Joe McRedmond interviewed Doug Carrion, bass guitarist with Field Day, Humble Gods, Descendents, and Dag Nasty, about a few of the vans he’s used to travel with bands over the last 35 years.
What was the catalyst, motivation, or inspiration for getting a van in the first place, specifically?
I’ve had several vans over the years. Generally speaking, there’s one specific theme they all have in common: how to get the band and crew from point A to point B with all the gear safely, and within a certain time frame. On the surface that sounds easy, but it can be tricky, and there are a few things I learned along the way that might be helpful to someone starting out, or considering getting a van. These are not hard fast rules, but valid information I’ve stumbled upon after spending decades bouncing around from town to town, city to city, doing punk shows.
What is your budget?
How many people are traveling?
How much gear do we have?
To trailer or not to trailer, that is the question.
Here is the philosophy I adopted after a conversation with Keith from Circle Jerks. Get a van that costs $3,000, and drive it until it dies. Take the plates off, rinse and repeat.
The idea is getting a mid-priced van. If you get a beater van, you’re likely to miss shows, and/or be dealing with breakdowns in the middle of nowhere. Which sucks (believe me, I know). Or if you get a van that’s too new, you’ll get killed on payments when you’re not touring. Basically, get one right in the middle, price range wise.
“My idea is to be as stealth as humanly possible at ALL times. It should look like a family van going to church.”– Doug Carrion
It’s a work vehicle, so keep that in mind. I’m adding a wrinkle to this. If you get a van that looks like a beater, you’re gonna get hassled by the cops when you travel into small towns. I was always amazed that COC (Corrosion of Conformity), in the early days, traveled in a van with graffiti. I’d never do that. I never want to draw ANY attention to the band. On the other side, getting a van that is new, will get broken into when you travel to big cities. We all know crackheads love to rip off vans. My idea is to be as stealth as humanly possible at ALL times. It should look like a family van going to church. Very, very low key. In fact, I only wash the van once a week while on tour. I want it to look clean, but not too clean, and not so dirty that people think you’re the Manson family traveling around in a creeper van. Ultimately, what you want is a van that looks very average, but can drive from California to New York tonight, without any worry of breaking down.
How many people are traveling:
I like as much space as possible. I always aim for enough room where everyone can have a seat, and you have enough room for 2 people to sleep at the same time. Example: driver and co-pilot up front (2), one bench seat will fit another 2 people comfortably. A second bench seat will fit another 2 people comfortably. If 2 are in the loft sleeping, that’s 8 people in a traditional 15 passenger van. Why? On some days, you might spend more time in the van than actually out of the van. So make sure it’s set up the right way for comfort, or reduce your crew. On average, you’re gonna spend 6 hours or more in the van everyday. As of late, I’ve been wanting ALL the gear in the van, and try not to use a trailer. This brings up the question of how are you gonna build out the van?
There are a few ways to do this, you can research this on the net, but overall these are the go to designs:
- The Firewall – Some way all the gear is behind a wall of some kind, built within the van.
- The Loft – Also known as “the scratch stack.” All the gear goes underneath, and people sleep on top.
- Using a Trailer – (more on that later).
I’ve used all these designs several times, and this changes depending on how much gear, and how many people are traveling.
The Dag Nasty bus was a loft at first, then became a firewall setup.
Dag Nasty Bonneville van – We used a trailer.
Descendents Econoline van – Scratch stack, gear underneath.
Descendents Dodge Ram van – Firewall with a mid-level loft in the back.
The last van I built out was 2 front seats, 1 bench seat, and a loft, with all the gear hidden underneath. I went as far as painting the windows in the back, and the last 2 side windows flat black. This van traveled 4 people comfortably, with zero way of seeing any gear at all times. Everything was hidden, and the dark windows made it easy to sleep during the day, because it blocked out a reasonable amount of light.
The van life…
If you’re a mid-range band playing 400 cap rooms, you can get away with a 15 passenger van for a while. If you all of a sudden start opening for a bigger band playing 1500 cap rooms, and that band is in a bus, you’ll be doing lots and lots of all night drives. Remember before, when I was talking about space to sleep and sit up? Here comes some advice from Eric of Die Kreuzen, “When we do overnight drives, everyone drives 100 miles and we rotate.” Why? There is always some lazy bastard in the band that will pretend they can’t drive at night, forget their license, or whatever bullshit excuse to not be a team player, or wanna help out. So you gotta squash that shit right out of the gate. Everyone drives 100 miles on all-nighters. This way nobody is exhausted the next day. Even if you bring along someone to help drive/crew, you should rotate drivers for your own safety. Field Day rarely do overnight drives; we avoid them if possible.
A quick note on trailers. Don’t do it! I’ve come full circle on this a few times over the years, but in 2020, I’m firmly against them. Why? Trailers get stolen, are a bitch to park in a big city, suck in the snow, have speed limit requirements, and draw too much attention to you as a band.
Believe it or not, you might be better off with 2 vans. One for gear and merchandise, and the other one for people. To get more detailed, most insurance only covers the vehicle, not the trailer. So if it gets broken into, you’re out several thousand dollars, and stuck with no way to perform. I’ve noticed that places in the South with a border close to Mexico, like California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico, have a higher rate of trailers being snatched. I’ve heard the gear ends up going to Mexico, to be sold on the black market.
What vans did you use, and where did you get them? Did you know the background of the vans at the time of purchase?
Descendents – 1971 Ford Econoline.
Bill got this from the Recycler. He and Chuck from Black Flag did the original inspection to check the engine. The van was a beater, but all we could afford at the time. No AC, no frills, with a wooden loft – scratch stack, no padding or mattress, just plywood. A cargo van with added skylight, and side windows that leaked 🙂 The van was so overloaded with gear, there was something like 15 inches between the loft and the hot ceiling. I was small enough to be able to flip over while sleeping, but Bill and Milo had to decide if they wanted to sleep on their stomachs or backs for the next 8 hours. With all that extra weight, the van went through 3 or 4 transmissions on the first tour. At one point the van died, and was towed to Lomita, where we rehearsed and lived, and was parked in the back of our small parking lot. While we were on tour with our second van, a Dodge Ram, the cops towed the Econoline away, and we got charged an arm and a leg to get it out of impound. Not cool. I have no idea what happened to it.
Descendents Second Van – 1985 Dodge Ram Van Extended.
Worked well, had the “firewall wall/low loft” set up. After I left the group, they continued using it. I think it ended with 300,000 miles on it. RAD 🙂
You’d have to ask Bill what happened to it.
Dag Nasty – School Bus (short version) wanna say it was a GMC.
I have no clue where Brian got it. I remember it was “3-on-the-tree.”
We had a few versions of the build, firewall and scratch stack.
At one point there was a mattress in the back, and Peter slept and read most of the time.
The second Dag van was a late 70’s used Chevy Bonneville.
This one had windows, and we opted to travel with a trailer.
We did a bunch of tours with this one. It ended up back in
Los Angeles, and Brian used it as his main ride after Dag broke up.
I’d imagine he sold it here in LA, best guess 1989.
Humble Gods – 1995 new Chevy Starcraft conversion van with a trailer.
Field Day – We do mostly fly dates, so we rent 15 passenger studio vans.
Did the vans have any funny or unique features?
Descendents Van 1 – Radio with a cassette player, usually shorted out, and caught fire once. There was a small wooden bench seat that had a trapdoor. I used to put my hair products there 🙂
Dag Bus – No radio, no features. The school bus door was cool. Grab a lever and open the door.
Dag Bonneville – Very stock.
Humble Gods – Starcraft – That had a DVD/TV set up. Electric folding bed. Kinda cool for a conversion van.
What’s the longest drive you ever did between shows?
I wanna say an overnight drive from El Paso to Dallas, which is only about 9 hours, but in the older Descendents van it took almost 12 hours.
The other one was in the Descendents Dodge Ram, going from Toronto to Chicago in the snow, which ended up being about 15 hours.
Noteworthy: When we can, we route shows around the weather.
Example: in the winter we try to stay below Interstate 40.
You’d think that was something we would have learned sooner. Nope. Only in the last few years, especially with Field Day, do we route around the weather, trying to avoid missing shows because of snow.
Did you sleep in the van, people’s houses, or hotels?
Descendents – Mostly overnight drives, and at people’s houses. I slept in the van a zillion times.
Dag Nasty – Mostly people’s houses, and an occasional 5 guys to a room at a Motel 6.
Humble Gods – Hotels, 2 people per room.
Field Day – Hotels, 2 people per room.
Were there any van rules you had? 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?
Punkers don’t follow rules, you know that. No rules beyond “don’t crash”. Overall, the van is a traveling locker room with funky sleeping options. Think about 7 roommates living on top of each other, for months at a time, in a tiny space. You don’t wanna be a prick, but there has to be some mutual balance and respect between the people traveling, or shit hits the fan. Oddly enough, van drama has a way of sorting itself out. For example,
…if you bring 8 pairs of chucks on tour, and leave your shoes on the floor of the van, chances are they will get kicked out accidentally, or on purpose…
at some point, because band member 1 is mad at band member 2 for not helping load out. This happens 🙂 Most touring musicians know the basics of van etiquette. Be cool and be respectful or you get called out.
Descendents – Wet clothes in trash bags in the back. Other than that, no rules needed. Really easy guys to work with.
Dag – No rules needed, with the exception of Brian’s and Peter’s books. Brian would read a book a day, so we always had to manage what to do with all the grocery store best sellers on the floor. Ha ha. Peter was a bit more contained with his books and materials.
You have to be really self-contained to tour, or everyone gets pissed, and the drama builds up. I say, “Don’t be that guy”, and don’t create drama. I guess it’s about common sense, and reasonable behavior toward the group. I have an interesting perspective that follows a 90%/10% rule. 10% of the time, you have to be a monster player, punctual professional, and all that, but the other 90% is how you are as a human being. Are you easy to get along with, are you nice to bartenders, servers, other bands, promoters, etc? We’re gonna spend lots and lots of time in airports, venues, hotels, and vans together, so if you’re a spoiled, overly entitled person that is rude, or has a hard time making do and being flexible, it’s gonna be a bummer for everyone. Mainly you. As Bruce Lee says, “Be the water, not the rock.”
When you pull up to a gas station, and see trash cans, throw out all the trash. Taco Bell bags, old coffee cups, Subway sandwich remains need to go.
There will be tons of time you have to eat in the van while driving, and trash builds up. The other thing is, sometimes people need a ride from the venue to the hotel or whatever. It’s gross to get into a band van that smells like death, with food and god knows what all over the place 🙂 Ugh.
Also, you’re gonna get pulled over by the cops. If they see a van that looks like a frat house bar on wheels, you’re gonna get fucked with.
Anything that’s illegal, like drugs, weed, pills, firearms…whatever…if we get stopped, you own up to it.
Do you have a classic nightmare van story from tour or any other shows?
Too many to tell. But what comes to mind is a drive with Descendents from Syracuse to NYC to play CBGB’s in the winter. We slid off the road 3 times during that drive. It was a “white-knuckler” for sure. Dag getting snowed in on the 95 coming from Boston to DC, and having to sleep under a bridge in the school bus van. Got hassled by the cops for stopping. One time, doing a snowboard festival in Utah with Humble Gods, and it started to snow, and the weather dropped, so the roads were icy. We opted to drive down the mountain at night after the show. Maybe slide our way down the hill is a better depiction of the situation. That sucked. Peter and I just had one with
Field Day in November 2019. We played St. Louis, and had to get to Chicago for a flight. There was a storm, and we crept our way through the snow for hours, sliding and driving into the storm. Kevin and I made our flights west, but Peter got stuck in Chicago, and had to overnight there. Ugh.
Where did the vans end up?
Descendents Van 1 – Died, no clue what happened to it.
Descendents Van 2 – They continued to use.
Dag Bus – Died. Brian sold it in DC.
Dag Bonneville – Brian used for a while, and it sold in LA.
Humble Gods Starcraft – Brad kept it, and it was the first van Kottonmouth Kings used.
Are you working on any new releases?
We have a new 7″ called “Field Day 2.0” that came out on Unity Worldwide June 5. You can get vinyl at Cortex if you’re in Europe or at RevHQ if you’re in the states. The digital is everywhere…Amazon, Spotify, iTunes.
Field Day is mixing a new release called “Opposite Land” slated to come out November 2020. The vinyl will be available via Cortex and from our web store and digitally in all the usual places.