On the road again

Frank Jordan travels to Ohio, totals its van, records a new record and joins the A-Team

Frank Jordan and the van that is no more: Matt Ontjes, Mike Visser and Devin Hurley.

Frank Jordan and the van that is no more: Matt Ontjes, Mike Visser and Devin Hurley.

10 p.m. Friday, September 17; at The Distillery, 2107 L Street; with Dungeons and Drag Queens and Holiday in Spain; $5.

The clean-cut guy outside the Fox & Goose before its Monday-night open-mic looked kind of familiar. “Mike,” he said sheepishly. “Mike Visser—from, you know, Frank Jordan.”

How could we forget? As the force behind the stellar Milk the Thrills, an album released last February by Modesto-based indie label Devil in the Woods, the three-man Frank Jordan—named after the former San Francisco police chief turned mayor who once cracked down on live music—is easily one of the most unforgettable bands this city has produced.

And here was Visser—back from Ohio, where his band recently finished recording a new album—playing a couple of songs from Milk the Thrills in front of a crowd whose sensibilities lay far closer to the acoustic folk music of Jackie Greene than the elegant, textural rock that Visser’s band creates.

The singer-guitarist had passed on his phone number outside the pub, with a promise to talk about his band’s strange trip to Athens, Ohio—a college town located in that state’s hilly south, not far from the Ohio-West Virginia border where the events in the The Mothman Prophecies, a book by UFO researcher John Keel, took place in 1967 and 1968.

Then Visser skipped town with his family for Labor Day weekend. A day later, drummer Devin Hurley called instead to finish a story Visser had started—about how the band totaled its 16-passenger Ford Econoline E-350 van the day after it arrived in Ohio in late June, with Visser behind the wheel.

The idea was to work with Eddie Ashworth, who produced Milk the Thrills. After recording that album, Ashworth had moved from Southern California to take a teaching position at Ohio University in Athens, which had built a new recording studio where he could hold engineering classes. “His idea was to make an album in the studio while teaching the class,” Hurley said.

The band’s first night there, it went into town for pizza with the 15 students in the class. Hurley stayed behind, while Visser and bassist Matt Ontjes elected to drive the 20 miles back up a winding road to where the band was staying. Visser dozed off. “The van went up on its side and slid sideways into a tree, right near a ravine,” Hurley said, adding that the accident shattered the windshield and top, and the band’s merchandise—T-shirts, CDs and other items, the lifeblood of any touring band—was scattered all over the site. Ontjes and Visser, however, were not hurt. “But if they hadn’t been wearing their seat belts, who knows what would have happened,” Hurley said. “The van looked like somebody should have died in it.”

Days later, the band’s manager was driving the band up the same twisty mountain road. They got pulled over by a cop. “He had to walk his sobriety test on the tire marks of where the van skidded into the tree,” Hurley said. “Later on, we found out that right above where all this happened, there was the cemetery of an old insane asylum.”

It was an auspicious way to begin recording, which the band did the day after its accident. What came out of the experience was a level of tension that, Hurley thinks, may have contributed to a better recording—it’s more stripped-down, he said. “Mike did a lot of harmonies and a lot of different guitars,” he added. “Some stuff is really minimalist, and some we went the big production route.” It will come out next spring.

To regain its mobility, the band borrowed $2,500 and bought a 1984 GMC Vandura with a rebuilt motor and a CB radio. “It barely made it back to Sacramento. Then it blew a head gasket,” Hurley said. “It’s pretty funky—it looks like the A-Team van. It’s, like, blue with white stripes.”

So, now Frank Jordan needs a new van. Why get worked up about these guys? Simple: Of all the bands from our lovely town, Frank Jordan is the one with the most potential to become a global, superstar-level act—arguably, at the level of Led Zeppelin or U2. And you can help Frank Jordan get rolling again, by seeing the band play live.