Monday, July 20, 2009

The Grownup Noise - Re-Fried and Back on the Road

The Grownup Noise is a Boston band which happens to care so much about the planet that last year before their summer musical expedition they converted an old van to run on veggie oil and used it exclusively to tour all the way to California and back. The tour in the van was a rousing success so they are packing up for a repeat this summer, starting this Friday (dates at the end of the interview).

I recently touched base with Adam (or as some might call him, ‘Mr. Press’) and he was anxious to share where The Grownup Noise is now, with relation to the band, the van and their music, since we spoke last summer.

For those who have not read the full story, I highly recommend checking out all of the following links before diving into this interview:

Touring with a Side of Fries: Part I - The Band Gets a Van
Kicking Off the Veggie Van Tour in Boston
Touring with a Side of Fries: Part II - Hitting the Road

I think the first most important question everyone is dying to know the answer to is - have you named the van yet?

Yes we have, although she kinda came named. It’s an old 1988 E-350 and it was converted into a luxury conversion van. The company that converted it kinda named it as it says on the side of the van “Lorain Motor Coach”. I’m not sure if that’s the name of the company or not, but that’s her name, Lorain.

Have you taken her around town since last summer's tour?

Yes, as much as I can. She’s only really good for trips over forty-five minutes though as it takes ten minutes just to heat up, so we use the van for all the regional dates -- Northampton, Portland, ME, Albany, etc.

I’m actually typing this in the van as we drive back from the Cape, and are running on veggie oil.

What is the most common reaction or question you are still getting from fans and bystanders?

I think that a lot of people have at least heard of the concept by now, as alternative fuels got so much press last summer as the prices inched towards five dollars a gallon. It seemed like everywhere you went you couldn’t escape an article on alternative fuels.
It’s kinda sad in some ways that alternative fuels get such lower press when gas is affordable.

Most people either don’t quite understand what I am talking about when I explain it, or they understand mechanics and don’t believe me. My new roommate is a diesel mechanic and he didn’t believe me when I first explained what kind of van I had. Now he is a total believer and can’t understand why this isn’t talked about amongst mechanics more. He is also the sole reason that our van currently works and we owe him everything!

How has the band evolved since last summer? Talk to us about your members and what has gone on there.

Well, the band is doing well and musically I feel like we have evolved a good deal, and in a really good and natural way. Paul’s song writing continues to change and amaze me. Before he would write new songs and we would spend forever arranging them only to get really bored with them or feel like they didn’t represent or sound like what we heard in our heads. I think that everyone in the band has heard what we could sound like for a while now and we are finally realizing this. I feel like we are much happier with our songs now, and they will have a much longer shelf life and be something that we will want to play for a while.

As far as band members go, we have changed some drummers. Absolutely no bad stories or anything, and everyone has become a member of the extended band family, it’s just that life gets in the way sometimes, and playing in an original band is one of the largest time commitments and serious relationships you can engage in.

The drummer we did our last summer tour with, Attis, got an offer from his first band, Eli “Paperboy” Reid to go and tour Europe with him during November, and Attis would have been a fool not to jump at that. Then Eli just blew up, got signed to Virgin Records, and Attis is busier than ever. We go to his shows with him though and catch up as much as we can. Then we started playing with Aine, but she had to go back to Japan for the summer, and hopefully we’ll start playing with her again in the fall.

For the tour we’re playing with our original drummer Kyle, who now lives in LA, but wanted to take a break from the city and hit the road with us for a month. At this rate we’ll hopefully have drummers in ever city and we’ll just have a huge extended drummer family!

For those who did not hear about your infamous route 93 breakdown, are you willing to talk about it? Did it change your mind about driving a 20+-year-old van?

More than willing! We had one of our belts break, which then took out another. Because of that we lost all power and our breaks…yikes! So, I’m probably always way too paranoid about weird van sounds and such but she actually does really well most of the time. Although she is old she only has 13,000 miles on her and the older couple that I bought it from really babied it. I have been assured by my roomie mechanic that most diesels last forever.

Like I mentioned, my roommate is a lifesaver and fixed the belts for us, as well as replacing most of the parts on the van in anticipation of the tour.

As sketchy as all of our touring vehicles have been we have never missed a show on tour, and the show we missed because of the belt was our first in ever in our four years.

Are you going back to any cities you toured through last summer and if so do you expect to find their grease is still free for the taking?

We always try to book our tours so that we hit most of the same cities, so we can continue to build upon previous tours. Last year I was able to keep a detailed log of every restaurant that we went to that was friendly and gave us grease, so I’m really hoping that pays off this year.

I think that things are actually going to be 100% easier this time, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Because fuel prices dropped so much there isn’t the same intensity that existed last summer, when grease was so valuable. There was money to be paid turning it into bio-diesel and there were a ton of start up companies that were paying restaurants for it, so that make our case tough.

I feel like a lot of those companies have gone out of business though as the price has dropped and the profit isn’t the same. For example, as I mentioned I am writing this as driving back from the Cape. We just stopped and got some Thai food and I noticed two full containers of grease on the restaurant’s back porch. I inquired and the cook was very excited to give them to me, he said that somebody came every week to collect his grease last summer, but that stopped suddenly when the price of gas dropped and he hasn’t been able to find anyone since. He even has a grease barrel that the guy dropped off and now the company has disappeared.

This is good for bands but not good for the immediate future of the green economy. That’s a much longer discussion though...

Talk to us about your Boston band grease collective -- Grease for the Arts. How did that get started? Who else is actively involved? Is it still going strong?

It’s definitely not an official organization quite yet. Again, a lot of that is because of the economy and at the time we were preparing ourselves to have to fight for grease in Boston and to fend off both the rendering companies and the environmental startups, which are never as environmental as, they seem (again, another long conversation).

But I digress… Here’s a quick explanation of why we were putting our collective together and why we thought it was very urgent at the time of last fall.

I could write a book on the politics of grease collection, but here is a quick history of grease collection in the US. This is a fascinating world to me, and have educated myself the best I can, but if this sounds boring please skip ahead to our shameless tour kick off show plug, ha!

Basically used veggie oil is big business and it’s actually traded on the commodities markets under “yellow grease”. For many years rendering companies collected it, and sold it to other companies, many of whom would boil it down and turn it into dog and cat food, or other random things.

There were the occasional environmental folks and bands that would collect veggie oil too, but we were small guys to the rendering companies and they mostly left us alone. Because every restaurant needed to have their grease disposed of, and since it was worth money but not that much, rendering companies actually charged them a monthly fee for pick up and then made money off selling the grease too. This is still the case in some places (mostly the mid-west).

Then as the price of gas rose, veggie oil became very valuable as you can make bio-diesel from used veggie oil (although we run on straight waste oil, as our van is converted to do such). Environmental start-ups popped up all over the place offering to pay restaurants to take their grease, as they would then covert it into bio-diesel that they could sell for 4 dollars a gallon. A battle ensued between [those who] render and environmental companies for a bit; both were even hiring private detectives in some parts of the country to prosecute anyone that would take their grease.

Now, it’s good on a lot of levels that Environmental Grease collection companies started popping up, but they often were nowhere near Boston and would drive to the city in large vetches that were not converted. So, they were using fossil fuels to pick up bio fuels from far away…[doesn’t it make] more sense to just keep them in the community?

This was when we realized that the local users and bands were being squeezed out, as we couldn’t offer to pay for it. So, we wanted to start a collective and sell it to a few local businesses as something that they could be a part of that would give back to the community. Some of the other people involved even talked [to] the folks who got the tax credit for the movie industry in MA, as we were thinking that would be a good thing to offer restaurants that donated us their grease.

What has been the most successful strategy though has been just educating local businesses that are involved with both the local music scene, and the communities that [they] are located in, that they are making a choice with how they want to dispose of their waste oil. We have been fortunate to find several that are more interested in supporting locals than a few bucks from sketchy companies. And, as I mentioned, things have gotten easier as the price of gas has dropped.

Right now the collective is just a bunch of musicians and bands that tour on grease, and we just share some resources and help each other out if we need some. I’m lucky to have found a large organization that uses a lot of grease that is totally excited about what we are doing. In the future, and especially if the price goes back up, we talked about having it be more of a membership organization. That would involve us collecting the grease and [then] others who use grease, but who didn’t want to have the hassle of collecting it, could just join. The focus will always be to keep it in the community and to cut back on fossil fuel use.

Where can we find more information on the band, your tour dates, or listen to some of your music?

Well, you can always find us on our website where we have tour dates and you can sign up for the mailing list.
The Grownup Noise

Of course we are also on MySpace.

And Facebook.

And Twitter.

So where and when does this summer's tour kick off?

I’m glad you asked….

We’re playing a tour kick off show at The Middle East Upstairs on Friday, July 24th

The show starts at 9pm and we’re on at around 10:30. We are playing with some other awesome bands including local favorites, Brendan Boogie and the Best Intentions, the amazing Winterpills (from Northampton), and Varsity Drag. It is Varsity Drag’s CD release and they include original members of the Lemonheads. Very exciting!

From there we leave for the first tour date, Columbus Ohio on Mon. the 27th. We then start working our way over to the west coast. We’re playing 20+ dates and hitting almost every major (and non-major) city, so check out tour dates and if you have friends that really like things that smell like slightly burnt French Fries and Pad Thai, send them our way! We’re very nice and love to give tours of the van too. All of our current tour dates and a ton of info are up on both our website and MySpace.

Tour Dates as of this interview include:

July 24th Boston -- The Middle East Upstairs
July 27th Columbus, OH -- Rumba Café
July 28th Athens, OH -- Casa Cantina
July 29th Chicago -- Darkroom
August 3rd Minneapolis -- Acadia Café
August 5th Billings, MT -- Off the Leaf
August 6th Spokane, WA -- Caterina Winery
August 7th Portland, OR -- Red Room
August 8th Seattle, WA -- Comet Tavern (4pm early show)
August 8th Tacoma, WA -- Doyle’s Public House (late show)
August 10th Santa Cruz, CA -- The Crow’s Nest
August 11th San Fran, CA -- Hotel Utah
August 12th Sacramento, CA -- Marlyin’s on K
August 16th San Diego -- Brick by Brick
August 18th Los Angeles -- Spaceland
August 19th Tucson, AZ -- Club Congress
August 20th Santa Fe, NM -- The Cowgirl
August 21st Albuquerque, NM -- Atomic Cantina
August 24th Denver, CO -- The Hi-Dive
August 26th Nashville, TN -- Springwater Supperclub
August 28th Asheville, NC -- Bobo Gallery
August 29th Washington, DC -- Red and Black Bar
August 30th NYC -- Rockwood Music Hall

The Grownup Noise is Paul Hansen (lead vocal, guitar), Katie Franich (cello), Kyle Crane (drums) and Adam Sankowski (bass).

[Jenn’s side note: I have seen these guys play and they are awesome! Last summer when I interviewed Adam (as found in the links above -- read them) I went to their show simply to get one of those van tours and chat all things grease. By the end of the night I was a fan of their van and their music! Get out and see them, seriously, you will not be disappointed.]

1 comment:

Judi FitzPatrick said...

Wonderful interview. I'm so happy they are still interested in the veggie grease as an eco-alternative, not just as a cost saving.
Peace, Judi