Sphynx's Bus Is One Happy Camper.
Behind every great band is a great van. And when these former church vans, daycare buses and plumber's work vehicles have racked up enough miles on the road, they eventually start being thought of by the band as another member of the team. Hey, we get it: It's hard to spend so many hours with bandmates (both human and machine) without a few things getting broken, a few good fights taking place and lots of great memories being made. We hope that, by exploring these stories, we might get to know some bands from both North Texas and beyond on a more personal level. Check out this feature's archives here.
Austin's funk-pop trio Sphynx tends to infuse far more style into their craft than most other bands.
Then again, that's what makes their band's live show so damn entertaining.
From intriguing gimmicks — like playing a guitar by screaming into its pickups or executing bits of synchronized choreography while wearing matching homemade Spandex outfits — the band has the whole showmanship thing down pat.
As it turns out, their whole onstage knack for flair isn't just an act, either. That much was made quite clear when we saw the band's touring vehicle. We caught up with guitarist Aaron Miller just prior to the band's City Tavern gig a few weeks back, who showed us that a 20-year-old RV is the only way to truly tour in style.
And luckily for everyone who missed that show, Sphynx will be coming back in town later this Summer.
Band Name: Sphynx.
Van Name: Little Gus The Sphynx Bus.
Year/Make/Model: 1988 Toyota Seabreeze.
Where did your van come from? How did you acquire it?
Aaron Miller (vocals/guitar):“Gus was our first big purchase as a band. Though he was retired from tour duties this spring due to mechanical problems, he holds a special place in Sphynx history and deserves to have his story told. We found Gus in February of 2012 on Craigslist Baton Rouge after a long search for a Toyota RV, and spent a day and night driving to Baton Rouge, buying Gus and driving him home.”
What makes your van special? What are its best and worst features?
Miller: “The reason we wanted an RV is so we could always have a place to live on tour. That was definitely Gus' best feature. We each had our own comfortable beds in Gus — and a shower and bathroom until the septic tank fell out after a bumpy ride through Louisiana. Gus' worst feature was his general condition; the door didn't have a handle, the water pump would occasionally leak out onto the carpet, we couldn't use the toilet after the septic tank fell out, and so forth. Because Wal-Mart will let RVs park through the night for free, we also spent a great deal of time in Wal-Mart parking lots. On one hand, this is a nice feature because it's a free place to sleep. But, on the other hand, you're prone to a lot of strange and sometimes uncomfortable encounters at Wal-Mart, which we'd unanimously consider one of the downsides of life in Gus.”
Who usually does the driving?
Aaron: “Honestly, we've always split it up pretty evenly on tour. There are three of us, so we rotate every two hours, from driver to passenger to chilling/napping in the back. Over the course of band history, though, I think [drummer] Todd [Harris] has done the most night driving. While Todd drives after the shows, it is [synth player] Cory [Dennis] and my job to ask him to take us to Taco Cabana until either we go to a Taco Cabana or we realize we're not in Texas and, therefore, there is no Taco Cabana.”
Do you have any good breakdown stories?
Aaron: “On our tour last fall to CMJ in New York, Gus' battery died on the Jersey Turnpike and the car shut off in traffic. We were able to coast him into the median before stopping. It was our first time through New Jersey, and we were stuck in the median of the Jersey Turnpike, terrified and trying to improvise a way to get off the highway. RVs have separate batteries that power the lights in the cabin. We took that battery out, set it on the floor on the passenger's side, hooked jumper cables to it, ran those jumper cables out of the window and under the hood, taped them to the engine battery, and drove anxiously to a Wal-Mart. It turned out that the battery wasn't the real problem; after a weekend spent in New York, Gus wouldn't start and we had to have him towed to a mechanic. The alternator had gone out. While replacing it, the mechanic cut our radiator hose and, by the time we got to Ohio the next day, we'd lost nearly all of our transmission fluid and had to have our transmission worked on. We spent two nights sleeping in the RV outside of a mechanic's garage on Lake Eerie and had to cancel three shows while trying to figure out what the problem was and how to fix it. We wound up playing the last few dates of tour and making it home, but we spent about four days feeling pretty stranded and very confused.”
What are your best memories from being in the van?
Aaron: “Last summer, we got booked to play a music festival in Cincinnati called Bunbury. They had a really great lineup, so we decided to bring our wives and girlfriend and make a vacation out of it. We played one show on the way up to Cincinnati and spent the rest of the time staying in some really great state parks on the way to and from the festival. We got to spend some time hanging out in Cincinnati and having a lot of free food and beer at Bunbury, too. It was definitely much more relaxing than a real tour, and I don't think we could have done it without an RV.
What are the best modifications you've made to the van, decorative or otherwise?
Aaron: “Well, Cory was able to fix the water pump leak, which stopped the carpet from getting wet when someone was taking a shower. We also put a new exhaust system on Gus when we got him and learned that the old exhaust system had a bunch of holes in it.”
Anything else we you'd like to tell us about your van?
Aaron: “Despite our time spent stranded in New York and on Lake Erie, we wouldn't have been able to get on the road and start touring had it not been for Gus. And you never forget your first. We're probably some of the few people who can say that they pooled their money with two friends to buy an RV when they were 22 to have these weird adventures playing music around the country. It may not have been the most logical choice, but it definitely felt like the most interesting one.”
Sphynx performs at The Wild Rooster Bar on Wednesday, June 19.