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A Ride With The Cavalry: Behind The Scenes Life On Tour With TENGGER CAVALRY

By Curt Miller, Editor at Large
Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 8:48 AM

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Photos By Curt Miller

I arrived at Cattivo in Pittsburgh on June 6th just prior to TENGGER CAVALRY taking the stage. Not being certain if I would make the show, I didn’t confirm with the band’s publicist ahead of time and decided to buy a ticket at the door. I’d seen them play in Pittsburgh almost a year to the date in 2016 (June 3rd), and as such, had gotten to know several members of TENGGER CAVALRY. They hadn’t begun playing, so I took the chance to say, “Hey,” to lead vocalist/guitarist, Nature Ganganbaigal, as I walked past the stage and continued over to the merch table where I spent a minute chatting with Felix Martin. Martin is touring with TENGGER CAVALRY and played Pittsburgh recently, on March 8th.

Ganganbaigal opened TENGGER CAVALRY’s set as he had the year prior, with a long-held note in throat singing. Soon, the rest of the band joined in, blending heavy, distorted riffs and a galloping rhythm section with the Mongolian tovshuur played by new band member, Phillip Newton. As heavy as the band’s studio material is, its live show takes it up several notches. Bassist, Alex Abayev, and Ganganbaigal aggressively headbanged in sync while Newton added a more menacing presence under his black hood, an accouterment carried over from his black metal band, THE NOCTAMBULANT.

The crowd was a bit light, but it was a Tuesday night. Those in attendance were, however, TENGGER CAVALRY cognoscenti. Many sang along with the band, about half of whose set came from their latest release, Die On My Ride, though the show began with an old favorite, “Cavalry In Thousands”. The crowd was an even split between those who rocked in place and those more animated needing extra space to jump around. TENGGER CAVALRY kept the energy level high throughout the show and closed with another fan favorite, “Mountain Side”. Drummer, Josh Schifris, played the final song wearing a horse head mask adding some levity to the performance while reinforcing the band’s cavalry theme.

But that’s really just where this story begins…

After the concert, Nature told me the band had a few days before its next show in Grand Rapids, MI and asked if I had a place where they might crash. I told him they were more than welcome to stay with me. He said it would take them about 45 minutes to load out, which gave me enough time to stop at the grocery store for snacks and put some extra towels in my spare bathroom.

I was cooking a frozen pizza, always a crowd-pleaser, when they arrived. Before they’d unpacked anything or even finished bringing in all of their gear, Josh was seated at my drum kit practicing patterns (Roland V-Drums, so they’re not too loud). Soon, they were settled in, each having picked a place to crash: spare room, couch or floor. Alex and Phil split the pizza and then began noodling on a dilapidated, old Gibson I’d saved from the dumpster years back. Like most, Phil’s first reaction to seeing it was, “What the hell happened to that?” But after playing it, he concluded the same as all who’ve played it. “It’s actually a decent guitar.” There’s no question, though, that it looks pretty rough.

Those expecting drunken destruction of property or a house full of exotic dancers will be sorely disappointed. One: I’d never allow either. Two: This band manages itself on the road. TENGGER CAVALRY keeps to a tight schedule. They know when they can slack off and when there’s work to be done. That said, they’d just spent a few days crossing back and forth in and out of Canada and were ready for some laughs. Alex suggested watching Andy Samberg’s 7 Days In Hell, which had everyone in hysterics.

The following morning, Nature, one of whose hobbies includes boxing, told me he would feel lousy all day if he didn’t work out first thing. With that, he was out front practicing boxing combinations. Phil jokingly commented, “Who needs a security sign in the window when you have your own, personal Mongolian?” Josh, having swapped out my double bass pedals for his, was back on my drum kit running patterns. Once Nature came back in from his workout, they had a brief meeting per how to make the best use of their remaining time prior to leaving for Michigan.

They asked if I had any objection to them staying another night or if they’d already worn out their welcome. Honestly, they’d been no trouble at all, so I was more than happy for them to stay. The band’s biggest mission for the down time between shows was to unload, organize, label and repack all of its merch for the remainder of the tour. Before they headed out for a late breakfast and to pick up supplies, everyone gathered in front of my TV where each of TENGGER CAVALRY’s members shared YouTube videos of the bands they’d started out in. It was interesting for them as well as me. They’d not seen these videos before either. Afterward, they shared a few funny music clips including one of Abbath doing guitar lessons. Look it up. It’s Internet gold.

I took the opportunity of them leaving for breakfast (at IHOP, a band staple) to launder towels, really the only extra work I had to do while they stayed. When they returned, my driveway became a merch assembly line of sorts. Everything was sorted, labeled, boxed and then packed back into the van along with the band’s personal belongings and equipment. While completing the task, everyone had a few laughs, but the band also discussed ways to improve efficiencies on the road. Again, they’re excellent at self-managing and maintaining focus all while keeping things light-hearted.

Once TENGGER CAVALRY’s van was reloaded, the guys were noticeably tired and ready for an early evening prior to their drive to Michigan and performance the following day. After freshening up, everyone piled into my car and we headed to a local restaurant where Phil was kind enough to pick up the tab for my meal, something he insisted on doing. Thanks, Phil! Most of us got sandwiches but for Alex, who ordered a sizable steak. The band planned for a 7:00am departure and Alex was first up at the wheel. He felt eating something heavy would ensure he’d get plenty of sleep that night. Dinner discussion was pretty light except for a brief chat regarding the origin of several languages. The vast array of things in which people take interest or about which they are knowledgeable never ceases to amaze me.

Back at my place, all but Alex were asleep almost immediately. He asked for some tea prior to turning in. It was a great opportunity for the two of us to chat about some of the other projects he has in mind along with some insights shared between members of the band. Something that stood out was a concept Nature conveyed to Alex about the manner in which musicians, particularly the rhythm section, relate to other members of a band. He explained, “The drums are the speed limit. The bass is the road and the guitar is a car driving along the road. Once the parameters are defined by the rhythm section, it creates a tremendous amount of freedom for the guitar to travel along the road.” With that, Alex was off to sleep for the night.

At 6:00am the next morning, all were awakened by the sound of DECAPITATED emanating from Phil’s phone. Everyone checked in with their Facebook pages and had a quick cup of coffee. Josh retrieved his double bass pedals from my drum kit while Nature got in a quick boxing workout in the front yard. By 7:00am, TENGGER CAVALRY was packed up and on its way to Grand Rapids, MI, right on schedule.

It’s not every day that someone has the opportunity to give a touring band a place to stay, but it’s actually not the first time it’s happened to me. NEW YEARS DAY was in town last November. After their show, they were looking for a place to crash for the night and I offered my place. As it turned out, they ended up leaving straight away for their next show in Toronto. Regardless, I’d have been glad to have them stay.

Going to shows is always a blast, but getting to know musicians and interacting with them on a more personal level is priceless. It adds a tremendous amount of perspective to the music they create, understanding why they write about that which they do. It’s also very eye opening to witness the commitment a band such as TENGGER CAVALRY makes to its craft as it takes to the road. They have fun, for sure, and love to interact with and entertain fans. Their decision to self-manage, however, mandates that they maintain focus, the discipline and motivation to keep a strict schedule and that they handle all of the ancillary tasks associated with touring. They also drive countless hours virtually every day and play fierce shows most nights. Raid on, TENGGER CAVALRY, and know that my door is always open.

Pittsburgh setlist:

  • "Cavalry In Thousands"
  • "Die On My Ride"
  • "Cursed"
  • "Hymn Of The Earth"
  • "Independence Day"
  • "To The Sky"
  • "War Horse"
  • "A Blade Of Time"
  • "Tengger Cavalry"
  • "Golden Horde"
  • "Wasted"
  • "Me Against Me"
  • "Mountain Side"

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