What happens when the smell of the crowd and the roar of the greasepaint simply isn’t enough to keep people in bands? That’s easy: The players get off the road and get on with their lives. In this new web feature, we’ll be catching up with members in bands who have hung up their gear in search of new pursuits.
For former Senses Fail guitarist Dave Miller, the years of his life that others may have spent getting a college education, were spent on the road with the band, where he got a very different type of education—one he credits for his success today as the owner of Los Angeles-based food truck, Trailer Park Truck. “I was in Senses Fail when I was 17 to when I was 21,” he says, “so that was pretty much like my college years, because I didn’t go to college; I went on tour. It really was a great way for me to develop these skills to start a real, successful business now in my late 20s that will be something I can do for the rest of my life.”
Miller got burnt out on the touring life, and he and the band parted ways in 2005. Despite some sour notes between them down the road— including what Miller calls a “gnarly” lawsuit (“Regardless of what happened between us a long time ago, it didn’t need to go to that place, and it did, and it sucks. Legally, I won money, I guess, but I don’t feel like I won anything”), he wishes Senses Fail well and values his experience.
Following his stint in the band, Miller went on to work in the music industry, first with a management company (representing bands like As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage) until he met his now-fiancée Marina, for whom he moved to Los Angeles and found work booking casino gigs for celebrities’ bands (including Kevin Costner’s and Dennis Quaid’s). “At that point, I was like, ‘I need to start a business,’ but [with] the state of the music industry, how I feel about it and where I am in my life, I needed to do something else. Something that kind of made me excited again.”
He realized that something was the large and connected food truck scene in Los Angeles. So last April, Miller created Trailer Park Truck, a pink-flamingo-chic gourmet food truck, dressed up with designs from industry friends in Forefathers Group (who do design work for bands like Bring Me The Horizon and Paramore) that finds its home around various parts of Southern California every day.
Looking back, how was your experience in Senses Fail?
I think March or August [of what would have been my senior year of high school], we got our record deal with Drive-Thru records. We were all really big fans of all those bands, so that was like a dream come true. I was a cashier at a grocery store, and I quit my job. On my way home, I was like, “How am I going to tell my parents? They’re going to be mad at me,” and then I got a phone call that we were going to get this record deal. We went on to write a record and start touring heavily, and it was really cool. I got to meet a lot of friends that I have today still and see a lot of places that I never would have been able to see before. When you’re 18, to get in a van with your friends and drive across the country is an interesting experience, to say the least.
The band grew in popularity, and it was just a dream-like experience to go through. When I left the band, at first I really wanted to continue doing music stuff for a while. Even up until a year ago, I was working in the music business, but I didn’t want to play in a band anymore, I didn’t want to tour anymore.
I think the music business has changed a lot—not necessarily for the worse, it’s just different. When I was managing bands, I thought it was going to be a lot easier [for] some of the bands we were working with to get bigger faster because that’s what happened to us. And then I realized what happened to us was a special thing that doesn’t happen to bands that often. The skills I learned working for some of the bands while I was in management, like Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying, really taught me a lot of valuable business and administrative skills that I apply to my kind of business today.
You’ve said that the DIY scene kind of correlates with this food truck scene. You’re mapping out where you’re going every day; it’s kind of like routing a tour.
I felt that there was a real connection between the music industry, especially the DIY side of the industry, and the scene of the food trucks. There was not only social media involvement that’s really important for food trucks, but handling the logistics of the multiple locations every day, and the different big events and festivals around the city. It was just a great way to be creative in a whole new medium. My fiancée and I own it together, but she works a full-time job in the movie industry, and I pretty much handle all the business for the truck.
It very much so is [like being on tour], actually. I feel like we are sometimes. Sure, we have places that we go regularly, but for the most part, we’re always in these new environments. I never really worked in a restaurant, so I was a little nervous about that when I started the truck. Because a lot of the people in [this scene] are clearly from the restaurant business, but I felt all that kind of stuff was something we could learn, and the things that we knew were a little more valuable. We cater a lot of Hollywood studios and stuff like that, and we’ve been pretty lucky the past few months to get a lot of cool and fun catering gigs. We catered American Horror Story a couple times, we catered Glee a few times, Parks And Recreation. Last [week], we catered Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush, and this week, we catered MTV’s Awkward. It’s a lot of fun.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Los Angeles or seen the food truck scene here, but there’s a million trucks. Not everyone really understands how much work is involved in these food trucks, so it’s definitely a rat race. We’ve seen so many trucks go out of business [in the] year we’ve been open. So to be open this long is a feat in itself. Going on tour for 10 months out of the year is a difficult thing to do, too, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We wake up at five o’clock in the morning, and get home at 11 o’clock at night, six days a week, and my day off is spent doing paperwork and buying food.
What made you come up with the specific trailer-park theme?
I can’t take credit for that: My fiancée Marina came up with doing something similar to a trailer park and I thought that sounded really cool. I kind of ran with it, and she’ll joke about it, like, we kind of made it the ultimate, like, [trailer] food truck with the menu [which features a Mackin' Cheseburger, a burger with macaroni and cheese, "frito pies" and chicken and waffles], and we have the hair-metal music videos [playing]. We just thought it was a really friendly satire on classic American comfort food and American culture in a real tongue-in-cheek kind of way. When we park, we have a retro television outside playing Metallica videos, and then there are Astroturf, lawn chairs and a pink flamingo.
Do you still play music at all?
I do, yeah. For a few years, I would fiddle around or whatever, but when I started the truck, I realized music wasn’t so much a chore anymore, and it was more just like pure fun. Every once and a while, my friend Mike—he used to be in a band called Cash Cash—and I jam out in the studio. I write a lot of stuff now. It’s for fun, you know? We haven’t really gotten time to lay down tracks, really, but we’re going to. We’ve just never been able to get around to it really with the responsibilities in our adult life... I guess you need to take yourself out of that situation a little bit to kind of realize why you fell in love with it in the first place.
It looks like things turned out pretty well for you.
[Regarding] kids that are younger who are getting record deals and parents that are nervous that their kids aren’t going to college: I was nervous that we weren’t going to college, but we did it anyway. Obviously, Senses Fail are still around and all the people who have left the band kind of do their own thing. The band and the music industry was such a good experience. I feel like it was more valuable and a more special experience than going to college would have been. We don’t know how long we’re going to be doing Trailer Park Truck. We would love to be doing this forever. I feel like this is such a great way for me, as a businessman, to develop my skills, and I have to thank the music industry for that. alt