“That douchebag was definitely not at our show.” It’s James Smith, the Drowning Men’s singer on the phone from Boston. On November 18, a Friday night, the Oceanside band’s van was hit by a drunk driver. They were on the freeway just outside New York, towing a small equipment trailer. “It felt like he hit the back of our trailer [it was actually the back of the van that took the hit] and we spun out.” When they stopped spinning, the trailer was jackknifed and lying on its side and its top was peeled back like a sardine can.
“I thought I was gonna see a yard sale of music gear on the 95 freeway.” The van had come to rest in lanes pointing in the wrong direction. “We were, like, Please, please, please, nobody hit us.”
Smith says the whole thing happened after two in the morning. “Adam Shaw, our tour manager, was driving.” Shaw had stopped for food and gas off Exit 40 at a roadside truck stop that seemed normal — on the outside. “It was like a shit show, this truck stop. Everybody in there was absolutely out of their mind wasted.” Smith says he asked Shaw if they could get a room for the night. “I said if any of these people are gonna be driving soon, I don’t wanna be on the road.” It turns out Smith’s fears were right on the money. That particular truck stop was a notorious hang for stoners and drunks, and when the Drowning Men got back on the road, they were rear-ended by one of them.
Formed in 2006 by Nate Bardeen, Rory Dolan, and James Smith, the Drowning Men added Todd Eisenkerch on bass guitar and Gabriel Messer on keyboards. 2007 saw the release of their Kill the Matador EP, and in 2009 came The Beheading of the Songbird, a full-length CD that was re-released by Flogging Molly’s Borstal Beat Records, the Drowning Men’s new label home.
With the trailer on its side, Smith had a meltdown and began screaming, which he says scared the drunk into trying to make a getaway. “But his airbag had a delayed reaction. It deployed while he was going, like, a mile an hour. That was comic relief.”
Police apprehended the driver shortly after. “They found a bunch of pills on him. I don’t know what he was on, but he looked like a total dipshit while he was doing the sobriety test. He failed miserably.”
The band’s ride, he says, was totaled. “The van’s back axle is broken, and it looks like there’s some frame damage.” And the trailer is a total loss too, he says. But no one was hurt, the band’s gear survived, and the accident upgraded the band to Airborne Toxic Event’s luxe tour bus for a few dates until Shaw could rent a new van and trailer.
Did the D-Men keep anything from the wreck as a talisman against future possibilities? “I wish. I mean, we just left our van and trailer there and loaded out and said, ‘See you later.’” But next year Smith says the band will take a different route. “People have told us since about Exit 40, like, don’t go there. It’s the crappiest part of Connecticut.”
The tour ends December 9.