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Month: March 2008

Sweet Science and Vegetable Oil

Sweet Science and Vegetable Oil

By Nate Williams

When one thinks of all the things a band does and might spend its money on while touring, one might not think of the extraordinary amounts of gas that can go into a van full of musicians and gear. But it can be incredibly expensive for a band, especially one that doesn’t have the support of a giant label that can afford buses and airplanes for its acts.

That’s one of the reasons the Tallahassee, Fla., based pop-punk band One Small Step For Landmines is doing with their touring van, which has been converted to run on used vegetable oil.

The idea came from Mewithoutyou, who had been on tour with Sparta using a vegetable oil fueled van, singer Kevin Allen said.

“We all talked about it and decided it was a great idea so we bought a diesel bus and shopped around for the best conversion,” Allen said. “We were shopping for used diesel vehicles which aren’t cheap and aren’t easy to find.”

After finding a used Ford E-350 Conversion van, the band took it to a company that converted the van’s engine so that it could run on the unconventional fuel, Allen said. The modifications set them back $5000.

The trick then was to find places, such as restaurants, to give them the Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) and then to filter it properly so that it can be used, Allen said.

“At times we have been in situations where we were low on veggie oil and couldn’t find more,” Allen said. “When that happens we just flip a switch and we are able to run on normal diesel fuel. We always have diesel as a back up.”

There was a learning curve to the process of preparing the oil for usage, Allen said.

“The first tour we did using it there were some kinks in the process to iron out, we had to learn as we went and it took some time and was a bit frustrating at moments,” Allen said. “Now we have it down to a sweet science.”

In fact, there isn’t much science to it. Most diesel engines don’t need any conversions to burn vegetable oil, be it Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) or WVO.

The problem lies in the viscosity of the oil, which is much thicker than diesel or biodiesel. The oil must be heated to keep it flowing through the fuel lines or it will clog them. The common solution is to have a system of two fuel tanks installed. One tank is filled with regular diesel or biodiesel used as the vehicle is started and just before it’s turned off to clean out the oil caught in the fuel lines.

To fill up the van, the band has taken to asking around the restaurants of whatever town they are, Allen said.

“There is a very specific kind of oil you can use and its best to check around and see which places have clean oil,” Allen said. “Sometimes we roll up on a place and check their oil, they give us the go ahead to take it and there is only a small amount we can actually use so we have to go somewhere else.”

Other businesses will deny the band the oil because they do not understand the band’s intention or out of sheer laziness, Allen said. But there are occasions where the business is enthusiastic to give away their oil, which they normally would pay to have removed.

“Often times people are excited to see the process and smile the whole time we are taking their used oil away,” Allen said.

This kind of enthusiasm carries into the band’s live shows, Allen said. At each show, the band at least mentions their unusual van, to help raise a little awareness.

“We don’t preach about what we are doing. I always mention it at some point in the set and give people the option to ask some questions after we play,” Allen said. “I usually end up talking to a few people each night and it’s a cool feeling, knowing that you are sharing a fairly new idea with people.”

Unfortunately, the use of WVO isn’t going to save the planet. Even if 100 percent of all WVO in the US is used as fuel, it would only reduce consumption of fossil fuels by one percent. Also, SVO/WVO doesn’t improve gas mileage and has even been noted to get slightly worse mileage than diesel.

One Small Step For Landmines has noticed no real advantage in performance or gas mileage with their van’s SVO system, Allen said. In fact, the SVO system can cause even more kinks in the vehicle on top of the standard problems that come with an aging automobile.

“We had some issues with the SVO system due to the extreme cold temperatures, our engine was not getting hot enough to warm the veggie oil,” Allen said. “Therefore we couldn’t get the veggie oil hot enough to use in the engine.

To make things even more bizarrely complicated, the use of SVO/WVO burning engines is actually illegal under the Clean Air Act and those who convert to their car engine can be subject to a fine of up to $2750.

Problems aside, One Small Step For Landmines is taking a positive step for the planet.

Even though the band isn’t out on an environmental crusade, Allen said that he believes finding ways of reducing his carbon footprint is a fun and creative activity. He hasn’t owned a car in eight years and he, along with most of his friends, rides a bike while at home in Florida.

The system also pays for itself after enough fills.

“When you think about it…a tank of diesel for the van costs about $100 so within 50 trips to the pump you can see the money start being saved,” Allen said.

Saving $2000 from not buying gas on the band’s last tour was a nice incentive, Allen said.

Slingshot Dakota-Their Dreams Are Dead, But Ours is the Golden Ghost

Slingshot Dakota – Their Dreams Are Dead, But Ours is the Golden Ghost


Indie-pop with some punk influences that delivers simple tunes infused with genuine feeling.

With sincere melodies in tow, the two-member Slingshot Dakota delivers Their Dreams Are Dead, But Ours is the Golden Ghost. The songs do not suffer at all from the group’s small size, however. On the contrary, with Carly Comando (what a cool name) on vocals and keyboard and Tom Patterson on drums, the bare melodies and lyrics really stand out. With no guitar or bass to lean on, this album has a very DIY feel. Golden Ghost is a humble and relatable work that sounds like an appeal to the indie grassroots.

The album begins with one of the best songs on the album, “The Golden Ghost,” an inspirational ditty about the importance of having dreams and believing in yourself. Like much of the album, it is composed of somewhat blurry keys and punk-influenced drumbeats. Comando’s voice is very youthful, sometimes sounding like she is shrieking a bit, but her vocals fit the warm, personal feel of the album all the same.

“Until the Day I Die” is an energetic and cute love song, and its counterpart, “Until the Day I Die, Part 2,” is a welcome response and reprise towards the end of the album. It conveys a very different mood, however, asking the question “how can I love you ‘til the day I die if you chose to drink yourself to death?” instead of the happy-go-lucky attitude of the first song.

Another standout track is the compelling closer “Lullaby,” with its alternating keyboard moods. At times the keys are slow and droning like an organ; in others, they are sometimes chime-like, with clear tones. Parts of the song are extremely stripped, but they lead up to great climaxes of sound, especially towards the end.

This song is a great closer for Their Dreams Are Dead, But Ours is the Golden Ghost because it really does sound like an indie lullaby, with Slingshot Dakota’s signature bareness and independent attitude. For anyone out there who thinks of the lyrics of the Disney song “Bare Necessities” as a personal anthem, Golden Ghost is for you. Slingshot Dakota is also recommended for fans of under-produced, sincere, do-it-yourself indie pop.

Megan Morgan

Speaker Speaker-Burning Building Recordings

Burning Building Recordings

Energetic pop-punk at a breakneck pace.

Speaker Speaker’s first full-length album Call It Off contains music that you can not just simply sit down and listen to. From the very first few seconds, it is clear that this is music meant to inspire toe-tapping, head-nodding, singing along, and, most importantly, jumping around and possibly kicking something in a rebellious fashion.

Let me explain. All 13 songs on Call It Off move at a brisk, invigorating tempo and drive forward with intense energy. There are no love songs here, but this does not mean there is a lack of catchiness. Speaker Speaker manages to combine many elements of punk rock with memorable choruses. The songs are gutsy in their straight-forwardness, with power dripping in every note.

The album’s title track is one of those songs that sounds loud no matter what the volume is. Colin McBride on guitar and vocals, bassist Danny Oleson and drummer Jasen Samford waste no time here; they all enter almost instantly and get right into the thick of things. “Call It Off” is about a lingering relationship that just isn’t working (I guess most punk relationships don’t), and is uncompromising both in lyrics and delivery. It pummels straight into “Radio Days,” which maintains the Nascar-like speed.

“We Won’t March” is a bold anthem of defiance and self-assurance, and seems to sum up the mood of Call It Off. The group affirms that “you won’t see us running, now is the time to stand our ground, no one’s going to push us around” in such a way that makes listeners agree. Stick it to the man, guys!

Overall, this album is not for the weak-hearted, but is a fun and enjoyable listen for anyone who needs to do a little venting. Speaker Speaker’s Call It Off is a roaring, confident, rip-rollicking good time.

Megan Morgan

The Out_Circuit-Lujo Records

The Out_Circuit – Pierce the Empire with a Sound

Lujo Records

Well-crafted rock that pulls from alternative, post-hardcore and shoegazing elements.

One can not begin to slap a genre on The Out_Circuit, as there are too many influences. What one can do is applaud front man Nathan Burke for an impressive repertoire of genres. The album’s described to be post-hardcore, but that doesn’t help explain the sound to the reader. Many of the songs have genre-spanning soundscapes and the well-crafted use of keyboards. The most incredible aspect is that Burke is The Out_Circuit mostly by himself, getting occasional help from other artists.

Opener “Come Out Shooting” has a perfect title and energy for a beginning track. It combines soundscapes one would get from shoegazer, post-hardcore screams and bass lines and alternative rock backup vocals. This combination seems strange at first, but it is perfectly executed. Screams are usually a put-off for me, but combined with gentle soundscapes and a pulsing bass line, it increases the intensity and tension of the music.

The album intricately weaves in and out of an intense energetic sound into a more laidback and playful tone. Many of Burke’s lyrics are intriguing and cryptic. On “Across the Light” he sings “Across the land/across the light/I wonder how the distant forms I see,” with Rachel Burke fading in and out of the lyrics, making for an excellent duet. Every track on Pierce The Empire With A Sound offers the listener something new. The only complaint that I can come up with is that the person who is shouting on “The Fall of Las Vegas” does it a little too intensely and comes off a bit absurd. But that’s just scraping the bottom of the barrel.

I still scratch my head how one man can turn out such a project with incredible execution. All of the tracks are arranged perfectly and there are no dead stops. Nathan Burke is definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

Tim Wallen

The Thomas Jefferson Starship Existentialist Dilemma

– The Thomas Jefferson Starship Existentialist Dilemma

I don’t like politics. I think it’s a messy, horrible enterprise. I know, however, that it is a necessary evil. That’s why I keep up with the scary, messy, ugly, occasionally corrupt dealings that are the inner workings of this country very closely. Because of this somewhat masochistic desire, I often wonder if it wouldn’t be best to go into a career in politics, or at least some field that could affect the outcome of this country. Y’know, do some public service or government work or something. It would be more productive than running an entertainment magazine, at least.

That thought runs through my head more often than I would like – I mean, who wants to think that what they’re doing is useless? But I worry about it a great deal. Because when it comes down to it, I am not even entertainment; I am an organization that survives off the covering of entertainment. I’m a second-hand luxury. In the grand scheme of things, Independent Clauses could disappear and not much would change. Is that something I want to dedicate my life to?

Are other people more integral to the world? Is there really a job that is integral to the life of the nation/the world? Would being a politician really do anything? I am just being existential?

I think that politics does matter – it keeps the country running. But if one politician died (even the President), the government doesn’t stop working. The government rolls on, bigger than any individual. But if the government as a whole were to fold, then we’d be in dire straits.

So maybe my goal can be to create something so big that my leaving doesn’t affect its death; To make something for the sake of making it – to build something for the sake of saying “I made that.” Maybe ignore the fact that it’s a second-hand luxury that I’m creating and just focus on the fact that the IC is (will be?) a business, contributing to the economy, which is in itself a vital action that makes me part of the living and dying of this country. I will create jobs – that’s good. That’s meaningful to the economy.

I occasionally feel guilty as well – the whole “to whom much is given, much is expected” thing. I know I’ve been gifted with intelligence and absolutely zero debt. I know that I have the ability to do things. It just so happens that the thing I’m doing right now doesn’t seem like something that people who gave me scholarships would be thrilled about.

But I am thrilled about it. I really am. I love what I do, I love what we stand for, I love all of it. I want it to make money so bad so that this can be what I do for a living. Because if I can’t be doing art, then at least I can be around artists. I always wanted to be in a band; I always wanted to be driving around the country in a van, broke and tired and happy. To me, that’s a necessity; people need entertainment.

Even in the Great Depression there were movies, books and music – even when we as a collective entity had the least amount of money to be spending on luxuries, we were spending on luxuries. Why would we do that? We would because life is hard. We need to be entertained sometimes. Living in entertainment and not dealing with the world is bad for you, but even politicians have favorite movies and music. We need to get out of the violent and painful world sometimes.

And that is what music does for me – transport me out of the violent and painful world. Even if it is the world they are singing about, even if it’s as gritty as real life in the lyrical candor, there’s the fact that other people feel it. And that you can sing along and agree with them, sing together, come together over me and know that you will be okay is a mystery greater than I can understand. I don’t know why we are blessed with this gift, the human voice.

But we are, and it is the thing that keeps me sane sometimes. It keeps me sane now, as I hear John Darnielle (otherwise known as The Mountain Goats) howling “And I am coming back to you! With my own blood in my mouth! I am coming home to you! If it’s the last thing that I do!” That’s “Sax Rohmer #1,” from his new and incredible album Heretic Pride, incidentally. I don’t know who John Darnielle is coming home to. But I do know that I feel the same way right now. I’m coming home to the way I felt before all this got complicated – life, politics, the economy, God, women, friends, responsibility, family, everything.

That’s what’s incredible about music, and all good entertainment. It resonates with us on an emotional level. We all have break-up songs that we keep for if we ever have a break-up (mine: the entirety of Letting Go of a Dream by Josh Caress). We have a favorite crying movie (Little Miss Sunshine), we have a favorite laughing movie (Thank You for Smoking), we have a favorite album to play in the car when you just feel good (There Should Be More Dancing by Free Diamonds). Entertainment is more than just distraction – it helps us feel. It allows us to cry when we wouldn’t otherwise, or helps us to laugh when we otherwise can’t. It’s vital to the survival of our mental states.

We’re only eight years removed from the release of the movie High Fidelity, but when it comes to its ten-year (and 25-year) anniversary editions, I want to be there writing an essay for inclusion in that box set. It sums up the relationship of music and emotions better than any other movie I’ve seen. Rob Gordon is a mess and he knows it. He keeps up with himself by immersing himself in music and his record store. When he gets broken up with, he reorganizes his ridiculously large collection of records. Music is his hitching rack. Music is how he keeps himself together. This should also be where I interject the importance of Christianity in my life, but that’s not the point of this essay. In short, High Fidelity notes that music has so much more pull in our lives than we often admit. It is intricately tied to us, and whoever brings the music into our lives is just as important, in my opinion, as those who affect the other, “more important” areas of our lives.

And being the one who helps bring music is as important, I think, as being in politics. Because whatever politics ends up doing, we need entertainment to cope with it. We need to take action, as well – and I am not advocating reclusive, escapist tendencies. I’m saying that you’re gonna need to cry. I’m saying that as you’re going to protest, you listen to something. Art is vital.

I bring art into people’s lives. I believe what I am doing is important because it facilitates the connection of people with their art. I bring good music. What is good? Good is music that can resonate with people. The better it can connect to people the more it’s important. Does today’s radio music resonate the way radio music in the 70’s did? No, it doesn’t. There’s no protest. There’s no introspection, no self-examination, nothing but sex and gratification.

It’s not like music has to be lofty and huge idealistically to be good – Electric Light Orchestra’s “Hold on Tight” has a goofy verse in what I think is either Japanese or French. The rest of the lyrics don’t stray far from repeating “hold on tight to your dreams.” But it’s still a much deeper and more powerful song musically and lyrically than we have on the radio today.

So yes, I hate politics, because it makes me feel that what I’m doing isn’t important. But I listen to “Hold on Tight,” or Bleach’s hugely underappreciated Again, for the First Time, or the unfairly obscure The Felix Culpa, and I know why I do what I do. I see why it’s important. I feel good about life. …thanks for putting up with it.

Stephen Carradini

Pocket-sized Music with a Big Punch

Pocket-sized Music with a Big Punch

By Megan Morgan

Once upon a time in a land where rock and roll was new, the vinyl record reigned supreme. Large though they were, the vinyl record remained popular with its subjects throughout the sixties and seventies. Later, it was dethroned by the much smaller cassette tape, which was then overthrown by the now-familiar compact disc. But technology progressed, and mp3 players challenged the compact disc’s dominion. Supporting this challenger is The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience, a band that has recently released their new music not on a CD, but on a USB drive.

“It’s a bit of an ode to the DIY punk movement in the 1970s,” Nathan Felix, frontman of the 13-member group, said. “Just think of it as a progression of digital DIY.”

Progression, indeed. The USB drive is lightweight, rectangular, and fits easily in pockets. Percussionist Aaron Calhoun said the idea came randomly during a band brainstorm, but he wasn’t sure if the endeavor was economically feasible. When a friend of the band donated hundreds of USBs, the suggestion became possible, and Calhoun said the release idea seemed a very convenient one.

“When you go downtown for a show, you sometimes want to get a CD, but you don’t necessarily want to have to carry it around the rest of the night, so some people just think they’ll get it later. They may forget by the next day. Anyone will take a USB drive though. It’s easy to carry around and it’s useful,” Calhoun said.
The Noise Revival is not worried about the potential sharing of the USB that could go on; they just want to be heard.

“We’re at a phase where we just want people to hear our music, so we want to make it as easy as possible for them to do that,” Calhoun said. “Most people just rip their CDs straight to the computer when they get home so they can put it on their mp3 player. This just takes one step out of that equation.”

Calhoun also believes that releasing The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience’s first EP on USB will bring in more listeners and fans.

“People can put the songs on their computer and give the drive to their friend without really losing much of anything,” he said. “We hope that’s what happens to some degree.”

The band manufactures all of the USB drives, which include album artwork and lyrics, themselves. 130 drives were made for the release party, but Felix said that they will probably make about 100-200 more. The EP is available on the band’s website for $5.

But what have responses to the unusual release? Felix said that reactions to the release method have been “completely positive” so far.

“It definitely grabs people’s attention,” he said.

But The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience is not just revolutionary in their music release methods. The band’s music itself is ambitious and inventive.

The self-recorded and produced debut EP is a work of classical compositions with splashes of indie influences. The tracks feel like movements instead of individual songs, yet each is very different from the rest.

Songwriter and composer Felix stopped listening to music altogether because he felt it was creatively inhibiting. But later, he was much inspired by John Corigliano’s symphony called “Circus Maximus” when penning music for The Noise Revival.

“Basically I try not to intervene with the natural creative forces in me,” Felix said. “I look as my self as the vessel and I try not to question whether or not something is ‘right’ or if it ‘fits’ or if it’s ‘good’ or if it ‘flows.’ I just go with it and trust that in the end it will have meaning.”

This somewhat unorthodox approach has led to a truly remarkable release from The Noise Revival Orchestra Experience, both in output means and actual content. Coming out in the summer is the group’s first full album, but this will be on CD and vinyl format, in order to do something different, as Felix explained. But now the question remains of how music releases will develop in the future … perhaps downloadable straight into our brains?