Interview with Brandon Butler from Boys Life

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.

Boys Life:

Brandon Butler – Guitar/Vocals

Joe Winkle – Guitar

John Rejba – Bass

John Anderson – Drums

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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.

Photo by John Rejba.

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.

Joe Winkle. Photo by Paul Drake.

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.

Brandon working on the Canyon van. Photos by Evan Berodt.

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.

John and John. Photo by Paul Drake.

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.

Dirty deeds done by Brandon to the Giants Chair van. Photo courtesy of Brandon Butler.

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… 

The Farewell Bend – Service Engine Soon

The Farewell Bend – Live at The Granada, Lawrence, KS 05.31.97

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. 

Photo by Paul Drake.

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.

Boys Life. Photo by Paul Drake.

Photo by Paul Drake.

Photo by Paul Drake.

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.”

Photo by Paul Drake.
Photo by Paul Drake.

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. 

Boys Life and The Crownhate Ruin in front of Camelot in Higginsville, Missouri. Photo courtesy of Boys Life.
The Farewell Bend with Kerosene 454 at the Amish Cheese House in Chouteau, OK. Photo by Paul Drake.
Brandon sitting in with The Boom. Photo courtesy of Brandon Butler.

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.

Boys Life Instagram

Boys Life Facebook

The Farewell Bend Facebook

Wet Tropics Instagram

Wet Tropics Facebook

Boys Life – “Fire Engine Red”

Canyon – Drive All Night

Brandon Butler performs Dear Assassin. Red Palace, DC. 7/24/11

The Vicars of Dickroy – Iota, Arlington 1.24.13

Six Bells perform “Silver Seed”

Tragic Accidents by Wet Tropics (Live at DZ Records)

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 with Adam McGrath from Cave In

Joe McRedmond interviewed Adam McGrath, guitarist from Cave In from Methuen, MA, via email about two of the vans they have used over the years.

Published July 13, 2020

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

Specifically, the band Piebald from Andover, MA was the catalyst for Cave In to take our band to a more serious level. They were close to our age and were already playing shows around and outside New England before Cave In got it together to do the same. They had purchased an old small school bus (named Melvin) and “successfully” toured down to Florida and back which was a mind blowing achievement to us back then. They literally and figuratively gave us the road map on how to take our band out of Methuen and into basements, living rooms and small DIY clubs down the east coast and eventually around America.

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

Our first van was purchased from Harpoon Brewery Boston for $1200 via the old analog want ads. It had been previously used by Harpoon for promotional purposes at early nineties beer festivals. The brewery wanted the RV off their property day of sale, so I remember we stupidly drove the unregistered and unplated RV through downtown Boston and back to Allston (Where we had lived at the time) via Sorrow Drive, barely clearing the low hanging bridges. We almost tore the roof off within minutes of owning it.

First Cave In van/RV purchased from Harpoon Brewery. Photo courtesy of Adam McGrath.

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

1978 Ford V8 RV black with red trim. The RV interior had been gutted and left with only a captain’s chair and van bench seat that could fold out into a bed. Large windows had been added along the exterior of the RV box, making it almost like a hot greenhouse on wheels. None of these giant windows opened, and the only air flow came from the driver and passenger windows. My uncle had to fix the drive shaft, and three of the eight cylinders immediately, before we could actually travel with it. My uncle also thought I was insane to have purchased the monstrosity I had brought before him to fix. We made some DIY wooden gear storage lockers inside that also had a loft bed at the top.

Any funny or unique features?

The 1978 RV camper had a CB/intercom system that was very entertaining while it worked. We would dramatically announce our entrance or departure at the venues. Or sometimes just yell or say random shit on the intercom and watch people look around wondering where the voice of god came from.

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

Berkeley, CA to Syracuse, NY was the longest drive we ever did. I can’t remember the actual first trip, but the 1978 Ford RV only lasted one complete summer US tour (which was Cave In’s first full US tour with the Canadian band IRE).

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

We always insisted drivers had a co-pilot to keep them company and awake especially on night drives.

It was your responsibility to throw away your own bottle of urine. We learned the hard way it’s a terrible idea to toss an open container of liquid out of a moving vehicle, because it will just blow back in. So don’t do it.

In the early days our drummer JR would only drive if he could listen to Motley Crue the entire time. 

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

We had a van fire with a ’91 Ford Econoline baby blue van at a rest area fifty miles west of Philadelphia which ended our 1999 US tour with ISIS (the band). We pretty much lost everything except some luggage and a few guitars. $6000 in cash burned under the driver seat. We had been plagued with overheating problems with that particular van the entire time of owning it. We also concluded later that there must have been some sort of gas or oil leak. We pulled over to the rest area and all went inside to use the restroom and grab snacks. It was supposed to be a quick stop as we were supposed to play Philadelphia that evening. People started stirring around the rest area food court saying there was a van smoking outside and right away we knew it was us. Some of our crew ran outside, and tried to pop the hood and get access to the smoking engine, but they were unable as the hood was already dangerously hot. The rest of us ran around the food court pleading for someone to call the fire department, or tried to find a fire extinguisher to put the fire out ourselves. The fire engulfed the entire front of the van very fast, and soon we realized there was nothing we could do to stop it. Our stash of fireworks blasted out the exploding windows. Tires popping like gunshots one by one from the extreme heat. We got home by renting a U-haul box truck with whatever we salvaged from the burnt gear. To this day I still have the Gibson SG that was pulled out of the van still on fire and put out with the fire hose.

Aftermath of the van fire at a PA rest stop. Photos by Jason Hellmann courtesy of Adam McGrath.
Charred remains of Adam’s Gibson SG saved from the van fire. Photo courtesy of Adam McGrath.

Where did the vans end up? 

The 1978 RV was never the same once we came home from the first US tour with it. We attempted one last trip to Canada but the RV died on the side of 93-N in New Hampshire to the sound of loud backfiring. It was then towed to our drummer’s then girlfriend’s back yard lot where it would then rot for the next couple of years. It was then junked with a dead engine and RV’s roof had eventually caved in. The ’91 Econoline that burned was abandoned in the rest area.

Any other entertaining tour stories?

IRE stuck a bag of feces in the RV air conditioner, which led to days of everyone wondering what smelled so rank and foul. The smell made our eyes water. We all searched corner to corner of the RV, trying to figure out what and where the smell was coming from, to later find a plastic bag of shit jammed in the air conditioner. To be young and derelict!

How can we help promote any releases?

Cave In is currently wood shedding riffs, ideas, and songs to remotely try and piece together a new record. In the uncertainty of current times, there is no definitive timeline for completion, but it feels good to still be moving forward with the band after so many years together. 

Thanks Adam for doing this interview!

Thanks for the interview. Full disclosure: HOOVER was and still is one of my favorite Dischord bands. Hoover/Lincoln split is legendary in my circle of friends. Every time I pick up a bass I play Electrolux! THANK YOU!

Cave In -Juggernaut

Cave In – On the Prowl

Cave In – Night Crawler

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