Interview: Lochlan Watt of Monolith Touring

“If there could ever be an official soundtrack to space travel, Rosetta would surely be one of the strongest contenders.”

In June 2008, Philadelphia art-metal band Rosetta engaged in their first international tour along the east coast of Australia. Central to the conceptualisation and co-ordination of this tour was Lochlan Watt, a 20-year old Brisbane resident who created his own music promotion company, Monolith Touring, for the purposes of the venture. In addition to Lochlan’s role as tour manager, he supported each of Rosetta’s nine shows as vocalist and drummer of The Surrogate. Lochlan kindly answered my questions regarding independent band promotion, online interactivity and the future of Monolith Touring.

How did you come into contact with Rosetta?

MySpace. The first contact I had with the band was in 2006 when I interviewed them for a piece in Death Before Dishonour Magazine. I’d stayed in touch from there on with the odd comment or message through said networking website. When I became inspired to book the tour I simply sent them another message and it progressed to email and all went from there.

The concept of a tour born from the convergence of a fan’s dedication and new media interactivity is new to me, though I’d hazard a guess and suggest that you aren’t the first to have traveled this path. Had you read or heard of any similar occurrences in the music world before becoming ‘inspired to book the tour’, as you said, or was this a genuinely organic concept that occurred to you in the middle of your hundredth Wake/Lift listen?

I had been considering the thought for a while, but the solid idea came from a conversation with a workmate who is also a promoter. He was telling me about how back in the day he tried to bring Converge out and all this other stuff, and how a whole bunch of his friends brought bands out only to lose money. We talked about the ups and downs, and how it would be so much more feasible to bring smaller bands out if they paid for the flights etc. I went home, messaged Rosetta, came back to work the next day and told him that they were indeed going to pay for their flights.

I understand you’re experienced in booking and promoting bands at Rosie’s in Brisbane. Was it difficult to book venues south of the border?

In some cities the venues were booked after one email, but for others it took me time to find venues that would even reply to my emails or what not. I started booking the tour in November 07 and some venues denied booking anything in until the start of 08. I had a bit of help in a locking in venues in Sydney, Wollongong, and the all ages venue in Melbourne through guys in bands that were supporting on the tour. I also asked a lot of bands what places they thought would suit best, and I was given a few shortlists of venues by various band dudes. Having guys help out on their own turf was very handy. The AA show was the one that took the longest to get locked in, and it nearly didn’t happen simply because I had been rejected by a bunch of places and just didn’t know what else was available. It wasn’t a difficulty as such, but it was strange booking venues that I had never even seen before.

Was there a specific point where you realised that the idea of an Australian Rosetta tour had passed from a dream into reality?

The “holy shit this is really going to happen” point came when they emailed me through their confirmed flight bookings.

You’ve established your own touring company, Monolith. Where did the name come from?

I’ve always been a huge fan of the 2001: A Space Odyssey series, and if you’ve read the books or seen the movies you’d know the significance of the Monolith. Coincidentally, Rosetta’s releases are filled with references to monoliths, Europa, the solar system and a lot of general space themes. I thought it was fitting, and it makes the whole deal sound a lot more epic than just a random kid going headfirst into booking tours without much experience outside his own state, haha.

As an unknown touring company, did you run into many negatives when contacting venues and pitching your tour proposal?

As I mentioned earlier, just with some venues that didn’t reply to my emails, or some that didn’t want to lock anything in when I started booking. All Ages shows seem to be a bit tough or too expensive to book generally, but once the venue was found it was easy.

How did the tour play out?

I reached the goals I had set for myself and looking back over it, the only real regret I have is that I didn’t squeeze in one or two more AA shows along the way! As Rosetta are not a full time band, they fronted for their flights and were not concerned about whether or not they would make their money back, and were more concerned with me making back the money I fronted. It wasn’t a particularly massive amount, but I had to cover van hire, promo, gear hire, and I also got a bunch of additional merch printed up for the guys.

By the end of it I had covered my expenses and had a few hundred dollars to swing Rosetta’s way. They had sold out of almost all of their merch by the end of the tour, and had made enough band kitty to pay off their band debts and have a little bit left over at the end. They aren’t a big band by any means, and I knew this when booking the tour. All I wanted to do was break even and have a fun tour. They considered the trip to be the most successful tour they’d ever done both financially and in terms of the attendances. All in all, it was a positive experience that I’m glad happened.

What did you learn from your first time on the road as a tour manager?

That it can be a bit easy to slip into the “I’m in a band on tour” mindset and forget about important things that you have to do to make sure the show runs. In Canberra I was setting up my drums and forgot to put all the names I had down for the doorlist… fail! NavMan is everyone’s best friend but doesn’t include every road in Australia. It’s also good to be in a band with older members who will take on board responsibility in those moments where I got too drunk to get everyone into the van at the end of the night. The under 21 driver limit on the van was also a blessing in disguise which I took great advantage of and probably got more sleep in than anyone else on the tour.

You seem relaxed about the entire process. The way I see it: you leveraged an online communication medium to bring an independent American band whose music you love to tour a foreign country for the first time. As you said, the band consider it their most successful tour thus far. To me, this is incredible. I suppose that because you’ve been devoted to the idea since you began planning in November – and then lived and breathed the company of these guys for most of last month – you’re accustomed to the concept. But still, reminiscing now, aren’t you impressed with, and proud of your actions?

I am proud of the fact that everything went so well, however I wouldn’t say that I really impressed myself as such… I knew I was capable of pulling it off from the beginning, and I’m my own most harsh critic. It was a lot of work, and it took a lot of time, but none of it was necessarily difficult work and I knew the steps I had to take along the way, and had a lot of advice from friends that have booked tours and shows before. I think I’d be impressed with myself if I pulled off a huge arena tour with a well known band, contracts, guarantees, big sponsorships, mass-media support… because that’s something I know I may not be so capable of doing just yet. In the scale of touring an international band, this was fairly low key operation I think.

I’m one of many who monitored the progression of the tour through blog discussions and your on-the-road updates. You’re aware that you’ve gained the attention of dedicated fans of independent bands throughout the world. Two questions: what advice would you give to a fan seeking to emulate the path you took to secure Rosetta’s first international tour, and, in retrospect, was there anything you would have done differently?

If someone is wanting to tour a small, relatively unknown overseas band, make sure you love their music so much that you’re willing to lose a bit of money on it if it doesn’t work out – don’t do it if you’re just trying to make a quick buck because you probably won’t. If the band is part time and willing to pay for their own flights, that takes a lot of pressure off. It would not have worked if Rosetta wanted all their costs covered. In terms of doing things differently: I would have booked a smaller venue in Newcastle, tried to get some smaller AA venues along the way, got pre-sale tickets going, I would have got more merchandise printed up for Rosetta, and I wouldn’t have kicked that metal pole in Adelaide – my foot still hurts.

What’s next for Monolith Touring?

I want to chill out for a bit and focus on the other things I have going, but I do want to be at least in the process of booking another tour by the end of the year. Rosetta have said that there are plenty of bands that they are friends with that would be keen to come over here and do a similar deal to what they got. One of my favourite bands actually emailed me after they heard word of the Rosetta tour, but unfortunately it looks as though at this stage I will be unable to tour them because I simply can’t see their name being big enough to cover the expenses they want covered just yet. I’ve got a few ideas floating around my head; it’s simply a matter of coming to a conclusion on a band that I like enough to want to put the hours into it. I would definitely book an Aussie band a tour if I was into them and they asked me to, but most of the bands I’m into already have that shit sorted by bigger companies or book their own tours, so I don’t want to go stepping on toes. Next time I want to do it properly and without having my own band on the tour, though I do plan on booking more tours for my own bands once we’re ready for it again. So, hopefully there will be news on another tour by the end of the year.

Thanks very much for your time, Lochlan.

Take a look at the tour poster, and check out both Rosetta and The Surrogate on MySpace. If you’d like to get in contact with Monolith Touring, you can reach Lochlan via email or Facebook.

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