Positively State St: How To Survive Your Own Tour

Originally from the Santa Barbara Independent. The irrepressible Jenni Alpert flaunts her latest album “Nothing’s Wrong.”

HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR OWN TOUR: For the great unsigned masses, this week’s lesson comes courtesy of L.A.-based singer/songwriter Jenni Alpert, who makes regular stops in Santa Barbara. She appeared on Valentine’s Day at the UCSB Hub and then later that night at Alcazar’s—two stops on a swing up the West Coast to Seattle.

STEP ONE: Bring your friends. Alpert and her daffy DiFrancoisms are supported by Dawn Thomas sitting in on guitar and backup vocals (and a substantial chunk of her own solo stage time) and Chris Jones playing a weepy acoustic slide guitar. Thomas was introduced to Alpert six months ago by a mutual friend, and was subsequently drafted to go on the road too, while Jones is Alpert’s next-door neighbor. When sharing the stage the three form a pleasant enough power trio, but on her own, Alpert relied upon guitar, a few effects pedals, a narrow but powerful voice, and some solid tunes. Which leads to…

STEP TWO: Bring good songs, which Alpert did. Her latest album, last year’s Nothing’s Wrong, is competent without seeming slick or contrived, but offers few pretensions beyond the earnestly-sensitive-girl-with-guitar motif (her honesty makes it difficult to call it “formula”) that was run into the ground on the Lilith Fair tours of the past few years. Vague tales of personal relationships cloud some levels of her lyrics, but Alpert’s lighthearted delivery keeps things from getting too serious. “Moonshine,” augmented with some nice guitar echo, was far more ethereal and creepy than the album version with a full band, and “Just This Moment” was typical of most of her set: strong, tight compositions that work well solo or in a combo. From there, Alpert was off and running; requests to translate her mile-a-minute banter between songs were shrugged off by Jones, who just laughed and shook his head at the impossibility. They were all having too much fun up there (egged on by inebriated coeds) to stop and talk about the business, which is…

STEP THREE: One cannot ignore the business side of things, period. Alpert and Thomas came prepared with plenty of copies of their CDs, which sold quickly, and took information from everyone to add to their mailing lists. They talked to anyone about anything. A grateful Thomas explained that Alpert has the drive to do it all, while Thomas doesn’t sweat the small stuff: “I just like to go up there and play.” For her part, Thomas’s voice overpowered her own minimalistic guitar; despite the Hub’s notoriously muddy acoustics Thomas still rumbled the rafters on the other side of the building.

STEP FOUR: On your own independent tour you can kiss regular sleep and meals goodbye. Sure, that sounds normal in theory, but in practice it’s another story on what’s basically a microcosm of a full-throttle rock tour.

Thomas was holding up well despite waking up at 4 a.m., but she wasn’t looking forward to the six-hour drive to their next stop in Mountain View. Alpert, used to such cross-country treks playing to small audiences, is unfazed. How does the veteran road rat make people care? “Nobody cares,” she matter-of-factly replied. “You have to care yourself or else it’s not worth it.” Apparently taking additional cues from the Ani DiFranco school of self-empowerment, Jenni Alpert is persistent and confident enough to record her own songs, manage her own affairs, and book her own tours—but all with a little help from her friends. Hey, indie rock may indeed be a festering fraud, but indie touring is still where it’s at (if you don’t forget to budget your gas money). Righteous, babe.