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Music, geocaching, and unexpected friendships—Interview with Bugsy Travels & The Ammo Boxes

Bugsy Travels & The Ammo Boxes is a cover band that takes well-known pop songs and re-writes the lyrics with a geocaching twist. It all started with playing together just for fun one evening and turned into a band that delights geocachers with fun, relatable lyrics. We spoke with them to find out what it’s like to create and perform music about geocaching adventures.

What inspired everyone to start playing and making music? 

Jan: I started playing classical guitar in primary school because you’ve got to have a hobby, right? My parents listened to classical music and it was pretty much all I knew. Then my older sister got a cassette tape of U2’s “Rattle And Hum” from her boyfriend, and I listened to it until it wore out. So at the age of 16 I joined my first band playing electric guitar, and I started singing because nobody else would. Even though the gigs were very small and far from glamorous I enjoyed all of them. Most of the time our wages consisted of free beer. Later I became a singer/guitarist of a cover band and although the pay wasn’t much better, at least we got to perform on a proper stage. At the school where I teach I started a school band and it’s still alive and kicking. I’ve participated in different projects: singing, playing guitar, some music production. I really couldn’t imagine my life without music.

Nico: I’ve been a music lover since I was a kid. Most of my cousins are older than me, and they had quite a few records. I discovered a lot of great music already at a young age because of this. I loved it. Getting older, some friends started a band and it intrigued me in a similar way I guess. So I got myself a cheap acoustic guitar and tried to find how to play some of the classics. To my surprise I was able to do so. So it’s a combination of loving music and the fun of playing music with other people: When playing together there are moments when everything just fits, that’s a hard to beat feeling. And of course, having fun and getting to know new people is equally important. Because of music I got to know Steve Weeks (the founder of another geocaching band, The Travel Bugs). He’s a really nice, fun person to work and talk with!

Peter: For me, music has always been there. I grew up in a family with two older brothers that were already playing in bands. Sometimes, they had rehearsals at home. I got to see first-hand how much fun it could be to play music together with other people. On my mother’s side of the family almost everybody has played music, at various levels, for at least four generations. The musical bug was very present. It was only a matter of time until it bit me.

Hans: I have been a fan of music ever since I started listening to the radio as a child. I loved singing along with all sorts of songs. I was always tapping on things to the beat of the songs on the radio. It drove my mother nuts. Later on I also wanted to play music. Drums were the instrument I dreamed about as a youngster. When I started buying albums, I was especially impressed with the drumming on Simple Minds’ “Live in the City of Lights.” The drums on that live album were so energetic. I wanted to do that too.

The first Bugsy Travels & The Ammo Boxes show in 2016

How did the idea of a geocaching cover band come about? 

Peter: In 2016, there was a game organized for different teams of geocachers, with events spread throughout the year. Peter had the idea to play some music together at the closing event, bringing the different teams together. Jan and Hans were very enthusiastic to join, and the three of us had good chemistry right off the bat. All we needed now were some songs to sing. We searched for some titles that could be related to geocaching, but we didn’t find too much. It was Hans who started with some play-on-words with existing song titles, and before Jan and Peter realized what was going on Hans was already adapting the lyrics of some songs. 

By the time the event took place, we already had a full playlist of adapted songs. At the event, there were organizers of another event that invited us. So we decided not to disband after just one show, but do one more. And then came the next invitation.

It was never the intention to form a permanent geocaching cover band. But we had fun together. The geocachers at the events liked it. So we just kept on doing it.

Who picks the songs to cover? 

Hans: We are all music geeks so in each conversation and during each rehearsal, songs pop up where one of us goes “Hey, do you know that song? We could link it to this or that, that would be fun!” and off we go. 

We try to focus on well-known songs: big hits that everyone recognizes instantly and are fun to play or sing along to, combined with lyrics focusing on recognizable and funny geocaching situations. We get great reactions whenever we play them. First we see people think “Hey wait, I know that song!”  Then we see them laughing with the jokes and wordplay in the new lyrics, and then we see them thinking “Yeah! Been there, done that!” with a big smile on their face.

One of the band’s favorite songs

What is the song writing process like? 

Hans: Whenever I hear a song I enjoy, my brain instantly starts looking for wordplay we can use to create another geocaching parody. I usually start with the title to see if I can give it a geocaching twist. From there on, I start adapting the rest of the lyrics. The key is to keep the adaptation close to the original feel of the lyrics but still make it totally different subject-wise. This way people feel like they know the song and are still pleasantly surprised by the new content. I try to focus mainly on recognizable or hilarious situations people get into when they are out geocaching. Then you get songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Sat Reception,” “DNF#2,” or “Damn Those Small Things.” But I have also been a lifelong fan of absurd humour, like “Leeches” where a geocacher’s wading suit gets flooded with…yes, you guessed it! And no this one was not based on a personal experience, thank goodness!

I also enjoy an occasional “serious” song adaptation for big moments in geocaching history. A song like “GC20” about 20 years of geocaching or “Mars Odyssey” for the Mars trackable were a challenge to write, especially GC20 as I wanted to cover the key moments of the past 20 years. 

Peter: When it comes to recording the songs, it was a bit of a search for the process that works best for us. Because we couldn’t sit together in the same room during the lockdown, we had to record our parts separately at home. Jan starts with recording a guitar part and a vocal part at his place. The rest of us use that track to play along to when we’re recording our parts. We all put this online. And then Jan pieces everything back together and mixes the final result. We sometimes add some small extra little things after that, but most of the time the finished song is already there after Jan has done his magic with it.

How much do your own geocaching adventures influence the lyrics?

Hans: Some of our songs are indeed inspired by our own geocaching experiences or stories we hear from other cachers on events. For instance, I wrecked two smartphones while geocaching: one in the North Sea and one in a mountain river in the south of France. Each time I had forgotten to take it out of my pockets before going into the water. So I turned Sum 41’s “In Too Deep” into a song about a guy desperately trying to bring his drowned smartphone back to life. We even threw in a bit of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” halfway through the song to great effect. That became “Phone in the Water.” Whenever we start singing that classic line, people burst into laughter. Writing songs can be therapeutic.

How did each one of you discover geocaching? 

Peter: On a family trip, my brother brought his GPS, and we did some caches while having a walk in the woods. I was immediately interested. After getting my own GPS as a birthday present, I was hooked.

Jan: One time my wife and I drove our daughter to a scouting camp in a beautiful part of Belgium. Instead of going back home right away, we decided to try geocaching. There must have been an article about it somewhere. We didn’t have a GPS or even a geocaching app, we just had the coordinates written down on a piece of paper. Still, we were excited to actually find something there and we wanted more. Very often one of the kids discovered the caches first. We bought a decent GPS, discovered all kinds of caches nearby and abroad, and published a series of our own caches. But maintenance turned out to be quite a job and after a few years we archived them. We also started going to geocaching Events together, which is particularly fun because you meet new people like Hans and Peter. 

Hans: I‘ve always been a big reader. In 2014 I read a thriller called “Five” by Ursula Poznanski. The last page of this entertaining book had info on this game and mentioned the website. After finishing the book and reading the extra information, I was intrigued by this game I had never heard of before. So I checked the website and gave it a try. We haven’t stopped geocaching since.

How has the band changed over the years? 

Jan: Well, as Peter says, it all started as a one-time-only thing with just the three of us. But right from that first gig, we had so much fun together that we just couldn’t stop making music together. Until after a few years things were slowing down a bit, and Peter had too many other projects on his hands. He quit the band (albeit temporarily) and Hans and I had to decide whether we would go on with Bugsy Travels or not. Fortunately, we did. Hans reached out to Yasmine, who replaced Peter as a bass player and all-around humourist, and Nico joined us to play the rhythm guitar. This opened up more possibilities because some guitar riffs are simply too hard to combine with singing for a mere mortal. Nico is actually a Muggle, but we forgive him. Soon after we became a quartet, we had the opportunity to play at the Geocoinfest in Manchester in 2019. This became a fantastic road trip, plus, we got to play with that other big name in geocaching music: The Travel Bugs also known as Steve Weeks. After that, Steve has always been in touch with us. The same year, Yasmine decided to quit the band, but fortunately by that time Peter realised that leaving Bugsy Travels was the biggest mistake of his life. So now Peter is back on. The band as it is now turns out to be a very productive band even in lockdown. In a few months, we recorded and mixed 10 songs without even rehearsing together. Even so, and every musician will agree with this, nothing beats playing music together in real life.

What is your fan base like?  

Peter: Well, if you want to play music for large crowds, lyrics about geocaching are perhaps not the best idea. Not all geocachers are interested in music when going to an Event, and music enthusiasts aren’t going to geocaching Events if they want to see a band perform. But we do feel that the people who love both music and geocaching really appreciate what we do. When we play, it is not for a crowd of thousands of people, but a smaller group of people, often with REALLY big smiles on their faces. 

Hans: The first few years our fan base was indeed mainly made of Belgian cachers, mostly friends too, who came to see us play at local events. We also noticed foreign cachers mentioning enjoying us when logging the Brugse Beer Mega Events we played at.Once we went to GeocoinFest Europe 2019 in Manchester and started posting our songs on YouTube, our fan base slowly started expanding into an international one. Now we get reactions from all over the world—all over Europe, to the US and Canada, to New Zealand.

What is each member’s favorite song of yours and why? 

Jan: Hmmm…not an easy one. I think the song “Pokémon Killed the Geocache Star” is the most fun to sing, and “A Forest” is my favourite song to play on guitar. But it’s a close call and that’s just for the songs that we published so far. Ah…so many great songs to play 😊  

Hans: Hard to choose, but I also say “Pokémon Killed the Geocache Star” since the lyrics came out perfectly, and I still find them hilarious. Plus, it’s just the perfect pop song. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs. Everyone loves that one. We always have trouble staying serious when we sing that song. Laughing and singing at the same time is a tricky combination.

Peter: For me, the title with the best play on words is “(I Can’t Get No) Sat Reception.” The most fun to play is probably “The Cache Is In A Bottle.”

Nico: Ah, the agony of choice. If I have to pick one: “Psycho Cacher,” because it’s fun to play, the song construction doesn’t follow the beaten track. Talking Heads is one of those few bands that pop up once every 10 years coming up with a new and creative sound, though they are very accessible.

Track list from the band’s new album, “(Well) Grounded”

Where is the coolest/favorite place the band has performed? 

Jan: Although every event has its charm, I think Hans will agree that our performance in the Manchester pub “The Old Nag’s Head” was the most memorable for a couple of reasons. First of all we got to play as “The Travel Bugs live band” with Steve Weeks, which was pretty exciting. You must know that we learned all his songs, but we’d never seen Steve until the gig. Second, getting there was an adventure from the moment we got in the minivan in Belgium until we met Steve on stage. And last but not least, English pubs have an atmosphere that’s really different from what we’re used to. Great weekend, great memories! 

Hans: In a non-COVID-19 world the answer would definitely have been Geocaching HQ/Seattle. We were really looking forward to playing at the HQ20 party. We still hope we can make this concert happen once everything settles down again. A funny anecdote is that at one of the first rehearsals back in 2016, we jokingly said Seattle was the “Ultimate Goal” for this project. Who would have known a few years later we’d get that very opportunity to do so?

But as Jan said, the show at Geocoinfest Europe in 2019. That entire weekend was one big adventure and it also resulted in a friendship and collaboration with our musical brother Steve. Much respect to Ian Ledger and Jon-Paul Barr for making that happen!

What do you all love about geocaching? 

Peter: There’s something for everybody in this game. You can enjoy the outdoors, being shown the best hikes or walks in the region. You can enjoy solving puzzles or gadget caches. You can do it by day or at night. What is so great is that you can play the game the way you want to play it. If you don’t want to climb the highest trees to log a cache you can just pick a cache with a lower terrain rating. If you learn to read the attributes in a cache listing you can choose the kind of adventure that fits what you want, whatever that is.  

Hans: Geocaching has given me a lot of new and very dear friends. I will always be grateful for that. Plus it took me to places I never thought I would go and to adventures I never thought I would experience. It’s an amazing hobby.

Jan: For me, it’s all about being outdoors, about the thrill of the search and about seeing beautiful places. Geocaching with friends is also a big plus. I must admit my wife does most of the puzzles and mystery stuff because she’s so good at it. So there are times where I just tag along and enjoy the cache tour without even knowing the background of the caches. One of the great things about geocaching is also that there are literally caches everywhere. No matter where you go on holiday, you can find a cache tour. In our experience it’s the best way to find the most beautiful spots.

What is the best geocaching memory for each of you? 

Hans: That would be Piewen’s night cache “The Silent Darkness of the R6” (GC7VXGN). It is the ultimate night cache!

Jan: For me, it was a Halloween night Event not far from where I live. It must have been around the year 2012 or so. They brought us to the starting point in a wagon, and there was a brilliant murder story around the night caches. There were fire needles and old ruins, and the night was not too cold. We were among friends and it was magical. 

Peter: There are a couple. But the best days are those spent with other geocachers. Spending a day with some friends, going to the most unexpected places, even the inside of a bridge, or solving field puzzles in the darkest hours by the lights of our flashlights. Those are the things I enjoy the most.

What is the dream geocaching destination? 

Jan: There is not one destination that comes to mind. I would love to experience geocaching on different continents. Come to think of it, Easter Island seems pretty cool.

Peter: There are beautiful spots all over the world, and there are creative cache owners everywhere. I don’t think I have a favorite spot, as long as the food is good and the weather is nice. I do look forward to one day being able to go geocaching with friends again. Sometimes it is not important where you are, as long as you’re there with the right people. 

Hans: That would be visiting HQ and logging the oldies in the area, visiting the “Original Stash” plaque. That is a road trip we were planning to combine with our concert at HQ20. So fingers crossed that can happen in 2022!

Are there any future plans you can tell us about? 

Jan: The past five months or so we’ve recorded a lot of music from home and since WorldWide CacheCon 2021 we have seven music videos online. Both recording/mixing the songs and making the videos has been a real learning process for us. I would like to emphasize that although we’re ambitious in getting better and reaching more of the geocaching community, all of this is still a hobby and none of us are professionals. Now the videos, they’re a great way to promote our band. But a lot of people started asking us about a downloadable playlist. You can’t listen to videos in your car or take them on a cache tour. So we figured we should publish some kind of album. 

Hans: Yes, as of now we have finished 10 songs. We decided to publish them as a free downloadable album called “(Well) Grounded.” People can download it here or go to our Facebook page where we provided a free download link. We hope everyone will download, enjoy and share our music amongst geocachers. We also decided to make the album trackable, check the artwork in the download for the code. We hope that people will like what they hear, and give us feedback on the album while logging it at the site. As for the future, at this moment we are hoping we can soon start rehearsing again, since the pandemic started we hardly had rehearsals. We really miss playing music together. So we will continue to record more of our songs and maybe release more sometime this year or next year. We really hope to be able to play shows at Events once those are allowed again. Organizers of Events can contact us through our Facebook page, mail us at bugsytravelsgc@gmail.com, or contact us through the Geocaching Message Center (username BugsyTravels). We will be more than happy to sort out the logistics for a concert with them. We really hope to see and entertain all of you out there again someday.

Download their debut album “(Well) Grounded” for free.


Source: Geocaching

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