Local Music

Miami Metal Band Torche on Navigating Europe's Coronavirus Crisis: "People Were Still Making Jokes About It"

Torche Photo by Dan Almasy
Miami metal outfit Torche has braved a number of natural disasters during its time on the road. The group's unlucky tour history includes traversing the Northeast blackout of 2003, passing through Washington, D.C., during the 2013 Navy Yard shooting, avoiding wildfires on the West Coast, and, of course, hurricanes.

As it so happens, the band was even laughed at for wearing facemasks when it made its way to play South by Southwest during 2009's H1N1 swine flu outbreak.

“I definitely feel a weird déjà vu," drummer Rick Smith says of the band’s unlucky travel track record. "Yet this time around, people are taking it seriously.”

The hometown heroes and recent Late Night With Seth Meyers guests are not easily dissuaded from carrying out their musical duties for fans. But this past Saturday, the band was forced to return to Miami following the cancellation of its spring European tour with Russian Circles due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Despite Torche's familiarity with navigating scary circumstances in its travels, the measures taken in response to COVID-19 have set a new precedent in the band's history: It's the first time a tour has been canceled while already underway.

Torche refrained from panicking as the virus continued its unrelenting march across the globe and risk warnings became increasingly severe. Looking forward to arrangements such as a scheduled recording session at the BBC in London on March 5, the bandmates didn't make a call to their management about the tour's standing until three days before they departed for Europe.

The group's 38-date itinerary — which would've seen them promote their latest full-length record, Admission, as well as support Russican Circles — was set to span Europe. Smith shares that in a group chat with the band's point of contact at Oblique Management, the company responsible for booking the tour, band members broached the subject of whether they should anticipate being forced to cancel. Naturally, there was talk of the group cutting its losses and postponing the tour.

“We all texted them right before the tour to double-check if everything was still OK, given how things had already begun to get crazy," Smith says. "They told us everything would be fine and we shouldn’t worry."

“Oblique had been told by the European promoters that everything was still a go, apart from Italy maybe, so they organized back-up shows just in case,” adds Ryan Haft, the band’s longtime sound engineer.

Given their previous track record of overcoming major hiccups while on tour and having been reassured by management, Torche opted to move full steam ahead with the tour. Band guitarist Jon Nunez admits was anxious about a small turnout at the concerts, not to mention his own health. Prior to leaving, he made a run to Home Depot for supplies: Although the store was out of the heavy-duty M95 gas masks he was looking for, he was eventually able to snag "disposable latex gloves and $80 worth of high-quality immune boosters.”
Torche drummer Rick Smith and singer Steve Brooks prepare to tour Europe during the COVID-19 crisis. - COURTESY OF TORCHE
Torche drummer Rick Smith and singer Steve Brooks prepare to tour Europe during the COVID-19 crisis.
Courtesy of Torche
After the band landed in London, the distraction of constantly moving from one place to the next meant Torche didn’t have much time to ruminate on the global panic that had begun to unfold around it. The bandmates arrived Saturday, March 7, in Russia, where skepticism over the severity of the outbreak still ran rampant. Consequently, the show's promoter and the fans who turned out exhibited a laissez-faire attitude toward the situation.

“It was definitely in the news, but even when we were in Russia, people were still making jokes about it, and we assumed that’s how it would be everywhere,” Smith says.

They were wrong. The group's schedule was set to see them play two dates in Greece, followed by a show in Belgium and several concerts in France. From there, they were slotted to travel to Spain and eventually Italy.  By the time Torche reached Athens on Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, prompting the band's management team to send a “we need to talk” text.

Much to the band's dismay, widespread travel bans and capacity restrictions had forced a rapid spate of show cancellations. The development meant Russian Circles, who had not yet joined Torche on the road, had to pull out of their leg of the tour. While some promoters tried to troubleshoot solutions such as offering to organize smaller shows of 100 people — for the sake of comparison, more than 1,100 tickets had been sold for Torche's Paris show — the idea was quickly canned as the situation escalated. Matters reached a fever pitch on Wednesday, March 11, with the announcement of Trump's European travel ban.

The lack of clarity around the policy led some to fear that American citizens would be refused reentry upon returning home.

The band proceeded to face a series of unfortunate mishaps, including missing a flight to Frankfurt owing to customs issues and paying hefty, newly imposed fines on shipping equipment to their next destination (something Smith suspects happened because airlines were trying to minimally recoup their mounting losses from flight cancellations). Their hands were essentially tied, with all say in the matter having been removed.

Although multiple band members flirted with the idea of staying in Greece for the duration of the scare — Torche had run into the sludge-metal legends of Eye Hate God while in Athens, and a few people thought that getting stranded on an idyllic island was a more appealing option than being confined to their apartments back home — reality soon began to hit, and they started desperately formulating a game plan to get back stateside.

Nunez and Smith both say Torche's financial losses could be upward of $15,000, and there's no telling when the bandmates might be reimbursed for their flights even with insurance. A large number of guarantees they'd taken for granted thanks to the projections of these shows have gone completely down the drain.

As a self-confessed hypochondriac, Nunez plans to ride out the scare far away from the urban hub of Miami: His father owns some land and even a few horses near the Everglades. Though he's disappointed by the tour's cancellation, he's keeping his eyes on the bigger picture.

“At some point, you have to be courteous to the people that are going to go to your shows, because you could be putting people at risk," he says. "A lot of people might not even know they have some underlying health issues, so we have a responsibility to them as well as ourselves.”

Back in Miami, the immediate prospects for the band and its affiliates are far from rosy. Though Smith owns a local printing company — which is still getting business — Nunez and Haft work as sound engineers and are dealing with the two-fold issue of event cancellations and their positions as social pariahs: Their 23k Instagram followers are all too aware of their movements through Europe, where the virus has taken a stronger hold than it has in the States thus far.

Plans to reschedule Torche's tour have been put on hold until something resembling normalcy returns to the music industry and, indeed, the world at large.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Olivia McAuley was born and raised in London, England. After studying at the University of Miami, she worked in music PR and marketing before joining Miami New Times as the club listings editor. She also writes about music and anything and everything that's going on in her adopted city.
Contact: Olivia McAuley