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Married to a van 

On tour with The Physics of Meaning and St. Vincent

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Editor's note: Daniel Hart, co-founder of the Chapel Hill collective Bu Hanan Records and leader of The Physics of Meaning, has been touring with St. Vincent since the beginning of July. Hart has known St. Vincent's leader, Annie Clark, since they were 15 and growing up six houses from one another in Dallas. He suggested her for a band she joined in Texas called The Polyphonic Spree, and she asked him to join her on violin for this tour with St. Vincent. While Hart has been gone, his roommates moved, taking his stuff with them, and the two other bands who share his living space—David Karsten Daniels and The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers—have recorded parts of their next albums. The second Physics of Meaning record, Snake Charmer and Destiny at the Stroke of Midnight, is almost finished. Physics of Meaning plays Saturday, Aug. 18, at Bull City Headquarters.

There is no reason to be excited about driving from Kansas City to Denver. It is an 11-hour trek through the flattest, dullest, plainest geography this country has to offer. True, Kansas is the state of my birth, and it holds a special place in my heart. But Kansas has no mountains, no oceans, few rivers and (ostensibly) trees in underground caves.

St. Vincent hit Kansas halfway through, when our spirits were the lowest and our drives the longest they ever got on our 10,000-mile, 29-show journey. I love being a touring musician. I live for it. But it's a life far from the glamour with which it is often associated. Touring makes days melt together. We go from all day in a dirty, smelly van to all night in a dirty, smelly club to a few hours sleep in a dubiously clean hotel room to all day in a slightly dirtier, smellier van to... Understand?

I took the wheel of our Dodge Sprinter on that Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday morning. My bandmates slept. I watched eternal wheat stalks and the road. On that most unforgiving stretch of I-70, through western Kansas, I began to surrender to fatigue.

My first line of defense, naturally, was music. I fished through my CD case and eventually slipped Funeral into the van stereo. St. Vincent supported The Arcade Fire earlier this year, and, as the jangling piano intro of "Tunnels" seeped through the speakers, I remembered the reverbed guitar melody, those loose French-house drums, the charging strings. Then, the vocals, so electric, so alive with yearning. I actually pumped my fist in the air and sang along at the top of my lungs: "You changed all the lead/ Sleeping in my head to gold."

And for all the difficulty of being away from loved ones, of no rest, of sharing your whole life with the same four people day in/day out, of being cramped up in a van; the arguments about Phil Collins' drum sounds, the endless traffic, the stress of showing up at 6 p.m. for a 5 p.m. soundcheck only to find out that the sound man isn't going to be there until 9:30 for 9:45 doors...

For all these things, on that drive across Kansas, I embraced the intangible, unforgettable joy of making music. For a little while, I was truly, invincibly happy.

—Daniel Hart, Tucson, Ariz.
Thursday, Aug. 9

Daniel calls this one Blood on the Keys. Or, "I love you but I've chosen playing guitar so hard that I cut my finger quite badly right before I sang the big love ballad at La Sala Rossa in Montreal."
  • Daniel calls this one Blood on the Keys. Or, "I love you but I've chosen playing guitar so hard that I cut my finger quite badly right before I sang the big love ballad at La Sala Rossa in Montreal."

Backstage at Lamplighter in Vancouver.
  • Backstage at Lamplighter in Vancouver.

Lunch on the troll in Seattle.
  • Lunch on the troll in Seattle.

In this gas station in western Wyoming on the way from Denver to Salt Lake City around 4 a.m., an old man stood in the bathroom and watched people pee. "Scary times," says Hart.
  • In this gas station in western Wyoming on the way from Denver to Salt Lake City around 4 a.m., an old man stood in the bathroom and watched people pee. "Scary times," says Hart.

Annie Clark, who leads St. Vincent, taking her self-portrait in San Francisco. Actually, she's taking a picture of the band's van window, which reads, "I wish my wife was this dirty."
  • Annie Clark, who leads St. Vincent, taking her self-portrait in San Francisco. Actually, she's taking a picture of the band's van window, which reads, "I wish my wife was this dirty."

Photos by Bill Flynn and Annie Clark

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