Torch Runner: Hardcore Highwaymen
By Corbie Hill
Anyone who spends time around heavy bands learns quickly: It’s no contradiction to meet a crusty punkmetal band with aggressive antireligious sentiments, and discover the members are gracious, unassuming dudes. And that’s Torch Runner, sure enough. But the paradox of this Greensboro trio is that the hard-touring outfit almost always plays basements, yet somehow makes enough money on the road to remain solvent.
“I think all of us have made huge sacrifices” says guitarist Scott Hughes, a soft-spoken giant with an enormous beard and copious tats. He quit his job, moved from Virginia to the couch of bassist and vocalist Rob Turner, and got rid of almost everything he owned — just to play in the band. From his time sleeping in the old Torch Runner van to today (he currently crashes in a woodworking shop), Hughes hasn’t held a proper address in two and a half years. “But I wouldn’t trade any of it,” he says. “The experiences I get outweigh going home to a comfortable house.”
With Torch Runner on the road so often, it’s almost redundant for Hughes to pay rent. Turner says there were three tours one year — putting the band on the road for about six months. But, with drummer Josh Platt also a screen printer, Torch Runner shows up both with tormented, cathartic, yet surprisingly diverse albums for sale — like the recently pressed debut LP Committed to the Ground — and tons of other merch. It’s a rack of wicked shirts that really brings in money, sometimes enough to head home in the black.
“Every time we go out, it’s easier and easier, and we play to, I guess, the right crowd for us,” says Platt. Often that involves playing house shows (at some, amps have to be stacked behind washers and driers) or basements where Hughes can’t even stand up straight. But that’s Torch Runner’s beloved natural habitat. “I don’t even feel like I know what happens at regular venues,” Turner says. “I just never even hear about it.”
That’s a conceit that is close to Torch Runner’s heart. The band’s home base, Legitimate Business, was once a thriving DIY show space. And today, they say, new house show venues have cropped up to replace the Biz in that capacity. Yet Turner views this, as most things, through the lens of what he’s learned on tour. “Different cities are going through the same thing we’re going through here,” he says of the dip in underground shows after the Biz was shut down as a venue in late 2011, as well as a subsequent upsurge. “I think Greensboro’s on the incline. It’s steadily gotten better for the past month or two.”
During Torch Runner’s five years together, these guys have seen enough of Greensboro — usually from its warehouses and basements — to know. And their remarkable accomplishments — making money on the road, touring for weeks and still happily hanging out together the day they get home — are not limited to the road. Yet Torch Runner’s members don’t see themselves as scene veterans.
“Music is just a medium,” Turner says, “a connection to the community.” It’s a medium that enables these three friends to travel more than they could otherwise afford. And, when they do hit cool spots like San Francisco or Utah’s Zion National Park, the friends they’ve made get them insider tips on where the locals eat, hang out, skateboard or camp.
“You got to see the whole country, and you only spent a couple hundred dollars,” Turner says “That’s pretty incredible. When you think about it in those terms, it’s so insane that we get to do that.”