Tour Tales | Rory Behr witnessed fans' endless support after Isaiah Rashad's privacy was violated
“The fans really cared for his well-being,” Rory Behr tells REVOLT on this installment of “Tour Tales.” Read up!
For more than five years, DJ/engineer Rory Behr has done whatever needs to be done to ensure a successful Isaiah Rashad show. He’s been Rashad’s DJ, production manager, bus driver, and even his bunkmate.
“We were sharing hotel rooms back then, and we became brothers around that time. We were sharing weed and everything. Zay is such a caring, generous and loving dude. He’ll never see himself as a superstar diva,” Behr told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Isaiah Rashad’s touring partner talks about how fans supported the artist when his privacy was violated, Rashad and SZA’s bond, and more.
What was your initial role on Isaiah Rashad’s shows?
The first couple of shows I started to be involved with were right after Sun’s Tirade when we went on the road. I was so new to the camp I was hoping I had any chance to hop on the road with them. So, I was willing to do whatever. For the first tour, I was literally driving the sprinter van and deejaying for the opener Lance Skiiiwalker, who’s on TDE as well. Through the years with the camp, I’ve worked pretty much every position there is on the road with us. On our last domestic run in support of The House is Burning, I was the head production manager. I was the first one in the venue and the last one out. We traveled with this gigantic video wall with all our visuals and stuff. I had to load that in every day, and each piece was 2,000 pounds or something crazy, so it was crazy getting that in. First, we had to set up our whole light package. Once I settled that, I would start setting up the DJ backline gear. Then, I’d do all the sound checking for Isaiah because I mixed all the records, so I know how they’re supposed to translate in a live performance setting. I would do his in-ear monitors, stage mix, front of house, and all of that at soundcheck. That’s how we got the show going from there.
Let’s start from the beginning. You were driving the sprinter in those early days. What were those rides like going from show to show?
It’s so funny now that we just jumped off a big tour bus run and looking back on our sprinter run. I was so eager to help out the team back then. If merchandise needed to be brought in, I counted t-shirts every night. We were still playing 1,000-person venues, so a lot of work was required. We were staying in shitty hotels. Everyone was eating Mcdonald’s and not getting enough sleep. Back then, we were partying heavy, too (laughs). We were off the Jameson all of the time. We’d be hungover and then have to get on that smelly bus for eight hours. We were young and immature on the first run, but we had high energy. To be honest, there was a lot more friction because everyone was tired and sick of each other. One day you’d have an issue with someone, but you have to suck it up and move on to the next show. We sold $20,000 of merchandise a night. I was gone for four months for that tour. We did about 62 sold-out dates domestically. After the domestic run, we hopped on a plane and went to Europe. We did an entire month through Europe. That was my first tour ever (laughs).
What were some of your favorite shows on that tour?
Back then, all the shows sort of blurred together. We were doing any show that would book Isaiah. I remember we were somewhere like Mississippi, and there were only 250 kids. But, on the same run, we had three shows in a row in New York. We were doing two shows in the evenings at specific major markets. I remember we did a double show in Las Vegas. So, we would load in the kids, do the meet and greets, and then right when you’re exhausted, here comes another wave of kids (laughs). That was tough. The standout shows were in Europe. We were in Cologne, Germany, where they don’t speak English but can speak every word of the lyrics. That was crazy to me. Paris was also amazing.
The road is where you become family with the artist. Were there any moments when you and Isaiah became closer?
Back then, Zay and I lived in an apartment together, so we were always together. We shared everything. On the sprinter run, Zay and I were bunking up in hotel rooms (laughs). Zay didn’t even get his own hotel room back on that budget. It’s crazy to see how it’s evolved. Now, he’s in the presidential suite everywhere we go. We were sharing hotel rooms back then, and we became brothers around that time. We were sharing weed and everything. Zay is such a caring, generous and loving dude. He’ll never see himself as a superstar diva. He’s a super humble guy, and that’s why I love being on the road with him now. He never gets too difficult to deal with in terms of having high expectations or standards. Obviously, now he deserves all the glory for putting in the hard work.
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When did you start deejaying for him?
Before TDE, I was a DJ. I had residencies all over Hollywood. I used to have a residency with SBE, so I’d have a Thursday night at Hyde Hollywood. I would play Greystone Manor. When I first came into Zay’s camp, he had already had a DJ he had been running with for years named Chris Calor. They had good chemistry, so I wasn’t going to barge in and take his job. Throughout the years, he had been jumping between different DJs. It wasn’t until this year at Coachella that I started deejaying for Isaiah (laughs). We were in the studio one day — me, Zay, and his manager — trying to figure out all of the dynamics. I was prepping his performance tracks and all and then I asked, ‘Who’s deejaying this show?’ Zay was like, ‘Do you want to deejay?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s get it.’
How did you have to adjust to be his DJ?
We just got off this Canada run for 2 1/2 weeks. We did a bunch of shows in Vancouver, Calgary, and all of the major markets in Canada. That’s when we really figured out our DJ/artist relationship. It revealed a whole other side because it was just him and I performing in front of 2,000 kids on stage. It made sense for me to be his DJ because I knew the music so well, and Zay does a lot of visual cues. All he had to do was look at me, and I knew what to do with the track. He has all of these hand gestures to signal what song he’s talking about. He’ll do a hand motion like he’s shooting a gun, and I know he’s talking about ‘I Shot You Down.’ So we built an onstage communication. To be honest, we have a setlist, but he doesn’t follow the setlist. I have to always be on my toes. I must read his mind to know what song he wants to drop. That’s how it is when you’re deejaying in a nightclub. You’re just feeling the crowd to see what would be fitting for how the crowd responds.
Isaiah Rashad has had some surprising guest appearances. One of the more famous ones was Kendrick Lamar coming out in 2016 to do “Free Lunch.”
I remember that. Kendrick was headlining Fuck Yeah Fest, and Zay and I were stoked to be there to check out the show. Dot asked Zay, ‘Would you want to do ‘Free Lunch?” At that time, that was by far the biggest stage Zay had ever been on. He and Zay went back and forth. That was pretty hard.
Isaiah has a dedicated fanbase. What are those meet-and-greets like?
We do meet-and-greets at every show. Zay and I go out together on stage and host the meet-and-greet. A lot of the fans are familiar with me and what I do for his music, so now engineer kids are coming up to me like, ‘I’m a big fan of your work. I love how you did this, this, and this on this record.’ In every city, fans always tell us, ‘You changed my life’ or ‘You got me out of a dark place with my mental health. You made me reconnect with my dad.’ These kids are really tied to his music. Sometimes I have to remind Zay how impactful his music is. While you’re on the road, treating it like work is easy. When you go to these cities, these are the kids who allow us to do what we do. Zay always gives 100% doing his shows. These kids are so tied to the music. We’re not really single-driven artists where we have one hot song. These kids know every track. It’s dope to see the impact some of these tracks recorded in my bedroom have on people.
Speaking of the closeness with his fans, he recently went through a controversy involving a leaked tape and his sexuality being publicly questioned. Did any of his fans talk to him about that?
Absolutely. Since all of that happened, it’s been an outpouring of love and support. All of his fans are still rocking with us no matter what. It really hasn’t affected anyone in that sense. When it all happened, people were like, ‘I want to make sure Zay is good.’ The fans really cared for his well-being. At Coachella, it was his first appearance after all of that. We didn’t know how that was going to go. It went off in the best way possible. That was the biggest crowd we ever played. He felt the love on that. The fans really helped him get through it if I can speak on that.
Did he want to use his 2022 Coachella performance to make a statement about the gossip?
After the video was released, he went radio silent to figure it out. So we put together this 2 1/2-minute video clip of all the gossiping interviews, bullshit Twitter conversations, and weird narratives we wanted to squash. He wanted to show he was good, rocking, and healthy. Him having the confidence to go out on the Coachella stage was the most empowering thing for Isaiah to me. I was happy for the guy. The video was something we had been planning to use to address the whole thing.
One of my favorite Isaiah Rashad performances was at Panorama Music Festival in 2017 when the floor collapsed. What happened with that?
The floor broke. They were going too hard. So they had to shut the whole stage down after that. I remember they turned the lights on and stopped the set. Zay was laughing and stoked like, ‘We literally broke the floor (laughs). I think everyone thought it was funny.
How has Isaiah’s tour rider evolved?
We’re pretty simple when it comes to the rider. I think we’ve had the same rider since the beginning. It’s a bag of Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, one or two roasted chickens, Red Bull, sodas, and gummy bears. There’s nothing too extravagant. When we’re on the road, we stop the bus to go grocery shopping. We’ll put that on the rider if we need more coffee for the bus. It changes city to city. We don’t have any alcohol or anything like that on the rider.
I love watching SZA and Isaiah perform together. I remember she popped out for his set at The Novo to do “Heavenly Father.” What is their chemistry like on stage?
SZA came in the company right with Isaiah, so they have a really special brother-sister relationship. Everybody is excited whenever SZA blesses us by coming out to a show. With that, my role is scrambled because I have to make sure what song she will perform, and you don’t know until she gets there. When she came out in New York, we didn’t think she was coming until the very last minute. Her manager said, ‘She’s going to perform,’ and I think they wanted me to get one of her songs prepped. I think it was ‘Pretty Little Birds.’ I was like, ‘Nah, her engineer sent me the files for ‘Heavenly Father.’’ So, I was on the stage and got the engineer to email me the stems. I opened Ableton on my computer underneath the DJ booth while Zay was still performing, and I made the performance track. I bounced it, sent it to Mackwop, who was on the DJ board above me, and in the nick of time, we got it to work before she came out. What I notice when they perform is Zay’s smile. He gets so happy, he glows up. He gets smiley and happy.
What are Isaiah Rashad’s “tour hits”?
With this new set, we come out to ‘RIP Young,’ which sets the tone of the whole show. That one always goes up. The sleeper songs from Cilvia Demo are the ones that go up the craziest. ‘RIP Kevin Miller.’ When he says, ‘Y’all live for bitches and blunts, we live for weed and money,’ it’s the best call and response. We’ll cut the record, and the whole crowd will sing it. Also, ‘Park’ goes absolutely nuts. That’s our biggest mosh pit song. Before ‘Park’ would come on, Zay would go to the side of the stage and give everyone water bottles, so when the beat dropped, we’d just soak the crowd (laughs).
Have you noticed the live show affecting the type of songs you all record?
I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s ever created a song for the sole purpose of performing. But, after we did ‘Lay Wit Ya,’ we jumped around the studio because it was such a hard record. Once we made that record, we said, ‘This one is going to go crazy at shows.’ We usually close with that.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
We basically have festival season. We’re lined up through the fall. We have Bonnaroo coming up. We have Life Is Beautiful in Vegas. Then we’re playing another New York one. I’m so blessed to be going on a festival run. We’re doing festival season right now, but he wants to go back and record the next project. The best part of making a lot of these albums is changing up the live set and playing new songs. That’s what he’s been expressing to me. He can’t wait to go back and add more pieces to the setlist.