Interview with Charlie DeBolt from Upsetting

I interviewed Charlie DeBolt, the drummer/vocalist of Upsetting from Denton, Texas, after learning of their tragic van fire that occurred a couple of weeks ago.

Upsetting is a 4-piece sub-pop/sad rock band from Denton, Texas, made up of Caleb Lewis (Guitar/Vocals), Charlie DeBolt (Drums/Vocals), Drew Kee (Lead Guitar), and Kevin Adkins (Bass/Vocals). 

What was the catalyst, motivation, or inspiration for getting a van in the first place, specifically? How long were you a band before you got one?

Actually, we were pretty fortunate to land our first van thanks to our first record deal. Our debut album, “Everything I’ve Done So Far” was released through local record label State Fair Records (Dallas, TX) in 2018, and shortly after its release they signed the title for an old 1998 church van they had through the years for other bands to tour in over to Kevin.

Before that, we had gone on a couple tours in a van a friend rented to me. But renting vans can be stupid expensive, so we probably would have looked at buying a van sooner or later either way. So as old and used as it was, getting that first van was a huge step for us and I’m pretty sure we had our next tour booked 2-3 weeks after receiving the new wheels. 

Did you know the background of this van when you purchased it? Were you looking for a specific make and model?

We’re not exactly sure how many bands had used it before us… the label never mentioned exactly how long ago they purchased it (from the First Baptist Church of Azle, TX), but we know that The Vandoliers, a pretty popular “cow-punk” band from Dallas, were the last to use it before us. It’s also very possible that The Old 97’s had it at one point (State Fair worked with them in their earlier years).

We just needed something that could get us around comfortably, honestly we never had more than 4-5 people ever ride in it at a time on tour so a 15 passenger van was a little excessive, but the extra elbow room was nice.

What was the year, make, model, color? Did it need work, and did you do any DIY? Did you give it a name? Who maintained it?

The van was a maroon red 1998 Dodge 3500. Shortly after the first tour, we ran with it, the computer started gradually failing, which meant that some of our gauges wouldn’t read correctly… then the windows stopped rolling up… at it’s worst state we lost the speedometer (which is scary) and the AC (which in Texas is pretty rough).

We got pretty crafty with swapping out fuses and at one point Kevin did this crazy shit where he tied a wire from one fuse to the AC fuse to help give that extra power. When we were still with State Fair Records, they helped us with a lot of repairs when we needed it, but the past year or so Kevin was taking care of the maintenance.

We named the van Ruby “Van” Akroyd… I think Caleb and I had watched Blues Brothers some time around when we got it, so Dan was just on our mind, lol.

Photo by Erin Devany, All Hallows Productions.

What’s the longest drive you ever did between shows?

Our longest drive between shows was easily a short West Coast run where we decided to just start out at the farthest point. We played a show in Dallas, then the next morning at like 5 am drove 23 hours straight to Bakersfield, CA. The next day we had a show in Pacifica, CA.

It was honestly really nice getting the big drive out of the way the day before, because we were able to spend the whole next day enjoying the coast around the Bay Area. That whole part of California is beautiful, and Pacifica is a chill smaller town that we took a lot of fun band photos around.

Photo by Garrett Smith

What do you listen to in the van?

I’m very glad that our group has a pretty wide range of music tastes with the occasional podcast listen to mix things up. Musically, I’d say our top 5 played artists would be Modern Baseball, Modest Mouse, Mark Morrison (but really just “Return of the Mack” over and over), Mimisiku, and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.

We also listen to the podcast “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” as much as any of those artists. The whole band is big on the McElroy brothers.

When my partner, Erin Devany (All Hallows Productions), comes with us on the road (she handles almost all of our photography/music videos), we also get to listen to some fun spooky podcasts like “My Favorite Murder” and “Last Podcast on the Left”.

Photo by Erin Devany, All Hallows Productions.

What else do you do for entertainment on drives between shows?

When we’re not just vibing out on music, we each have our other forms of entertainment. I bought these fun little silicone hand puppets that looked like Labrador Retriever heads… they got real silly real quick.

I normally bring an acoustic guitar for anyone to fiddle around with, and I’ve actually written a song or two for my side project (Springtime and the Changes) while on the road with Upsetting.

Normally, if we have a photographer with us, the road is their main opportunity to edit photos so we can post them during our travels. And we’ve gotten better over the last year or so about keeping an eye out for any fun regional sights we can take time to check out in between stops.

One of my favorite places we’ve checked out is Bishop Castle out near Rye, CO. Its this crazy castle this dude named Jim Bishop hand built, and its sturdy enough to walk around inside of. If you ever get the chance I highly recommend it.

Photo by Garrett Smith

Do you have any songs that reference touring or about the van?

Our song “Donnie” actually references the van quite a bit. That song is about a cat of mine that got hit by a car during Thanksgiving of 2018. I didn’t have a car at the time, so Kevin let me use the van to visit my family on Thanksgiving, I got home pretty late and the next morning found out about my cat, Donnie. I’m pretty sure the van makes a brief appearance off in the background about 40 seconds into the music video.

Upsetting – “DONNIE” Official Music Video

There’s also a brief moment about a minute into the “Family Tradition Plays Quietly in the Background” music video where we include a little footage of us having fun inside the van on a tour we went on with our local goth-rock homies, Rosegarden Funeral Party.

Upsetting – “Family Tradition Plays Quietly in the Backgroud” OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO
Upsetting / Rosegarden Funeral Party Tour 2019

And the recent music video we put out for “Eye of a Needle” turned into a bit of a tribute to Ruby since our recent van fire happened on our way back from filming the video.

Upsetting – Eye of a Needle (Official Video)

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

I’d say our sleeping arrangements on tour were roughly 60% friend’s/people’s houses, 20% Air B’n’Bs, 10% motels/hotels, and 10% sleeping in the van. Everyone in the band is kinda big, so those van benches don’t quite fit the same, but we’ve made it work when we need to.

My favorite place we’ve ever crashed though, was this tiny little cabin out in Zanesville, Ohio. It rented for $36, and had 4 comfy places to sleep, a fire pit, and little solar powered appliances inside. It was incredibly cozy for how cheap it was, for anyone looking for a good option to crash in between Pittsburgh & Columbus.

Do you have any van rules? Or band rules in general? For example the last band I was in had the following rule “don’t freak out, and don’t fuck up”. You?

Haha, I think one of the only van rules we had to implement after our first few runs was no smoking weed in the van while its moving. We’ve never had a real encounter with the cops aside from the occasional speeding warning, but on some of our routes near the border we’ve come across a checkpoint a little too soon after boofing a joint.

Other than that, we try to keep the band rules reasonable. A couple of us have had bad experiences with hard drugs in the past so we avoid those altogether as a band, and we’ve learned our limits as far as drinking before a set. And, you know, don’t be a creep. There’s too many of those already.

What’s your craziest van story?

Our crazy van story was actually very recent and still something I think about daily. On September 6th, we were heading home from Kirvin, TX (kind of near Waco) after shooting the music video for “Eye of a Needle” out on Caleb’s mom’s property. Kevin was driving with Caleb riding shotgun, my partner Erin (who was filming for us) and I were in the first bench, and Drew was in the second row. This was actually Drew’s first real outing with us as a band, since he joined as the lead guitar player for our band after the pandemic hit.

30 miles into our trip, right outside of Corsicana, TX, I felt something bottom out from right underneath where I was sitting, and we all heard/felt it drag while we were going 60mph on the highway. Fortunately, there was an exit ramp near us, so Kevin got off the main road and pulled over.

Before he even fully came to a stop, flames came up the side of the van in front of the passenger doors. We immediately hopped out of the driver side door, and I’ll never forget the panic everyone felt as we were screaming to get out.

Video courtesy of Charlie DeBolt

After we all made it out okay, there had to be 2 solid minutes where we all just stood there frozen, not sure how to process seeing the van we were just occupying quickly being consumed by flames.

Before it was completely engulfed, Kevin and I acted quick and threw the back door open to salvage what we could, including mine and Erin’s phones which were the last things he grabbed before the flames got too bad.

Video courtesy of Charlie DeBolt
Photo Courtesy of Charlie DeBolt

It couldn’t have been more than 15-20 minutes after we pulled over that the van was completely torched.

I don’t ever want to experience some of the sights and sounds I witnessed that day… windows getting so hot they pop and shatter… the tires expanding until the air inside starts squealing as it tears the rubber apart to escape… that will hopefully remain the scariest day of my life.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Debolt
Video Courtesy of Charlie DeBolt

We’re glad everyone is okay. Where is the van now? 

There was nothing to salvage of the van, so a tow truck in Corsicana picked it up and took it away. I made sure there was nothing we needed to sign or anything like that, but I think we knew seconds after getting out of the van that we weren’t going to be riding in it ever again.

Any other entertaining tour stories?

Man… a lot of tour stories to pick from. I guess I’ll use this opportunity to thank Ceremony for that one time they guest-listed 9 of us for their sold out show at The Crocodile in Seattle. We had a day off and saw they were playing, so I messaged them on Facebook saying we were too broke but wanted to see them… I did not expect them to even reply, let alone get us into the show. But they did, and that was one CRAZY day off.

We also had the good fortune of making friends with a band from Monterrey named Local Champion, and had a fun little mini-tour in Mexico last October thanks to them.

We played one night in Torreon, at a new bar called Ojo De Tigre. The owner is incredibly passionate about music, and to celebrate her first year of operation, she had a mural artist paint the names of every band that played there in the first year, so our name’s up on a bar wall in Torreon… which sounds pretty epic. 

“Eye of a Needle”
out 9/27/2020
artwork by Alz Garcia

How can we help promote any releases? 

Our music is up on most major streaming platforms, you can check out our latest single, “Eye of a Needle”, anywhere you usually listen to music. And we’ve got our last single, “In November on Normal St.”, coming out in November, so keep your eyes peeled for that one! Social media & additional links below:

Bandcamp

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

GoFundMe for New Van Fund

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