In London, folks hold acoustic sessions in the back of a taxi. In New York, musicians play rock shows in the subway. But until now, to the best of our knowledge, no one was making any decent music in vans.
But that's changed. Witness Jam in the Van rolling down the streets of Venice, adorned by portraits of folks like Frank Zappa and Lil' Kim. Sure, it's not actually a van -- it's a Winnebago Itasca RV -- but everyone from unknowns to Switchfoot to former Jurassic 5 emcee Chali 2Na have graced its tiny stage.
The sporadic, unscheduled live shows are recorded on a top-notch soundboard and also filmed; part of the Van's purpose is to supply quality demo videos for upstart bands. The shows are archived on jaminthevan.com, with much of the content free. It's weird, it's wild, it's all quite professional!
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Having often rented RVs to go to Bonnaroo, Venice denizen Jake Cotler and his friends Dave Bell, Abran Rubiner and an "investor" known as Perfect Hippie purchased the RV this year for $2,000 -- from a guy named Big Bud. Considering the vehicle's source, perhaps no one should have been surprised that it had problems. In fact, on the ride home, its gas pedal went straight through the floor.
Armed with crowbars and some whiskey, the guys ripped out the bunk beds and kitchen, added platforms for speakers and amps, and covered the van's interior in iconic music posters and handbills. Before they knew it, they had themselves a studio.
It wasn't immediately easy to entice folks into the vehicle, however. (Weird.) "This Eastside artist Milo Greene was like, 'You're asking me to bring all of my gear to some back alley in Venice and meet some dude with a van?' " Cotler remembers. "He still did it, but he was kinda creeped out." Parked behind Cotler and Rubiner's apartment building in Venice, the van also has drawn the police a number of times, via calls from irate neighbors.
Nowadays, however, groups line up for the privilege of playing there. It helps that Cotler and company don't charge for their service. They're now recording only bands they like, and they have an extremely efficient system worked out. We never thought we'd say this, but entering their van is highly recommended.