So you think you can be a roadie? • Sacramento News & Review

Victims Family plays Harlow’s Starlet Room in Sacramento on Dec. 2  

By Eddie Jorgensen

Tim Solyan is the drummer for Victims Family, a punk-fusion trio formed in Sonoma County in the mid-80s that plays shows all too infrequently due to his crazy days working as a professional drum roadie for acts that include Primus, My Morning Jacket, Whitesnake, Roger Waters, Beastie Boys, Beck and more.

Solyan’s own band is rounded-out by founding members Ralph Spight on guitar and vocals and Larry Boothroyd on bass. Victims Family (yes, no apostrophe) is gearing up for three headlining shows during the first weekend of December in Sacramento, Petaluma and San Francisco, respectively. These performances will also feature their Portland friends, the raucous Nasalrod. 

We caught up with Solyan during his well-deserved downtime to hear about his ever-changing roadie gig.

SN&R: What was your first paying gig as a roadie (even if a one-off gig)?

Back in 1988, I was getting into the music scene big-time. One of my favorite local bands at the the time was Victims Family. I was so into them I forced my friendship on them and became pals schlepping their gear into their van and into clubs and parties around the area for free.

At this same moment, I was working with a local promoter (Laurel Pine) as her stage manager/sound assistant/gear schlepperat all her local shows for free as a volunteer.

One band that was still quite unknown but causing a stir was Primus. They were face melting! I was floored and instantly became their biggest fan.

Somehow, I got the nerve to ask Les Claypool after a gig they played if he needed help. I said “dude, you are winding up your own cables and packing up your own stuff! WTF? You need a dude to help you?”

He replied “Hey hey hey man! Thanks for all the help tonight and yeah, we could use a roadie if you are interested! Give me your number!”

Sure, enough he called me the next week and off I went being a roadie for them like i was doing with VF. For the first bunch of shows I didn’t ask for any money but eventually Primus were starting to draw really well in the bay area local clubs. At this point Les started handing me $20-$40 after we packed up the van! He knew i was driving a good 40mins each way to help them so that became the norm which helped immensely on gas and bridge tolls

I consider that to be my first paying gig in 1988.

SN&R: What acts have you played dual roles for (i.e. roadie and tour manager)? Do you prefer them over just doing drums?

Many, many times on all levels of touring you have to do multiple roles. A lot of the time it’s due to budget and the group can’t afford more single duty crew. In a good situation you get paid a little bit more to take on a secondary role if it’s a significant role in the show production. Meaning if you are the drum tech and needed to also stage manage as well etc.

When I started at the club band level it was just me and the band guys doing everything. Load the van at rehearsal space, drive to the city and venue, unload, set up, do the the show, load out, drive then unload. The band guys at that level definitely help if you are not getting paid much as their helper but once they start paying you something more than ‘dinner and beer’, they stop helping as much and leave you to do most everything.

Once I escalated to the real paying tour level, it was and is very common to have dual or multiple roles at any level gig. With Beck I was always mainly the drum tech but for the first couple tours I was also stage right guitar tech. When the guitarist then needed a more focused tech I moved to Drums and DJ tech.

During the Sheryl Crow run, I was the drum tech but eventually did my last few years being the stage manager as well.

Currently on the Roger Waters tour, I am only the drum tech and do not do any other gig other than make Americanos (expresso coffee) for the drummer and a few select crew in my cafe under the stage.

Joey Waronker, Tim Solyan and Roger Waters.

SN&R: What’s the most labour-intensive drum kit you’ve worked on to date? Least?

Hands down the most labor intensive drum set up I have done was the drum kits for the Primus world tour for ‘Primus and the Chocolate Factory’ in 2015-16. At the start of the tour we built a very unique unconventional ‘kit’ that was more a percussive palette that (drummer) Tim Alexander created the rhythms for the versions of the songs. It was very time intensive to assemble and disassemble. Connected to that kit was Tim’s regular full sized Primus kit to play the encore of Primus songs on. The show was opened with a regular Primus set in front of the curtain hiding the Wonks show and that was a 3rd drumkit that was a condensed version of Tim’s regular Primus kit. So I was busy all morning setting up the 3 kits. It became an easier set up when I got rid of the opening set kit and set up the regular kit in front of the curtain then at set change got the local crew to help me quickly move the kit upstage into the Wonka set position. Was still quite an endeavour each show day.

The least intensive is any kit I’ve worked on that had zero electronics! haha! Beastie Boys’ Mike D drums were very simple. 4-piece kit with 2 cymbals. Set up takes a good 20mins tops!

SN&R: Roger Waters’ tour always has days off due to his age. What are some of the things you do in each city to keep your brain occupied?

As awesome as a lot of days off sounds, it’s actually not that great. Depending on what city you are in, it can be good or boring as hell. I try to meet up with friends when I can for food etc. I started running on days off in the last few years. Geocaching is fun and takes you to many off the beaten path to interesting places. Beer, wings and ramen seem to be my go-to boredom killer anywhere.

SN&R: Have you turned down gigs to stay with family?

Up until last year I never was in a situation that we could not juggle work and family when gig offers come in. I try to stay with the same artists as long as possible and have always avoided the tour-to-tour-to-tour with any band life. You pretty much have to be single to handle that life.

I was offered the Counting Crows last year and it would of been my second tour after the world of music re opened but because of the timing and demanding schedule in my moment at home, I turned it down to stay home and continue to be with my family and wait for the Roger Waters tour to start. It was a very mind cleansing moment that I was actually able to say no because my family was indeed more important then.

SN&R: What’s the longest run you’ve ever been on (days away, not just total gigs)?

Normally a 6-week run is standard. Sometimes you get on a Europe run that goes 2 months and that can be tough.

On the Roger Waters ‘Us and Them’ tour, the first North American segment was 3 months without a break. That was the longest at that time. This current tour we are doing, ‘This Is Not A Drill,’ the North American segment that just ended was a few days shy of 4 and a half months!! When we got to the west coast, we were 3 months in and all of us west coasters got to run home for a couple days on the days off in our cities and all of us had that relieving feeling of ‘tour leg is over! time to chill!’ but no, we still had 5 weeks to go! Insane but we got through it.

SN&R: Are you able to fly your wife and daughters out to stay with you when they want to visit?

This was always something that happened now and again with my wife before we had our girls. Our oldest came out with my wife a few times in her first year but once daughter 2 came along it was impossible to get it to work out and was very expensive. Now that our girls are late teen and 20yrs old, my wife came out a bunch of times this year for a week at a time! It was awesome since we always have so many days off on the Waters tour. Both daughters made it out to see me and hang solo too. It was very awesome after rarely ever getting to see them in the tour world outside of west coast Bay Area pass throughs.

SN&R: After this current Waters’ tour ends in early October, do you have more lined up until next year’s overseas dates or are you going to opt to stay and run the family business, Brew Baker’s Coffee House (located in downtown Grass Valley)?

Roger Water’s tour will start up again in early March 2023 with a three-month run across Europe, Scandinavia and the UK.

My wife and I were able to employ some people at the cafe with our girls managing the place. The cafe was never intended to be my ‘get off the road’ situation but it sure was key when there was not any road work due to the pandemic. The cafe was our investment to get fresh avenue for my wife. She has been working in the music biz as long as I have (35 years). We have other ventures started and in the works so what our future will hold is still getting stirred up as we speak.

Has there ever been a time where you screwed up a drum kit set-up? Any major catastrophes in a live setting?

No. I have never ‘screwed up a drum kit set up’. That is not in my job description, so I make sure that never happens. You will never see cymbals fall down or off or anything crazy thing like that on a kit I’m working with. I make sure the ship runs tight.

Any catastrophes I have ever encountered were not of my inadequate tech skills, but due to product failure or the drummer simply breaking stuff, which is rad.

Tommy Aldridge and Tim Solyan.

If you could work with any large-scale drummer today (aside from those you’ve worked with already), who would it be?

I can’t think of anyone I really.

Neil Peart would have been a great resume listing.

In 2019 I was fortunate to get the Whitesnake gig and was tech for Tommy Aldridge for a year. That was surreal in the sense that I was a fanboy in the 80’s as a kid when I heard the first Ozzy records. He is an amazing dude. Great fun and challenging to work with his giant kit.

Who are your favorite lesser-known drummers?

Easy. John Wright from Nomeansno is my hero! His style and ferocity is everything i love in a drummer! I stole everything I could from his playing!

The original drummer from my band Victims Family, Devon VrMeer, was my mentor and catalyst to my style of playing. If anyone, he deserves all the credit in my eye to who I am as a drummer in my style.

SN&R: Are you hoping to retire from the touring life soon, or are you playing it by ear? I assume the cafe is a profitable business, but you did endure closure due to COVID in 2020 and 2021, correct?

It’s always on mine and my wife’s mind to get off the road. Having built such a successful career at it, it’s quite difficult to try to start all over in my 50’s. We are definitely taking the steps to find new avenues of future money-making endeavours that are not music biz orientated. I do like the road but mostly because it’s the meat of my life’s work. I am getting very tired of the touring. It definitely wears on you with a tour like Roger Waters where there are so many days off. I think that it will be impossible for me to 100% walk away from working at some level or part time something with bands etc.

The cafe definitely got us through the pandemic moment. We were closed completely for 6 months. I used that time to re do a bunch of stuff with rebuilding the counters and moving everything around to be a more worker friendly space. Once we’re opened the music industry was shut down completely so my wife, our daughters and me were the only employees running it for a year and a half! The overhead was at a minimum with no real payroll. It took a good 6 months for the biz to pick up but were able to pay all the bills and not get into any financially burdening situations with it. I did quite a bit of construction/handyman work in the area as well, so we survived.

Ralph Spight, Tim Solyan and Larry Boothroyd.

SN&R: How long does it take you to learn a new drum kit (i.e. Scorpions’ one-off show)? Are there ever print outs or online instructions that might make the job easier?

It takes one day to learn a drum kit. I mean, you show up and usually you get a little help with the first set up from the tech you are replacing or the drummer then you’re off. Figure it out every second as you go.

Ideal situations with big kits is you get into tour rehearsals for 1-4 weeks and you are with the kit everyday fixing, bettering, learning it etc. Sometimes kits are easy. Just because it’s some new drummers set up does not make it some strange new instrument you know nothing about.

Sometimes I do get emergency fill in calls where you show up, do a few gigs and then you’re out. Scorpions call this year was a good example of that scenario. I became friends with them and their awesome drum tech Leo when Whitesnake opened a bunch of shows for them. There was a visa issue with him to do a last minute added on NYC concert at MSG and he called for help. Easy stuff actually because he is pro and everything was marked and he sent photos and I think we did a couple facetime calls just to be sure all was good.

Mikkey Dee is an amazing dude too! He knew what the deal was so he expected some stumbles on my part but there were none. It was as if Leo was still sitting behind him.

Ive never seen printouts or instructions anywhere. Its drums. I know drums. I know how to play them and set them up and tear them down. It’s what I do! I can look at a photo of a kit set up that Im about to take on and get it up and running first try. It’s not that big of a deal for me.

SN&R: Any acts that were more appreciative of the crew than others?

All bands are appreciative of their crew. If they are not, I will not work with them. I will say I turned down the Prince gig twice knowing how hard he is on his crew. I have no need in my life to be unappreciated when sacrificing my time and my time with my family. Especially if you are working as hard and pro as you can to make an artist look and sound his best.

Abstract Entertainment presents Victims Family, Nasalrod, and locals Frack! on Friday, December 2nd. Doors open at 7pm and the all ages show starts promptly at 8pm. Tickets are $15 advance and $18 at the door and can be purchased at www.harlows.com. The Starlet Room is located above Harlow’s at 2708 J Street in downtown Sacramento.

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