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Quit Your Life, See America, Play Music

Posted by Jacob Jones on Feb 12, 2016 2:01:08 PM

Days before we left for our endless tour.


 

If you’re an artist at a point where you’d love more than anything to take your music to people all across the country, or the world, this story is for you.

All those photographers, musicians and digital storytellers you see everyday on Instagram galavanting across mountains or catching the sun set over the blue Pacific all have one thing in common: At some point, they just said fuck it. They went for it. They packed up and took a leap of faith. When you jump off a cliff, you probably won’t land where you thought, but you’ll never know until you jump.

This is the story of the first time I ever jumped.

In the summer of 2009 I bought an RV. More specifically I bought a 1984 Fleetwood Tioga with my then girlfriend, Molly. We bought her sight unseen off Ebay and flew to Philly to pick it up and drive back down to Nashville. We bought “Woody”, as it would come to be called, because we wanted to go on an adventure.

In 2009 I had been performing as a solo musician for almost two years and I knew if I was going to have any kind of real career that I had to tour. However, I had no booking agent, label or manager to help get my music out there. So I did what anyone else would do, I created one. 

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Me and Molly, circa 2009 just before we hit the road.

Electric Western Records was born in March 2009 and I began to use the new label identity to reach out to small venues all over the country. I asked friends where they played in every state. I sent hundreds of emails. In the early days, I even sent emails under an alias pretending to represent me from Electric Western Records. You’d be surprised how much better your response rate gets when it appears others are also investing their time in you. We were literally faking it in the hopes of making it.

As the outline of a future fall /winter tour took shape, we started shopping for the RV. At the time I worked at a bar and typically made $800 - $1000 a week with at least three days off. I knew that cushy job had to go. So, I went all in.

We moved out of our house, put all our possessions we couldn’t sell into a storage unit and filled our new RV “Woody” full of guitars, cameras, pots, pans, clothes, two laptops and what little savings we had, which wasn’t enough. The idea was to hit the road and continue booking more and more shows so we never had to come home. The RV got roughly 10 mpg and gas was at an all time high of nearly $3 a gallon. Great plan right? Right.

This is a video of the first half of our trip, compiled on a "flip cam" since my 2009 phone did not know what a video was.

We hit the road in early October, 2009.

When I first pulled onto the interstate leaving Nashville, the wind was so strong that driving the twenty-four foot RV felt more like steering a boat. If you’ve never driven one before, it’s pretty much terrifying at first. In the first week we narrowly escaped a head on collision with a semi when we tried to pass a truck outside Baton Rouge.

At first, the tour seemed to be going just like we planned. Molly and I performed together at night and explored America during the day. We spent three days parked in Galveston, Texas just enjoying the beach. We got drunk in New Orleans and I cut my own hair in a hotel room sink. We drove hundreds and hundreds of miles each week. We met all kinds of people on all kinds of paths in this world. It was perfect.

Then, somewhere in Texas on our way to Arizona, the engine started knocking. Woody didn’t seem to have as much pick up as before. The knocking got louder. 

Woody got more like 6 mpg.

After camping for two nights at The Grand Canyon, where we saw a fox chase an elk, we decided to continue on to California. My parents lived in Laguna Beach at the time. After crossing the Hoover Dam and rolling through the southern California desert, we finally parked Woody at a nearby mechanic shop recommended by one of my dad’s co-workers.

A short silent movie Molly made of our Grand Canyon stay over.

He called us the next day and let us know the RV needed an entirely new engine and there was little chance it would get us back home. We would most likely breakdown in the middle of nowhere and have to get it towed into Nashville at some point. We had no choice but to bite the bullet and get it fixed.

I can’t remember exactly but I think we had about $2000 between us. The fix would cost $6,000. We maxed out credit cards, spent everything and even borrowed some money from family to get the job done. It was a fatal blow to our never-ending road trip. On top of that, we lived at my parent’s house for nearly a month while it got repaired, with no money to do much of anything. 

Depression and anxiety set in.

After canceling all our shows that led up the coast to Seattle, we finally got back on the road just before Thanksgiving and headed back east. We had an incredible night in Flagstaff, Arizona at Hotel Monte Vista. We ate Thanksgiving dinner together in Colorado. We finally wrapped up the trip in Chicago where we reunited with a bunch of old friends and I for one drank nearly a bottle of Jameson.

We rolled back into Nashville in December limping and broke. I remember thinking Molly had probably had enough of me and enough of this insane lifestyle. We were in debt, broke, had no jobs and no place to live. Basically, homeless! To this day, I am astonished her dad did not come get her in the middle of the night with a shotgun.

We parked the RV in the back of Electric Western’s “office” which was a co-op house we rented in East Nashville. Molly and I spent the next five months living in the RV and working service industry jobs. Take it from me, an RV that is moving down the highway is a beautiful thing. An RV parked in a sketchy backyard in the middle of the winter is fucking miserable.

Time passed, as time does, and we got back on our feet, we saved some money and we started looking for a place to live. We stumbled across an apartment complex giving away a year’s worth of free rent to someone who could make the most compelling three minute video proving why they deserved it. Well, our story spoke for itself. We came in 2nd place and were given nine months free rent at this pretty high end apartment building. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

The video we made telling our story and winning us nine months free rent.

 In the end, we found a house back in our neighborhood and I continued to tour for years. We sold that goddamn RV as soon as we could.

Since then, we’ve been on plenty even more exciting adventures. We got married, we traveled abroad several times and now we have a two year old son named Henry. Like I said, when you jump off the cliff, you probably won’t land where you thought. I’ve since used a lot of the lessons I learned on that trip. I have started several companies and I haven’t worked for anyone else in four years. I still play music, mostly just for fun these days.

Buying a beat up old RV that sucks gas and hoping for the best as you journey across America isn’t the smartest idea, but looking back, I wouldn’t change a damn thing. It was a moment in time in my life I will always remember vividly. It was an adventure.

By the way, if you’re wanting to get out there and see where you land, gas is down to about $1 a gallon, the lowest since 2003. I might add that Artist Growth, the company I am writing this story for, is currently giving away $1000 worth of gas to bands who apply and can tell a good story about why they deserve it. A thousand dollars worth of gas could take you across the country and back again, coast to coast. Think about that.

Whatever you’re planning, go for it. I am still looking for new adventures, new horizons and new experiences. If I hadn’t gone all in the first time nearly 7 years ago, I’m not sure what my life would be like now.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” - Abraham Lincoln

Jacob Jones is a entrepreneur, musician and writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter for more stories.