The summer concert season is in full swing. And though many of the major festivals — Coachella, Bonnaroo — are already behind us, there’s still much music ahead. Last week, indie rockers Phoenix announced that they’d head out from Lollapalooza (Aug. 4 in Chicago) on an extended U.S. tour to promote their newest album, Bankrupt! They’ll be on the road into October, playing shows from San Francisco to New York City.
TIME touched base with front man Thomas Mars — who’s currently in Italy and will make his way through Europe playing shows between now and August — to get his take on the necessary steps for a great rock tour.
1. Be selfish.
“The biggest enemy in touring is boredom,” he says, and if you don’t make an effort, every show starts to blend together. Though there are little tricks used to fool audiences into thinking the show is just for them, bands must still contend with the challenges of playing the same set-list in a succession of same-size arenas. The solution is to invest in staying invested. “If for you it’s interesting, there will be better results for everybody.”
2. Don’t tour old material.
“Ninety percent of my nightmares are about that,” says Mars, who thinks that old material makes a band seem like a greatest-hits group. How long an album can live on the road depends on the record, but the band should know when it turns a corner — just like, Mars says, the producers of a TV show should know when it’s outstayed its welcome.
3. Think of festivals as a challenge (and a way to win new fans).
It’s good to remember that not everyone who attends a music festival is there to see you. In fact, many are fans of some other band — or are there to take in the larger festival experience, which Mars notes, offers a wide range of experiences (“you can learn how to farm or do pottery”). But playing for people who haven’t heard of you or who think they don’t like your music can create “a good tension” when mixed with an audience made up of devoted fans.
4. Play favorites with venues, not cities.
Some spots — the Hollywood Bowl, for example — have histories a band should know about; it’s nice to be a part of a long legacy of rock. But don’t listen to what people say about various cities. “I’ve learned that the places where people think you won’t have a good time, like Reno, like Salt Lake City,” relates Mars, “are the places we’ve had some of our best shows.”
5. Be careful.
Mars says it’s hard to apply lessons from past tours to future ones, since a new visit to an old city can be a totally different experience. Unlike being in a studio, you can’t control every element of what goes on. Except for one thing: crowd-surfing in unsafe conditions. “That,” Mars says, “I won’t do again.”