Tony Cummings spoke to Ryan "Tuck" O'Leary of alt rockers OFF ROAD MINIVAN
Off Road Minivan are still a newish band. When I talked to their leader Ryan "Tuck" O'Leary, they'd still only played three gigs. But what they have achieved is making one of the best projects - album or EP - of the year and their debut has already been acknowledged by the critics as a gem. Indie Vision Music called the 'Spiral Gaze' EP "a very welcome breath of fresh air in a music scene that has seemingly been caught in a lengthy run"; JesusFreakHideout declared that "alt-rockers Off Road Minivan deliver a familiar but fresh take on the emo sub-genre"; while Cross Rhythms suggested their sound "resembles Jimmy Eats World, Thrice and Dashboard Confessional, Off Road Minivan artfully weave in elements of soaring emo, shoegaze and hard rock yet in the process create something invigorating."
The band is led by vocalist Ryan "Tuck" O'Leary who is the bass player with Tooth & Nail hard rockers Fit For A King whose albums like 2011's 'Descendants' and 2013's 'Creation/Destruction' are much enjoyed by those with brutal music tastes. In fact, it was Tuck's connection with Tooth & Nail that was instrumental in landing Off Road Minivan a deal. I talked to Tuck at his home in Red Hook, New York, and asked how his side project got such a quirky name.
Tuck: "We were driving on the interstate, got stuck in traffic and a minivan ripped through the grass medium and to the north bound side of the highway and my finance just looked at me and said, 'Oh, it's an off road minivan.' That just rang out and I said, 'My God, that's it, I gotta write it down.' That was the quirky thing that I was looking for so I wrote it down."
Tony: How long ago was that?
Tuck: "A year and a half ago I would say. We had gotten together a few demos and showed them to some friends of ours then Tooth & Nail now and they were very enthusiastic. Things just got moving off more than we originally anticipated. But we're very excited about it."
Tony: Do you guys all come from Red Hook?
Tuck: "A few of us, myself and Miles - he plays guitar - grew up there. He's actually got family from the UK, his mother is British. Dave Trimberly, one of the guitar players, is from the town over from us. We're from all around the area, but now we all live in the Red Hook area."
Tony: When you decided to form a band, you got a name, you started rehearsing. Did you have a clear focus on the kind of music you wanted to make?
Tuck: " I did. I've always. . . throughout my career I have always been writing music on the side, on an acoustic guitar, just writing sad songs that kind of built up over time. Another gentleman who has joined me in this band - we have played in bands together on and off since the time when we were 14, so we all have experience whether it was Miles, David and I in one band together or David and I were in one band together and stuff like that. I decided to kind of pull on each one of these guys and be like, ok, Trimberly, let's write a jam together and start a project; I think this will end up pretty cool. It's always ended up working extremely well, just gelling together like two peas in a pod. It's really enjoyable to get all of them together and just kind of wind them up and watch them go. They are just incredible musicians."
Tony: What about musical influences? Are there particular bands and musicians which have been a big influence on you?
Tuck: "For me, earlier on I was really into Dashboard Confessional and Thrice. We really love Jimmy Eat World and Radiohead. I think the intent of Off Road Minivan was, 'let's forget about computers, let's forget about trying to just start up social media right away. Let's just get in a room and jam, do what the great bands did, get together and write songs.' Not worry about the semantics that come with being in a band. And, I think that has been so good for us because you are so much focused on just writing something you like and making sure that it sounds good in the room before you ever compress it and put it into a digital form."
Tony: Go through two or three songs on the record and tell me how you came to write them.
Tuck: "The title track of the EP 'Spiral Gaze' was written about a friend of mine, a former friend of mine. We were in a relationship where we've been friends since we were in our late teens and we've been in bands together and we've grown together as men. But all in all, no matter what, we'd be friends for a year then we'd get into some big blow up fight and then we're not friends anymore, but then we're friends again, then we'd get into this big blow up again. It just left me with this feeling of, no matter what I do man, you and I are not on the same page, and I feel like I am losing you along the way of life. That's where the hook of the song came from and just kind of line for line I just wrote how I felt about our relationship. It seemed like things were too transparent and he was never being honest or being forthright with what he was trying to achieve in life. So, essentially I felt like I lost the ball along the way. He was a great dude but you know, it just happened to be how our relationship crumbled."
Tony: Tell me about another of the songs.
Tuck: "Sure, 'Light Up The Room' is about the fear that comes with being seriously in love with someone, like, 'I'm gonna love you for your entire life. Are you for my entire life? You might pass, or I might pass well before the other one, and how am I going to live the rest of my life without you?' That's been something that would strike my heart constantly when I was in a relationship. So now that I am engaged, I guess that's the scariest part of love, to truly commit to someone and everything for decades and decades, then you might have to be on this planet for a period of time without them. That might be one of the most tragic experiences of your life. But, the song is just a man talking about how hard it is to be without his partner and how much he misses her, and trying to find solace in her passing. That's something that has always plagued my little emo brain since I was a kid.
"'Glow' is a true story about a girl that I knew who was from New York City. She went on a vacation with her family to the Carolinas and while they were all swimming, she got caught in a rip tide and disappeared and was never seen again. I was friends with her and her brother, because they were both attending college at Bard, a town near me. Watching her brother and how resilient he was to continue his education and to move on with his life but also how sad he became after he lost his sister, it just sucked the soul right out of the guy from the day that that happened. It was crazy. You could offer me all the money in the world, all the riches, anything and I wouldn't want to trade places with that guy. Watching him and his family cope with that it was so tragic. It's one of those situations that, although we were never particularly close, it kinda just left this little residual feeling in my body like, man, just really cherish those relationships that you have. It's one of those stories that has always stuck with me, and was very important for me as I was in my early 20s and trying to figure myself out. So, yes she was a real sweetheart and it's one of the saddest stories I have been around. I felt like it was a good story to tell for our debut."
Tony: Are any of the band members Christians?
Tuck: "Just myself and Miles. The other members are not Christians and that's one of the things that has been interesting with our band because now that we are on Tooth & Nail Records a lot of people are associating our band as a Christian band. We are not necessarily a Christian band, I just happen to be a Christian and I was already signed to a Christian label."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.