Get in the van with Gelatinus Cube and Don Croot

The band’s new podcast is set to premiere online this Thursday, April 15

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Don Croot

Don Croot might be a crusty, cantankerous middle-aged man, but he was born just 10 years ago, when Gelatinus Cube singer Pat Chase visited friend and bandmate Tim Swanson in New Zealand, where Swanson was living at the time. 

“Pat and I were walking around the neighborhood and saw a sign for Don Croot Street, and the name just stuck,” Swanson said.

Within Gelatinus Cube, Don Croot quickly became a gruff-voiced character who conducted his shady dealings from his van, and over the last decade the inside joke has expanded to incorporate an entire imagined world around Croot, including everything from companions like Tumpy Scrumpy to the chain restaurant Ragsuckers, a dour Brownwater County eatery where each guest is given a rag to dip into assorted gravies, which are then sucked loose from the cloth. 

Were it not for COVID-19, Croot and Co. likely would have remained solely a part of the band’s internal language, but with rehearsals and shows off the table, the musicians started to get a bit stir crazy moving into the summer of 2020.

“I’ve never been an optimistic person, but I never could have imagined [not playing music for more than a year],” said Chase, joined in a Zoom call by Swanson, Adam Woelfel, Brett Bajec and Tom Cleary, who doesn't play in Gelatinus Cube, but works on the band's podcast (more on that later). “We were talking about getting together in June [of 2020] and trying to keep it safe, but it became more and more obvious that there wasn’t going to be any in-person music making going on at all for quite a long time, so we had to find something else to do.”

Throughout, the band did continue to write, though, recording and sharing parts online and in weekly Zoom calls. But even this was done with the knowledge that none of the tracks would really feel complete until everyone could once again be in the same room to play the songs together. Meanwhile, other forms of creative release started to reveal just how much those in-person band practices were missed. “I was having my Ben Wyatt from ‘Parks [and Recreation]’ moment, where I was literally building a cardboard city in my basement with the idea I was going to do a stop-motion video, which never happened,” Chase said.

Eventually, the crew decided the time was right to invest its energy in revisiting Don Croot, creating the podcast, “Who’s in the Van? A Crootcast,” the first season of which is set to premiere online on Thursday, April 15.

Rather than ease listeners into this world, the first episode tosses listeners directly into the van with Croot via a discovered cassette tape of his long-lost pirate radio show. On the broadcast, Croot (voiced by Swanson), shares his exploits, which are broken up by radio commercials for Ragsuckers, Blarpies and other imagined locales that have existed among the band members for years. 

“It’s a weird territory to be in because I’ve never released anything that wasn’t music before,” Chase said.

“I think we made it for ourselves, and if people get it, they do, and that’s great,” Woelfel said. “I think, for us, we needed something that brought us together, because we have to be together, and something that would bring us joy and make us laugh in such a depressing time, where you’re seeing all of these deaths, and where you’re afraid of what might happen to your grandmother, your parents or yourself. We needed something we could do safely that we could also have fun doing. … And this seemed like the natural thing.”

As with Chase’s cardboard metropolis, the Crootcast includes excruciating levels of detail. As just one example, the show is “hosted” by Ryan Dean, an ambient musician who has discovered and is broadcasting tapes of Croot’s radio show, and so Bajec recorded and posted a complete ambient EP by Dean, along with companion Twitter and Bandcamp accounts. (There’s also a fully operational website for Our Father of the Worthless Miracle, a megachurch that until recently had also only existed within this imagined world.)

While the podcast’s tone is largely comic, there are dark undertones that Chase traced in part to the dystopia in which we’re currently living, cut off from one another by a global virus that the singer said had exposed society's frayed wiring.

“Most of the dark stuff is heavily rooted in this actual reality we live in,” Chase said. “Especially this year, the wiring is exposed on the joke. The world we live in does not work correctly, and it’s run by people who are constantly avoiding blame. And I was thinking about it on the way here, but one of the main themes of the show is avoiding responsibility. No one on the show takes responsibility for anything. … And that’s not that far from reality, I don’t think.”