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Five Times Preoccupations’ Michael Wallace Almost Died

on September 12, 2016, 1:00am
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Black Gold

This story starts when I was touring with Porcelain Raft. We had just gone to the UK and did a few shows opening up for M83 as a duo, just me backing up Mauro Remiddi, and had a few days off before continuing on across Europe. We were packing up and getting ready to go over to France, and we had got this email from M83’s manager saying that Anthony [Gonzalez] said that I can’t come on the rest of the tour. If Mauro doesn’t like it, then we can both leave. Or, he can go and perform as a solo artist. For no reason, whatsoever.

You had no idea why?

No, I hadn’t done anything, I hadn’t fucked up anything in particular. I mean, I was having a lot of fun, but you know, I’m a respectable human man. We went back and forth for awhile, and I think the guy ended up saying that I took up too much room on the stage, which was insane because at the time I was playing a snare drum, bass drum, floor tom, one cymbal, a high-hat, and then a pad. It was one of the smallest drum setups I’ve ever played.

What year was this?

This was 2012, maybe? It was when their last record came out.

Hurry up, We’re Dreaming.

Yeah. We had some dates in Italy after the M83 dates, but it was a solid month of tour, so Mauro was heartbroken. We had spent all this time working on our set and he was stripped down to just being a solo artist again, so he asked me if I could just stay in Europe and meet him again in Italy. In a way, it was pretty emotional and a little bit of a hard toke, but I also was on this forced vacation for a month all over Europe.

That was when Chris Reimer from my old band Women passed away, so I was able to go back to Canada and be with my friends and family for that without missing any shows. It was really good that I could be there at that time, but I came back to Europe and made my way to Morocco. I was going through a really intense time, obviously, with the passing of one of my friends and bandmates. For a lot of my friends, it gave them this value of how fragile life can be and how any day … I just sort of reacted in the opposite way. I went on a rampage. I was drinking a lot and by myself a lot, just traveling through Europe.

In Morocco, I met some friends and they took me around, and the last stop I wanted to do was to go camping in the Sahara because I love the desert. There’s something about it; it’s an amazing place to be and an amazing environment. So I got five grams of opium and we went out to this camp, and probably one of the funniest things was that we were renting camels. Somehow they found out that I had the opium; the word kind of went around because me and the two Moroccans that I was with were smoking some. I ended up trading a chunk of this opium for a camel. This guy had basically given me a camel, just straight up, and I remember a friend had said this one funny thing: “That, my friend, is like black gold.” With that, I was like, “Gold … you could buy something with it!” So I ended up trading a chunk of opium for a camel, and then we went out with two guides and a cook and spent a couple days camping.

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What’s the learning curve on riding a camel? Was this your first time?

This was my first time riding a camel. Yeah, it’s pretty easy. The camels, they know exactly what to do and where to go, because they do the same routes. I guess they can be kind of like a horse where they could kick back and go crazy and buck you off, but these camels were chill. I love animals, so I wanted to interact with them.

One of the nights, I was super stoned and I just wandered out of the camp. I was stargazing and I ended up fully passing out on the sand dune. The next day I came back and realized that everyone was super worried, obviously, and they were all like, “Oh fuck, where’d the Canadian go? He’s gone!” They were getting up and packing all our stuff up and organizing a search party for me when I came back.

I had woken up on my side, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I realized that there was something on my face. Obviously, I wasn’t in my tent, so I was totally terrified. I sat up really quickly and it was this posse of desert cats that had found me. They go around between the different camps and look for food, but because the desert is such a sterile environment, they were really clean. You picture any street cat in any third-world country; they’re usually pretty gnarly. But these cats were so nice and clean, and they’d found me in the middle of the night and cuddled me. It was just this whole tribe of them, full 360 degrees, just wrapped around my body to share my warmth and cuddle something. It was really funny, and so I woke up like that and super panicky at first, and then I was like, “Oh my God, this is so cute.”

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So when I got back to the camp, they were like, “Where were you? Never leave camp again. You can’t sleep outside, you have to sleep in the tents.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know, but what’s the deal with all these cats? They’re so cute and they were cuddling me,” and the guide just wasn’t having it. He just turned around and looked at me and was like, “You sleep in the tent, because next time it won’t be cats, it’ll be scorpions.” And I was like, “OK, fair enough.”

That whole time was a pretty crazy adventure. It had a lot of different shades. I got robbed and beaten up by a prostitute in Madrid. She strangled me for a little bit, grabbed my wallet. I ended up getting my wallet back; I mean, she just ran away with a little bit of my pride and dignity. It was pretty scary, though.

When you look back at that time, though, you’re going through these adventures and seeing Europe, but it’s also marked with sadness.

Yeah, it was. I was definitely on a little bit of a bender, kind of rampaging, questioning a lot of things. And playing with Mauro was an amazing experience; I really look up to him. But I feel bad for him that he had to deal with me during that time. My fiancée had left me, and then that had happened, so I look back at it and sometimes I’m just like, “Oh my god Mauro, I’m so sorry man.” But, I mean, he gets it. I moved back to Calgary and started working with Matt [Flegel, Preoccupations’ vocalist and bassist] pretty much immediately after the Porcelain Raft thing wrapped up. He’d started working with Monty in the meantime and started working on their own songs, and we just got it on right away and a couple months later, we were already playing as Viet Cong.

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