A Band, a Van and a Dream
About to launch their first EP, Venice band Tropical Nasty won’t let living in a Chevy stop the music
By Chase Maser
It’s Saturday morning at the Westminster Off-Leash Dog Park, and across the sidewalk from some homeless guys napping in the shade is parked an extended-cab Chevy van with New Jersey plates. The van is covered in graffiti art — a colorful Aztec-flavored mural on the driver’s side, and on the other a psychedelic eyeball and the words Tropical Nasty.
A man wearing a denim jacket, blue jeans, white T-shirt and sunglasses steps out, flashes a grin and extends his hand.
“Peter Tahoe,” he says.
An actor and musician, Tahoe is managing the Venice rock, blues, funk and reggae band Tropical Nasty. For the past seven months, the three-piece from suburban Pennsville Township, New Jersey, has called this van home while trying to busk their way into the L.A. music scene. And for a few fiscally challenging months during that bumpy ride, Tahoe also found himself living in the van.
“I was cruising down the Venice Boardwalk, and the first time I saw them I thought they were pretty good — you know, just another boardwalk band — but the next day I recognized them sitting outside their van and I thought, wow, these guys are committed,” Tahoe, 45, says of his decision to manage them.
Each in their early 20s with hair down to their shoulders, Tropical Nasty’s Myke Anthony, Collin Bunch and Dave Tepper bought the van back home, fixed it up and just decided one day to take a shot at making it in L.A. They’ve been busking almost daily on the boardwalk or Santa Monica Pier ever since.
“Dude, we knew that if we could get out here, something would definitely happen,” says Tepper, the band’s lead guitarist. “It will definitely happen within a couple months.”
In some ways, they’ve already gone further than most.
Following recent gigs at Harvelle’s and The Sidewalk Café, Tropical Nasty heads to the Basement Tavern in Santa Monica on Saturday for a concert celebrating the DIY release of a brand-new single, ironically titled “Live Alone.”
Later this month they release their full EP, titled “For the Birds,” which they feel sounds pretty darn good for what it cost to produce.
“I can honestly say that this is going to be the best EP released this year for $400,” says Tahoe.
But even as Tropical Nasty’s performances begin to move indoors, the van remains at the center of the band’s identity.
Bunch, the bassist, wasn’t a fan of the idea at first.
“I didn’t want the van. When we got this thing it was a piece of crap. It had work shelves in it and a work guard; it needed a new transmission, and everything needed to be fixed,” he says.
Now it’s more a badge of pride, a symbol of their resourcefulness and willingness to go for broke.
“We built this van from scratch. We bought it in Jersey, and we drove it all the way here,” says Anthony, the drummer. “Us three built the connection we have, and we built our confidence and musicianship together.”
Inside, the van is cramped but cozy. Two seats toward the front are covered in bed sheets and vintage T-shirts. In back, three mattresses are squished together — two on the floor and one on top of a makeshift riser. The windows are blacked out with cardboard and sun reflectors “to provide insulation,” says Bunch.
The band’s equipment is jammed into any and every opening available. Though squished into a can like sardines, the guys are still smiling.
“We had money to get a place when we first moved, but eventually we started making so much money busking and stuff, we were like, well, the van’s not that bad,” says Anthony. “The boardwalk is a hustle. We need to do whatever we can to make a hundred bucks for the day.”
Tahoe also sees a bright side to his time in the van.
“I considered it training for touring. It’s good to know that we can all survive in this thing and not kill each other,” Tahoe says. “If you’re willing to eat in the street, to sleep in the street, then you know you’ve found a purpose in life. That’s why I chose to get involved with these guys. They’re the most committed, the hungriest, and that’s why they’re going to be successful.”
And the music is still a joy to play.
“We like getting really psychedelic,” says Bunch. “We can get really free and we can express ourselves very easily, and when we play we just wanna jam and move our hips and dance — try to get everyone else to feel the same way we’re feeling.”
With daylight burning, the boys crawl out of the van and stretch their legs. Bunch chows down on a peanut butter sandwich and Tepper waves goodbye to Anthony, who rides off on a mountain bike to secure their spot on the pier.
“Yeah, sometimes it’s really wearisome living in this van,” Bunch says between bites. “You get cabin fever almost. Sometimes it’s very draining. Other times, I’m barefoot on the sidewalk and all these yuppies are walking by, and I’m like, screw it. We might as well do what we can and hustle our way out of this situation.”
Tropical Nasty celebrates the release of “Live Alone” with a 9:30 p.m. show on Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Basement Tavern in The Victorian, 2460 Main St., Santa Monica. No cover. Follow the band at facebook.com/tropicalnasty or find them on Twitter as @TropicalNasty.