Most of you would be aware that just a few months ago local music legends Thirsty Merc were involved in a fatal car crash in country Victoria. While on tour, tragically the crash took the life of the band’s stage manager and injured their drummer, Mick Skelton.

Being as hardworking as the trio are, it didn’t take long for the guys to get back on the road to fulfil their The Good Life national tour commitments while fans rallied around the band and issued condolences to stage manager Shane Cooper. The band have thanked fans and industry members for their support. “The band are eternally grateful for all the well wishes and support they have received,” they wrote to fans.

Not the type to take a break, the guys are seriously getting back to it with their huge Back to the Grind national tour to introduce their new single, The Grind from the Shifting Gears album.

Kicking off on 7 April in the nation’s capital, the tour will hit over 20 cities and towns across all the mainland states through to the end of May 2016 on the NSW South Coast. Ahead of the tour, we caught up with frontman Rai Thistlethwayte to chat about how recent events have impacted the band, the importance of staying independent and what’s on the cards for the rest of 2016.

The Accident & The Aftermath

We still remember the weeks following the incident like it happened yesterday…the time was filled with grief, disbelief, disarray…none of us had a plan. We were devastated that Shane hadn’t survived the accident, and the band just wanted to know that Mick was gonna make it through.

[include_post id=”462743″]We were calling the hospital every morning, every night, staying close by in an apartment in Melbourne, as he was still in a coma at that point. That was maybe the hardest bit: not knowing. Some weeks later, we received news from Mick that he was hoping we’d get back out there touring again, and similarly, Olivia (Shane Cooper’s wife) mentioned that going back out on the road was what Shane would have wanted. We were really lost, but I guess that news pointed us in some sort of direction.

Alongside this, we’d put a huge amount of time and effort into writing, recording and releasing a new album, and we’d done it all 100% independently. The fans were involved through the recording process and the lead up, and that part of it was really inspiring. We had 41 shows booked at the time of the accident.

Looking back now, everything rolled out in a really weird, surreal, slow motion kind of way, where the decision of what to do next almost came from a higher place than any logical thinking. I guess we were all just trying to deal with the enormity of it all, and resuming what was left of the tour gave us a way to keep moving forward through such a hard time.

Starting Back Without Label Support

For Shifting Gears, our current album, we decided early on that independent was the right way to go. A few little ideas, to possibly go with this label or that, were explored, quickly. They either fell off the table, or they didn’t fit right – especially when we wanted to get moving on it, and knew what we wanted to do creatively.

I have enjoyed many elements of two previous label deals of course. It’s horses for courses. Whether you are a band that is signed directly to a Major, an indie subsidiary of a Major, directly to an indie, to whether you even have a label or none at all, all depends who you are as an artist, what you wanna do, where you wanna do it, whether you have a way to fund certain elements of what you do, and here’s the big one: whether you are prepared to put in the work yourself.

In any structure, there is a massive amount of work to do, and you or your team can work in conjunction with a label, outsource it entirely, or degrees of, where you might hire specialists in various fields (publicity, promotion, management, booking etc) to do project based units of work. There is a mixture of ways forward, especially if you’ve got some experience.

Thirsty Merc has always been highly motivated, to work hard, and not take things for granted. We know how we sound collectively and still love doing it, and we’re great friends. At age 35, after a bunch of time working here in Australia and the U.S. and being in and out of deals, with the industry in the state it’s in, it was a good time for us to do a full length album of new material in an independent fashion.

Whether the next release for us is the same: not sure… because constantly, the entertainment industry evolves and morphs considerably due to new technologies, new movements in government funding, fashion trends, myriad other factors. Bottom line is: make what you wanna make, put it out there, work hard, enjoy the good bits!

How Touring (or Not Touring) Impacts The Band’s Income

We do make a large percentage of income from touring, but also from some other streams, like synchs (songs placed in tv/movies/commercials), and radio play. We don’t see a huge amount from record sales historically, ironically, but that’s also telling of how many units are sold globally these days, it’s been turned on its head over the last 15 years.

It’s almost like you’ve just gotta be in the running, and do all lines of work and they influence the associated streams and create more activity. There’s merch too – t shirts, CDs at shows. While we do tour to make some money, it’s largely about the adventure and the job satisfaction of taking your creations out to audiences live.

I don’t think a motivating factor is ‘financial stability’! Because, if you want financial stability, you wouldn’t be working in the music industry, you would choose a different profession entirely!

Getting Back On The Road

[include_post id=”460651″]2016 feels like a new chapter, a lot more positivity than the end of 2015. We’re over the moon to share that Mick will be back on the drums for most of the dates on the Back To The Grind tour – that’s been something that evolved over the last month, that’s probably the best news we’ve got!

The planning has been great, we’ve gotten in early and put lots of the logistics together with a healthy amount of lead time. Triple M has kindly come on board as a presenting partner on this run — they’ve been nothing short of awesome to work with, too. Everyone’s working together really well!

We’ve got an all female, hard rock trio Tequila Mockingbyrd joining us on a bunch of the dates. There’s been more time now for our fans to get to know some of the new album tracks. So, it should be a really memorable tour on many levels. We’ll just get out there onstage and give it all we’ve got.

Favourite Touring Memories

There have been many, but one that comes to mind was playing our song ‘In The Summertime’ outside the Opera House on Australia Day earlier this year. Great atmosphere, location, and we were joined by a string section and brass section… I think we posted it up on our Facebook if anyone wants to have a look!

Touring Tips

Hmmm. Here’s a bunch of ideas: Get a great, well rehearsed setlist of at least 1 hour playing time. One with a flow to it, some light and shade, maybe one that starts with a kick, goes on a journey, and ends with a bang.

Next, touring is pretty much all logistics. Keep costs down. Book flights and accommodation well in advance, they go up in price quick, especially on the less popular routes. Be prepared to share hotel rooms, drive more legs than you might care to do. Stay safe on the road, don’t drive late at night.

[include_post id=”451609″]Take ear plugs. Be prepared to set up your own gear, take less pieces than you might rehearse with, keep it compact, lightweight, if you have many consecutive dates and you’re gonna be doing this day in day out for a month or more. If you’re flying, get really good flight cases made, invest in them. Hire a tour publicist if you have a small budget left over from recording, have them chase radio interviews. Even just call community stations or local music shows yourself.

Use a shared online calendar so everyone can see common information if you’re not gonna have your own tour manager. Keep it updated. Make/sell merch, even if you’re starting out – it’s not just a small stream of income, it’s a business card!

Send tour posters to venues, ring as a follow up and make sure they put them up in the venue so people are seeing your gig and band name in general. Just show up. That’s a big one. A lot happens when you just show up and hang with other bands/artists. Be yourself, be weird if you are weird, I dunno. Enjoy the music, the concert experience. We’re all in this together! Have a ball!

Favourite Places To Tour

Goes without saying, but Australia is an amazing place to tour. A few months back, we had a day and night off between gigs, so we drove down the Great Ocean Road towards Lorne on the way to a show.

We saw koalas in their native habitat which was a real highlight for us city folk! That whole stretch of road is incredible, probably some of the most breathtaking driving you can do. We’re looking forward to hitting Byron, Darwin, Alice Springs for the first time, we always love Geelong, and we’ll be smashing a bunch of coffees in Melbourne.

One of the flagship shows is Sydney’s Metro Theatre. Playing there is always a blast because we grew up listening to bands there as they came through. The visibility from stage/audience is second to none.

Plans for the rest of 2016

We might take a bit of a short break after this run, but there are already some things being scheduled for Oct/Nov/Dec. There’s also some talk of a bit of a recording project, with a twist. Stay tuned.

‘Back To The Grind’ Dates

Thursday, 7 April 2016
Southern Cross Club – Top of The Cross, Canberra, ACT*

Friday, 8 April 2016
Metro Theatre, Sydney, NSW*

Thursday, 15 April 2016
The Arkaba Hotel, Adelaide, SA*

Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Melbourne Public, Melbourne, VIC*

Thursday, 21 April 2016
Karova Lounge, Ballarat, VIC*

Friday, 22 April 2016
Grand Hotel, Mornington Peninsula, VIC*

Saturday, 23 April 2016
The Workers Club, Geelong, VIC

Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Studio Six, Sutherland, NSW

Thursday, 28 April 2016
UOW Uni Bar, Wollongong, NSW

Friday, 29 April 2016
Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle, NSW

Thursday, 5 May 2016
Beach Hotel, Byron Bay, NSW
* Free Show *

Friday, 6 May 2016
Yamba Bowling Club, Yamba, NSW

Sunday, 8 May 2016
The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD

Friday, 13 May 2016
The Gap View Hotel, Alice Springs, NT

Saturday, 14 May 2016
Darwin Ski Club, Darwin, NT

Friday, 20 May 2016
Marlin Hotel, Ulladulla, NSW

Tickets and further info at www.thirstymerc.com