“Fans get treated how we think they should”: Tim and Pat Kirch explain the Maine’s free tour
The Maine have always been an industrious band, but their fall 2015 tour plans are ambitious even for them. Not only are they doing a series of shows where they're playing all of their latest LP, American Candy, the Arizona quintet are also in the middle of the "Free For All" trek, a no-cost, no-ticket-needed tour of unorthodox venues, including parks and mall parking lots.
Because launching a free tour has its unique challenges and perks, AP rang up the band's manager, Tim Kirch, and his brother, Pat (who just so happens to be the Maine's drummer) to find out more about how the free tour came to be. Although the pair were thousands of miles apart, Pat was in Niagara Falls right before the Maine played a show; while Tim checked in from the band's home base of Phoenix. They were on the same page about why the tour made sense, what it took to put it together, and how their unique, sibling/working relationship has helped the Maine succeed.
First and foremost, how long has the idea for this been in the works? What was the inspiration for you guys doing this?
Tim Kirch: We had the idea back in like 2009 or 2010. Something like a Wal-Mart parking lot tour was the original idea, but we couldn’t get enough people on-board. We kind of held off on the idea for several years. This time around, we were just kind of brainstorming what to do in the fall, and we all wanted to do something like this for our fans. We felt like it was the perfect timing with the new record [American Candy] out and whatnot, to do something to give back to them.
Pat Kirch: The idea came from wanting to find an interesting way to keep things fresh and not just feeling like we’re going on a regular tour and putting together a package with five bands and going on the road. You can only do that so many times before it begins to feel like you’re just kind of doing the same thing over and over again. We’ve had fans that have come to 150 concerts, and they come all around the world and buy tickets and merch. We just figured, "Why not like give them the opportunity to see us for free and give back to them?"
From a business standpoint, what are the biggest differences then launching a free tour versus launching a regular tour?
Tim: It was definitely a struggle to book the tour. Obviously, on a standard US tour, we’d be reaching out to all of the promoters that we’ve worked with over the last few years. For a free tour, it was finding whoever was interested in helping us out. So some dates, we’re playing in venues; some dates we’re playing in malls. Really, every single date was its own unique situation.
Pat: From a business perspective, I guess the biggest difference is on a regular tour, you kind of know what to expect. You’re playing at venues that do concerts all of the time, and you know how many people are going to be there, because you can see how many people have bought tickets. With this, you just don’t really have a gauge. You know, you just show up at a venue and a lot of times, it’s places where the people in charge have never done a concert or anything, so it’s kind of all on us to make sure that there’s a sound system there and a stage and a place for merch. Every aspect of it that we don’t generally have to think about, we have to handle.
Tim: Also on top of that, out of the 19 free shows we had, we probably reached out to 20 to 30 different venues in each market until we finally found somebody that was actually interested in hosting the event. So that was kind of a difficult and grinding part of putting a tour together like this.
Why would a venue not want to hold an event like this? What were you up against?
Tim: It’s not making any money for them on that side of things. There’s a few venues that, obviously, they’re selling liquor and whatnot, and we have a little bit younger of a fanbase, so there’s really not too much of a profit on that side. So I approached it more as a “giving back to the community.” That was the pitch that we had for each of the venues. A lot of the mall dates made a lot more sense, due to the fact that we had a few thousand people shopping at the mall all day and hanging out. But you know, each venue kind of looked at it as their own way to give back to the community, just like we looked at it as a way to give back to our fans.
What are the specific challenges if you are going to places that don’t normally hold shows, from both an infrastructure and a musician's standpoint?
Pat: The fact that we are bringing in the sound system and building the stage, building the barricades. It's all of these things that people don’t really have any idea of how a concert is run. So that’s been the hardest part. Like, we played the other day out in the middle of a parking lot in Detroit at like 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s so hot and, like, the stage was a hand-built. And we have a thousand kids out there watching us. It’s just like a different experience than we’d ever have on an actual tour.
Backing up for a second then: Usually, when a band launches a tour, what do ticket costs go towards covering?
Tim: We have to think about our entire crew that travels with the band. Our tour bus and our lodging is pretty much all of our travel, as well as our basic tour costs of everything from the guitar picks to drum heads, [and even] the lighting and the production side of things. There’s a lot of built-in costs to running a tour. For a tour like this, there’s a lot more expenses, just due to the fact that a lot of these places don’t have the sound equipment and the built-in crew and all of that stuff. So a lot of this came down to the guys kind of rolling up their sleeves and working hard each day. Because normally, we’ll have five or six-stage hands. On a tour like this, it’s every single band member just moving gear, helping build the stage and basically making the show happen.
Which is awesome. It’s totally DIY.
Tim: Yeah, there’s a lot more work from the guys. All of them have to really work extremely hard on this tour as far as making each show work. I don’t think a tour would work like this with any other band. I just think there are no real prima donnas in this band. Everybody will do their part, and I think that [in] a lot of other situations, you’re not going to have the singer or the drummer of the band lifting up PAs and building stages. So I think a tour like this is very DIY and grinding it out, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job at working hard and making it happen on the road.
Pat, for you and the rest of the band, what have you learned from this whole experience?
Pat: The fact that if you put in hard work and actually make something happen yourself, then, you know, pretty much anything is possible. So I think that’s been our motto the whole time. We want things to be done a particular way, so we just make it happen ourselves. You know, like when we recorded this most recent record, we built the recording studio ourselves out in Joshua Tree. This tour, we’re building the stage and the PA system, so that fans can come and watch us and we can continue to perform for them. It just all comes back to us really remembering the fact that if we want something to happen, we can just do it. Because there isn’t going to be anybody that’s going to care about us as much as us.
Were either of you nervous about doing the tour, either from a financial or personal perspective?
Tim: Oh definitely. I think across the board. [On] a normal tour, we’d have ticket counts in advance, so we’d have a gauge of which shows are kind of selling slow and which ones are moving really fast. We don’t have to put as much marketing into a specific market. I think from that angle, it was a little stressful before the tour kicked off. As far as the financial angle, obviously there’s a big risk. We’ve done everything that we possibly could to make sure that we at least break even on this tour and, so far, things are going really well. But from the idea to the actual execution of it, it was very stressful and a big risk, but I think it’s all paid off from the fans’ side. I think kids are really appreciating it, and the guys are having a good time.
Pat: It was a weird thing where we had committed to the idea of doing the tour and Tim was beginning to reach out to people to book it, and things were going well. And then the next day, we’d have five people that we thought were going to be able to host a free show, and then they backed out. But it got to the point where we were too far in where it was too late for us to go and book a regular tour or anything, so we had no choice. We wanted to continue on with the idea, but there was uncertainty the entire time, I mean, even with the booking process of even just figuring out if we were going to be able to get enough shows to make it happen. So the entire process has kind of just been very interesting in that way. Then we go to the first show and things have just been going way better than expected.
Since the tour has been going on, what sort of adjustments have you guys had to make on the fly as things are progressing?
Pat: We planned things out pretty good in advance, and tried to think through every little detail as much as possible. There hasn’t been too much we have had an issue with. Tim, can you think of anything?
Tim: I think for a lot of these shows, I think we’ve kind of also had to take on the role of the promoter, so all of the logistics of getting the right stage and power and security and all of that stuff, we thought of in advance. I think if we would have left that up to somebody else, we would have obviously come across a lot more issues. The fact that we did a lot of the work, probably more than we normally would have on a tour, set us up to make sure that each day ran smoothly.
As brothers, how do you guys play off each other, personality-wise?
Tim: I think we’re all over the place with that. Sometimes Pat will have an idea, and then I will bounce [ideas] back with him or I’ll have an idea, and then he’ll throw ideas back to me. From that angle on the creative side, I think we have similar thoughts and can counter each other: “Hey, that’s a great idea, but I like this better.” It allows the creativity to run in a really smooth way.
I was on the road tour managing bands before Pat was even doing the whole music thing on his side. I remember late nights when I’d be driving the van, and he’d be calling me and asking questions about tour. He wanted to know every little thing. So even before we started working together, we’d kind of gotten in that routine of calling and exchanging ideas, and him asking a million questions about the road.
Pat: Yeah, I think there’s a really cool [measure of] safety in knowing that it’s my older brother taking care of what we’re doing, so I know that the intentions are always good, as opposed to just working with some guy. There’s that. And [because] obviously [we've] known each other our entire lives, the way we can communicate, we can get things done a lot faster, because we can cut through the bullshit and just get right to the point. That’s been a big thing.
We grew up going to shows together and getting into music at the same time, so we think of things through the same perspective. I think we always try to think of ourselves as just continuing to be fans of bands, and think about what we would have wanted from a band when we were just going to shows. Being able to relate on that kind of a level, I think, has helped all of the ideas that we have for the band.
You remember what it’s like to be a kid and going to shows and freaking out and loving different bands.
Tim: I think we still are freaking out about stuff today. I think that we get really excited about stuff like this free tour or releasing our first book. It's [a] really exciting moment that we’re creating something together that we know that when we were 15 or 16 years old, we would have freaked out about. When we can be the one behind the scenes creating those experiences, it’s even more rewarding in that sense.
Pat: The fact that we’re doing an interview for AP, like... I remember him taking me to the grocery store to buy the Thursday and Thrice covers of AP. So just the fact that we’re talking to AP about something our band’s doing is insane. We’ve been doing this for eight and a half years, but that thought doesn’t ever get lost. Not many people get to do what we do everyday, so I just try really hard to not ever forget about that, just how happy I would have been then and how happy I am now.
It’s true, the second you forget about that and take that for granted, that’s why you see so many people with attitudes…
Pat: The tour really comes down to us wanting to see fans get treated how we think they should be. We get pretty pissed off seeing how a lot of bands treat their fans, and how they try to gouge them for every ounce of money they have. They forget the fact that if those fans weren't there, then they wouldn’t be on that bus and they wouldn’t be doing that show. The idea [of the free tour] just really comes from that. It’s like, "What’s the ultimate thing we can do?" Like, not just saying “thank you,” but actually putting it into action--like, “here’s a free tour.” This is the biggest thing we could have done. It feels good to finally be at the point where we were able to put it into action. alt