Life on the road inevitably requires musicians to take the lemons they’re dealt – grueling travel, broken sleep, flat tires, and uncertain business dealings, among many.
If you’re Shaun McCoy, however, you’re pretty adept at making some pretty tasty lemonade out of the sour situations.
“I got out of the old bus, picked up our dirty old utility van to go see my daughter on a day off out on the road, so I’m doing good,” the Bobaflex vocalist/guitarist jokes in a phone call ahead of his band’s show this Saturday night at The Factory: Underground in Wilkes-Barre.
The show is part of the current Rock Avengers Tour, which sees the West Virginia-bred Bobaflex teaming with fellow melodic rockers Royal Bliss in a run of dates that will stretch right into December. Also on the bill are Australian rock outfit October Rage and local NEPA metal crunchers Threatpoint. Just one look at the tour’s Facebook page hints at what’s to come, as it playfully mocks, “Gene Simmons, eat your heart out,” in reference to the KISS frontman’s recent comments that, in his opinion, rock music is dead.
If indeed there is a nail in rock ‘n’ roll’s coffin, McCoy never got the memo.
“We always have a good time with those guys, man,” says McCoy of his tour mates in Royal Bliss. “We’ve been touring off and on with those guys for the past four or five years. We always seem to get in trouble together, make everyone’s wives and girlfriends mad. It always ends up that there’s grown men wrestling with each other at the end of a bar – that’s how mature we are [laughs].
“There’s always something going down every night.”
McCoy elaborates on his would-be tales of debauchery by listing an example of a tour stop that the two bands shared in Minnesota not too long ago.
“The actual bouncers thought we are actually fighting each other,” he laughs. “We knocked around tables in the bar, knocked our own merch table over. The bouncers came over to stop us, and we were like, ‘It’s OK, we’re friends, we’re friends! It’s not real!’ There’s a lot of drinking – my brother (Bobaflex guitarist/vocalist Marty McCoy) fell off the wagon a bit this week, but we’re back on now. With Royal Bliss, we know it’s going to be difficult at some point not to drink.”
McCoy says there’s an absolute energy that comes from touring with musicians in a familiar capacity, and that will, in fact, reflect in the live show.
“There’s something between us that causes mayhem,” he admits.
Bobaflex is a band that is no stranger to rigorous touring. Since their inception in 1998, they’ve been a part of everything from backyard parties to sharing the stage with Megadeth, as part of that band’s 2005 Gigantour, and headline spots at Ohio’s Rock on the Range festival and everything in between. McCoy loves every bit of the audience for which he plays, no matter the size.
“We do pretty well right now,” he says of the often unknown variable of pulling in a crowd. “We go from 500 people to 25 people. You kind of get a big head one night, and then you get humbled the next night. It’s like, you’re big in this market, but you’re kind of nobody here – you just have to deal with it [laughs]. But we’ve got a great crew that works for us, we’ve got RVs and buses with flat screens, so I can’t say that I’m suffering like I used to. My days off are spent playing video games, reading books, and grilling steaks, so it’s pretty sweet actually.”
McCoy says that even after over a solid decade-plus of life on the road, he can still find something new in each corner of this country – even if the scope of his world has shrunk somewhat over time.
“There are parts, though, where I can go, ‘I’ve been here like 10 times,’” he says. “The weird thing now is that America just keeps getting smaller to me. It’s like going to the Northwest – I’ve memorized certain gas stations along the way. That kind of freaks me out because it is such a vast country. The other thing is, too, with the political climate – people don’t realize how disconnected they are to other parts of the country. People get this attitude that America is ‘my town,’ and it’s really not. There are so many different cultures and points of view.”
McCoy gives the example of his own father as to how people in different regions can perceive situations differently.
“My dad’s kind of this gun-toting guy,” he says. “He thinks that it’s really dangerous on the road, but it’s not. America’s a pretty tame place, really. There are no cannibal gangs out on the road. There are bad parts, and there are good parts, but we haven’t been affected by any kind of violence. I’ve never felt threatened on the road – well, maybe Detroit, but people think they can watch the news and know that we travel to all these cities and that it must be dangerous. It’s not; I’ve never seen anyone killed, beat, or raped in 10 years.”
No conversation with McCoy can be complete without mentioning the musical evolution that his band’s undergone since their 1999 eponymous debut, and familiar follow-ups like 2003’s “Primitive Epic” and 2005’s “Apologize for Nothing,” released on the famed industrial label TVT Records. The band has taken its fledgling rap-metal beginnings and transformed itself into an arena-ready monster with larger-than-life choruses while still maintaining those trademark twists in melody and arrangement. Bobaflex has also been lauded for putting its own spin on classic covers, like an emotive take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on their 2011 album “Hell in My Heart.”
“It’s like this invisible beast that threatens to envelop us all,” laughs McCoy of the band’s current songwriting process. “Whereas before, it was like, ‘Don’t touch my song!’ Now, it’s like, ‘Maybe your idea is better.’ We always have the attitude of ‘Let’s try it.’ We’ll try anything, and if someone has an idea, we’ll listen to it. If it gets the old head nod, you know it’s really got something.”
That process will come into play sooner than later when the band begins writing for the follow-up to their latest album, “Charlatan’s Web,” which was released late last year.
“We’ll go into the think tank for a month,” McCoy begins, “and I’m confident we’ll come out of it with 10-15 songs. We’ve got pieces right now like choruses and things, but now, it just slides off the palm – it’s no big deal. Everybody is very intuitive with writing now – that process comes a lot quicker than it used to.”
Bobaflex is also stronger and wiser after being exposed to the rotten underbelly of the business side of music – they’ve been dragged through all the usual mud.
Well, truth be told, they had it a little tougher than most. McCoy says that Bobaflex was lucky enough with their latest album to come out on top, business-wise, after so many deals in their past have scarred them. At one point during the past decade, the band lost the rights to their back catalog and even the rights to their name, but the momentum is clearly now in their favor. He’s seen some things, though, that he warns up-and-comers to be wary of – he advises them not to let stars in their eyes blind them.
“There’s this thing right now called a 360 deal, where labels aren’t making enough money off of your CD, so they want your merch, too,” he explains of one of the newer dirty tricks in the seemingly bottomless pit of music biz trickery. “I just can’t justify them wanting 50 percent of your merch – that doesn’t work out very well in your favor. They just don’t realize how little that money is. When you take out the cost of paying your management 15 percent, your accountant 5 percent, and then the label 50 percent on selling $1,000 of merch – which is a really good night – you’re walking out with maybe $250. You can’t make a living off of that.”
McCoy knows his band is lucky to have tipped the scales in their direction with their current business involvement.
“We met an investor that we were good friends with,” he explains, “and we made a contract more favorable to the artist, saying that he’s a partner for three years. He’ll always get a piece of ‘Charlatan’s Web,’ but it cuts off after three years on everything else. You have to get creative in your deals because labels are getting more creative in how they’re going to take your money. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good thing to want to be signed to a traditional record deal these days. Maybe a developmental deal or a management company, but as far as a record deal, this 360 deal is garbage. ”
The changing music business model has led to Bobaflex offering the popular VIP packages to their shows, where fans can pay a set price and receive special perks, like meet and greets with the band – something Shaun McCoy says he’s always been cool with anyway, the prospect of hanging with fans.
“I always like to get inside fans heads and see what they think,” he notes. “We’ll invite them on the bus, see what they thought of the show, get ideas from them – especially for when the next writing process begins for the next album, bounce ideas off of them. A lot of fans will actually pop up on Facebook knowing about a song a year or two before it’s recorded from this experience. We love the feedback from our fans, because without them, we wouldn’t be anything.”
Prior to the stop in Wilkes-Barre this week, McCoy admits he’s been busy in post-production on a new music video for Bobaflex’s latest single “Never Coming Back” from “Charlatan’s Web.”
“It was a little stressful, but it was a blast,” he says of the recent shoot. “I’m actually going to help edit it this week. We spent a little more money than we thought we would, and it was my concept, so I have to make sure it’s worth all the money [laughs]. We had some models show up – it’s going to be a throwback to the old Van Halen days where some characters are dubbed, and there will be a laugh track, kind of a “Natural Born Killers” scene. I have to make all that happen in editing.”
The band, in typical blue-collar fashion, made the video process work, even though ditching the effort could very well have been a possibility to lesser bands.
“The only bad thing was that we were playing bookend weekend shows that were like 14 hours away,” McCoy tells, “and we were rushing to get home, take a shower, then work on the video for 10 hours a day, then rush out and play another show. We only found out it would be a single in early September, and I would have liked more time with the concept, but it ended up great. I can’t wait for the fans to see it.”
Bobaflex looks to have another memorable show this weekend in Wilkes-Barre; it will be another in a career filled with such events. McCoy looks back at a few choice gigs over the years.
“We headlined the Jaeger Stage at Rock on the Range a few years back,” he remembers. “There were like 14,000 people, and they stayed for every last song that we played. It was just something else, man. And every time we play Columbus [Ohio], we sell out the Alrosa Villa. It just confirms that we’re not out of touch and that things are going well. That’s a good feeling when you hear that there are no more tickets available on Ticketmaster – and we’ve been doing this a long time. I get tickled, for sure.”
For McCoy and Bobaflex, staying power involves his band having a plan three to four months in advance, always one step ahead – that’s what’s kept Bobaflex afloat all these years amid a sea of fallen musical casualties.
“I’d love to build up the hype and get us to tour Europe,” McCoy enthuses. “That’s always been a dream of mine since I was 13 years old. We’re talking to management – we’re going to make it happen one way or the other. We’re pushing really hard with a German label who’s offered us a pretty good deal for Europe; maybe next summer. And we know that’s really a key to future success – we can’t just play America all the time.”
McCoy is a musician who does not know the meaning of the word “stop.”
“My brother and I are go, go, go – don’t take a break,’ he reveals. “In the end, you’ve gotta stay out there and keep relevant – keep writing songs, keep selling it. That’s why my daughter has new shoes on today [laughs]. The thing is, with bigger bands, they have the luxury of taking a break. We’re doing well, we’re doing better than we ever have, but I talk to indie bands and local bands who say they’re taking three or four months off. I go, ‘From what?’
“I’ve been exhausted before, but now I’m pretty much used to it. Now I feel odd if there’s not always something going on.”
Mark is a NEPA-based freelance music journalist and live music junkie, living vicariously through the artists he covers.