It’s been a busy past few months for pop-punk band Van Full of Nuns. Along with being one of the most in-demand cover bands in Dallas-Fort Worth, they’ve been hard at work on their own music. The group is a key player in the pop-punk revival on the North Texas music scene, particularly by way of launching the series Pop Punk Nites at local venues has lately been selling out shows in Austin, Colorado Springs and elsewhere.
It’s easy to see why Dallas loves them so much. The brotherly dynamic among lead vocalist Michael Perez, keyboardist and guitarist Josh Koder, drummer Todd Griffith, bassist and vocalist Jarrett Adlof and stage and merch manager Cameron Henson is immediately tangible on a Tuesday afternoon lunch meeting at Sundown at Granada. Perez had just arrived back from Italy after getting married. The band was also days away from performing at Taste Addison ahead of pop-punk newcomers Meet Me @ The Altar, and veterans 3OH!3, Hawthorne Heights and Story of the Year.
An iteration of the band began forming in 2016, when Koder founded an alternative rock band called Tory Sound. He discovered Perez, who was looking to be part of a band, through Craigslist. Griffith was also part of Tory Sound at the time. Three years and a few lineup changes later, Van Full of Nuns formed through fateful opportunity.
“We had kind of a pivotal point where there were promoters wanting to book our band to play after parties for punk and emo bands,” says Perez. “The first one was Taking Back Sunday, and it grew from there. We obviously wanted to say yes, but we didn't want to necessarily use the name Tory Sound because that was the original project. It was indie, it was folk, it was a whole different thing.
“One day when we were practicing, a van pulled up on Lewisville Lake. There are a lot of different groups that go through there, but this was literally a van full of nuns. And that was like the inspirational moment where we decided to take the Van Full of Nuns name and start doing the cover project with it.”
Since the band’s formation, it's become a vital component in the pop-punk scene, here and beyond Dallas. Last year, the band spearheaded Pop Punk's Not Dead in Buda, Texas, alongside Less Than Jake and Bowling for Soup. The monthly Pop Punk Nites the band puts on have become staples at venues such as Amplified and the Granada Theater.
The band’s repertoire consists of cover songs originally performed by the likes of Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, Jimmy Eat World and many others. Their musical inspiration and stylings partly inspired their first original release, “Unbound.”
Over triumphant guitar riffs and pounding drum loops, Perez sings a special message for the misfits and the rebels who keep pop-punk alive by jamming out at their shows.
“Turn it up / Scream it loud / This world’s our battleground / Fists up now / Strong and proud / This is the call of the unbound,” he sings on the song’s chorus.
“We decided to kind of unbind ourselves of the typical stigmas or rules of being a cover band,” Griffith says. “When people hear ‘cover band,’ they think ‘Oh, you cover a band,’ not that there’s anything wrong with that. But we’re trying to break that by being like, ‘Well, let's cover all of them. We're just gonna cover everything in this genre.’ The other kind of stigma was cover bands not writing original music, and so we’re like, ‘Let's unbind from that, and let's make this first original song.’”
Their latest single, the breezy, romantic “Summer Never Dies,” which was released in April, was written by Perez about his wife, Heather, and was inspired by their time at her family’s lake house.
“It was an opportunity for the both of us to really sit down and have that conversation about what the future of our relationship was gonna look like,” says Perez. “And then she kind of just threw it out there, the whole, like, ‘Let's just let's move forward with this thing. We're obviously in love with each other. Let's take it to the next level.’ And then the plans for going to Italy and all that came together after that.”
Over the song, Perez alludes to “making love under starry nights” and “drinking Fireball with our friends,” with hopes that these memories last forever. Moments after Perez broke down these lines, Griffith ordered shots of Fireball for the table.
When the shots arrived, the band members showed off their sacred shot-taking ritual. Raising the glass up high for “the pop” (the Father), down low for “the punk” (the Son), and across for “the pizza crust” (the Holy Ghost). This special form of “communion” is an integral part of the Pop Punk Nite experience.
The North Texas band Van Full of Nuns is on a mission to keep the sound of the early aughts alive.
Adloff, the newest member of Van Full of Nuns, joined the band about six months ago. The band had reached out to Adloff to join them on tour and found that he naturally gelled with the others.
“It was awesome,” Adloff says. “After one tour, it was like, ‘Hey, let's just do this thing.’”
Though Henson was not part of the original Tory Sound lineup, he has been with Van Full of Nuns since 2019, when he moved to Texas from Alabama for work. The self-proclaimed “insurance guy” hadn’t been part of a band, but upon meeting them and selling merch at some of their shows, he was encouraged to tap into his musical talents.
“I started taking guitar lessons and voice lessons,” recalls Henson, “and it’s ballooned. I feature onstage sometimes. They forced me to sing for the first time, which was great. It was terrifying, but it was great.”
“Strongly encouraged!” Griffith adds.
“Strongly encouraged,” replies Henson in agreement.
As this dialogue would suggest, Griffith maintains an air of positivity. One of the band’s songs, “Miss Me With That,” was inspired by a phrase Griffith often repeats when dealing with shit-talking haters.
Band members often read negative comments online and hear naysayers declaring that pop-punk is dead. “Miss Me With That” is the band’s way of looking past that negativity and simply doing what they do best: cranking out pop-punk tunes for the new age.
“That song came out around the point when Pop Punk Nite was starting to take off,” says Perez, “and with positivity and success also comes a lot of haters. I mean, all you have to do is go through one of our Facebook ads, and you'll see a bunch of not-so-nice comments. As it turns out, we tend to make friends with them anyway and get them out to our shows.
“Todd's a marketing genius and communicates to every comment and message that we receive, but nevertheless, we wanted to also write a song that captured an ‘F you’ to the haters, as well as giving it that positive, edgy twist that we like to put on things.”
A more personal track is the existential “Is Heaven Worth The Hell I’m Living,” which was written while the band was in their “grind phase.” The song came together as they were starting to book more venues out of state and spending more time on the road. During that time, they began to question whether the fate of the band was worth the trouble of tour life.
“Everything started clicking,” says Griffith. “We started attaining these goals and seeing this vision, and with that come sacrifices, as much fun as it is. As much as we'd love to just stay on the road, we all have families, wives, kids, and different things behind us. And is that goal of heaven worth this hell? It comes about that while all of this is fantastic, and we're gonna keep grinding for it.
“That was a balanced phase, where it was like, ‘Man, is this really worth the sacrifices that it's taking on our physical or mental health? On the stability of our partnerships back home?’ It was a challenging deal. And since that song, we've all really focused on how we work smarter, not harder.”
Thankfully, Van Full of Nuns has plenty of Texas events coming up this summer.
On June 15, they'll be in Kemah at the Kemah Boardwalk, with Bay City band As The City Sleeps. Then it's back to Fort Worth at the Rail Club on June 17, again with As The City Sleeps, alongside New Orleans pop-punk band Neutral Snap, as well as Austin five-piece Burning Years.
They will play a special show at the Granada Theatre on July 22, with City of Auburn, All There Is and Thru It All. As the band continues to grow, they share they same mission as their fans – to continue to prove that pop-punk isn’t dead and to platform other pop-punk acts.
“We have so many original projects on the scene that we've been introduced to,” says Koder. “I do a lot of the booking for the pop-punk stuff in the area, and it has been great to see all of the original pop-punk bands being produced. We know from our experience in the nostalgia behind all the pop-punk songs we grew up with that we could play an hour-and-a-half of covers, but I think it's really cool to introduce what's new on the scene.”