Drug Sauna: This Canadian Stoner/Doom Band Plays Shows INSIDE a Van
There’s an arcade fire at Calgary’s pinball themed drinking hole, the Pinbar. Three firetrucks screech to a stop at the front of the venue. The firemen jump out of the truck and see a cloud of smoke coming from the parking lot behind the bar. They are greeted to a true heavy metal parking lot, a crowd of heshers standing around a van with smoke coming out of every orifice. Two bearded, sweaty, shirtless dudes are in the van, one sitting on a drum kit and another wielding a bass. The sirens are now off, and the firefighters can hear a face-melting symphony of sludge and fury. “Come get high. I know you wanna. Get fucked up in the drug sauna,” the bass player snarls over the amplified haze.
Enter Canada’s Drug Sauna. The two-piece stoner/sludge outfit consisting of Deano Robertson (bass/vocals) and Cory Martens (drums/vocals) has the unique gimmick of performing strictly inside of the holy alter of stoner rock culture, the van (nicknamed the Drug Sauna for obvious reasons). As seen from the fiasco at Pinbar, there are pitfalls that come with the territory.
“The smoke from the Sauna got sucked directly into the intake for the bar and set off the fire alarm,” says Martens. “We got a fine. That was a wicked bummer and we’ve since learned to take precautions. Noise is a big one too. We’ve had to get a noise permit in the past as well. We rock hard, but we also rock smart now.”
The two came together in 2019 to form this smoky, hazy alliance as members of the Vandits Van club in Calgary, a group of about 15 van enthusiasts who have formed a brotherhood over van culture. “We were doing a club camping trip a few years ago, and I told Deano we were gonna start a band that only plays in a van,” says Martens. “We laughed about it all weekend. Then we started to plan Vantopia and decided we were gonna ACTUALLY do it. So we jammed for the very first time the night before Vantopia and pulled it off!”
Vantopia is a van festival that the club puts on every summer. “Three days of vans, bands, and booze. It’s an insane party. We usually have about 20 bands play. No one sleeps. On Sunday morning we feed everyone pancakes and blast The Locust over the PA to let everyone know it’s time to go home.”
The duo released their three-track EP, 2% Saunic, last year as well as a short documentary titled Do It In A Van (directed by Jason Delisle), serving as a sample ride along in the Sauna. In 2021, Drug Sauna signed with the Dregs Records from Boston, MA. “We’re releasing 2% Saunic on cassette right away. European distribution is also on the horizon. We’ve also just collaborated with Deathfly Effects to do a run of Drug Sauna signature fuzz pedals. The pedal is called Saunic Doom, and it’s an octave fuzz. It’s a decimating pedal and we’re so stoked about it!”
Vans have been linked to music for decades now, starting in the ’60s with the “tune in, drop out” hippie culture and evolving into something strongly associated with stoner rock. For Martens, the epiphany to make the van the stage itself was organic. “We do everything in there… eat, sleep, drink, fuck, party… so it only made sense to rock out in there too.”
Playing concerts in such a way surely must be a logistics nightmare. How guerrilla are these sonic Sauna experiences? “Drug Sauna’s natural enemy in the wild is power, so the business owner needs to provide us that. One day we’ll throw down and buy a generator so we can go full guerrilla,” says Martens. “But yeah, there’s a ton of planning needed for us just to pull up. We have a crew of peeps that help us make it happen. Jess Panther is our sound girl, so she does a ton making sure everything is perfect. I’ve always said Drug Sauna is as much of a cool idea as it is a stupid idea. It’s just so much work.”
Hard work is one thing, but Canada also has cold as hell winters, which may be even too much to overcome for two sweaty, half naked guys playing hot, fuzzy sludge outside in a van with all the doors and windows open. “We were booked once to play in January. We were watching the forecast like hawks the week leading up to the show,” laments Martens. “We weren’t gonna take any precautions, just cross our fingers that it was gonna be nice. Turned out that it was -30°C, so we backed out. We’re too old for that bullshit. That’s when another new Drug Sauna rule happened: no shows in the winter.”
Playing in a van is a cool niche, but the idea of bringing the van onto a big stage such as at Wacken or Hellfest is an ideal notion. “Drug Sauna will drive the van onto whatever apparatus that will get us on stage. Sadly, I don’t think anyone’s gonna build a ramp for a couple’a ding dong heshers to scream their two notes at everybody. Until then, we’ll probably just see you in the Walmart parking lot leeching the free power. But yeah, only in the van. If we ever played on a stage instead of the van, then we’d just be another couple of d-bags playing doom on a stage.”
Technically this weird time of no live shows in the Covid era is tailored for Drug Sauna, but Martens feels like doing a curbside show somewhere would be dangerous as crowds aren’t always safe, “Especially if they’re stoned and drunk Drug Sauna fans. We’ve done a couple live stream/prerecorded shows though. I’m afraid we’re kind of in the same boat as ‘regular’ bands at the moment.”
What makes a great van to tour and to play in? Martens has you covered: “A great tour van has a bed with all the gear underneath it. It’s gotta have a bench seat too for an extra bed. Also, some sort of Bluetooth stereo. But a great van to play in has none of that,” he counters. “It needs to be completely empty. We need every inch of room in there that we can get our hands on. Between me and Deano, we own three boogie vans, but our pal (and fellow Vandits brother) Jeff Haugjord is the one that owns the actual Drug Sauna. It’s a ‘78 Chevy shorty with a full interior. So every time we play, he completely guts his van for us. It’s wild. He’s got it down to about 15 minutes to tear everything out. He’s a wild man.”
The 2% Saunic cassette comes out on April 1 via The Dregs Records; pre-order it here.