For nearly all of the winter season I felt this underlying sense of sadness. I hadn’t left New York City in over a year and I began to suffer artistically because of it. I found no joy in shooting at the same venues time and time again and New York City’s once exciting streets started to seem dull and uninspiring. I had no desire to explore even though-I longed for an adventure. The bitter cold and annoying layers of clothing were getting to be too much for this California boy; I felt like I was slowly dying inside. It took a road trip with Best Behavior to make me feel alive again.
This story begins in a blue conversion van winding through the crowded streets as it departed New York City. I was cushioned in the very back seat of the van with no seatbelt and piles of equipment and luggage all around me. Seated in the first two rows of the van were Alex Gruenburg, Chris Jimenez, Jon Mann, and Dan Jacobson, the four members of the Brooklyn band Best Behavior. They were discussing their set from the night before and telling a story about a girl they had once known.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” I thought as we merged onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. A few weeks before, I received the opportunity to cover the Savannah Stopover Festival for another publication; I just needed a way to get down there. I knew that Best Behavior was one of the New York acts playing in the festival. Since I was familiar with these guys from previous shoots, I reached out to see if I could tag along on their tour and document the journey. They earnestly welcomed me and I finally had something to look forward to, something to awaken my spirit.
“I really am here…” I kept reminding myself as we drove further and further away from New York City. I had taken the role of photojournalist on the road with an up and coming band. I had no idea who I was going to meet, what I was going to photograph, or even where I was going to sleep that night.
“You’re in the cult now,” they all said. And I couldn’t have been more excited.
The first destination on tour was our nation’s Capital. The air was a bit warmer down there, the flowers a little more in bloom. We stopped at 7 Drum City, a rehearsal space in the eastern part of the city, where the band wanted to get one last session in before their show that night.
“We’re really glad you’re here,” they kept reassuring me as I helped them unload the van. In the days leading up to tour, I was concerned that it would be difficult for an outsider like myself to break into Best Behavior’s close bond. So, the simple phrase was comforting, and made me feel less like a stranger.
The band played at the Slash Run in the very north end of the city. It was a restaurant/bar/music venue with a jukebox and 50s diner vibe that could have been in a setting of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
We had some time to kill before the set, so we ate like kings (the food was generously provided by Slash Run) and talked for a bit. I learned that Alex was the one who put the band together. He chose seasoned musicians for Best Behavior, artists who he knew were dedicated to their craft and would be dedicated to one another.
“We are all just people trying to help each other with our talents,” he said.
Best Behavior was second in the line up of the night. The crowd was a mix of young and old, like in many of the venues we would come across on tour. They played their set to an engaged audience and at the moment of silence between the end of the last song and when the crowd claps, someone enthusiastically called out, “WHO ARE YOU GUYS?!” The honest curiosity and eagerness behind the question (which was also a compliment) could not have been timed more perfectly.
Richmond, Virginia Part 1
After the show in Washington D.C., we headed to Richmond, Virginia where we planned to crash for the night. As soon as we got in the van, Alex, Jon, Dan, and Chris immediately started talking about their set. This aspect of tour is what interested me the most: the behind the scenes discussions on how they could improve. Each member wants to be part of something they are proud of, and Best Behavior is a project they believe in. “I’m trying to be in the band that I want this band to be,” Chris said.
As a group, they discussed things like the venue’s acoustics and how they felt about their performance. Individually, they complimented each other on how they played but also gave some honest critiques. All Best Behavior wanted to do was improve, so they gladly received the critiques from one another.
We arrived in Richmond close to 3am and we were welcomed into the home of Alex’s friend, Josh. The house was decorated with the most random knickknacks: a deer head, sombrero, and a portrait of Elvis, to name a few. The wide range of items were mounted together in a way that was very appealing and tasteful; from what I could tell, the decor was an ode to Josh’s creativity.
The next morning was a leisurely one. It was the first warm day that these New Yorkers had experienced in months so all we wanted to do was bask in the sun. I was in shorts and wandered around the front yard with no shoes on, my ideal way of living. As I felt the Earth beneath my bare feet, I could sense my soul slowly coming back to life. Not only was I reconnecting with the sun, but I was inspired, I was learning, and I was around a group of people who were as passionate about their art as I was. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world.
Greensboro, North Carolina
It was dark by the time we reached Greensboro, North Carolina. We pulled up to the corner of quiet residential road, parking in front of what looked like an abandoned store that stood apart amongst its residential neighbors. Inside was a different world. It was a well-lived-in establishment decorated with records, christmas lights, rugs, and different paintings on the walls. The backyard had remnants of old sculptures, seemingly forgotten by its makers.
The venue, On Pop of the World, was mostly a recording studio but had recently started putting on shows. The musicians who ran On Pop of the World were excited to have Best Behavior perform; they were fascinated by a New York band coming through.
That night, three bands opened for Best Behavior. Two of the bands had the same people in them, each member switched instruments with the different band name. The room filled up by the time Best Behavior came on and they brought the party. Their was set was noticeably better than the night before with more energy and movement, which made their on stage presence unforgettable.
After the show we checked into a hotel and decided to grab something to eat at a Southern staple, Waffle House. In all honesty, I didn’t want to go. I was tipsy, stoned, and so tired that I was ready to pass out.
“This is tour life, man,” they stated, convincing me to go. The guys were taking advantage of every moment on tour and every moment they could have with their best friends. I forced myself to get into that mentality. After all, when is the next time I’ll have this opportunity? There was no way I was going to waste this time sleeping.
Charleston, South Carolina
The next day I had to catch a bus from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA in order to make it in time for the Savannah Stopover Festival. Best Behavior was playing in Charleston that night so I was going to go ahead of them. We raced a solid five hours to Charleston but, unfortunately, I still missed my bus. The next one was scheduled four hours later, so we decided to hang around the town until then.
It was a beautifully warm day. We ate at a local barbecue joint and in combination with the balmy air and beach location, it felt like the peak of our vacation.
“We played last night, we’re playing tonight, and we’re playing tomorrow night in three different places,” they gleefully discussed. “This is what vacation is all about.” I staunchly agreed. My ideal vacation consists of photographing and exploring new places. When you are an artist, you are happiest when you create. There is nothing else we can do.
They dropped me off at the train station later that evening and I looked forward to seeing them the next day.
This was my first time in Savannah and I had heard so many things about it. I was only familiar with the town from the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and I couldn’t wait to explore.
The place where I stayed was a flat in a Victorian home. The host was a kind nudist by the name of Paul, whom I met through Couchsurfing.com. He encouraged his guests to participate in his nudist lifestyle so, as a guest in his home, I was a willing participant. It is hilarious to think back on how we were naked yet casually talking over our morning coffee. It was a liberating experience and I highly recommend everyone stay with a nudist at least once.
I reunited with Best Behavior at El Rocko Lounge, a retro style bar located in Downtown Savannah. Their festival set was scheduled for three in the afternoon, which, in Brooklyn, is a dead zone. No one goes to shows in the afternoon so we didn’t expect much of a turn out. As the guys began sound checking, people started milling into the bar. Pretty soon El Rocko was packed.
Best Behavior performed the best I had seen thus far, even compared to their shows in New York City. Each member’s energy was flowing through their instruments, lifting up one another as they played each song. The closing number had Alex fall to the ground in a glorious, rock n’ roll move, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. The audience stammered to the merch table to buy their records and stop the guys for their autographs.
Every night they played, I saw their progression on stage. Their communication, their honesty, and their support of each other had worked. Best Behavior got tighter and tighter each night and the results were getting impressive.
Throughout the rest of the day and into the night, Savannah was our playground. The festival hooked up the musicians and press with complimentary drinks and food. We hopped from show to show, running into other NYC bands while making new connections as well. To my surprise, Savannah was a party town and it seemed like everyone was inebriated. This was my scene and I reveled in it.
Richmond, Virginia Part 2
The next morning was a struggle. Everyone was hungover as we set off for Richmond, not yet ready for the grueling 7 hour ride. “We are somewhere between Gatorade and heaven,” Jon commented on our current state. “Probably closer to Gatorade.”
Once in Richmond, we arrived at Alex’s old living quarters, a place called The Compound, located downtown. Originally dentists offices, The Compound had been converted into a frat house over the years and is now a communal artist residence.
We met with Alex’s old roommate and friend, Matt. Matt was a musician as well and used to play with Alex. They reminisced about old times, people they knew, and what had become of them. Matt took me around the horseshoe shaped Compound so I could take pictures. He told me different stories about each room. There use to be crazy parties and live shows there, and at Matt showed me where Alex’s first band played. The tales that The Compound gathered over the years were both fascinating and gross. I hope to revisit one day to hear more.
The next day we returned to New York. Although tired and looking forward to our own beds, there was a general consensus that we could have kept it going. I know I could have. I said my goodbyes to Alex, Chris, Dan, and Jon, the four dudes who let me into their cult.
When I got back to my Brooklyn home I thought about what it meant to be a part of Best Behavior. The cult of Best Behavior, first and foremost, is a loving one. To be in the group, you must value loyalty, respect, and be able to openly express your love for one another. You must always check in with each other, making sure everyone is doing okay at all times. No one is left behind.
The members of the cult must be passionate about music. One of the pillars of Best Behavior is improvement and your passion must drive you to be the best musician you can be. Helping the other members grow is also extremely vital, utilizing your strengths to improve other’s weaknesses. Best Behavior is a unit and, once again, no one is left behind.
What the cult of Best Behavior taught me was not to stress. These guys were in incredibly stressful situations: driving for hours straight, loading and unloading gear, trying to not forget anything, etc. Not once in any of these situations did they fight or were petty toward one another. “I don’t like to stress,” Alex told me in Charleston.
The idea of choosing not to stress is a foreign concept to me,but can be such a life changer when put into practice. I witnessed its benefits. Why do I want to stress over something I supposedly love? I will forever hear Alex’s words when I come across stressful times in my life.
A blizzard descended upon New York City the day after our return and I was surprised that I did not mind at all. I was glad to be back. I smiled as I remembered how I felt before the road trip. My previous sadness and frustration has dissipated. Even though I am still looking for new inspirations, I am ready for whatever the city throws at me thanks to Best Behavior.