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When we interviewed Kylesa guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Phillip Cope about his nightmare gig he told us about a bad show at South By Southwest. They had to play on a trailer. And the trailer wasn’t on flat land. And all of the band’s gear would not fit. It sounded like a hassle but not a nightmare.

Phillip Cope: I must have fallen eight times trying to play and the crowd was like sliding and falling down the hill. It was the most awkward and embarrassing show ever.

Brightest Young Things: So this is a very steep hill if you’re falling down…

PC: There was no way to get any proper footing. We were sliding around and it was very embarrassing.

BYT: What year was this?

PC: It was a long time ago. I’d say maybe around 2006. It might’ve been earlier to be honest, so 2004 or 2005.

Eh. Just eh. Kylesa is one of the best working metal bands. They’ve been recording and touring since 2001. Any band that has released 7 lps and toured for over a decade has lived through nightmares. Playing on a hill as part of a music festival isn’t horrible. What Kylesa went through on their first tour is a nightmare.

Cope recounted the formation of the band. Most bands would not have lasted. Most musicians don’t have to think about changing careers and towns on their new band’s first tour.

Phillip Cope: During our first tour we got stuck in another city for a week. I’ve been stuck on tour, during the early years, I’ve been stuck in different cities twice. Once I thought I was going to have to find a job there just to get home.

Our first tour is the stuff of nightmares. After our first show our bass player and my longtime friend Brian Duke passed away. We were playing that show while working on our first record. That really messed us up, we almost didn’t continue. But we finally did after a little over a year, we finally got it back together and managed to get enough money to put a tour together, get a van working and all of that.

On our first day of the tour, we blew a rod in our engine just 45 minutes out of the first city we were supposed to play. So we weren’t quite in the city yet but we were pretty close and also pretty far away from Savannah and our van was toast. We ended up being stuck in that city for a while. Luckily we had a friend that put us up and to try to get some money we were calling everyone we knew to see if anyone could lend us a little bit of money so we could get another van. We played a show while we were there to try to make money. We got put on a ska show so it was all ska bands except for us. They were all cool and they were nice, they understood our situation and some people helped us out a little bit. It was really hard we were having a hard time finding somebody to help us out.

We managed to scrounger up money to get a really cheap van. So we went and picked up the van about five days in of being stuck in the city. We thought if we can get the van that day we could catch up with the tour and it’s not all screwed. We made it happen on the last day possible so go pick up the van and the van breaks down a few blocks away from where we bought it. I was still at the place, just a couple of us when to get it. We bought it from a cop and the cop refused to give them the money back. He said, “It’s off the lot so it’s not ours.” So we had yet another broken down van that didn’t work, stuck in the same city. The tour was off.

We blew off the whole tour, there was no way we were going to catch up, but we still had to find a way home. A mutual friend found a way to get the van towed and worked on and we got it working just enough for it to barely get us back to Savannah. We had to drive the whole way at 40mph. We finally get the van back to the house that most of us lived in and it’s parked out on a side street. Then one day while moving gear into Laura’s (Pleasant, guitarist, singer) car, her car gets wrecked and so the only car we had to move gear out of town with got wrecked.

When I’m walking home one day and I just see our van missing. I looked down the block and there were pieces of it everywhere. Some hit and run driver had smashed into it and then taken off. At that point I was like, ‘Okay maybe this band is bad.’ I was seriously considering, maybe we’re cursed. I don’t know, this is just unbelievable since we had been trying to sell the van for parts and then the parts were just all over the road. The driver ended up having a change of heart, turning himself in, and we actually got insurance and between the two wrecks it was enough to put a down payment on a decent van. So after the worst of it all, we ended up doing okay. We got that van and then it’s been non-stop.

BYT: I like that when I asked you about your nightmare gig, you said, “Oh, we played on a hill once.” So no matter what happened after 2001, you’re fine. You’ve had the worst happen at the start.

PC: There’s been a lot of horrible things but that’s just what it was. In the early years we had a lot of rough break downs trying to keep the van running and just being stuck in the middle of nowhere.

BYT: That’s a very, very inspiring story for pretty much anybody who wants to do anything that’s artistic. It also proves the point that people that like ska music are very nice people.

PC: They were nice, that was very nice of them to let them do that gig and scare their fans. But musicians have a tendency to help each other out despite the music because everybody knows how hard it is. Very few bands start at a big level. Everybody has to start at the bottom.

Kylesa is at the Empty Bottle in Chicago October 15, Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn October 21 and Rock & Roll Hotel October 24. Their new album, Exhausting Fire, is now available.

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