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!