Everest Ascending: Ambition, self-doubt, and on the road with Neil Young, Part 2

TVD took to the road with Everest last November and December as they opened for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Patti Smith. They were as welcoming as they are talented—and more than a bit introspective. Part one can be found right here. Ed.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

BRIDGEPORT

Talent, like talk, is cheap. Everyone wants talent for nothing in the 21st century. If you’ve got it, you’ve got to keep moving, keep pushing, keep creating.

“I know it takes a long time; we’ve been killin’ it for a long time,” Jason tells me, taking a drag off a cigarette. “ I’ve been in bands forever, but also music isn’t worth anything. It’s not a commodity anymore. We spend all this money on equipment, and going into the studio, and making records… you spend all this money and time making this product and they give it away.

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“I don’t want you to think it’s all the label’s fault. Somebody told me a long time ago that anytime something isn’t working, the band is responsible for all that in one way or another.”

Bridgeport marks the last official date of the “Alchemy” tour, and Everest asks Neil Young and the Crazy Horse guys for a photo together. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, but word comes that Neil has agreed and it’s go time. They stand in front of the Rust props in a line. There is a mutual respect. There are also eggshells. In under ten minutes, the photos are done and Everest are left to do their sound check. Jason walks past me and smiles. “Pretty cool!”

Russ concurs: “Fucking. Awesome.”

Neil skulks around the empty arena. “He was listening to us during ‘Hungry Ghost’,” Russ says. Nobody else noticed.

Their set this night sounds exuberant and strong. It’s fun to see a band that looks like regular guys playing their hearts out with such obvious camaraderie. They’re certainly on this tour because of who they are and how well they play, and yet with all the support and respect and opportunity, it still amounts to doing so much themselves. They are in a struggle to balance who they are with some kind of image that can be more easily digested.

“A person who works at our label told us that we’re not sexy and hip enough,” Jason tells me. He looks most like a rock star with his long, blond hair. “You can print that. This is interesting, because, what is that? What is sexy and hip? We were billed the other night through a radio station in Chicago that believes in us. They booked us opening for the sexy, hip bands on the bill. Were they like, ‘Hey, forgive this freak show that’s coming on now. I know they don’t fit in or anything?’ But we rocked it and killed it differently than they did, but they’re all different from each other, too. So, what is sexy and hip? I don’t even understand.”

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Elliot Roberts has a different take on that. “You know, an image to me is something that comes very naturally. You don’t go, ‘You guys need a few tattoos and some piercings and it’s all gonna be great.’ You really work with what you have and the people who you have and you hope that you can guide them to where they at least have the best chance to succeed. And that’s really all you can do; from then on, it’s up to the fates whether your music touches somebody or doesn’t touch them. All you can give them is the best possible chance to succeed. That’s it.”

ATLANTIC CITY

Every milestone is smaller than it feels—a national TV commercial, a music video, an artist residency, opening for Neil Young, playing on Late Show with David Letterman. To an outsider, these things scream, “you made it!” To a band, they’re just a part of the pricey crapshoot that they’ve committed themselves to. It seems like you’re either awed or over it—there’s not a lot of middle ground.

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This Hurricane Sandy benefit is the last show. The full-stop brick wall is looming. They’re soggy from the burst pipe the night before. There’s some bad personal news. The dressing room feels smaller and the mood much more somber.

“It’s a campaign,” Eli says wearily. “Everything has to work or else the house of cards falls down. When [Elliot] sat everyone down before the band started, he said, ‘Three to five years—minimum—nothing will happen. No one will care about you. Deal with it. Get over it. Move on. Become a great band.’ Nobody gets a shortcut.”

Exhaustion and elation are a heady mix. Late nights and too much beer and hauling hundreds of pounds of gear around isn’t as easy to do once you’re looking forty in the eyes, especially when you’ve been doing it since your teens as the guys in Everest have. I don’t know how they keep on. Once they depart the relatively lavish surroundings of the Borgata Casino, it’s a drive back to LA in the van.

It seems to faze Kyle the least. He’s the newest member of the band and the youngest. He tells me the tour keeps him sane. “You need these benchmarks. It’s like the holidays; once you get done with one holiday, you start looking to the next one. It’s a way to kind of break things up… Without that, you feel like you’re floating around a little bit. Waiting for this tour, for me, was like waiting for Christmas.”

Is it a matter of time? Of luck? Things are tantalizingly close. The fans see it, they see it, and here’s how I see it: You feel like a pro because, suddenly, you realize you are one. You’re complex—we’re all complex. But to have the gift of connecting through that complexity—through music—it makes life worth living. You’re still you, sure, but there is nothing better than others “getting” you through your art/work. It’s a huge fucking risk and the closer you get, the riskier it seems. Until it doesn’t.

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Russ looks at me. “We didn’t rehearse for this tour. It fuckin’ blows my mind! We didn’t rehearse to go out with Neil Young!

“We’ve played so many shows… I actually think it’s better to go onstage loose, because that shit sounds new to you again. It’s kind of fun to come back to it, and you end up realizing why you love it and it ends up being…rad. I used to be way more nervous when we rehearsed than when we don’t. Now I’m just kinda like… it is what it is, I know it’s gonna be okay. I don’t give a FUCK now. We go onstage and it’s like, whatever. It’s going to be fine.”

Just when it feels like fatigue might be setting in, the guys take the stage. There are no Rust props tonight—just a huge Crazy Horse tapestry draped behind them. Everything that’s dragging on Everest—flooded apartments, bad news, homesickness—it’s all rocketed into meaninglessness when they play. They are pros. They hit every note and play with passion. Russ interacts with the crowd even more; he hands his tambourine to a happy guy who’s been singing along to their songs. This dude, who’s wearing a vintage Neil Young tee-shirt, appears to know the struggles of a band like theirs, so he gives it back.

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“I think until you get to a certain point where you have your own audience and they’re screaming their heads off for you from the moment you walk on stage ‘til the moment you walk off stage,” Russ says after their set, “you don’t really know what [recognition] feels like, so it’s not like you’re missing it or you need it to put on a show. I mean, it would be nice, but I don’t think that’s why any of us got into it.”

I’m reminded of a story about a man who purchased an actual gold mine. At least, that’s what he was told it was. He mined for years—for decades—and came up with nothing. He gave up and sold the whole thing for pennies. The story goes that the next owner dug just three feet further and struck gold. I normally dislike stories like that, because they seem so pat and give no respect to the struggle. But I tell the guys that story anyway because I want to tell them, without sounding like a defeatist, that I hope they never give up.

“What else am I gonna do at thirty-seven years old, having invested my whole life in this?” Russ asks me. “This is what I do. I don’t have a resume for anything else, so regardless of how successful I am, I’m going to keep digging because otherwise… what am I going to do? Go work at Home Depot? Or just give up and not play anymore and be a weekend warrior? That sounds like a horrible option. I’d rather just keep plugging away and figuring it out. Somehow we always land on our feet.”

Photos: Dominic DiSaia Photographs

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