Interview with Erik Tunison from Die Kreuzen

I interviewed Erik Tunison, drummer for Die Kreuzen, Killdozer, Paul K, Fuckface, and D-Minus, about his experiences touring in vans.

What was the catalyst, motivation, or inspiration for getting a van
in the first place, specifically?

We knew we wanted to tour, and my 1969 Pontiac Catalina- while roomy enough for the whole band, all of our equipment, and even an extra friend or two- wasn’t going to cut it.

Where/from whom did you get it? Did you know the background
of this van when you purchased it?

The job I was working at was selling their service truck.

I bid $400 and we got it. I never found out if anyone else bid on it, but I was pretty vocal about wanting it, and everyone knew I was in a band. It’s possible they held back so we could get it.

Tell us about the van, year, make, model, color – did it need work,
and did you do any DIY, build a loft, etc.? Did you give it a name?

It was a 1975 Ford E-150. It had about 100,000 miles and was powered by the classic 300 cu. in. straight 6 cylinder engine. It was faded business white with a sporty blue racing stripe and rust. Lots of rust. I spray painted over the name of the company, but left the “Emergency Service” tag up. We told ourselves it meant we could park anywhere, and who knows, it may have helped. We got a lot of parking tickets in San Francisco and never paid any of them. Sometimes I worry about that.

We built a loft in the back, of course, but kind of threw it together without a plan so it was a bit overbuilt and pretty heavy. The van definitely felt a little top heavy afterwards. Later lofts were structured with aluminum angle and a lighter grade plywood.

We hardly had to do any work to this truck, except for an alignment, which on these trucks was not a procedure just anyone could do. It involved (apparently) heating up the “Twin I- Beam” parts in the front and banging them in to place. This also meant that the alignment lasted a long time so we never had to do it again. Other than that I think I had to replace the water pump and maybe a starter or two and probably some brake pads. That is about it on that truck.

Later on, after several tours and 100,000 miles we sold it for $450 so I was pretty happy with the deal.

Any funny or unique features?

A friend worked at a van conversion company (this was the end of the 70’s still) and an auxiliary heater fell off the loading dock or something and landed in our hands. We installed it in the back, on top of the loft. This needed to be plumbed into the radiator system and then a control cable could be snaked to the driver’s position with a multi speed switch.

Glorious heat was then piped into the back of the van, which for a band from Wisconsin was wonderful and got used from October through May or any time it got cold at night. This device stayed with us and was installed in all four of our trucks.

At one point we bought a coffee percolator that ran on the cigar lighter.

That was a great addition to touring. It took a while to perk, but so what? On the road you got nothing but time, and when the truck starts to smell of fresh coffee it will definitely lift your spirits.

Also we bought a Sanyo cassette player and speakers. I ran wiring into the back with quick disconnects for the speakers, and also quick disconnects for the player itself. I didn’t want to install it into the dash, and couldn’t think of an easy way to build a case for it until I hit on the idea of just using the box it came in. So we reinforced the cardboard with duct tape and just used it that way for years. Open the back to access the connectors for the wiring, and open the front to feed it with cassettes. It was easy to carry into the gig that way, or even if stashed under a seat it just looked like a box of junk. I liked that style so much I did the same thing for a friend’s truck.

What’s the longest drive you ever did between shows? What was the first trip you took with it?

I don’t know if we took it out for even one shakedown trip before we went out on our first tour down towards New Orleans, Texas, Arizona, California, and then back through Nevada, Kansas, Missouri and home.

Our longest trip to get to a show was later on with a different van- another Ford, this time a stretch E- 350 with dual fuel tanks. We started that tour in Seattle so had to drive from Milwaukee through to Seattle. We gave it a few extra days but it performed flawlessly and so arrived over a day early.

The longest between shows is a little hard to know, but Seattle through to Gilman St. in Berkeley overnight was a tough one. We left right after the show and arrived exhausted only to find out there was no backstage or dressing room, because dressing rooms were for rock stars.

Die Kreuzen interivew in Flipside, Photo by Al Flipside, courtesy of Erik Tunison.

Did you sleep in the van, people’s houses, or motels/hotels?

We went for many, many years before we ever stayed in a motel. Generally someone would offer a place to stay, or we would sleep in the truck. If we had a night off and the weather was nice we would consult the Rand McNally and find a state or national park with camping and shower facilities. We didn’t have a tent, but sleeping under the stars on a picnic table- or on the truck itself was just fine. Rain meant we were in the truck, but a $7 a night who cares?

These are some of the finest memories I have of touring- climbing a mountain in New Mexico, watching dolphins swim in the surf off Virginia Beach, having a friend join us and play music around the campfire outside of Atlanta. We took a gas cooker and a small kitchen kit with us and so could save money and have dinner and breakfast anywhere.

Eventually, we did graduate to getting one motel room for the 4, 5, or 6 of us. One would sleep in the truck to guard the gear.

Were there any van rules you had? Or band rules in general?

Not really. We were okay with having guests in the truck.

The only time we had much trouble was if someone decided to drive somewhere with someone else. Then there could be difficulty getting the show back on the road.

Maybe just the Ken Kesey inspired rule “Don’t get off the bus”.

Do you have any classic nightmare van/police/mechanical/crash/fire stories from tour or any other shows?

We never had any real police trouble. We got pulled over a few times, but then were always allowed to go on our way.

The only real crash was when we got rear ended while stopped for road work. Some over- tired GI towing an over- stuffed trailer with his under- powered Chevy didn’t see the parked traffic and smashed pretty hard into the car right behind us. That poor guy took it pretty hard and was taken away in an ambulance. Inside our truck (a 1970 bread truck by this time) one of the many flying Anvil briefcases cracked one of our guys in the skull pretty hard. Probably he had a concussion, but in the spirit of the times he mostly shook it off with a day’s long migraine and we continued on our way. Oh yeah that became a rule: Put every briefcase under the seat.

Or rather we tried to continue on our way. The shock of the crash damaged the engine and after a few hours of steadily decreasing power we limped into Baltimore for a show. The next day we found a place to put in a replacement motor, but it took the better part of a week and we went from having a good supply of money and a bunch of shows up the East Coast to spending most of that money, hanging around Baltimore at some awful semi- squat and missing what would have been some great shows.

We never went back to Baltimore.

As for regular breakdowns, I was reasonably handy and owned a decent set of Sears Craftsman tools (thanks mom!) so I did my best to fix things myself as they broke.

There is a long list of places where I replaced starter motors.

I dropped the transmission on the roadside in Detroit to replace the throwout bearing.

Several water pumps blew spectacularly, as they do (once a helpful member of the Cajun community pushed us off the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and only had to replace the gasket on the water pump. This was very helpful as a water pump on a V-8 is more of a chore to get at. Thanks Calvin!).

Brake master cylinders and brake drums and brake calipers and brake lines galore.

Various wiring gremlins. Once the magic smoke gets out it’s hard to get it back in.

I wasn’t often defeated by a repair. A frozen wheel bearing once just would not let go, no matter how much I swung on it with what I called my Ford Tool. We limped into a shop where they both rented us a truck, and also fixed our repair.

Second time I saw Die Kreuzen was at DC Space. Flyer courtesy of Dischord Records.

Where did the van end up? 

We had four trucks over the years. The first I was able to sell for $50 more than we paid for it, so that was a win.

The bread truck apparently went to a farm where it is probably still being used as a chicken coop to this day.

The other two gave good service, and were then resold to other unsuspecting civilians although not at a specific financial profit.

I will say to bands just starting out, go with a Ford Econoline. An E-350 will give you the best service, and the stretch version gives you lots of room. We loved the dual tanks, and if they still offer that Straight 6 300 cu inch engine grab it. They are bullet proof.

Sahan Jayasuriya is writing a book about Die Kreuzen called The Crossing: The Oral History of Die Kreuzen. Stay connected regarding its forthcoming release on Instagram and Facebook

Die Kreuzen Bandcamp

Die Kreuzen – Demo 1982
Die Kreuzen – Milwaukee Cable TV 1983
die kreuzen live 1991
Rock Doc: Die Kreuzen (Part One)
Rock Doc: Die Kreuzen (Part Two)

Interview with Benjamin Van Dyke

Benjamin Van Dyke: Teacher, music obsessive, drummer, composer, collaborator. 

“I have had one or multiple musical projects since age 14.  I grew up a fan, band member, occasional ‘zine contributor and show booker. 

I cut my teeth in the Long Island/New York DIY punk/hardcore scene.  Projects include: Silent Majority, SAVAK, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Papa M, Free Republic (of soul), Cicada Songs, and Heartstring Songs.  

I got in the van for the first time around age 15 and those experiences changed me forever and continue to inform my life today.  The greatest number and most extensive tours were with Silent Majority, so I’ll focus on those vans/tours mostly.”

What was the catalyst, motivation, or inspiration for getting a van in the first place, specifically? 

Silent Majority was playing locally for a couple of years before asking me to join.  By that time, we were picking up steam and it was apparent that we needed to build on the momentum and play places beyond the surrounding suburbs like “the city” (New York) and surrounding states.  Soon we were booking weekend tours and our vans would take us up and down the east coast, to the Midwest, Canada, and across the country and back.

I can at least speak for myself, as a devotee of Rollins’ “Get In The Van” and inspiration from heroes like Fugazi, “success” was achieved by writing compelling music, putting on captivating shows, and getting in the van in order to bring the music to as many people as possible.  If we played to 5 people 5 states away, that was okay.  We knew if we did it well and did it again, more people would come the next time, and the next time, and so on.  There was no concept of commercial or financial success. Success was measured by being appreciated and respected in our little, self-selected community, locally and wherever we traveled. 

Silent Majority and friends outside of CBGBs. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Where/from whom did you get it? Did you know the background of this van when you purchased it?

Most of our vans were bought via “for sale” signs in van windows on the side of the road or the local penny saver/newspaper.  They were pretty much all purchased using a combination of band fund and some personal cash and became our singer’s daily driver when not used by the band.

Tell us about the van, year, make, model, color – did it need work, and did you do any DIY, build a loft, etc.? Did you give it a name?

We had many.  There may have been more, but these are what I can recall:

  • Yellow, mini school-bus
  • White, Late 80’s Ford Econoline? (no rear windows)
  • Black, Late 80/Early 90’s Chevrolet G30 Conversion Van
  • White, Late 90’s Ford Econoline (multiple, rented)

We rented Ford Econolines in Delaware for our last few tours.  There was a HC/Punk, van-renting connection there that made it worth the drive from NY before and after each tour.  Seems a little nuts.  

Indecision/Silent Majority Summer tour 1997 T-shirt. Courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

On our Summer tour with Indecision and Milhouse, we rented an Econoline and cleared out all of the bench seats up to the very last bench.  We laid the drums, amps, merch, etc in one flat level from front to back.  We “procured” a mattress the first night of the tour and used it to fill the space from the front seats to the back, on top of the equipment and merch.  With the driver and navigator up front, the remaining 5-6 tourmates laid across the mattress like hotdogs for about 5 weeks from coast to coast (see attached Summer ‘98 tour dates) .

Silent Majority’s summer tour 1998 with Indecision and Milhouse. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Silent Majority in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Any funny or unique features?

One unique feature was the dash mounted boombox in our rented Mercedes van on European tour with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.  This “upgrade” made on day 1 was a testament to our dedication to quality music on all those long drives. 

The boombox became the centerpiece for our daily drives.  The albums played gave me powerful insight into the music that was inspiring the individuals I was playing with and whom I respected so much.  I took serious notes. 

Boombox mounted on dashboard on the Bonnie “Prince” Billy van. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy tour in Europe. Photos courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

What’s the longest drive you ever did between shows? What was the first trip you took with it?

There were many, but the longest, most inhumane drive was on our ‘98 Summer tour.  With one day off, we drove from Omaha, Nebraska to Fall City, Washington.  It was definitely in the range of 30 hours of straight driving; 3 bands crammed into 2 Ford Econolines (lying on mattresses).  I recall physical pain, extreme unhealthiness, and a tremendous amount of delirium by the time we arrived in Fall City. 

Silent Majority’s Ford Econoline. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

One of our first trips was intended to be about a week in a mini school-bus we bought just before the tour.  We had no time for customizations so we each claimed our very own green, vinyl bus seat and scattered the equipment and merch throughout the remaining space.  That bus died somewhere in North Carolina.  I believe we played about 3 shows on the trip, rented a van to get home, and never saw the bus again.

Silent Majority school bus broken down. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Did you sleep in the van, people’s houses, or hotels?

We mostly slept at peoples’ houses.  We would turn up at the show and try to grow or re-establish our network from prior visits as fast as we could.  This usually led to an offer from someone to stay over.  If not, the old, “anyone got a place we can crash,” during the set was employed, which were always the most interesting accommodations/experiences.  

As a vegan at the time, I made a point to pack a large plastic bin full of soy milk and other non-perishables that I stocked up on at the health food store I worked at.  That food helped get through the day and we would finish our nights at a Piggly Wiggly or Kroger to purchase pasta, sauce and cannellini beans bought on band fund to cook up at the host’s place while likely watching old punk videos, skate videos, or other creepy selections. 

Silent Majority asleep in the Ford Econoline. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

1-2 people would always sleep in the van, mostly for security purposes.  The venues we played and people we stayed with were generally in areas that demanded some extra precaution.  Additionally, fleas, animal feces, and other undesirable conditions were common motivation to sleep in the van.  I remember sleeping one night in the van in Texas with the AC running the entire night for the reasons above.

On the rare occasion that we needed a motel, we would pay cash, use the name of our favorite skater or punk when asked, and load like 8 people into one room while obscuring the motel door with the van.  

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Were there any van rules you had? Or band rules in general?

One rule that evolved out of necessity was no bathroom stops unless 3 or more people had to go.  Stops were generally at a minimum because of tight timetables.  Not many rules to speak of.

Chevy loaded up. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

What did you listen to in the van?

The van was always an incredible place for learning about new music.  The members of Silent Majority had super diverse musical tastes, so it was always a great opportunity to learn about new bands.  

Do you have any classic nightmare van/police/mechanical/crash/fire stories from tour or any other shows?

There is the story of just about every Long Island scene/band member almost getting killed in our van when it got hit by a bus.  That was the black Chevrolet conversion van.  Luckily, we were not on tour.  Fugazi was scheduled to play the PWAC (the venue many of the van occupants ran) and they needed barricades for crowd control.  So, they went hunting the streets for construction barricades and, boom… a bus T-boned them.  Many were injured, but everyone lived to tell the tale… the van did not.

Silent Majority with their black Chevrolet conversion van. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.
Chevy conversion van. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Or the “oil in the wrong hole” story, in which motor oil was being added to the power steering hole for a day or so when the engine desperately needed oil.  The engine ceased.  We junked it.  Rented a U-haul box truck to get to the next show.  Two members rode in the box in back until realizing it was filling with carbon monoxide, so all 6 people rode in the 2 person cab in the front, with the diesel engine threatening to run out of gas on rural roads with no diesel.  We arrived to play in a storage space.  

Silent Majority on the National Mall in DC. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Or the night we played with Rye Coalition somewhere in Virginia (I believe) and the Chinese restaurant attached to the club caught fire.  My cymbals were dropped mid-evacuation leading to a few cracks.

These were character building experiences. 

FIre at the Chinese restaurant attached to the club Silent Majority played with Rye Coalition. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

Where did the vans end up?

They all died/got junked!

Any other entertaining tour stories?

Our van got broken into in Vancouver.  The directions to the venue led us to a park on the border of nice, safe Vancouver and the not-so-nice/safe Vancouver.  This was not apparent to us at the time. 

After about an hour of roaming the city, we returned to 3 individuals climbing out of our broken van window. 

Luckily, not much was lost.  But our precious dialer, used to make free calls on pay phones across the country, was gone.  The built up frustration from the experience led to one of our most intense and cathartic shows of tour in a small church that night.  

Silent Majority Live on tour. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Van Dyke.

The next day, we returned to the scene of the crime and found an individual trying to sell our dialer.  We confronted him and he took out a needle to fend us off.  We retreated and gave up on our dialer.  We filed a police report and ended up receiving an apology letter from the Queen.  Go Canada! 

Silent Majority Last Show. Photo by Pam Piffard.

How can we help promote any releases?

I am currently writing and recording an album.  I have 10 songs of drums recorded and moving on to other instruments.  For now, you can find content from current and past musical projects at: 

Instagram: @bvd_drums 

Chris Enriquez Presents: Age of Quarantine #34 w/ Benjamin Van Dyke of Silent Majority (04/25/2020)
Silent Majority – Full Set – Last Show
Silent Majority (Live at Revolution 6/11/16)
SILENT MAJORITY live at Saint Vitus Bar, Jul. 3rd, 2016 (FULL SET)
Silent Majority Live @ Life Of A Spectator Record Release Show – Common Ground, 1997

Lenguas: 4 ep’s

Cicada Songs – Salt Institute Show – Brooklyn, NY (2009)

Cicada Songs – Galapagos: Brooklyn, NY (2003)

I am honored to answer your questions.  I have been thoroughly enjoying the stories and pics on PunkBandVans.  One of my favorite activities on tour was to record shop.  The best moments were when you found a new release by a band you love and threw it in your discman or the van cd player to enjoy, dissect, and sustain you to the next city/record store.  

I distinctly remember picking up the Hoover ep on slowdime and it being a super happy day of tour.  With headphones on, I immersed myself in that record, figuring out every beat and nuance. I was obsessed and greatly influenced by Hoover and The Crownhate Ruin.  Your bands changed me, musically, aesthetically, sonically, rhythmically forever.  Thank you!