embrace and be flexible with. Even keeping your own personality and ego in check can make the tour run smoothly. I think most typical musicians are adapted to this already because, if you've played music your whole life and have been trying to 'make it', you've already shared small apartments with bandmates and have already been acclimatised to such living conditions."
Is being on the road a conducive environment for songwriting?
"By my experience, no. We each, in the beginning, went into it like, 'Oh yeah, we're going to get some writing done, maybe work on some stuff for the next record.' But that never happens. Our touring schedule is packed daily from wake up to load out. We're very much consumed with the tour itself to focus on much outside of it. I'd leave handling any other type of business for when the tour is over. Focus and give your all to the job at hand."
What do you like and dislike about touring?
"Touring itself has been very kind to us. We've been able to see the world a few times over doing what we do. If it weren't for this band, I don't think any of us would have had the luxury of doing so on our own. I mean, you can complain about some of the food and hospitality at times, or even the sleeping or showering arrangements... But like I said, if you're flexible and go with the flow, when it comes to that kind of stuff you'll have a more enjoyable experience on the road."
What's your ultimate tip for surviving life on the road?
"Stay fit and be healthy. The healthier you are and the more you take care of yourself, the easier it will be for you to not get sick. Because getting sick or being sick on the road is the worst as the show must go on. So it would be best to take those preventative measures to keeping yourself healthy."
How do you warm up before hitting the stage - any playing, vocal, or physical exercises?
"Well, after being beat up from the last night's show, I'd probably be sitting around on my phone or laptop in the dressing room. I'll think to myself, 'I guess I'll get up and shave'. I'd slowly get ready, make a drink, do my hair and stage make up. Make another drink. Do some stretching, start warming up vocals, clearing the pipes and stretching out vocal chords. Grab my phone and tweet something funny about the show, then get my guitar and play through a couple songs.
"All band dudes come together before hitting the stage and we all do a pre-show shot. Then we all say some rally cry, usually something ridiculous, before heading out to battle."
Have you ever suffered from stage fright?
"I personally haven't had stage fright - I thrive on performing live - but if there was ever a moment when I thought, 'Oh man, we gotta get through this show', it was when the crowd seemed either tough or dull. You just mentally have to get yourself in a place and get psyched up to put on your best performance despite any obstacles, good, bad or overwhelming."
You play and sing at the same time - not an easy feat for some. What are your main tips for bassists struggling to remember their vocal lines as well as nailing the playing?
"That takes a lot of personal practise. [In Black Veil Brides] there are parts that are difficult to play and sing at the same time, especially when you're doing the harmony to what your playing and what the lead vocal is doing. I also run around a lot. When I was grounded by always having to run to a mic stand, it left me sort of stagnant. It became very frustrating.
"This past year I've switched to a headset mic that has given me the freedom and mobility to run around, perform, sing, and play at the same time. But again, it takes practise on your own at home, singing and playing. I do so in front of a mirror and have most of my vocals, bass lines, and stage moves all plotted out before we hit rehearsals as a full unit."
Fans say you're quite reserved in person, yet onstage you're a force of nature. How do you make that transition?
"I'm also very sarcastic! I've said, 'Oh I'm shy' in interviews just because I'm not much into talking about myself or what I do. It's the cool guy approach. I'm more into showing you what I can do by my actions. Too many people out there are all talkers. I'd rather party with people instead of just shooting the shit.
"Self confidence is having a clear vision of what you want to achieve in life, and then the passion and determination to achieve those goals."
Theatrically you take your lead from Gene Simmons while playing wise you lean more toward Duff McKagan. What's the one thing you want people to take away from seeing you play live?
"KISS was a big influence theatrically, but Guns N' Roses are my favourite musically. I believe that being a rockstar, or top performer, comes from taking what you're given and making the most of it. Using your personal strengths to your advantage... that's what makes you unique.
"It's not about how technical you are or how well you can play, and it's not about how good looking you are or how well you perform. It's a combination of those things that make you a great entertainer. Being able to play, perform and look good while doing it is why top entertainers stand out and make the big bucks.
"There's a lot to be said about players like Gene Simmons, Nikki Sixx, Jerry Only, and Sid Vicious. They're not even the front person of their group, but you know them as rock icons - not only bassists, but performers and entertainers. I would like to think I fill that role today."
Interview: Claire Davies