I interviewed Brandon Butler from Boys Life (KC), The Farewell Bend (KC/DC), Canyon (DC), The Vicars of Dickroy (DC), and Six Bells (KY), etc., about Boys Life’s first van and touring.
Brandon Butler – Guitar/Vocals
Joe Winkle – Guitar
John Rejba – Bass
John Anderson – Drums
Why did you get a van in the first place?
We needed one for a few shows we booked. We had our first drummer, I was just days out of high school, and our cars weren’t going to do the trick. We figured we’d sleep in the van since we had no real contacts yet.
Did a particular band or event inspire you?
Nah, no particular bands inspired us, just that we needed one. Well, maybe “Tour Song” by Jawbreaker.
Where did you get it? Did you know the its background when you purchased it?
Joe worked with a guy who had an old church van. We had $250 in the band fund, and Joe threw in a bicycle. We did four U.S. tours in it with very little maintenance.
“When we would hit a good gust of wind it could change lanes on its own.”– Brandon Butler
Tell us about the van, year, make, model, color – did it need work, and did you do any DIY, build a loft, etc.?
It was a Ford short body from the early 80s. It had a GOOD straight six in it that you just couldn’t kill. It was light blue, and the paint was all chalky like all those old Fords get.
I waxed it, and we built the most insane loft inside. There was just the two front seats, and then the loft, extended the whole length of the van so you had to sit cross legged, or on a stack of pillows, but never could your legs hang down unless you sat between the two front seats.
The whole thing was carpeted to the nines because Joe’s old man was a master carpet installer. Honestly, that van was the best running vehicle I have ever driven, or been in, except that the steering linkage was badly worn. When we would hit a good gust of wind it could change lanes on its own.
Any funny or unique features?
We had no place for our spare tire so we tied it to the top of the van. We also had a heart spray painted on the back door.
What’s the longest drive you ever did between shows? What was the first trip you took with it?
The longest drive we ever did was between Kansas City and San Diego when we recorded our first record. We did manage to jump on a show while in California.
That was the infamous trip where we decided to steal gas the entire way. We made it past Sante Fe on Highway 40 before we got caught. It all went down on a reservation, so the cop was not a state trooper, and let us go after a bullshit story along with my willingness to let him search the van. He didn’t. I think after he saw our van, and the loft set-up, he felt sorry for us and let us go.
We made it all the way to San Diego after that. Coming back home, we would experience another such encounter with police in Nebraska.
Who maintained the van?
At that point in the band, Joe and I did all the maintenance. Oil changes, cap and rotor, etc. The van was on point mechanically, and even though it was rusty, we washed it when we could.
I woke up in Bellingham one time with kitty litter stuck to my cheek.
Did you sleep in the van, people’s houses, or hotels?
We always slept on people’s floors. We played the punk house circuit, and they were all super cool, even if the house was super gross. Most of the houses were nasty as fuck.
I woke up in Bellingham one time with kitty litter stuck to my cheek. Joe found chicken bones in a borrowed pillow one time too.
I preferred the van. It sucked, but it was a suck level I could deal with.
Did you have any van rules, or band rules in general?
The van was lawless. We would drink, smoke, brawl (like really brawl), make up, bitch about music selections, have fun. It was the Wild West in our van. Riding in the Boys Life and Canyon van was raucous stuff.
The Farewell Bend van was chill, but that band was different. We were on a mission. It was about delivering the goods. Nobody got too whacked out. That band was the rebound girlfriend for us, we needed it at the time, and finally realized we needed to move on. Both Giants Chair and Boys Life split at about the same time… I’m mean c’mon, like I’m not asking Paul (Ackerman) to do a band? We probably recorded the best sleeper “emo” album of the 90s from that group. That record will hold up forever.
Now wouldn’t it be cool if that record came out on vinyl? Hmm…
What is your craziest tour story?
Well… on tour coming back to Kansas City on an all night drive, we pulled into a rest area so Paul Drake could pee, and get a break from driving. We were all asleep in the back, including Eric (Richter, Christie Front Drive).
I woke to the smell of electricity similar to a Marshall amp just before it dies. I opened my eyes, and there was a thick green smoke emanating from the front A/C vents. I knew shit was about to hit the fan. “Everybody out, get the fuck out of the van now” I was yelling. Everybody bailed out. Because at this point the dash had caught fire, we didn’t even grab our shoes or anything. We all had to take our turn, literally jumping through flames, because the fire was coming out of the dash rolling up the windshield.
I went to the back doors, slung them open, and all of us started throwing guitar cases, amps, speaker cabinets on the ground. Drums were rolling about the parking area, and all of the semi trucks were starting to bail out.
I’d say the flames at that point were at least forty feet tall. The heat was so intense while we moved the salvaged gear to a safe distance, my eyeballs dried, and my hoodie hurt when it touched my skin, that fucking HOT.
Tires were exploding, and the fiberglass dome that had once made the van such an attractive option to tour in was melting like a giant picnic cup in a camp fire. Finally, the gas tank lit up and heaved a giant plume of bright yellow flame that ran out into the parking lot, all over the remaining chassis, exploding the rear tires, every color of the rainbow was present in that fire.
It burned so fast that by the time the two fire trucks arrived they were just wetting it for safety.
We ended up loading our sorry asses, broke, cold, and shoe-less in a giant Ryder truck, one of those really big ones. We were so fucking over it. We played our final show of the tour in KC, at The Daily Grin with The Get Up Kids.
We didn’t practice or talk about band stuff for a month. I was sure as a band we were finished. I really think that was the moment we changed our view of touring. We wouldn’t play shows without a guarantee, and we tried to play clubs more than punk space/house shows.
But as insane as this story sounds, we had so many weird ass experiences on tour. Those dangerous and surreal moments were why I wanted to keep touring.
Where did the van end up?
All of the vans we ever owned got junked. Joe traded the last van he owned in for a good Honda hatchback that he drove to San Francisco after the band broke up.
I started to think this guy might be some Buffalo Bill wanting to put lotion in my basket, and these “films” might be a way to get the ball rolling.
Any other entertaining tour stories?
I could write a book just on Boys Life tour stories. Here’s a quick one, and I warn you its gross.
We played Milwaukee this one time, and a guy at the show offered us a place to stay. He said he lived in an old theater with a working film projector, one of the big ones. He said he had a bunch of couches, and a fire pit inside the space. I was fucking sold!
So when we got there, it was a warehouse. Yes, he had a projector, and films, and a bunch of couches. The fire pit was a 55 gallon drum, but it all seemed like it could work out to be cool place to hang out. We had a few beers, and he wanted to show us some “films.”
The films ended up to be porn…? 1970s German stuff that had really pasty white people, lots of hair, ball gags, and whips. Some gross looking shit that you know is about to go sideways. It didn’t freak us out right away, but I started to think this guy might be some Buffalo Bill wanting to put lotion in my basket, and these “films” might be a way to get the ball rolling. I was like 22 at the time.
Things went south when the guy in the movie made a stinky on his lady friend. Rejba made an audible groan. None of us was watching this train wreck anymore. Anderson rolled up in his sleeping bag and checked out. I think Rejba and I were messing around the fire barrel. We could see the guys interest level growing in the film.
Right about then, the dude who made number two earlier brought in one of those miniature ponies… we bailed with the quickness. We told the guy we needed something from the van long enough for that gross ass crime against nature to be over. Rejba gagged outside a few times, and I was afraid to go to sleep.
Eventually, I was banned from voting on where to stay.
How can we help promote any releases?
Look up Rejba’s band Wet Tropics, they’re great.
I have put up a lot of free music on my bandcamp page.
Joe hangs out and jams with John Wall from Kerosene 454, from what i hear through the grape vine. I’m not sure if they are a thing, or just having fun, but yeah.
Anderson is a wicked drummer, and I wish he lived closer to me.