story by Phillip Molnar
image by Dana Schatz
In the ‘70s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a “bed-in” for peace. In the ‘80s, Bob Dylan and others fought for American farmers at Farm Aid. In the ‘90s, the Beastie Boys started the Tibetan Freedom Concert. And last month, Southern California band Gliss sat on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck to pick up their broken-down bio-diesel van.
It might not be the most glamorous social cause that the music industry has taken up in the past few decades, but musicians across the board are going green. From Perry Farrell to local Chicago musician Scottie Long, it seems like the whole music industry has plants growing out of its ears. So, how did music’s “green” movement get started and where is it headed? Chicago Innerview set out to investigate…
According to Adam Gardner, vocalist/guitarist of the band Guster, it all started with a certain Al Gore movie. “We are living in the ‘post-Inconvenient Truth’ era. I think that movie hit a lot of people — it really changed the conversation about global warming in this country from being a debate to being the reality…and what are we going to do about it.” Gardner is at the forefront of music’s green movement with his organization Reverb, which has been working to paint the music industry green since 1994. Along with his wife Lauren, they have greened the tours of Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, and Andrew Bird, just to name a few.
Reverb’s services include: bio-diesel coordination for the tour buses, biodegradable catering products, recycling, green bus supplies and cleaners, waste reduction, green contract riders, eco-friendly merchandise, and green sponsorship. They also set up an ‘Eco-Village’ at each concert that educates fans on environmental causes, like creating carbon neutral products that offset the creation of greenhouse gas emissions. Gardner can barely keep up with the demand: “We are overwhelmed with all the bands that want to work with us now,” he said. “It’s great. It’s awesome.”
From small to large gestures towards Mother Earth, musicians are getting creative about how to stay environmentally conscious. Perry Farrell, a longtime environmental activist, will be releasing the new album from his latest band, Satellite Party, in a digipack made out of recycled paper. The CD is also carbon-neutral: The CO2 produced by its manufacture, shipping and packaging will be offset by helping build renewable energy projects with Vermont energy company NativeEnergy. Farrell also is working to make this year’s Lollapalooza festival “green”, which reportedly includes biodegradable vendor wares, a solar-lit stage, recycled toilet paper and carbon-offset purchasing.
Being green does have its downfalls though. Los Angeles band Gliss found this out the hard way while on tour in their bio-diesel van. Bass player Victoria Cecilia recalls this dark, but uncontrollably hilarious tale: “We were on tour about a month ago when [our bio-diesel van] broke down. We were in the middle of Texas and got towed into some small town. The mechanic didn’t know what he was doing. He took the whole engine apart, left it on the driver’s seat, and took off.” Gliss is going back on tour with the bio-diesel van in August, and Cecilia remains undeterred: “I don’t see why we wouldn’t…and it seems to be running better now.”
Chicago musician Scottie Long, who performed at the “Green Sessions” at Lakeview venue/coffee shop Uncommon Ground on May 17, sings a song called “Clean World” and said, “I just try and focus on the way I live; I walk to work every day, try to minimize my consumer footprint, and make other people aware of environmental issues.”
It isn’t just bands trying to save the earth on their own, several environmental organizations and activists are trying to use music to bring aware
ness to their causes. Peter Shapiro, who started his quest to save the environment back in 1989 with his NYC bar Wetlands, organized the second annual Green Apple Music Festival this year — centered around the celebration of Earth Day in April.
This year’s Green Apple Festival helped further Shapiro’s mission to spread the word on crucial environmental issues, both local and global, to over 200,000 people in locations in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Some of the features of the event included recycled paper products, biodegradable cups, corn-based straws, recycled bags, organic t-shirts, and recycled paper towel rolls. After the tremendous success of this year’s event, Green Apple will be expanding to more cities in 2008. Shapiro admitted: “I don’t think each of these bands individually will change things, but the world won’t change without all of us doing our part.”
Taking tree-hugging to a whole new level is Hans Fedderke, co-founder of Chicago company Live It Green. His idea of trying to make different carbon reduction measures available to individuals led him to create Tunes for Trees, a program that plants a tree for every ten songs bought on iTunes. Fedderke feels this project will help music fans find a personal connection to helping the environment, in one of the easiest ways he could think of.
The most appealing aspect of Tunes for Trees is that it doesn’t cost the consumer anything. Participants just need to go to the Tunes for Trees website and follow the instructions. Also, it doesn’t require users to buy ten songs individually. As Fedderke clarifies, “So, say you went on [tunesfortrees.com] today and bought two singles, and then your friend bought two singles, and then some guy in the U.K. bought six: a tree just got planted.” Much like Shapiro, Fedderke tries to stay realistic about cleaning up the environment: “There is definitely the potential to make a difference, but that might be too idealistic…We are trying to raise awareness but not beat people over the head with it. The only way people are going to change is if they do it on their own.”
Which brings us to the shining beacon of all things green: the headquarters of Smog Veil Records in Wicker Park. Record company owner Frank Mauceri is on a mission to green up the music industry with Smog Veil and he decided his headquarters would become the centerpiece of that mission. The label’s digs feature two wind turbines, 30 solar panels, a geo-thermal system that pumps water from 60 feet below the surface, and, thanks to a grant from the city of Chicago, an expansive garden on top of the building that will reduce heating and cooling costs.
Building projects aside, Mauceri wants to revolutionize the way consumers buy music, all in the name of saving the earth. As of January 1st of this year, all new album releases have been shipped in a digipack or cardboard packaging, but he wants to take it a step further: digital downloads only – no CDs. Mauceri explains that the “the biggest problem we see in the future is the consumer having the CD available to them for the past 15 years with the nice inserts and the packaging it comes along with, but will now will be faced with buying a product that is fantastic music, but no accompanying images, no lyrics, no pictures, no story to go along with that record.” To offset this, Smog Veil has created a digital booklet that will be a free PDF file off their website that would contain all the pieces that are usually in a CD in digital form, so people can look at it on their computer.
Are the music industry and Mother Nature a match made in heaven? Everyone who is helping to green the music industry is hoping it is, but what impact these measures will have on fans and on the environment remains to be seen. But, one thing is for sure: You don’t have to be Willie Nelson anymore to be a musician who cares about the environment.
CI Special Report #015