How to Be a Band in a Van
Learn all about pissing in water bottles and when it's your turn to use the radio.
Don’t be that local band showing up with three cars. You’re wasting gas and look like goofballs. Get a van! Whether it’s a used conversion van or a new badass Sprinter, they can fit your band and all of your equipment. It’s worth the sacrifice to sell your car and have one band member buy a van and use it as their primary vehicle. If you start doing some tours that are over a month and sell a ton of merch on a daily basis or you’re in a ska band or pop punk band with five guitarists, then you can get a trailer. But until then, BE SMART. SAVE GAS MONEY. GET IN THE VAN!
Bonus: Having a bunch of stray wires laying around the van is totally safe too.
These guys are lifesavers. You can have it hardwired to your battery and on long drives you can all charge your phones or get really creative and set up a TV with whatever gaming console you want. Outlets and phones full of juice are how us traveling types stay happy. Boredom leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate breaks up bands (or makes you listen to Korn).
Just like the Fugazi documentary.
Make sure you put some thought into the way you pack your van. Guitars, head cases, and cabs are rectangular and can be stacked. Get the big, heavy equipment in there first and lay a foundation on the bottom so you can stack everything from smaller drums to merch bins/boxes on top of it. Don’t just throw stuff in! Be concise and save as much space as you can. Once you have your perfect pack job (PJ) you have to remember it and replicate that every night. It saves you time and sanity.
LONG DRIVE ETIQUETTE
This belongs to the person who just drove for six hours. If that's not you, GTFO.
Are you doing the overnight drive? Did you just drive 4+ hours to get to the next show today? You have earned yourself a bench on the next drive. That’s right, you should be rewarding the people who do annoying driving shifts. If you have too many people per bench, make sure you work it out so everyone can have at least one comfortable place to lay down or at least lean comfortably. Playing shows is exhausting and we revert to little kids during the day and after we play. These incentives not only make it fair, but actually give everyone motivation to take turns at the wheel.
EMPTY WATER BOTTLES ARE URINALS
Former beverage/future toilet.
If you’re not driving and you’re a guy, you should probably have an empty water bottle near you in the van. Gatorades work the best. Of course, stopping at truck stops is a blast and you get to pick up your Chex Mix and Arizona Ice Tea, but doing too many of these stops really messes up your arrival time. Learn to urinate under strange circumstances. Turn around in your seat and use that as a protective shield so your bandmates don’t watch you do your business. If it’s brutal and a few people have to go while you’re in the middle of nowhere, pull off to the side of the road and have a nice full band pee session. Sure, it’s gross, but it’s what we do. If you’re on the road full-time, you’ll see much weirder stuff.
DON’T TOUCH THE RADIO
If we can learn nothing else from this movie...
The driver gets to choose the music. Don’t be that guy grabbing the auxiliary cable and putting it into your iPod or phone. Sometimes, the best thing in the world is zoning out while driving through fields for hours and listening to relaxing music. Definitely get into podcasts if you aren’t already. They’re interesting enough for the whole van to pay attention to and help kill a lot of time. I mostly choose to drive just to have an excuse to listen to whatever I want for hours. If I was home doing that, I’d be a waste of life. Touring helps you do nothing during the day and makes it feel OK.
PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE WILL SAVE YOU MONEY AND MAYBE YOUR LIFE
Treat the old girl right.
Between tours and shows, make sure you’re taking your van into the shop to make sure everything is working OK. How’s your engine? When did you get your last oil change? Are your headlights working properly? You should constantly be asking yourself these questions and keeping tabs on what’s going on even while you’re on tour. Check the tread on your tires to make sure they’re not about to blow. You should also know how to change a tire so you don’t have to pay to get it done. Get your tires rotated between tours and keep things fresh. Our van is almost at 300,000 miles and when we got it in 2007 it had 16,000. We tour a lot and we’ve NEVER broken down.
Your van should not look like Chevy Chase packed it.
Are you out for a week or a few months? Bringing fewer clothes and smaller bags means more space to sprawl out and relax. If you’re sleeping in the van or staying at people’s houses, there’s a chance you won’t get to shower, so why not wear the same clothes? If you have designated, “show clothes” then I suggest bringing a dirty laundry bag to hold in the smell. They’re going to smell like vinegar and dying people in a few days and you don’t want to have a van full of nauseous people crammed into a small space for hours. Try to condense your belongings to a pillow, sleeping bag, backpack, and bag/suitcase. Put clean clothes for the next day in your backpack so you don’t have to keep going back to the van to change. The last thing you want to do after getting to a house at 4 AM is make your guys wait up for you while you grab extra stuff. Pack lightly, travel quickly, be happy.
TAKE OUT THE TRASH
Get a frigging garbage bag, you savages.
Literally. You need a trash bag in your van to consolidate the garbage that will be accumulating on the floor. One time, our old guitarist left a box of half-eaten Chinese food under a bench for four months. I was the first person to open the door and it felt like a fart punched me in the face. Put any waste in the trash bag and make sure you either pour it out in the nearest garbage can the second it gets full. Things like banana peels or anything with ketchup start to smell terrible and adding that to the massive amount of farts you’re inevitably brewing together will make your noses bleed.
WHEN YOU GET A TRAILER
Bonus tip: Back your trailers against walls overnight.
Follow the steps above, primarily the preventative maintenance. Trailer tires blow more often than van tires. DO NOT PUT STICKERS ON YOUR TRAILER OR VAN. This is an easy way of saying, “STEAL ME!” Make sure you completely utilize the trailer’s space and put any big bulky items in there. Build a divider to keep your side door compartment separate from the rest of the gear. You can go in and change your clothes after a show and not have to move all of your equipment. Have a rack for shoes to eliminate wasted floor space. LEARN HOW TO PARALLEL PARK WITH A TRAILER. If you’re new to driving a big rig, go to an empty parking lot and practice before you take it on a busy highway, the Rocky Mountains, or end up in LA traffic.
SERIOUSLY. STOP TEXTING WHILE DRIVING.
The PSAs are true.
Sure, I’m guilty of this too, but you can save lives with this step. You’ll learn how to multi-task like eating Taco Bell while handling the wheel, but keeping your eyes off of the road is a bad idea. Use the talk-to-text option on your phone or do the old fashion thing and call people. Rely on music and the people in your van for entertainment instead of Twitter, Instagram, and your cyber network for fake friends. The best way for your band to get big is be alive enough for people to realize you exist, then I guess you can do whatever you want after that.
Jonathan Diener is the drummer of the Swellers and not to brag, but he's peed in front of a whole bunch of pop punk celebs. Follow him on Twitter, unless he's driving - @jonodiener
Check out more of his band tips:
- Noisey Blog