Interview: Mike “Wid” Middleton from The Neptunes (TX/DC), and Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors

Joe McRedmond interviewed Mike “Wid” Middleton, drummer for The Neptunes (TX/DC), and Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors, about his hard travelin’ days in touring vehicles.

Tell us about yourself?

I am Mike “Wid” Middleton. My nickname “Wid” came from a band mate who noticed it was my conjunction for ‘we would’ (we’d), as in “Wid go downtown”. I was the drummer for a band from DC called The Neptunes. As a punk tie in, I graduated Wilson high school in DC in 1985 (where Ian Mckaye /Fugazi  went), and was a contemporary of the guys in Soulside/Girls against Boys , Citizen Cope, and a bunch of other punk/go-go/rockabilly musicians. We were primarily a roots rock band along the lines of NRBQ.

The Neptunes. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


In 1987, we decided to move to Austin, TX to immerse ourselves in the growing scene down in Central Texas. We were fans of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Joe Ely, as well as knowing other DC rockers who had moved down there, most notably Evan Johns from the H-Bombs.
The theory behind the move was that it was easier to tour both coasts, and our first house we rented was a 3/2 for $450.

What was your van situation?

I bought a 1985 B-350 15 passenger Dodge van from a church in Montgomery County, Md. I think it was $7500 with 50k miles on it. It had the Prospector package, and while I don’t know what that is, we always said we were digging for gold. 

We drove down in the fall of 1987, and immediately started touring. None of us wanted jobs, so a $200 gig was enough to keep us fed, with a roof over our heads, and enough to fill the thirsty Ram 360 cu. in. V8. The Neptunes toured constantly year round, logging 75k miles a year. We laughed at the time, that we would drive anywhere for $250, even if it was Austin-New Orleans- Houston- New Jersey- back to DC, etc. I think our booking agent (Davis McLarty, Joe Ely’s drummer) threw darts over his shoulder backwards, and blindfolded, at a US map.

“We were 20 years old. It was the time of Arena Rock. It made sense to us at the time.”

– Mike Middleton


The combination of the van being “mine”, and me not drinking much (at the time), meant that I drove 98% of the time. We had installed plywood over the windows in back, and taken all the seats out, except for the first row, leaving us enough room to carry all the gear, including a Yamaha CP-70, in ATA flight cases. Come to think of it, all of our gear was in flight cases. The San Diego rockabilly legends The Paladins once said they remembered us because of our “heavy blue cases”. We were 20 years old. It was the time of Arena Rock. It made sense to us at the time.

I hauled down my ’55 Buick from DC to Austin after Xmas one year  behind the van. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.


With all of the touring we did, we met musicians all over the country. Played bills with Guadalcanal Diary, Scruffy the Cat, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dash Rip Rock, and hundreds of other gigs. Our original Texas bass player was Sean Mencher, who went on to start High Noon. Second bass player was Miles Zuniga, who later formed Fastball. Our final bass player was Steve Watson, who was still in high school in Virginia when we moved to Austin. Fun side note: Steve’s dad is Bugsy Watson, who at the time was in the Guinness Book for most NHL penalty minutes in a career.

Steve Watson and I hanging at the back of the van. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.

Here we stopped for a requisite photo in Happy, Tx. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.

Did you give your van a name?

I don’t recall it having a name. It did have it’s own gang sign. It was a hand gesture that roughly translated into the crossed pick and shovel of the Ram Prospector.

More at the back of the van. You can see the plywood over the rear windows. Photo by Mike Middleton.

Can you describe any difficulties you had on the road?

We never missed a gig because of mechanical failures, BUT it did overheat in Waco (a hundred miles north of Austin), and we got towed to a gig riding in the van.

I won’t name any names, but on one member’s birthday, I couldn’t find a good place to stop, and that guy shat himself by the side of the road. Another incident was when we were driving across a bridge in Philadelphia. Steve started throwing gum balls, or jellybeans, or something in the back of my head. For some reason I got mad, and kicked the rear view mirror off, before pulling over and fighting by the side of I-95.

The pic below is of us after spending the night in Gunnison, Colorado, where it got down to something like negative 40. Some hillbilly lit a fire under the van to get the oil moving. The pic is actually of us chiseling the snow and ice out of the wheel wells that would build up, and every time we would hit a bump, it would physically hit the tire and “brake” for us.

I have no idea what somebody used silly string to write on the van, but clearly I was shocked. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.
Jake, Steve and Pete before a show. I was driving and somebody else took the shot from between the front seats.  You can see our hanging rod that we hung fancy gig shirts on behind those three. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.

Young me (artistic shot) Driving… again. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.
Outside the Coyote Club in Wichita Kansas (I think?). Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.

How did you end up playing with Mojo Nixon?

Ok, so The Neptunes traveled all over the US, playing 46 states with tons of different bands. After three years, Steve and our guitarist/singer Jake Flack decide they have had enough, so the band is breaking up (summer 1990).


Since Pete “Wet Dawg” Gordon (future co-owner/manager of the famous Continental Club in Houston) and I wanted nothing to do with real life or real jobs, we started putting gig feelers out. Coincidentally, at the same time Mojo Nixon was breaking up with Skid Roper and wanted a band. We had never met each other, but all of our band friends told Mojo that an insane piano player, and hard hitting drummer were available.

…We met in Austin on a Thursday, ran through a set of Mojo tunes, and played at the University of Arizona baseball stadium for 10,000 people on that Saturday…

In the Fall of 1990, Pete and I officially became the Toadliquors. The first tour we played was a triple bill of Enigma Records bands: Mojo, the Dead Milkmen, and the Cavedogs (Boston, Ma). In a very non-punk way, the tour was sponsored by Fuji Film. They were already famous for cassette tapes, but I guess they were expanding. Here’s the kicker. Fuji paid for two buses.

It started out as the “Smoking Bus” and the “Non-smoking Bus”. By the middle of the tour, the smoking bus turned into the nobody sleeps bus, and it turned into just the Mojo and the Toadliquors bus. Remember when I said I didn’t drink earlier? Well, with a bus driver I didn’t have to drive anymore, and I only had to be cognizant enough to beat the shit out of the drums for an hour a night.


With Mojo, we did similar long touring schedules, usually 6 weeks on, maybe a month off. We continued using the old Neptune van for merch during the Fuji tour, and local Texas shows. By this time, the van was at around 225k miles.

I sold it to Wet Dawg, who kept it for maybe a year, and then sold it to a local tile guy. Last I saw it, it was headed south on IH 35, still with the Redskins bumper sticker on the back.

The Fuji bus driver in a Neptunes helmet. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.
The crew loading the bus. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.

What is your favorite memory of playing with Mojo?

Playing in the Pleasure Barons. I got to play with Dave Alvin (from the Blasters), Country Dick Montana (Beat Farmers), Mojo, John Doe (X) along with a superstar cast of Americana musicians, playing Tom Jones and other Vegas hits.

On the Pleasure Barons’ bus, the “destination scroll“ on the front of the old tour bus had numerous names. One was “John Denver” and one was “Shousurtitz”. I didn’t know where that city was until the bus driver said to say it out loud.

I don’t have any pics of Jello Biafra, who we did a record with, near a van or bus.

The Pleasure Barons next to the bus. Photo courtesy of Mike Middleton.

Any funny tour stories?

Earl Freedom (Matt Eskey/Freedom Records/Mojo Manifesto) joined the Toadliquors as a bass player in around 1994. He may have stories about van stuff too. The one story about him is that we would stop for gas, and then take off down the road. Once we hit the highway, I would hear a plastic bottle filling with pee. He preferred peeing in water bottles to the Flying J bathrooms.

During “Don Henley must Die” (Mojo Song), Wet Dawg would beer fuck an inflatable “Luv Ewe” sheep. Somebody brought their own one night, and it got popped. I am sure we did it, but I don’t remember how.

The owner of the dead sheep carved “YOU KILLED OUR SHEEP” into the hood of the rental van. That is hard to explain.

We had to pay $500 for that one.

We were a party band. We didn’t rehearse. EVER.  The sex, drugs and rock and roll happened in the van. Except we didn’t play rock and roll in the van. We listened to Bill Hicks before anybody had heard of him. We listened to Richard Pryor, Rudy Ray Moore, Robin Harris, Chris Rock on tape and later CD. We had a portable TV/VCR combo between the front two seats. Since I was always driving, I never got to watch the movies, but I can quote line for line all of Trading Places, Animal House, Caddyshack, and the Blues Brothers.
 

Somewhere along the way, we stopped carrying around the anvil flight cases, but we still hauled around the two piece piano.

What ever happened to the original van?

After I sold the Neptune van, we rented vans from Capps Rentals in Austin. We always got the Ford Chateau factory conversion. Kept the four captain chairs, and pulled the bench so we could put gear back there. They complained about that, but never said anything about how much I smoked in them. Different times.

Very rare The Neptunes 12 inch record “Nocturnal Habit”.

Jello Biafra with Mojo Nixon & the Toadliquors – Prairie Home Invasion

Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon – Convoy In The Sky

Mojo Nixon & the Toadliquors – ¡Sock Ray Blue!

MOJO NIXON & THE TOADLIQUORS – Redneck Rampage

Listen to Mike’s current band, The Mooks from Austin, TX.

The Mooks – She Ain’t Got No Windows


Follow Mike “Wid” Middleton here:

Midtown Restorations

Midtown Drums

Stay up to date on the upcoming Mojo Nixon documentary at Mojo Manifesto

THE MOJO MANIFESTO: The Life & Times of Mojo Nixon – teaser #1
THE MOJO MANIFESTO: The Life & Times of Mojo Nixon – teaser #2

Interview with Ceci dit

Joe McRedmond interviewed Ceci dit, a punk rock band from Troyes, France, via email about their travels over the last two years.

Published on July 18, 2020

Thanks for agreeing to an interview with me!

Hello! We are Ceci dit (“That being said” in English). We are a three men punk rock band which has been formed in February 2018. In our songs we are dealing with our relation to other people, to ourselves, and to the world. At the moment we have released a demo and a EP, and played nearly 40 shows mainly in the east of  France. It is a pleasure to share our experience with other people. Thanks Joe for having us!

Tell us what the catalyst, motivation, or inspiration for traveling outside of your hometown in the first place, specifically?

We have begun to play in other cities because we wanted to share our music with new people in new places. It allows us to meet great people and to go to some places we’ve never been before. We are often playing in our hometown because we are organizing shows here, so it is always nice to get off the beaten track.

When you travel out of town, what is your main method of transportation? Did you know the background of this vehicle when you purchased it?

For our first summer of touring, 6 months after we created the band, we had the chance to pick the old van from Lucas’ cousin, but most of the time we are using Lucas’ car to travel.

Tell us about these vehicles; year, make, model, color – did it need work, and did you do any DIY, build a loft, etc.?

Our van was a Renault Trafic T1000 from 1989 used to carry tools and workers in vineyards, so we had a lot of space at the back, but only 3 seats. As we said before, at the moment our main tour vehicle was Lucas’ car, a tiny Peugeot 206, but we are always surprised by the amount of instruments and personal stuff this car can carry. 

Ceci dit’s 1989 Renault Trafic T1000. Photo courtesy of Ceci dit.

Any funny or unique features?

The back of our first van was modified so we could sleep in it with a mattress to make it even more comfortable. Lucas’ cousin also added extra storage, batteries to plug electrical stuff, and a ventilation system to improve the quality of the inside.

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

The longest drive we made in our van was between Dijon (well known for the mustard) and Romilly-sur-Seine (a tiny town near our hometown). Because of taking wrong directions, and the tiny motor for this big van, it took us 4 hours to go to the show instead of 2h30. The first trip we had with the van was less complicated. We didn’t take too much time to go to the venue in Reims (well known for its champagne), but we had some scare when we had to park the van in the big avenue where the venue was located. But finally, after a risky half turn realized by our trucker drummer Stann’, we made it.

Officially, the longest trip we have done was last year when we played in Belgium. It took us 4 hours to drive to the venue, and we had a big hangover. Not a great time, but a great memory. If we are right, the first time we have toured as a band with a car was when we went to Metz (another big city of Eastern France). As usual, when Lucas is driving, we made some detours, but we have played in the best place we’ve ever been. It was at an associative venue called ‘La chaouée’. We had the chance to sleep upstairs the venue. Good party and partial memories. 

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

Our van was modified to welcome some mattresses at the back, but we were not able to use this feature because the space was taken by the gears. So most of the time we sleep in people’s houses, often in the promoter’s house. We really like it because we can have some chill time with people and discuss more easily than in the crowded and noisy venue.

Are there any vehicle rules you have? Or band rules in general?

The only rule we have when we are traveling is “no smoking inside the vehicle”. Except that we didn’t have any explicit rules. By touring we have learned how to know each other, and now we know how to adapt our behavior in the tour life to avoid tensions, and keep a good vibe in the band.

Do you have a classic nightmare vehicle/police/mechanical/crash/fire story from tour or any other shows?

We are not touring all the time, so when we know we will have to travel more than usual, we take time to check all the parts of the vehicle to make sure we can go to the shows safely. By chance our families have mechanical skills, so we can fix issues really quickly when we have some troubles. 

Ceci Dit with Marée Basse (RIP)

Where did the Renault end up?

Unfortunately, the van we used during our first tour is not usable anymore, because it didn’t pass road worthiness testing. It is now used as a garden van to go through all the land owned by Lucas’ cousin.

Any other entertaining tour stories?

Yes for sure! During our first tour days we have forgotten to think about a place to sleep, so we have planned to sleep outside in our tent in an abandoned skate park. At the last moment we found someone in the audience who welcomed us in his apartment. Good after-party with weird songs. It depicts well our lack of experience at the time, and all the troubles a band can face in their tour life.

How can we help promote any releases?

The way you did by giving us some space on the internet to speak about our passion is a good way to help. We have a Facebook page we often used to update back in the time we were able to play shows. Our last record “Il s’agirait de grandir” which means “It would be about growing up” is available on every streaming platform, but we are suggesting to people to listen to our songs on bandcamp. As you will notice, we are singing in French, but don’t worry, you can find all the lyrics on the bandcamp site, and translate the song easily by copying and pasting texts on a translator. 

On our EP you can find two songs dealing with our tour life and the choice we have made to play punk rock. The first one is “1247”. This song is about the emptiness we feel every time we come back home after touring and how to use all those memories to fight the struggles of routine. The second one is called “Echec subjectif” which means “Subjective failure”. In that song , we are speaking of the fact that we sometimes have some troubles to explain our passion to other people, because they don’t understand how we can find pleasure in it, and also because they feel that it is not a rational choice to cross the country just to play in front of few people for little money. That one has a video clip that you can find on our YouTube channel and where you can spot our main tour car.

If you like it you can share it with your friends and spread our music on social networks by doing all the things we are not really at ease with.

Ceci dit – 1247
Ceci Dit – Echec Subjectif 

Interview with Kyle McKnight from Goddamnit

Joe McRedmond interviewed Kyle McKnight, bassist from Goddamnit from the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, via email about their faithful yellow monstrosity known as “Goddamn Van Damme”.

Published July 3, 2020


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What was the catalyst for getting a van, specifically? Was the yellow van the band’s first van?

Shows. Totally needed one for shows.  We played a lot of shows the first few years. For a few months we were just packing shit into our cars and taking 3-4 cars every time we played. It was a really pain in the ass way to go about it. And then all of sudden one day in November 2011, our guitarist (guy who started the whole band), Jeff Kelly, texted us and said he had just bought us a van from a local school for $300. We all kinda thought he was fucking with us until a few days later when we were all sitting around in it drinking beers. And yes to date he was our only van. As soon as shows are a thing again we’ll be seeking out his replacement. 


Day we got him

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

Jeff stumbled across it somehow at a school near his house and just went and got it. It was the van the maintenance department used. We never took the stickers off in hopes it made us less desirable to local law authorities on tour.  As far as we know it was just used for doing random stuff around the school and was constantly maintained so it was a great score. 

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Tell us about the van, year, make, model, color – did it need work, and did you do any DIY?

Don’t remember the exact year. Early 2000’s Chevrolet Express 3500. Mustard Yellow.  It was a pretty odd van. Drivers door only opened from the inside. The passenger side door didn’t open at all, nor did it have a seat on that side when we got it. We immediately got one at a junkyard and installed it very poorly. It moved all over the place and didn’t have a seat belt.  Aside from that, I put some shitty curtains in and built a wall in place of the last bench seat to keep our gear safe. It worked great unless a certain drummer (Arik) was driving and then all bets were off and guitar heads were flying through windows!

undefinedPost-guitar head flying through the window 

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

Austin I’d imagine was the longest. 1700 miles. We drove straight there from Philadelphia for SXSW one year and then maybe played a few shows on the way back. Outside of that probably hauling ass to Gainesville to get to Fest on time. I’m not sure what the first trip was though. Probably New York. 

undefinedParking garage in Austin during SXSW

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

First time going to Fest. 2013 I think.  The plan was to drive straight down and then play shows on the way home. Left ourselves 2 full days to get there. Our van started acting weird in Virginia, and ultimately broke down in the hell on earth known as Santee, South Carolina. It was fairly early in the morning, and luckily we had AAA, so a nice gentleman who looked just like Busta Rhymes towed us to what looked like the gas station from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Jamison Auto Repair. Half burnt down from an arson attempt weeks before, and being powered off of generators. Waited hours for someone to show up. Finally the owner showed up and the rest is kind of a blur. All I know is he took all our money and sent us on our way only to break down miles down the road, and then have his driver threaten us. Old guitarist chased him around with a hammer for a second. A new tow truck, new mechanic, and a $35 part later, we were on our way just in time to miss our set at Fest. Saw some great bands though, and played some good shows on the way home. But seriously fuck you Jamison if you’re out there. 

undefinedThe second and much more honest mechanic we encountered in South Carolina

Where did the van end up? 

I think the Philadelphia Parking Authority impound lot? Sometime in 2019 it began breaking down and running pretty crappy. It was parked near our studio in North Philly, and at some point while we were in Europe for 3 weeks, the neighbor who got stuck looking at it took matters into his own hands. He took the tag off, and then reported it to have it towed. We didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye. 

Any funny or unique features with this van?

No not really, aside from the almost ejector passenger seat, we always had these really obnoxious drum machine toys that we bought at some random store. People were constantly fucking with them or accidentally setting them off. And every once in a while you’d hear a synth beat or “yeah boi” come from the glove compartment.

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Much annoying

Any other entertaining tour stories?

Oh man. So many. We loved fucking around in the van. We actively and successfully trolled David Drayman from Disturbed. Joke was on us though, cause he turned out to be a really nice guy. Unsuccessfully trolled the Steve Harvey Show for a whole mid-western tour once to try and get on as a musical guest.  And we used to film all these ridiculous internet shows including our own YouTube show called “Snacks With Arik”.
 
Snacks with Arik episode
Goddamnit-No Sleep Til Fishtown- Static Sessions
Photos courtesy of Kyle McKnight

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