The universe is making music all the time

Road Atlas: Benoît Pioulard

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We began ‘Road Atlas’ last year (named in tribute to Calexico; our first contributor was, fittingly, Joey Burns) as a template for musicians to retell their experiences from life on the road. As always, the “brief” (if you could call it so) remained open for interpretation. What we wished for most of all was for some sense of an insight into this life of a touring musician. So, when Thomas Meluch aka Benoît Pioulard embarked on his North American tour (7th March to 7th April playing 25 shows to audiences across America) we were delighted he accepted us on our offer. As Tom himself said so fittingly about the proposal in store: “I feel like it could make for a nice snapshot of an ultimately hard-to-capture experience.”

Words & Photographs: Thomas Meluch, Illustration: Craig Carry


Touring in the United States at such a low level on the figurative totem pole is a funny thing; one doesn’t have even a glimmer of hope for federal support or patronage except, I suspect, in very rare cases of good fortune or some kind of questionable nepotism.

For my part I was extraordinarily lucky to have a good response to a crowd-funding initiative I created around the release of my newest record, the end of which found me fully able to rent a car & pay for the petrol I needed to travel the roughly 9,200 miles and play the 25 shows that my schedule demanded.  (Many, many thanks to those folks – I hope you like your records, etc.)

I’ve kept a journal in some form or another since around the age of 11, so if the mood ever strikes I’ve got most of a lifetime waiting to be looked back on and laughed at, filed away in a big, blue polymer box at my parents’ house.  Having done this most recent tour entirely on my own and having dealt with the day-to-day routine of wake up/drink coffee/drive several hours/wait for promoter to arrive/make nice/set up/drink whisky/wait/play/chat/pack out/sleep a bit, I realized only too late that I didn’t engage in nearly enough photography or written accounts of the hilarious & occasionally tiresome minutiae that peppered the entire experience.

All the same, here is what I managed to scribble during some moments of downtime; a meager verbal rendition of an ultimately amazing, baffling & inexplicable slog through what I still believe is the most beautiful, dynamic, and beautifully dynamic country on earth.

NB: Most of this I am re-reading for the first time, and is bound to be regrettable, so any & all remarks/commentary in the present tense will be placed in [brackets].


benoit_north park

“North park”: Taken in the forest near my mom’s house in Michigan where I spent much (possibly most) of my free time in high school.  Still good for a lovely walk at most times of the year.


20 March 2013, 4pm, La Carafe (Houston, TX)

Slightly shameful that my first account of the tour comes twelve full days in – even though there’s quite a stretch left to go.  It’s been a dream in all the ways I expected and a few that I didn’t – Portland [where I lived for four years until recently] was a gorgeous few days of greatest hits including the ever-glorious Angel’s Rest hike in the Columbia Gorge with a gang of ruffians.  Oakland was a slightly hazy trip with Forest and Erin [see photo], where I played live drums (for Skate Laws) for the first time in 6 or 7 years, only to find that it’s still one of the best types of catharsis that Jesus himself ever invented.  LA was all too brief, as these things often are; got to see Brian & Stacie’s place for probably the last time [these are dear friends who have been forced out of their amazing loft space by a shitty landlord] and met their charming new cat, Omar… a little grey cloud of exquisite cuteness & tolerance of maximal manhandling.  The bar crowd in Phoenix was mostly a gaggle of chatty dicks, but the show was a success in some ways (e.g. it happened) and there were a few kind & attentive souls there for the music itself.  These included Keith, the dude who’s been to every Phoenix show I’ve played and always has a new record or two for me to sign and a silvery Sharpie pen to hand.  Oh and the drunk girls in the corner singing Happy Birthday to one of their own, which I ever-so-cleverly managed to join on in the midst of whatever song it was that I was playing at the time.  I don’t think they noticed.  The day off with Ryan was truly lovely, as I’d never spent any appreciable amount of time in Arizona; we passed four solid hours at the Musical Instrument Museum [Holy Smokes this place is incredible; go there if you ever have the chance], an absolutely humbling & rich experience that plumbs the amazing depths of human ingenuity & creativity, all categorized neatly by continent and country.  Then a very surprising vegan meal (in the American Southwest? It’s a brave new world) and crayon coloring time with Ryan’s precocious 2-year-old Emma.  Overall I’ve been thoroughly pleased with just about everything, and in fact feel quite detached from that which normally centers me.  Tough to put a finger on, really – to say, “it feels like a dream” is somewhere close [but also horribly trite] … Such abundance of kindness, beauty & memorable moments, and lots of generous & receptive listeners… A few moments balancing this out, in which I feel I’m in some weird existential crisis making me feel as though I’m experiencing this all as a distant memory from the mindset of some future time when I no longer tour or endeavor to make records.  That day is ahead of me somewhere, I suspect, but truly investing myself in that thought is proving to be troublesome.  Nothing I can do will make this last any longer than it will.  But that’s ok.  It’s how it must be.  [Part of this thought process arose after consuming a medicinal product that happens to be legal in California and a few other states, which may help it make a bit more sense.]


benoit_fuck you, love forest

“Fuck you, love Forest”: Forest is one of my longest-term best friends, and now he lives in California.  This is him being ‘edgy’ by giving me ‘the finger’.  The other two people are his girlfriend Erin (center) and their roommate, whose name I don’t remember because I’m a jerk.


24 March 2013, 5.30pm, Sixth & I Synagogue (Washington D.C.)

Still plagued by my laziness as a documentarian, not that anyone cares except some future me [?] … but that always results in an experience like this turning into a strange & distant liquid memory-dream afterwards, or maybe seeming like nothing at all once normalcy has taken over again, so that’s ok really.  In four whirlwinded days I’ve passed through New Orleans, Atlanta & Durham, now playing in the nation’s capitol for the first time ever with next to no time at all to actually take anything in.  Oh but I saw the Washington Monument/Phallus from the freeway, as well as some very distinguished-looking roman columns on some building that’s probably quite important.  Recollections of the visit here with Jen Straus something like eleven years ago and all the touristy things we did… Seeing Lucky Lindy’s plane at the Smithsonian, and some stupid irregular hexagon of white cotton at the Hirschhorn, which was supposed to represent the entirety of human suffering throughout time, or something.  And a four-storey Chuck Close thing that was pretty neat.  Anyway NOLA was a great bar crowd (a rare thing indeed) and Atlanta was a dud but for the hospitality of Beau & Emily [these are friends of mine who may be the world’s best hosts; they gave me a pristine, extraordinarily well-decorated bedroom and a perfectly-patina’d antique bucket full of water bottles, fruit, granola bars and a locally-made candle, among other things, you know, “just in case”] … Durham was great altogether, mostly thanks to the quartet of college kids that stole me away to Waffle House at 1am for a meal of greasy hash-browns and grilled tomatoes; very sweet indeed.  Plus, I felt cool, which is obviously weird and wrong.  So here I sit in a quiet green room with the odd hum of the air conditioner, about to play an early show which hopefully means a good night’s sleep at the other end.  It’s gotten quite cold heading up the coast, and evidently I’ve been spoiled by the southern sun.


benoit_columbia gorge

“Columbia gorge”: Taken at the very peak of Angel’s Rest, my favorite hike in the Gorge, just outside Portland.  From the top you can see a 270º panorama, which is one of the most beautiful vistas I could ever imagine being available to human eyes.


28 Mars 2013, 6.30pm, Casa del Popolo (Montréal QC)

Again it seems like no time since the last entry but in fact it’s been the touring equivalent of forever, especially during this stretch of 14 shows with no days off… Worlds away from D.C. now, really; Philadelphia found me in one of the most beautiful rooms I’ll ever play, and for a sold-out crowd to boot – this one was in the Unitarian Chapel, all ornate woodwork on every wall and an amazing altar at the front, upon which I respectfully placed my re-amper, warnophone and MixtapeAlpha.  Afterward, some of the nicer remarks I’ve gotten from listeners, including a 7th grade writing teacher who evidently uses my lyrics as writing examples, and illustrates them with the songs themselves, or the videos.  [Being of perhaps the last by-the-book public education generation, this thought hadn’t even crossed my mind before – that teachers now have to adapt their lessons to classes of kids that are constantly gawping at some screen or another.  Wild and a bit sad, if you ask me.  But you didn’t.]  So humbling.  New York was a little disappointing in that almost none of the friends who promised to show up, did so.  But you can’t be upset by that kind of thing, only glad about those who do show up… To that end, Jason [Somma, a good friend and incredible video artist/choreographer] arrived with a big attack-hug, and Ryan Jeffery [also a brilliant filmmaker] came round with a cheery grin and newly salt-and-peppered hair, thoroughly blowing my mind.  Sarah’s Noveller set was stunning – one of the best things I’ve witnessed on this whole trip – and Robert’s hosting impeccable [this is my dear wife’s relative, who happens to live in Brooklyn], so it really wasn’t bad by any stretch.  The small-town show at Hudson, NY’s Spotty Dog Bookstore & Bar was the perfect kind of low-key thing for me, plus the hotel in which I luxuriated [one of four on the entire trip] provided a good respite, spa and all.  Trying to stave off sickness with oranges and vitamin tablets and lots and lots of water.  Too much to keep track of, but there you are.  OH AND ALSO: the New York Thruway Overlook stop at which the little girl ran to the railing & at the top of her lungs repeated the words, “Live to die! Live to die! Live to die!” a number of times, seemingly for no one in particular except the sky herself.


benoit_double you & see

“Double you & see”: Taken at the home of my friends Windy & Carl in Michigan, this is an ornate wall piece (I think Windy herself painted it?) reflected in a mirror.  I have had many happy and productive experiences in this house, as we all share an enthusiasm for late-night guitar playing sessions and fancy beers.


7 April 2013, 5pm, Shine (Boulder CO)

& so it ends here, after thousands of miles, dozens of protein bars & just enough of all the kinds of contingencies that tend to come with an experience like this… The past week has felt like three or four, not in any particularly bad way, it’s just that since having a couple of days off last week I’ve been pining for Nico [my lovely bride] and the comforts of our little home.  And also for a bike ride.  There is nothing like the Pacific Northwest in spring, and no better way to see than on two wheels.  Anyway, Canada & Michigan passed in a blur of reconnection & undue kindness (apart from the overzealous Homeland Security guards at the border who seemed convinced that Warren & I were smuggling drugs or dames or dames made of drugs), and I found the perfect new adornment for our home at a stellar store in Chicago called Wooly Mammoth [it was the skull of a Red Fox, Nico’s favorite animal].  Then a nice but brief visit with Travis in St. Louis, the myriad joys of watching Deerhoof play in Kansas City [we were, for some reason, on the same bill] during an exceedingly drawn-out festival evening… All so unreal, all so unraveling.  The head swims with humbled thoughts of why & how this could come to pass so well, or at all, followed in quick succession by gratitude and not a small amount of exhaustion + the need to shut down for a day or two.  Twenty hours left to drive, then the reprieve of the center, the usual, the familiar.  The same bed, the embrace I’ve been without for almost five weeks.  My darling waiting at the shoreline as my ship returns, our cat in her arms.  [That was a bit dramatic, but the return home was indeed perfect, and somehow managed to erase most of my sense of the preceding several weeks.]


benoit_oakland tanks

“Oakland tanks”: These are part of a tofu factory that abuts the fence behind Forest & Erin’s house.  I thought they had a certain charm to them.


The following are two live reviews of Tom’s tour of North America:


Los Angeles:


‘Hymnal’ by Benoît Pioulard is out now on Kranky.



benoit_shasta clouds

“Shasta clouds”: I stopped for a view of Mount Shasta in northern California and instead took a photo of the clouds above it. These are those.


All photos were taken on either Polaroid Spectra or 600 cameras.

Photographs and text © Thomas Meluch 2013.


Very special thanks to Tom for his kindness, time and support.


Written by admin

April 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

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  1. […] Having already featured prominently on Fractured Air during 2013 with an extensive interview and travel diaries, Thomas Meluch (AKA Benoît Pioulard) has shared with us an account of his current inspirations. […]

  2. […] read the other articles featuring contributions by Benoît Pioulard, please see here, here and […]

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