Interview with Shoutwire.com - April 2006
[At this point, our hero Chris lunges from the shadows and delivers a dropkick to my face]
If you went to the Vans Warped Tour last year, or bought the Myspace Records Vol. 1 CD--you might be familiar with the indie power-pop band Jupiter Sunrise. I interviewed their vocalist and drummer, Mark and Chris.
The band consists of a posse of vegetarians, who tour the country in an R.V. which has a diesel engine that was modified to run on used vegetable oil. Though they are environmentally conscious, these guys are no sissies; their shows prove it!
They are probably one of the most talented and crowd-interactive bands you will ever see live, and have gained a loyal fan base as a result. Because they are a rising band, it is interesting to get a taste of the music industry from their perspective.
Who am I talking to?
MARK: Mark the invincible.
[Editor's note: Chris lurks in the shadows]
For this interview, I would like to explore the music industry through the eyes of an up-and-coming band. But first, tell us a few things about yourselves. What should we know about Jupiter Sunrise?
MARK: We are a collective mind--sort of like the borg on Star Trek. Our collective goal is to create a community that has a really positive influence on the world--an ocean wave made of whatever your version of heaven is.
How would you define yourselves as a band? How do your shows differ or contrast to other bands in your genre?
In other words, what sets you apart?
MARK: There are no walls between the band and audience. It's a very connected sort of entertainment. We want our shows to be exciting like a great movie, but that you are one of the main characters.
CHRIS: We also have a belief that we don't completely fit into a specific genre and because of that there are no boundaries for us musically. [We are] trying whatever style of music that might strike us as interesting and inspiring and right for what a particular song wants to be. You just have to follow where the music takes you and we are not afraid to go just about anywhere, be it a classic rock feel or gospel or metal or reggae.
Do you still do house shows despite your success, or has the band moved past that?
MARK: We still do house shows. In fact, how cool will it be when we are scheduled to play Madison Square Garden, and the next day we do someone's grad party!
You (almost) played the entire Warped Tour last year, at the Myspace tent. What was that like, and how did you get the gig?
MARK: Yeah we played all but two of the dates due to vehicle troubles and politics. We thoroughly enjoyed the Warped tour process sort of the same way you enjoy boot camp. I tell you Warped Tour is like some strange cross between high school and a Siberian slave labor camp.
Haha! Well, speaking of Myspace, your song "Arthur Nix" is on the Myspace Vol. 1 Compilation. How do you feel about that?
MARK: We're eternally grateful to Tom for being one of the few powerful industry people that actually has a good heart and creates opportunities without much personal agenda. [Editor's Note: "Arthur Nix" can be downloaded for free at their myspace page]
What do you think of Myspace as it relates to you, and the rest of the scene?
MARK: Myspace is saving music. It's making it possible for musicians to by-pass some of the music business cliches that can stifle the artistic process. When you connect fans directly to the artists the art will be better. It's not colored by marketing strategies and profit/loss columns.
Many bands become disillusioned by the 'parasitic music industry', as NOFX has labeled it. What are your experiences from the inside of the system? Do you agree with NOFX's description of it?
MARK: Unfortunately YES. But we will add the truism that there are many good, sincere, honest folks in the business that will do their jobs faithfully. Bands just need to seek them out and reward their behavior. Then more of them will succeed. The artist has the power in this business, but like all power it doesn't exist if you don't seize it.
CHRIS: Very much like the people of the USA need to do!
Do you think the music industry has changed since the internet, and is it good or bad?
MARK: Yes very much so... for the good, in our opinion. It's sort of similar to when radio dj's picked the music they played back in the early part of that industry. Taste drove the market, not dollars. But that never lasts in an expanding marketplace. Up until recently albums sales have continually grown at a rate that made it difficult to pinpoint what really drives sales. Now that this is slowing down and the playing field is evening out we will soon see that quality actually does have something to do with it. As this scene emerges we will see a consumer making a choice between two albums that have similar impression value despite the fact that one was produced by a big company and the other by a small one. The victor will be the better record. Internet good!
Where do you see the music industry in a decade?
MARK: There will be no more A&R people. There will be more bands that run everything themselves and outsourcing important steps such as distro and publicity. You'll see unsigned bands achieving ever higher levels of success.
As a touring band, what difference is it touring with a veggiebus than the normal diesel-burning gas-guzzler?
MARK: Well you save a lot of money, recycling the oil is better than dumping it in the ground, and the sulfur emissions are lower.
CHRIS: And we are being less of a consumer of fuel resources in the first place. People often forget how much power they have in how-and-where they spend their money.
What's the deal with PETA?
MARK: Hahaha... they love animals. We support some of the stands that PETA takes, and we're all vegans and vegetarians so PETA likes us.
CHRIS: PETA gets a bad rap sometimes because they do some outrageous things in an attempt to get some attention...it seems like that is what you mean by that question. But the fact is that they believe animals are not here on the planet for us to eat or for our entertainment or to work for us (us being humans). But being good to animals goes deeper than just respecting living, breathing, feeling beings...it also helps the environment which is quickly getting flushed down the tubes and it is all around a more healthy way of living.
What's your take on sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll?
MARK: We only take them separately... for when we aren't feeling well. But I think what you are really getting at is 'do we condone these things'. And our opinion is that if you add love to any of them they can be positive if also used moderately.
This question is asked all too often, but usually the bands aren't the ones answering it. How do you define "sell-out"? What do you think about the general populations usage of the term? And has the band ever been accused of selling out?
MARK: We've never been accused of selling out yet, but that will change if we get big enough. The public sees selling out as commercial success for bands that started out small. But doesn't that define every great band? Under this definition Pink Floyd are sell-outs. But in our opinion selling out is compromising your principles for money. Therefore there are very few real sellouts anywhere because very few people can live that way. The true sell out can only define themselves.
Where do you see Jupiter Sunrise in 10 years.
MARK: There will be extensive commercial success and influence. This is ok to us because we will give that energy right back to the source - our audience.
If you had an opportunity to tour with any band, which would it be?
CHRIS: The Police reunion tour!!!
How is the new album progressing, and what can we expect from it?
MARK: Well we had a dispute with the producer and he left with our money and the tracks. So we had to re-record the record which we are in the process of now.
Thank you for your time! Hope to see you on tour!
WITH SKRATCH MAGAZINE -
Is this everyone’s name spelled correctly?
Band: Ben Karis, Mark Houlihan, Aaron Case,
and Chris Synkus
JS: Yes. Are all the questions this
SKRATCH: How did Jupiter Sunrise form as a band?
(I read the band bio, and it was very well written,
I liked the part about the eating the sandwhich.
But could you summarize it? Just for lengths-sake)
JS: Mark burned his clothes, went to LA.
Ben’s old band broke up, went to LA.
Chris was eating a sandwich in Arkansas while
Mark called on the recommendation of a friend.
Chris finished the sandwich and then he went
to LA. Aaron was already in LA so when
he got off work he joined the band. Ben
moved into his house and ate all his food.
4 weeks later we went on tour forever.
That was March of 2002. Two years later
we are still touring.
SKRATCH: So for the most part, everyone is from
the east coast, except Aaron who’s from
Alaska. Where does the band reside?
JS: In our plush RV tour bus. The
heart-shaped bed and Jacuzzi aren’t the
biggest we’ve seen but we…you know… we tough it out.
SKRATCH: You guys are currently on a nationwide
tour. Where you be touring in the summer and
fall of 2004?
JS: The whole US and possibly Canada.
Our goal is to be the first band to play in
space. If anyone steals this idea we will
come after you with a fiery vengeance.
SKRATCH: What is the release date for the record
by the way? (I know it’s 2003 and it’s
distributed by Undecided, but I wasn’t
sure when the exact date was.)
JS: The national release was January 27,
2004. We did a soft release early in the
winter but that was just at shows. Not
to be confused with a soft-core release (see
video clip of the week at https://jupitersunrise.net).
SKRATCH: Tell me about your new release, Under
a Killer Blue Sky. What was the recording process
JS: Imagine playing your favorite video
game on your favorite couch when your favorite
producer walks in and says hey come sing the
alphabet and I’ll make a record for you
on the computer. It was that easy.
SKRATCH: Do you have a favorite song off the
JS: Well “off” the record
our favorite is PYT by Michael Jackson.
SKRATCH: What’s in each of your CD players
JS: Aaron - Young MC “Stone
Cold Rhymin’”, Ben - Elliot
Smith “XO”, Chris - Mike Park
“For the Love of Music”, Mark -
Cindy Lauper “Greatest Hits”, Josh
(sound guy) - Fabio “After Dark”,
The Whole Band - Coheed and Cambria “In
Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3”.
SKRATCH: I like the cover art. But what in the
heck is that script or symbols? J
JS: Buy the record and you’ll have
all the tools you need to discover the “Secret
of the Code.”
SKRATCH: What shoes are you wearing or I guess
which pair is your favorite pair? (This is so
nerdy—But I just like to know what everyone
JS: Aaron - 70’s looking no-name
shoes, Ben - Saucony Jazz, Chris -
Vegan Ben Sherman’s, Mark - discontinued
Vans that make me un-cool with skaters, Josh
- Nickelodeon Moon Shoes.
SKRATCH: Tell me more about the “calling-fans-to-invite-for-shows”
marketing method (which I think is great by
JS: We call everyone that leaves their
phone number on our mailing list when we are
playing a show in their town. We end up
talking to a lot of parents. Imagine the
hilarity that ensued when we played Doggy Style
café in Las Vegas.
SKRATCH: How does a band go about getting copyrights
on their work, and why is it important?
JS: Copyright? It’s not important. We want Metallica to steal one of our songs.
SKRATCH: Who or what influences your song-writing?
JS: Every single thing in our lives.
Environment, family, goals, other artists, etc.
Some artists that we respect are The Beatles,
The Flaming Lips, David Bowie, Radiohead, Hulk
Hogan. They craft their songs with a laser-like
focus to capture ambiguous concepts and emotions
in a way we can relate to.
SKRATCH: What are some of the unforeseen expenditures
that come with touring full time?
JS: Trailer tires explode in Louisiana. We eat gallons of Thai Peanut Sauce.
SKRATCH: Any celebrity crushes?
JS: Aaron - Julia Stiles, Ben -
Angelina Jolie, Chris - Britney Spears,
Mark - “Ben will never get Angelina
from me”, Josh - “Gerardo
(the guy who sang ‘Rico Suave’)
SKRATCH: What has been the most beneficial part
about having such close contact with your fans?
JS: We get pink eye. But then they
take care of us when we are sick and inspire
us to be happy. Some of our best friends
ever were found on tour. What we are doing
has attracted a beautiful community of thinking
people. We are really proud of it and
lucky to be a part of this.
SKRATCH: What do you enjoy most about being
in a full-time musician?
JS: The full-time part of it. Being
able to play music for a living is a dream come
SKRATCH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
JS: More of the same with a bigger Jacuzzi
at our concert in space, simulcast to 6 billion
people, and translated in 200 languages.
SKRATCH: If you were stuck on a deserted island,
what five things would you take with you?
JS: Fabio recommends on his solo debut
“After Dark” to take a toothbrush,
a bikini, and a special lady.
SKRATCH: So more interesting facts of JS: You
are all vegans, and do distribution for PETA?
Hehe Awesome! Tell me something about each member
of the band that you wouldn’t know just
by looking at them.
JS: Aaron - Smart and stuff, Mark
- I’m actually Irish, Chris -
He’s actually short, Ben - Herculean
strength, Josh - Glass eye.
SKRATCH: What was it like recording the
greatest rock record ever?
JS: Oh thanks for saying that, but you
are being too kind.
SKRATCH: [laughs] Thank you so much for doing
this interview. You guys are hillarious, and
I can't wait to meet you at the CBGB show.
HISTORY OF THE BAND
Sunrise was born in 2002 as a project of
Mark Houlihan's near Albany
New York. He had worked for a while as a booking agent
and managed a few bands, like Ben
Karis' old band, The Orange but decided
what he really wanted to do was play music again.
After a monster yard sale he built a bonfire out
of his remaining possesions and started putting
together the pieces. The first of these was recording
an album, then it was off to balmy California.
next 2 months or so were spent in Mark's vacant
living-room-turned recording-studio. He had petitioned
his friend, producer Chris Fisher, to record him
in exchange for some gear. Agreeing, the two of
them rounded up all their friends, including Ben
and The Orange, to perform as a band for for Mark's
record. The results of that endeavor yielded the
purple demo that was Jupiter Sunrise (the band)'s
first product they sold for a little less than a
year on the road (over 4000 copies!).
the project did become a full band, at first it
was just Mark playing out for fun as a solo act.
However, just as Mark's project was picking up,
Ben's band, The Orange, was coming to an end.
Anticipating this, Ben thought it might be wise
to brush up on his solo chops so he tagged along
with Mark when he left New York behind for his
solo tour Ben went as far as North Carolina and
returned to New York. It was a great experience
and so when he was confronted with the break-up
of his band, he flew out to meet Mark (who had
toured to California) where they decided to form
a band together.
Fisher, the producer, knew of a drummer whom they
were all familiar with who was actually on his
way to L.A. at the same time, in search of a new
band. He called Mark one day to tell him. His
name was Chris
Snykus from the popular East Coast
funk/ska band, "Perfect Thyroid". As
it turns out, The Orange and Perfect Thyroid had
their final shows on the same night! When Mark
called him, Chris was in Arkansas eating a sandwich.
He said he'd be there in 3 days to see Mark and
Ben play an acoustic show in the city. He dug
the tunes and their showmanship so they started
to play together and had their first show as an
acoustic 3-piece at the Knitting Factory in L.A.
show went so well that Mark decided it was time
to hit the road, even if they didn't yet have
a bass-player. After all, they were broke and
didn't want to get regular jobs... When they met
he was working at a guitar store on Sunset Strip
where Ben and Mark were buying an amp. Ben was
waiting outside for Mark to bring the car around
when Aaron, taking a break from work, stepped
outside and said, "ahh, you bought the Mesa
Boogie Dual Rectifier combo, I see... nice...."
This guy seemed friendly so Ben asked him if he
played bass. Sure enough, he did, and the next
week Aaron quit his job and Ben moved into his
house, ate his food, and rehearsed the songs every
waking (and sleeping!) moment for a few weeks
until they left for the East Coast to start their
first national tour.
year later, the band released their first full length via Undecided
Records. The band's first
national release, produced by Marshall Altman
and recorded by Joe Zook at Eldorado
Studio in Burbank, CA.
Since the release of Under A Killer Blue Sky, Jupiter Sunrise have been constantly on tour. There was a writing trip and tour to Alaska in early 2005, where longtime friend and recent Jupiter Sunrise tour opener, solo piano player/singer/songwriter Amanda Rogers joined the group, adding her classically trained piano skills, delicate voice and songwriting skill to the talent pool. A stint on the entire 2005 Van's Warped Tour, headlining the Myspace stage, signaled the need to get back to the studio for a follow up record.
In early 2006 the whole crew picked producer Jonnie Most to retreat to Flymax studio in Woodstock NY to make what promises to be a groundbreaking new record...
Vegetable oil should be called Diesel fuel
A bunch of folks have been asking about our vegetable oil powered bus, so here’s some details. It took a long time to research all the info that went into converting our diesel engine RV to run on waste vegetable oil, and we don’t have all the bugs worked out, but we’ve been saving money, helping the environment and smelling like chow mein for months now!
We heard about the possibility while working on a music video at a roadside stop in the redwood forest in California. This old school bus pulled up with murals all over it, one of which read “this bus powered by recycled vegetable oil” so we asked one of the many tie-dye clad denizens what that was all about and they said that essentially any diesel engine could be made to also use vegetable oil as fuel with a relatively simple conversion. And they had been getting it for free from restaurants up and down the coast. Free fuel and a chance to recycle sounded good to us, so when we got our next touring vehicle we made sure it was diesel and looked all over the internet for people who could help us with the conversion.
Through a little bit of trial and error we found a place in California called Veg Powered Systems (www.vegpoweredsystems.com) that was willing to convert such a big vehicle with the particular engine we had and in the time we needed it. These guys really knew what they were doing, having decades of diesel engine experience and conversions of a big bus, RV and many cars and pickup trucks under their belt.
Here is the conversion in a nutshell: a separate fuel tank, a tank to filter the waste oil before it goes into the separate fuel tank, a few extra filters and pumps to protect the engine, a system to heat the vegetable oil and a switch on the dash that changes from regular fossil diesel fuel to the vegetable oil system.
First they found a 55 gallon tank that fit in one of our RV external storage compartments. Then connected a series of high quality filters to take out any crumbs and soot from the oils’ previous life as a frying medium. The engine coolant line is split and extended to run through the fuel tank where it acts as a heating tube, heating the vegetable oil up to about 150 degrees (F) where it is less viscous, more like fossil diesel fuel. There are also a couple little pumps to lift the oil and speed it into the engine, and the whole compartment is insulated to keep it warm and look like a space ship. It’s really cool.
In operation it works pretty much the same as regular diesel. We start up and shut down on regular diesel fuel so there’s no cooled vegetable oil clogging the engine. Depending on the temperature outdoors we wait a bit until the oil is heated up enough to “flip” over to using vegetable oil. We haven’t yet been able to make it work in very cold winter weather, but are working on that. The mileage seems to be about the same, the power is a little reduced, but we think that is because of a possible filtering issue. Another problem we had to figure out was how to quickly filter and store oil from nasty dumpsters and barrels in back of restaurants. Veg Powered Systems had a custom filter tank built for us that we pump dirty oil into, heat up and pump through some washable filters right into our fuel tank. Previous to the filter tank we had built a table with some holes in it where we would fit some “sock” filters and pour dirty oil into buckets underneath. That took forever and was pretty messy, but is cheap and great if you have a home base.
As for acquiring vegetable oil, it's easier than you might think. We’ve spent a lot of time looking in the back of restaurants for “the good stuff” which looks like nice maple syrup. We’ve found that Japanese and Chinese buffets tend to have the best, especially if they advertise “100% vegetable oil” on the marquee. Places like Outback Steakhouse and McDonalds usually have too much hydrogenated or animal grease to flow nicely, and it smells nasty. The good stuff doesn’t smell very much and has no crust on top. Once we know they’ve got good grease, we’ll go in and ask the manager if we can have some of their waste oil for our motorhome. They usually give a quizzical look and say “sure, whatever (wierdos), just don’t make a big mess.” Sometimes they’ll come out later and ask us some questions, and we’ve even had a couple places that said they’d had other people show up for the oil. Usually a restaurant has to pay a renderer to pick up their grease which then goes into animal feed, and often cosmetics, so they don’t mind if we take it away too. We’ve not been turned down yet!
We’ve met a couple of other bands that have done the conversion successfully. Briertone converted a mini school bus themselves, as did Piebald who converted their van and are working with a cool company called Grease not Gas (www.greasenotgas.com) and had a series of MTV commercials and a special about the fuel system. There are a few notables such as Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Jack Johnson also using some version of a vegetable fuel system.
Some frequently answered questions:
Yes, it does smell like food, most often like burnt popcorn or Chinese food, but if you find a place that does French fries with clean oil, it can smell like that too. Much nicer than diesel!
It is possible to install the system yourself if you have a little common sense, knowledge about engines and are willing to take some chances. Many engines seem to be “easier” to convert than others and there are lots of kits out there, some work great, some don’t, do some extensive internet research and asking of others with experience.
All told, we’ve spent around $5000 on the entire system including filter tank and waste oil pump. This is for a big vehicle with the system installed so it might be a bit higher than for a smaller diesel vehicle.
Mercedes, Volkswagen and Volvo have diesel engine options on many of their cars, as well as lots of other European manufacturers. Many pickup trucks and vans are available with a diesel engine, getting one of these used is generally the easiest, especially for a band, because diesel engines can last for hundreds of thousands of miles.
The emissions are apparently not a whole lot better than regular diesel. They are better, especially in the sulfur and smells department, but the greenhouse gasses are generally the same. The main environmental benefit is in the absence of drilling and refining crude oil.
There are a couple of other points to make about this whole thing:
Vegetable oil was the first “Diesel Fuel”. Rudolph Diesel invented his high torque engine and debuted it at the world’s fair running on peanut oil. Unfortunately this was right at the time that fossil fuel was getting popular and a by-product of gasoline that was being thrown away worked for Rudy Diesel’s new engine, so using vegetable oil for fuel is not unprecedented.
Bio-diesel is not the same as vegetable oil. People often confuse bio-diesel as the same as waste vegetable oil. Essentially in order to run your diesel engine on vegetable fuel you must convert either the fuel system or the fuel. Bio-diesel is vegetable oil that has been converted by distillation and filtering down to just the methyl-esters that are actually combusted for fuel. This can go right into your regular fuel tank and is sold in many places right next to diesel fuel and is what Willie Nelson is recently championing. Many garage chemists also make it to sometimes explosive and smelly results. Running, like we do, on waste vegetable oil (wvo) or straight vegetable oil (svo, oil that is clean and uncooked) necessitates a separate fuel system designed to handle the viscosity and particulates inherent in the oil.
Europe has whole communities that run vehicles on vegetable oil. There are many more diesel cars in Europe and there are groups that have taken up collections at their local restaurants and farmers and created their own vegetable oil or bio-diesel fuel stations for their neighborhoods.
It doesn’t seem like a possible solution to fossil fuel usage. At first it seems like there’s a lot of waste vegetable oil, and it seems like we could even grow more, but the numbers don’t add up to even 5% of US fossil fuel usage. On top of that most of the diesel fuel is used commercially, which would actually be a benefit if some company would jump on converting fuel for the countless trucks necessary to our infrastructure. But, just like fossil fuel refining, it is still an unpleasant and expensive process to turn vegetable oil into easy to use fuel. There is also some research to suggest that it takes more energy to produce alternative fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel than is created by the process, thus making a net deficit.
If anyone has more in depth questions, feel free to ask [email protected]
Parking lot blues
At the end of the night,
With nothing but a guitar
Under streetlight and stars,
And wanderers gathered 'round
Soaking up your song, a harmony
Scattered into the sky,
Sung to the miles in between faces
And smiles--music to hungry ears--
That wish to remember
The moments they forgot--
That were dear.
By Connie J. Sun
(a friend who was with us
playing songs in the parking lot after a show
at the Chain Reaction, Anaheim, CA)