When people imagine their favourite bands hitting the road it’s a life of pure dream fulfilment. Sold-out shows, riotous sets to festival crowds, and more booze-fuelled inter-band hijinx than you can shake a noughties DVD at. Yet what fans don’t see is the relentless boredom between all the unforgettable highs. With hours upon hours spent waiting at venues or curled on a bunk on day-long drives, touring can often be a gruelling and draining experience. Thank fuck for video games then.
As the crowd’s roar rings out and the surge of on-stage adrenaline is replaced by the sleepy silence of the bus bunk, you’d be surprised how many of your favourite artists level out by reaching for a controller. From helping touring bands break the ice to kickstarting lifelong drunken rivalries, in the run up to Slam Dunk Festival 2023 I spoke to the lineup’s best, brightest (and let’s face it, nerdiest) about their favourite games to play on tour, and why the medium offers some much-needed solace.
What’s your favourite gaming tour bus memory?
Jarret Reddick, Bowling for Soup: Back in 2010 or so, 3 band and 3 crew members were SUPER competitive on FIFA! We had tournaments that lasted for weeks. Sometimes we had to let crew guys take a break during the day, or drag guys out of three bunks in the middle of the night because it was their turn to play…
Aled Philips, Kids In Glass Houses: On our last tour we shared a bus with Save Your Breath. Dave their guitarist is a serious gamer. Like a headset and vibrating chair kind of gamer who skulls Monster Energy and forgets to sleep. The Last of Us had just come out and he’d spent 2 weeks working his way through the perfect game, stockpiling ammo and supplies like a good little survivalist. Anyway, he got back to the bus one day and Kris – the band’s singer – was there going rogue on his saved game and had used up every. single. thing. Not sure he even killed anything on screen. Dave went spare. They split up not long after and – I’m speculating – but I am sure this was why…
NoahFinnce: My favourite tour bus gaming memory was playing The Sims 4 for 6 hours straight while everybody else went out to a bar…
Grant Brandell, Underoath: Not exactly a “tour bus” memory but there was a Warped tour I believe 2011’ or 12’ that Underoath wasn’t playing, and I got “drafted” and flown out to play on the Warped Tour Halo team vs. The Linkin Park summer tour! It was cool coming out on the tour for something other than playing, just linking up with other band members…
Ian Miles, Creeper: In the early days of touring, it would always blow my mind when we rented a van that had a console but unfortunately, they NEVER worked. It always felt so cruel, but I never gave up hope. The first time we toured on a bus we found a PS4 with a bundle of games, having been scathed in the past I knew not to trust it but I tried it and It worked! It wasn’t long before we realised that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have this entertainment at my disposal… I sat drinking and playing Skyrim for 12 hours straight. I stayed up all night and played right up to the moment where our guitar tech had to come out and drag me in for soundcheck….
Joshua Moore, We Came As Romans: My favourite gaming memory was when I found out that my laptop could run CoD Warzone, and [vocalist] Dave built custom cases for his and [drummer] Puckett’s PS5s and we all got mobile internet towers… we were playing WarZone every night, it was awesome! We could set up in the green room, bus, hotel rooms on an off day. We could even play with our friends back home, or other guys who were on the same tour as us – it was such a good setup.
Scott Carey, Holding Absence: We once recreated the entire touring party with super exaggerated features on a WWE game and set it to Autoplay to see who would win in a fight. Unfortunately, I didn’t last very long!
Pranks, puke and partying. These are the things decades of music journalism has taught us about the day-to-day shenanigans of touring rockstars. Yet, once the party winds down, your favourite artists often seek solace in virtual worlds. As mental health becomes an increasingly mainstream conversation, bands are after healthy and sustainable ways to keep themselves entertained – and for these musicians, video games are the answer.
How important are games as a form of escapism to your band when you’re on the road?
Ian Miles, Creeper: On tour everything is amplified. The good nights are the best nights of your life, the bad nights are unbearable, and in that environment it’s hard to find your own personal space to process all these heightened emotions. I find that it’s rare to feel the need for that escapism while on tour because tour itself is escapism, but when you do need it, you really need it and what better way to do it than put the blinkers on and escape into digital bliss.
Alex Taylor, Malevolence: I think it’s very important to me these days to have that little bit of escapism and time out. It can kill the time between loading into a venue and show time. With me being a vocalist, it’s really helpful when you’re starting to lose your voice to take yourself away from the after-show party and just have some time to rest. I look forward to going and playing some games more than I do going out and having 10 beers because I’m getting old and boring!
Maggie Linndemann: I think it’s super important. Some travel days are like 20 hours, so to be able to just relax and get lost in a game for 4 hours can really help!
Joshua Moore, We Came As Romans: Honestly, it’s really important for me. On days off, I spend most of the day playing League Of Legends, WarZone, or going golfing. It’s a great “reset button” for me, to get away from a hectic schedule for a day – and just dedicate some time to myself and something I enjoy doing. Obviously I love playing music, and I love being on stage – but when I can just put my headset on in a hotel room and play League/WarZone for some hours, or even hit the golf course with Dave or even solo… it’s just a good mental refresher for me.
Ash Wilson, Boston Manor: I think it’s just nice to submerge yourself into a fictional world, all by yourself for a few hours. Kinda feels like switching off for a bit & having a little recharge of your batteries in a way. It helps calm the brain & also puts all the hundreds of things you think about on a day to day basis on hold for a little while. It can also really help calm you down before bed, or kill some time on a super long drive. I think it’s super important to have that on tour, your day moves fast enough as is!
Erhan Alman, Heriot: For me as an individual, it’s massively important. I think it’s healthy having something to immerse yourself in, just to get away from real life almost as a bit of a reset. We’re so lucky the band is as busy as it is, but juggling that and our full time jobs has been difficult. I always try to have a new game ready to play or progress with when I get back from tour.
If you could only take one game with you on tour for the rest of your career, what would it be – and why?
Jaret Reddick, Bowling For Soup: For sure Tiger Woods golf. That is the current game of choice. We have a little set up that goes into the dressing room these days. Nothing fancy, but it passes the time. We are often running from the stage to the dressing room to get one last 18 in before bus call!
Scott Carey, Holding Absence: Mario Kart! On so many tours we’ve been on, Mario Kart on the bus is a great way to bond with the other bands + crew members on the tour. It’s a fun way to break the ice of those awkward few days and make some friends really quickly!
Grant Brandell, Underoath: The original Halo has always been the Underoath preferred game. We’ve (me) have consistently brought two original Xboxes, discs and original controllers to LAN on our bus from front to back lounge since like 2004. It’s a classic that we never get tired of!
ZAND: Probably Undertale or Night in the Woods. I’m a big fan of indie games, RPG stuff with strong characters and stories are my favourites but I could play these two over and over again and never get bored of them. I do try to have long breaks in between replays because I don’t want the magic of the novelty to go away.
Erhan, Heriot: Honestly, Old School Runescape! Me and Jake [Packer, bassist/vocalist] have a pretty unhealthy obsession with that game. You can never really complete it and since 2007 its still being updated so every few months/years we always find ourselves buying membership and jumping straight back into it. It’s addictive but in the best way.
Jack Metcalfe, The Hunna: It has to be FIFA because the whole band love it and we have such a good laugh playing with everyone on tour. Whether you are a rookie or pro we get anyone hooked! Hands down best game to grace Hunna World!
Travis Mills, girlfriends: It has to be NHL! In Italy on the Avril Lavigne love sux tour, Nick and I were having an intense battle of NHL. He was the Ducks and I was the LA Kings and it got heated with half of the crew screaming “LETS GO DUCKS!” and the other half screaming “LETS GO KINGS!” We’re now addicted… it’s become a pre-show ritual to add to the list!
Oli Appleyard, Static Dress: Easy! Metal Gear Solid on PS1 – a game that was waaaay ahead of its time, and still stands up this day. The story line, character arc, script, art style and hidden Easter eggs, everything for me is perfect. It’s truly the peak of gaming in my opinion and I don’t feel like any game will ever live up to the insane amount of effort and detail put into it.
The 2023 Slam Dunk Festival is set to happen 27-28 May 2023.