So is it true? Did I really live in a van for 3 years?
Ok so it was 2006 and my band ‘Sick as Monday’ had just released our album ‘My Insignificant Other’. We recorded the album in a house that 3 of us rented as a band in Wantagh NY (our drummer had his own place) and the house was about to be sold so we had some choices to make.
We could rent another house. But to be honest we had a rough time paying rent for the one we had (NY rents are ridiculous). We had to move another guy in and often go weeks without heat in the winter because we couldn’t afford an oil delivery.
Plus we had a new album out and we needed to play as many shows in as many places as we could to spread the word and let people hear it. We couldn’t get on radio without spending thousands of dollars so the only choice was to go tour. Not only does touring cost money (you’re lucky to break even on expenses with merch sales) but when you aren’t at home, the rent and bills still show up whether you’re working or not.
So we did what any responsible semi-adult would do in this situation. We moved into our vans.
We found a rehearsal space in the basement of a realty business where we could set up our gear, practice and use the wifi. Most nights when we were done the three of us would park next to each other behind the building to sleep. It was like camping only with no nature, or tents, or campfires, by a dumpster, sharing pizza ok it was nothing like camping.
This lasted for about a year until the other guys either moved in with girlfriends or found a place but for some reason I actually enjoyed it. I liked the freedom, it forced me to spend more time in our studio working on music, booking shows, or learning about the music business and I decided that giving up the “comforts” of a home was actually gonna be a good thing for me. I couldn’t sit for hours playing video games or watching shows but I could spend all day in a room with guitars and amps. It was liberating, it helped me focus on what I had moved to NY from Indiana for. To make music, and to make music my life.
I definitely missed having a shower but a gym membership fixed that and kept me in reasonable shape. I missed having a kitchen but it became a fun and social thing to cook with friends. I always loved touring and would get depressed when we had to come home so it almost felt like being on the road all the time. All the things I was “sacrificing” honestly seemed like nothing compared to what I felt like I was getting.
I can’t say it wasn’t hard sometimes finding a place to park and sleep. There were definitely some cold nights in the winter, I got a few tickets, and more than once woke up and drove away as a tow truck was pulling up (I’m not a fast or graceful guy but I leapt like a Gazelle escaping a lion from the back of the van to the drivers seat to get away before they towed me).
Overall the few years I spent in the van made me realize that what I thought I needed and what I actually need to live a happy fulfilling life were very different things. At no point did I ever consider myself “homeless” since I was able to tour, work, save money, pay off debts, and most importantly concentrate on making music instead of getting wrapped up in making ends meet.
After 2 years we had to move our rehearsal space so we found a 24 hour rehearsal room in Amityville NY that I still have to this day. Sick as Monday broke up within a year of being there and I began putting together what would become Craving Strange (my current rock n roll band). At this point I was still living in the van but spending most of my time in the studio, I’d be there at 9am working on music or sending booking emails before work, back at 7pm for rehearsal and then writing or working on the website/social media until 2am when I would get in the van, park around the corner, and sleep. Around November of that year the owner of the studio, who has become a great friend and mentor, pulled me aside and said, “I see the van around the corner every morning, I know you’re sleeping there, just stay in the studio so you’re warm and safe.” I “moved in” to the rehearsal studio that night and have stayed there when we weren’t touring ever since.
I’ve still had many van nights but most of them are while touring these days either with the band or on my own doing the “JImmy’s Blue Notebook” shows. I’ll never regret those couple years as they taught me what’s important to me and to keep that always at the front of not only my mind but at the center of my choices and how I live my life.