Hollis | “HOW WAS TOUR?!”
Hollis Wong-Wear is a poet, performer, songwriter, and community advocate who lives between Seattle, WA, and Los Angeles. She is the lead vocalist of the Seattle-based electronic R&B trio The Flavr Blue, and was GRAMMY nominated for Album of the Year for her vocal performance of “White Walls” on The Heist by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Hollis, Hollis Wong-Wear, poet, performer, singer, songwriter, advocate, topline, seattle, los angeles, writer, author, Macklemore, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, White Walls, featured, vocalist, The Flavr Blue, Flavr Blue, Love Notes, Bright Vices,
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minneapolis

“HOW WAS TOUR?!”

In the last two weeks, unwinding from the eight-show run that The Flavr Blue embarked upon with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis this past June, I’ve had a pat answer for the folks who inquire “HOW WAS TOUR?!”: “it was great!”… sometimes followed up with “it was challenging!”

If you were following along at home on social media, you saw us post pics with crowds of thousands, grinning, stoked. And it was genuine: the rush of hearing the music that my bandmates Parker and Lace and I crafted in a half-bedroom on North Beacon Hill through an arena sound system, expanding our bodies to fill the biggest stages we’ve ever played, the extended hands of the gracious audience members who gave us love… it was a magnificent experience, one I felt so truly honored to be a part of.

And then there’s the other 23 ½ hours of the day. Tour is not linear; it is a sine wave. And within the nuance, there is unseen beauty as well as shadow.

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Photo by Beeba

I remember my first big tour with M&RL, when I went through a vicious elliptical emotional cycle of homesickness/missing-boyfriend-sickness, wide-eyed elation and giddiness, and profound boredom. Fresh off that tour, I went to go see a show at the Showbox. And as I watched a band that I loved take the stage, for the first time, I considered the day those performers had before they arrived at the venue. It was an epiphany, that touring artists embark on an unglamorous and redundant voyage and arrive to a find a sea of hungry eyes, fidgeting bodies and elevated expectations.

Tour is a range of human emotions, many of which are blanketed by sleeplessness and nerves, insulated by idleness. Taking the flight from Seattle to Minneapolis, where we’d play the Target Center as our first show of eight, I felt a genuine, unbridled excitement that I can’t recall ever feeling before. Even before take-off, I was levitating with anticipation. And then there is the opposite, when on a couple of occasions I walked off-stage feeling lopsided and incompetent, like we had flung ourselves into crossed arms; that I was clumsy, sang too shrill, said too much and had squandered an incredible opportunity. Stakes felt high—which can be motivating or debilitating, but often a fun cocktail of both.

Some of tour was definitely challenging. We learned, almost immediately and painfully, that arriving late to a load in and sound check would have disastrous implications on our show (namely, our morale and piece of mind); on the encouragement of Ben, we opted for overnight drives – seeing the sun break over Pittsburgh, crashing out at 7 AM in an Econolodge in Buffalo — over competing with two cities’ rush hours.

We also learned to be adaptable, realizing quickly that although we had plotted and obsessed over “the perfect set” for almost a month, some things just wouldn’t work in front of a crowd who mostly had no idea who we were, which allowed the possibility for other things to be revived. We chopped off most of our covers and embraced some of our earliest cuts.  Isaac literally had a dream that he and Parker were performing their song “Blue Paper”—a flashy models & bottles rap cut that preceded my involvement in the band, but that I’ve always loved—and the next night, dreams became reality: the guys turned the set straight hip-hop for the first time ever, and I suddenly had a blissful two minutes where I didn’t have to hold center stage. We were tailoring all the way until the last show, trying to make the most sustained and dynamic impression, being newly conscientious about not asking too much of the audience, allowing them space to experience who we are.

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For all the time I’ve been on the road with M&RL performing “White Walls,” I have only known their audiences to be rapt and ecstatic. And I had the acute realization that as the direct support to an artist, we were the last obstacle standing in the way between the people and the experience they had paid money for and spent weeks waiting to see. This does not mean that the audience is necessarily ungracious, but that there’s an inherent ambivalence, which isn’t the comfiest place to be as a performer. I’ve found there is a distinction for me between performing confidence and being confident; for all my years doing theater, I can smile and put on a brave face, but in my heart I know I have to be resolute that I am deserving and capable of holding focus and attention. On our own tours, we feel the love effusively from fans and friends that follow us; in a new city in front of a new crowd, that love has to be conjured from within.

But every night, whether I was feeling pumped or was beating myself up over a performance, we went out to the merch table, and met dozens of people who gave us hugs, daps, photo ops, and generous appreciation. At the end of the day, we make music to connect, and connect we did. Every single interaction, “good job!”, or “you guys were awesome!”s meant so much to us, made any hiccup during our set dissolve, and affirmed us that we were on the right path. We couldn’t be more thankful for those who took time out not only to tune into our performance but also to show us love after the show, whether in person or social media.

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There are so many times over the last four years that we’ve been doin The Flavr Blue where it would have been easier to quit, or self-deny, or be self-conscious that we weren’t growing fast-enough or right. To justify easing off, to point to any number of things and wonder how we’d ever make it work. For all the ways that I can point to feeling like not enough, I often have to take a few steps back into the me of eight years ago, making sure that being immersed in strategy and projection doesn’t take away from the triumph that I have spent my last few years as a working musician, alongside two very talented musicians and producers who have become two of my best friends. I am proud that it’s taken us this long to build into who we are, a trio with a ever-sharper focus on ourselves as artists, and a greater openness and empathy as humans in collaboration with each other. We love each other and we love what we do; even when there is inevitable tension, there is a deep gratitude of our shared commitment. Parker and Lace teach me things about myself, about music, and about the world every day, and I am thankful to have them as my family.

Our tour squad consisted of three remarkable Seattle musicians in their own right: Jordan and Matt of the wavy-house duo CUFF LYNX, and Nick Beeba, one third of Brothers From Another and Seattle’s champion of positive vibrations. Jordan and Matt were the ones that truly traversed the country in that Escalade, from Seattle to NYC all the way back; what’s more, they built out our awesome triangle lights that triggered to our music and gave us that arena-level shine. They were unflappably professional and witty to the bone. Beeba, whose talents continue to bloom and whose energy is indispensable, laced us with all of the awesome pictures and a teaser video and kept our social media on and popping, not to mention a hundred and ten little thangs that he did along the way to help us keep the train moving. His support of The Flavr Blue through the years is so much of the reason why we are where we are.   

A big thank you to the collection of folks that helped me personally get stage ready so that I wouldn’t look a mess, cuz I definitely would have otherwise! Jessica Carter for the sharp haircut, Sena & Asteria Active for the beyond-bomb stage-ready fitness wear, Michael Jenkins for the chic wardrobe consultation, and Grace Kelly for the indispensable makeup direction (I bought my first makeup brushes ever for this tour, ha!). And a huge thanks also to April Jingco, who has been helping me out with social media content for a couple of months and totally killing it.   

It was hella effing generous of Ben and Ryan and their whole team to invite us on tour and provide the opportunity that they did. It has coalesced and strengthened us, and gave us a master class each night of how to command the stage. Ben is such a gifted, electrifying frontman, and Ryan’s talents and capacities can’t even be encompassed by an arena. The musicians and dancers who hold court and bring the M&RL vision to life, and the core team of humans that keep the LLC popping off, are dedicated, unfailing, genuinely dope humans. I learned things and laughed with every single person on the road. Special shoutout to Zach Quillen, who was present at the first EVER Flavr Blue show and whose feedback shaped a lot of our during-tour evolution, for riding for us. And shoutout to Chris “Fussy” and his whole production squad (esp our engineers Chris, Chris and Ryan!) for their top-tier professionalism and problem solving skills… what could have been a daunting and terrifying experience for us was made as butter-smooth as possible.

As utterly exhausted as I still am by the run, I’m already thinking about getting back out on the road. We’re lucky that our summer is filled with Seattle performances, most private, but we’ll be wrapping up the summer in style with Bumbershoot during Labor Day weekend… the lineup is insane and we’re excited to show our hometown what we’ve been working with. But we have a lot of music within us that this tour inspired us to make, and that will be our primary focus. Back to the studio, back to the work, dreaming of the stage it’ll find its way onto again.

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