Last month, the L.A. indie rock band Sure Sure was four hours outside of Tampa, Fla., when the world began to fall apart.
The Atwater Village quartet was on a national tour opening for the rock band Coin. As the band members drove from L.A. to Florida for opening night, they watched the news about the novel coronavirus get worse seemingly by the hour.
“Every day got more ominous. The prospect of shows to 2,000 people a night, we didn’t feel good about it,” drummer Kevin Farzad, 30, said.
Sure Sure played one date, and then everything spiraled. “The NBA got canceled, and we were like [forget] it, let’s go home,” guitarist Charlie Glick, 29, said. “The next morning when everyone got up, I was already in the van waiting to leave.”
Three days of 14-hour, COVID-19-nervous drives later, the band — with singer Chris Beachy and multi-instrumentalist-producer Michael Coleman, both 29 — made it to Sure Sure’s shared home. The band is not leaving for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still going on tour.
In one of the more creative gestures at normalcy during the era of quarantines and social distancing, the band is still “touring,” just on a very limited regional route. Specifically, from its living room to the garage, from the kitchen to the hallway and finishing off in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Starting Friday night, Sure Sure will play six shows over six nights, livestreamed to fans who paid $10 for one concert or $35 for all six. There are tour posters and limited-run concert tees for sale as well.
Sure, it’s all a bit the band has fully committed to. But it’s also a real way to support itself for now and maybe even a glimpse at a new future for independent acts, where the internet finally delivers on its promise of autonomy and self-sufficiency. Sure Sure just wishes it didn’t take a plague to get there.
“Other bands don’t all live together for very smart reasons, but now we’re kind of fortunate,” Farzad said. “People will eventually go to concerts again, but we don’t know when that will happen, and we’re lucky this new digital landscape can help support us.”
Almost every artist has tried some kind of livestream during the COVID-19 lockdown. From Instagram Live DJ battles to streams of metal concerts in empty venues, the pandemic forced cabin-fevered artists to try and hang onto fans’ attention while everyone is freaked out at home.
Sure Sure was a band that stood to be ruined by the shutdown. Since forming in 2014, the group has released a full-length LP and an EP of gently funky, effervescently melodic indie rock, and you may recognize its tongue-in-cheek theme song for the political-comedy podcast “Lovett or Leave It.” But it’s not a streaming juggernaut (its biggest Spotify hit, at 14.5 million plays, is a cover of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place”) and the band largely makes its living on the road.
There being no road to go on for now, it had to travel where it could.
“This is one of our more ample setups,” Farzad said, FaceTiming around the band’s airy living room to show a more-or-less fully arranged live rig, where it will kick off the tour on Friday night. “But we’ve got a long travel day after this into the kitchen, so we might get a motel on our way out there,” he joked.
The band is currently quarantining along with Coleman’s girlfriend (the rest are single and tour too often to keep any pets). The band mates have lived together in various homes since 2014 and had a pretty good domestic routine before COVID-19. But now, “there are so many more dishes all the damn time,” Farzad said. “We deep clean once a week, but we really need to institute a chore wheel.”
The group walked for a bit out into the laundry room and garage — “We’re halfway through the route, so this is kind of the Denver of the tour,” Glick quipped as he turned to go upstairs. ”We think this hallway venue isn’t really up to code. But tickets for Mike’s bedroom have been selling really well, so by popular demand we booked a second night,” Farzad joked.
The joke only works because of how seriously Sure Sure is taking it, and fans have responded accordingly. The band said it’s done over $5,000 in presales for the tour in just a week, which is competitive with its advances for actually playing live on past tours (it’s also donating some proceeds to local food banks).
“When there’s no overhead, we’ll probably net a similar amount to what we made on our first headline tour,” Coleman said, sitting in a studio console chair of his now-unexpectedly-popular bedroom venue. “Fans really want stuff like this now. But when I watch a lot of artists livestreaming, I get confused about what they’re accomplishing. You could make it a big thing and fans will enjoy it. There’s value there if you elevate it to something more than just jamming by yourself.”
While there’s no shortage of ways to broadcast live online, neither Zoom nor Twitch nor Instagram Live really have the capacity for concert-level fidelity that’s worth paying for as a substitute for live gigs. For this tour, it’s using Veeps, a streaming and ticketing platform founded by Joel and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte, which hopes to pair the widely accessible livestreaming format of Instagram with the revenue-generating capacity of Ticketfly.
If artists are looking at months and months off the road, firms like Veeps or StageIt might be able to replicate some portion of that income and keep fans engaged while everyone rides out the pandemic.
“Not only do artists need to survive this, fans are also looking for positive connections and relief,” said Sherry Saeedi, the chief executive of Veeps. “The struggle is real for everyone right now. Sure Sure is a great example of how an artist could [livestream] in a way that’s unique to them.”
The band admitted that it took a little convincing for fans to see that this was an event worth paying for and not just a bedroom jam. While it’s sitting on a more-or-less-finished new album, it isn’t getting a whole lot of writing done. Glick’s cousin was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, which turned the disease from a “distant, nebulous thing,” as Farzad described it, into something much more personal.
“When I’m writing, I take a lot of inspiration from the outside world, and it feels a lot harder to synthesize all this to music,” Beachy said. “No one could have prepared for this. I don’t even know how you would have.”
But in the way that people stuck at home are learning to make sourdough starters, the forced constraints of quarantine made Sure Sure expand the scope of what a band can do to entertain fans.
Everyone’s stuck at home now, and you might as well make a show of it.
“For us, it’s kind of baked into who we are as a band,” Farzad said. “We’ve done videos in the house before, but this is still vulnerable. ‘This is the room where we mixed our album, this is our kitchen where we make our meals.’ Everyone can see that now.”