Dave Coleman of the Coal Men Recalls a Stolen Tour Van and Being Paid to Be Lazy

August 23, 2016

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

We drive a red Chrysler Town and Country (Van Burgundy). We previously drove a silver T&C (the Silver Beagle). You can put about anything in a minivan, including a 3 piece band. It’s comfortable as can be (as long as the AC/Heat works). Trouble is, vans can get stolen (I guess cause you can fit a lot of stolen stuff in them). The Silver Beagle disappeared in Florida a few years back. I’m sure it’s still on the road somewhere, it was the best vehicle I’ve ever owned. Sniffle.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Waffle House is good and cheap. right? I’m not so good at healthy eating on the road, but when we play shows down in Florida we stay in the same club for 7 night in a row. That’s great because we have a band house and with it, a kitchen. Then I can usually restrict my diet to eggs, banana burritos (banana, peanut butter, in a tortilla), and gallons of coffee.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

Gears a funny thing… a lot of musicians are always trying new stuff and swapping gear. I really try to know my gear. I know how to keep strings feeling good and never break them (hardly ever anyway). To me it’s kind of like the Rifleman’s creed (only for guitar):

“This is my guitar, There are many like it, but this one is mine. My guitar is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my guitar is useless. Without my guitar, I am useless. I must play my guitar true. etc.”

Thankfully the good folks at D’Addario/Planet Waves/Evans have been helping us out for the past few years. There help has saved us more than a few dollars.

Where do you rehearse?

We rehearse in my basement recording studio, It’s home so it’s comfortable. Back in the early days of the band, we always rehearsed at a party house in Murfreesboro, TN. The kind of place that was always full of friendly strangers, beer cans all around, kegs floated, random dogs, folks sleeping off the night before. It was a circus. I know that a lot of those young crazy folks are older now. Some are parents, some are in jail, some are dead, some are still in a band.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

“Agree.” “Fallen apart and torn down, fall of that year she turned me around, when she said to me, a few choice words.”

Describe your first gig.

Hard to say, but probably 5th grade, playing “Johnny B. Goode” over and over again with a kid named Jerry who brought in his drum set. It was the most excited crowd I think I’d ever played for. The girls noticed me in a way better light than usual. I knew I was onto something. Second gig was the Fentress County Fair where I won the talent contest by beating out a buck dancer by playing some classical piece on a Kramer pointy electric guitar.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day job was making coffee and mopping floors at a shop in East Nashville called “Ugly Mugs.” Hands down the best bosses I’ve ever had. Great people and great atmosphere, it was hard to leave because It was such a great community of co-workers and customers. I miss the people, but I’m glad I’m focused 100% on music now.

I had a temp job with an old room-mate named Nick. We got paid $12 an hour for doing next to nothing for a big corporation. We worked under a parking garage putting old medical files into new boxes. It was hardly work at all, but we got 9 months out of the job. We worked for about an hour a day and sat around listening to albums, or going for a 6 hour lunch break. It was like being paid to be lazy. I prefer my gig now, but that was a dream job for the slob in me.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Over that last 5 years our income as a band has remained about the same.  It’s a shame it hasn’t gone up that much (inflation and all), but it’s a scary time.  CD sales are down for everyone big or small.

Over that last 10 years it’s gone down a bit.  When we were young and on some independent labels we had some festival gigs that helped us financially.  We are mostly all DIY now, and those gigs are a bit hard for use to wrangle. Also, we don’t play as many gigs as we did in the old days. We try and gig smarter not every chance we get.  It’s a hard thing to learn how to say “no.”

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

That you are creating your own legacy on some level. The music is something that you’ll leave behind to mark your time on this earth. It also has a profound impact on people (sometimes only a few), but it’s powerful. It’s in your best interest to really work on the things that you love and move you. The other stuff is just work. Make something that will be remembered.

Nashville trio The Coal Men have been playing there own brand of roots rock ‘n’ roll since 1999.  The Coal Men’s guitarist/vocalist Dave Coleman and co-founding drummer/vocalist Dave Ray have been together 17 years; Coleman’s also played with artists including Matthew Ryan, Jessi Alexander and a young Taylor Swift. Bassist Paul Slivka, who joined five years ago, gained fame with Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers; he’s worked with Tony Joe White, Tommy Womack, Amanda Shires and Elizabeth Cook, among others.

The band has been mentored by both John Prine and Todd Snider must have plenty of anecdotes about those experiences (even if some must remain, um, unreported). Prine helped distribute the band’s Bob Delevante-produced debut, 2004’s Nowhere’s Too Far, on his Oh Boy label; Snider pushed their 2013 album, Escalator, via his Aimless Records, then took them out on tour. They’ve also opened for the Avett Brothers, Darrell Scott and Chris Knight, among others.

The Coal Men have just released Pushed to the Side, their fifth album.  Connect with the band online and on the road.