I believe the most interesting music stories aren’t confined to the artists, producers and label heads. Often the untold stories of other people working in and around music are just as compelling.
With that in mind, I thought immediately of Bree Kristel Clarke, who’s done everything from tour managing Skrillex — one of the biggest EDM artists on the planet — to working on Warped Tour to stints as a photographer and journalist since she moved from her native Australia to L.A. fifteen years ago. Now she runs her own boutique tour management company, The Loop, which lets her mostly work from the comfort of her own home.
We met in Venice on a sunny winter afternoon to discuss the rollercoaster ride of her career, the new school vs. old school of tour management, and where to draw the lines with the artists and promoters you’re doing business with.
Bree Kristel Clarke: I never knew what a tour manager was before I started to do it. Now they have it in school. My assistant is properly trained as a tour manager from USC. It’s a recent thing, I think. But I learned more in 6 months of hands-on photography experience versus my time spent getting a degree. Get me in a studio and show me lights.
Jonny Coleman: What was your background before you got into shooting and writing for newspapers?
I have a photography and journalism double major. And I started traveling when I was twenty one. I did the typical Australian thing where you graduate and travel the world for two years. I graduated in Perth, where I grew up. At twenty one, I moved with my then fiance to Oregon. I was only going to be here for three months for Visa reasons. At the time, my savings were halved because of the conversion rate. I started doing journalism for a local Santa Monica newspaper, falling asleep in local council meetings where people were arguing about the length of hedges. I was twenty-one and didn’t give a shit.
I started doing some music journalism, working and shooting for a magazine. Then the newspaper bought me a phone. I couldn’t get a bank account. I would hide cash around in my apartment. Then the magazine bought me a van – which a friend painted.
I was driving around town doing red carpets and other shit assignments. I realized I was kind of living here now.
You were writing and shooting for print, right?
Yeah, but not high end. Like the papers you’d find in the street. The free ones.
Now I feel like you definitely have to work for free for a while, doing almost anything in media.
I was an “intern” for two months first. I couldn’t get work in restaurants. It’s so competitive. And I’m shit at it. I was getting low on money. My friend said he was looking for a graphic designer. I had taken one week of graphic design to get my degree and said, “I’m a graphic designer.” I went in with the paper I had been shooting for and said I designed it, which I hadn’t. They hired me. That was a magazine in the Valley, Light & Staging News and Front of House, which covered the lights and sound industry behind the scenes, and church music, oddly enough.
Then I was shooting an event that Kevin Liman from Warped Tour was speaking at. Afterwards everyone was schmoozing with him. I walked up, got his card. And later followed up with him over email. And he asked me to do Coachella to run the camping site, which was the first year they did camping. So in 2005 I did that. All the big heads of Warped Tour were there. Next thing I know I’m running the reception area of Coachella with 10,000 people waiting to get in line. I was thrown in the deep end.
After that they offered me a job on Warped Tour. I did it for a year in a sponsor booth. It was a circus. It was like high school. I thought I was in the money. I’m still running into people from Warped Tour everywhere in the music industry in 2017. In 2005, Sonny Moore [Skrillex] was there with his band First To Last. So we’d hang out there. Flash forward ten years later, he’s one of the biggest EDM DJs in the world, and now I’m tour managing him.
After Warped, I met k-os, who were going to a tour in Australia called Good Vibrations. And Kevin – the main guy – said I’d be great at it. I just naturally organize people. Logistics, budgeting, I’m just natural at.
Why do you think that is?
I was always the responsible one. Growing up my mom is super fun and crazy. It wasn’t until my mom came out to see k-os that I realized I grew up tour managing my mom. It made me really responsible.
So what makes a good tour manager in 2017? Do you have to be an asshole like in the old school manager way?
That’s the old school mentality. The old school TMs are trying to be dicks and to be scary. The new school is killing someone with niceness. I was already like that, and Sonny was an extremely nice guy. Sometimes that makes my job harder, even. I’m always nice, but there’s definitely moments when it’s gotten testy. Luckily I do martial arts, so I feel like I can hold my own.
It was in Alberta, Canada with k-os. And his name is k-os because he doesn’t function as an artist if things are running smoothly. That job – my first TM job – was my hardest. He was the worst. We’re in a venue, and it’s 4 am and the venue is being weird about paying us. And this is the old school way where you used to actually pick up cash at the end of the night…
“…fuck you, pay me…”
Yeah, there were all these stories of guys showing up with guns and the cash. Nowadays it’s all wires. Before the deals used to be based on points, which now you don’t see very often. Now the industry standards are so much higher. It used to be a big, giant book you’d have to go through. Now you let the agents fight it out.
So I’m in the office, and they say they’re not gonna settle because they say we were five minutes shorter than we were contracted to be. And they were dodgy from the beginning. And my artist who is an alcoholic getting wasted downstairs at the bar trying to get a blowjob basically is saying, “Why is she causing such a fuss? I don’t need that money.” Meanwhile it’s about paying the whole crew, including the artist and myself. He’s saying to everyone at the bar, “we just want a free tequila shot and that’ll be our payment.” And I’m shaking my head like, this isn’t gonna work. I lock myself in the office with these two guys and told them, “I’m not leaving until you pay me. Get the agents on the phone now.”
If I hadn’t gotten the money that night – which I did – that promoter would have disappeared. That’s the most I’ve ever had to go in as an asshole. Niceness wouldn’t have worked. Now it’s different. It’s a lot nicer.
Is that your craziest tour story?
One of my worst memories of touring comes from being caught in Serbia.
The promoter of the festival got in the ear of a very drunk artist and promised a private jet, hotels and transfers the following day if we stayed longer at the festival. The artist’s mind was decided, and now I had to deal with the actualities of the predicament.
Of course, I found myself stuck in Serbia with 5 people, in what was meant to be a day off in the South of France at a fancy hotel after a grueling 20 plus hour day of a festival show. The hotel didn’t have rooms available. The videographers’ bag was MIA between the festival and hotel, and there was no jet. I called the promoter to have a heated discussion of what was promised and since no one else could understand English all too clearly, after being stuck in the lobby a while rooms finally started to open, the videographers’ bag was located and it appeared we may actually get a day off.
Then I got a call from the artist. He’d planned to go to dinner with the same promoter I had to have the altercation with, so a couple of hours after the heated exchange, I find myself sitting next to that same person at a dinner table talking about how great the festival was.
So how did you and Skrillex link up professionally?
One of my friends from Australia was in town at a party in Silver Lake. Sonny is there. I remember talking to him. This was before Skrillex was a thing. He was like, “I’m working on this project, doing electronic stuff now.” A year later, my friend is running Future Music Festival in Australia. Sonny has blown up. It’s right after “Bangarang”. It all happened so fast that he was booked before he exploded, so he was misbooked and playing at the wrong time slots and caused all this chaos.
So I started my own thing since I left Skrillex. I just couldn’t give my whole life to it anymore.
Nothing about that lifestyle seems very tenable long term.
I want to have a full life, you know? There’s no time for you in that world. I can’t have all my eggs in one basket like that. Now I have my own company. I turned down a lot of tour manager offers. I didn’t wanna go back on the road.
Someone offered me a gig managing them, and they said I could do it from home. And I said, “Is that a thing?” And so I’ve set up my company The Loop, which has been up for about a year. I have a roster and several people who cover different genres – folk, and Journey and Survivor legacy rock acts, and me, which covers electronic and hip hop. Most weeks I have shows around the country and North America. Sometimes we send someone out there. DJs often don’t need someone to go on the road with them. I’m mentoring someone else at the moment to go out on the road. I like working from home now.
Do you think tour managing is more welcoming for women now?
We’re having a moment now. In the beginning it was extremely hard for a woman. When you’re choosing a tour manager, you’re choosing a roommate. And many of these male artists don’t want to live with a woman essentially on the bus. It’s not like a manager that comes out for a show here and there. You’re living together.
With k-os, one time he was yelling at me for some unnecessary reason. And he said, “It’s like we’re the husband and wife version in this relationship. It feels good sometimes to have these arguments.” [eyes roll] and that was the moment I quit, basically.
You’re always sidestepping the woman issue, especially starting out. If I didn’t know someone, I wouldn’t get the job. All the gender stereotypes kick in. People might think, “Oh she’s difficult” if they don’t know me.
There aren’t many female artists in the EDM scene either.
Right. I was the only girl a lot. It was nice to see some younger girls come up to me and say they’re encouraged by what I’m doing.
What would you say to a young person who wants to be a tour manager?
It’s the same as any job, really. Do it and do it for free. Get out there. Go to shows. Go to your local venue. Be the artist liaison person at that venue. Meet DJs, meet managers, go out with them. The second you’re in you can go from there.
Anything to be wary of?
There’s always the fine line between being the friend and the manager. My thing is: don’t get too close. There’s always a line there. I would see it with some of the bigger artists.
I’d see some people get too close, and then they were too much like the buddy. And your job is 10 times harder when you’re the buddy. You can be a friend, but you’ve always got to establish that professional line. Especially as a woman. To have their respect and have them do what you want them to do.
Header photo by Caesar Sebastian.