As a little girl, Davin Jael couldn’t wait to grow up so she could trade the tedium of rural Maine for the excitement and wonder of everywhere else. Not unhappy, but restless, Davin left home at 18, bouncing from town to town across America. She landed eventually in sunny California, until Mother Nature sent her packing. She’s been on the move ever since.
“I like everything to be temporary and fluid,” explains Davin, now 27. “That feeling like I wake up on a moving island rather than being stationary, I can’t see myself ever getting tired of it.”
Now, as the lead singer for the straightedge-vegan-hardcore punk band, Kingdom, Davin’s adventures have led her across the Atlantic to Britain, France, Eastern Europe and Russia, where last summer she was detained by border authorities on suspicions of drug smuggling.
In spite of this, she intends on crossing the whole of Russia next fall on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Following Kingdom’s 2010 fall European tour, Davin and her boyfriend (Kingdom guitarist Dave Hayter) will jump aboard in the Ukraine and ride until they reach Mongolia.
The Feral Scribe caught up with Davin at The Bean Café on Philadelphia’s rambunctious South Street, to discuss traveling, blogging and why she was trying to sneak a bunch pills out of Russia.
The Feral Scribe: Why were you so eager to leave home?
Davin Jael: I had been waiting to leave since I was about six, because Maine is really cold and really boring. (laughs) I used to collect pictures of cities. Every night before I went to bed I would spread out all my pictures and I would just stare at them imagining that I might live in one of the glowing little squares someday. So it started this big countdown. [Eventually] I got on a Greyhound and headed vaguely west.
Where did you go?
The goal was kind of to get to Santa Cruz. We got our Greyhound tickets and went to one place, then to the next place, to the next place and so on. We would stay with random people, look around and then, when we got to Santa Cruz, it was a nightmare. It was so expensive. We couldn’t stay there.
After a month of staying in homeless shelters, we went to Berkley. We get off the bus and realized we don’t know anyone in the city, we don’t know where the homeless shelters are. So we tried to find some church steps. I’d seen people sleeping on them all the time and they never got messed with. So we’re looking for a nice church step and we realize this insane punk venue is in Berkley, California. We have to go to this venue; they’ll give us a place to stay. So we trudge over there and go, ‘Hi, we’re from Maine. Can we sleep on your floor? We don’t have anywhere to go.’
They were like, ‘No, but there’s a show tonight and if you work the door you can get in for free. Maybe you could meet someone tonight.’
So we were stamping hands and taking money and there were these two people from Maine who had disappeared two years prior who were really good friends of mine. They were a couple and they up and disappeared and no one ever heard from them again. So I’m stamping hands and suddenly I hear, ‘Davin?’ I look and it’s the two kids from Maine. It was outrageous. So we stayed with them for a while. Then the night before we were to move into our apartment there was an earthquake – a tremor. I felt a wobble. I cried all night and we left on the 6 a.m. bus to Eugene, Oregon.
Nowadays you travel mostly with your band. How different is touring from regular travel?
It’s not really very pleasurable. It’s all the parts of traveling that suck. Sitting in a van, eating gas station food and never getting to your destination. It’s all of the bad parts all of the time. Traveling, looking out the window, waiting for time to go by, then being in a place for like an hour, but only in the three block radius around the venue we’re playing and only meeting the people who come to see our band. Then we leave again. I’m around the same three people all of the time and I can’t get away from them.
So why tour?
(Laughs) Because when I’m not touring all I want to do is tour. (Laughs) It’s the one thing I love doing, but when I’m doing it I hate it. When I’m at home all I think about is going on tour. When I’m on tour I only think of all the things I’ll do just once I’m home. I have no idea why I do it. Actually, there’s five percent of the time when it’s the greatest thing ever, usually when we’re playing, which makes up for everything else.
You’ve been writing your Elledelphia blog for a while now. How did you get into blogging?
I started when I was 21. I was living in Richmond, Virginia. My grandmother was dying. I moved back to Maine to be with her and had to leave all of my friends. I was bummed, but someone said, ‘You should get LiveJournal.’ So I got this LiveJournal blog and used it to keep up with friends from all the different places I’d been. Then I got readers, more readers, more readers and it got to the point where people would come up to me at our shows and be like, ‘I read this in your blog…’
It was bizarre, because it was just stuff from my everyday life. That’s all I write about. So I started a more “official” blog, realizing that I wasn’t just writing for my family and friends. I’m still just writing about my life, really uninteresting stuff, but for some reason people really like reading it. (Laughs)
Is it easy to find the right foods on the road, being a committed vegan?
Sometimes on tour we’d stay at peoples’ houses. Last tour we traveled with spices, a knife and a cast-iron pan. Every exit off the highway, there’s McDonald’s and gas stations, but about a half-mile down there’s a town that people live in and you just go, ‘Where’s your grocery store?’ and people would tell us. We’d buy pasta, olive oil and fresh vegetables.
If we don’t have time because we’re just driving, driving, driving, then we get Ramen Noodles, Oriental flavor. It’s the only vegan one there is. We take the bag, crush it up into four or five pieces. Then you get a Styrofoam cup from the gas station, put the noodles in, pour in hot tea water, put the cap on and wait about two minutes, pop the little drinking spout, pour out the water, put the spices in and eat with a spork. It’s usually cooked just enough to be edible. (Laughs)
Our bassist actually texted me the other day; he’s touring with his new band. He was like, ‘I just ate tour Ramen and thought of you.’ I actually got that tingly feeling like I was going to cry. I can’t even explain it.
What’s the one memorable travel story you tell everyone about?
We were on tour in Russia. We had come in through Finland and had to go out at the Ukraine. Everyone was telling us the Russian-Ukrainian border was so corrupt. So, we get there and we’re a little nervous. We’re in a Swedish van with a Hungarian driver, and on tour with a Swedish band and my band. They come to our van and tell us to go to this private garage off to the side where no one can see us. They made us wait for so long.
Finally, this hard-jawed, blue-eyed, mega-Russian – speaks no English – comes up. We have to open up the back of our van. We have all of our equipment, all of our merchandise – our t-shirts, our records, our personal belongings and thousands of Euros that we’re hiding.
He’s going through everyone’s stuff. Then he gets to my stuff. Now, we were on the road for three months, so I had four months worth of birth control with me. And when he picked it up, he had this look on his face like, ‘You motherfucker.’
He radios for back up. He motions for everyone to get up against the wall. This guy in fatigues comes jogging in to take a sample of my birth control. I’m panicking because I listened to this show on NPR before we left, about the top countries that would imprison people without giving a reason. Russia was number two. So, I think I’m going to jail. They don’t even need a reason. What if they don’t have vegan food in prison? What am I going to eat?
So, I start trying to explain birth control through pantomime to him, [rubbing my stomach] and going u-ter-us… as though breaking it down in syllables will somehow help him speak English. I’m miming a baby coming out of me… so desperate. I finally rummage through my bag and pull out a tampon and I’m like, ‘Girl. Tampon. Medicine. Girly Medicine.’ They brought in a drug dog and eventually realized we weren’t drug smugglers. They found our money, but let us keep it.
That was one of the more memorable moments.
Kingdom performing The Rage That Guides last year in Warsaw, Poland.