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Are ya holdin’? The members of School Bus Yellow, hard at work.

Take It Easy
By Erik Hage

School Bus Yellow challenge their audience (and their interviewer) to just go with the flow

 

School Bus Yellow are a jam band—and frankly I’m out of synch with their chosen genre, my one significant brush having come when I stumbled upon a Widespread Panic show in Athens, Ga., in 1989. (My albums of the moment are by Link Wray and Carl Perkins, and I couldn’t name a Phish song if my life depended on it.)

But the School Bus Yellow members, scattered along the empty Larkin bar and still riding high from a show in Burlington, Vt., opening for Donna the Buffalo over the weekend, sure seem like a group of clean-cut, amiable chaps—and certainly not the brand of patchouli-stankin’ trust- fundafarians (or UMass-becapped Phish-heads) I’ve come to associate with the jam-band scene (in my own resolutely small-minded way).

Nevertheless, I have a keen anthropological interest in these East Greenbush jam-banders, who have seen their fanbase grow significantly over the past year due to a consistently industrious schedule. (They’re opening for ex-Parliament funkster Bernie Worrell this coming weekend in NYC, the night after a show in, of all places, Gloversville.)

Percussionist Brian Childrose and bassist Kevin Greer munch Chinese food suspiciously at the end of the bar, keeping a safe distance from the rube with the tape recorder. Chuck Valentine, the lead guitarist and the one long-haired member, is bartending behind the counter, and he slowly and measuredly offers up insights in tones that seem beset by blocked nasal passages.

Jeremy Dunham, the Yankees-capped lead singer and primary songwriter, is youthful and eager, taking the lead and sawing away earnestly at even the most ill-aimed questions. (“I’ve never been interviewed before,” he says upon my arrival at the bar. “How do we start?” “I usually start with a beer,” I reply before thinking.) Drummer Greg Finley, the senior member—and a Fox news cameraman—exudes a kind of toothy, Tom Cruise charm and keeps things light and on track.

When it comes to jam bands, I’ve got only one angle to work with—and have at it midway into our chat. Inquiring about their audiences, I obtusely ask, “Is it mostly just the ‘hippie’ crowd? Dare I say ‘stoners’?”

“If you must. I mean, hey!” shoots Childrose from the quarantined end of the bar.

“That’s always the accusation,” I suggest.

“Yeah, that’s always the accusation!” Childrose jovially (and inscrutably) shouts back.

Having gotten nowhere, I toss up, “Well, what do I need to know about School Bus Yellow to write an accurate article?”

Valentine in his measured, adenoidal way, drawls, “Say, maybe, like, ‘School Bus Yellow is kind of a goofy name . . . but when it comes to putting shows on and playing the music, you know, we’re pretty professional about it.’”

That’s probably a fair assessment, but I’d hoped for something more lysergic, and the only thing bordering on that is that Dunham writes songs in the shower. “It’s the relaxation of hearing the running water . . . I don’t know,” Dunham shrugs by way of explanation.

“You should go to Niagara Falls and pull off a double album,” I suggest. Finley laughs loudly: “That’s not a bad idea!” (Encouraged, I point out that the poet Wordsworth liked the sound of running water as well, but I am met by a universally blank reaction.)

The School Bus Yellow members, it turns out, are just exceedingly unassuming guys. And for all my fishing, I get no stories about cannabis-fueled musical flights or hirsute, stoned-off-their-gourd fans. Instead, the constant refrain is having a good time and giving away free shirts and stickers to audience members.

The only merry-pranksterism they serve me up is a description of their tours as a “traveling circus” and some mirthful allusions to their headquarters, the “School Bus Yellow House” in East Greenbush. They claim they’re even adored by their neighbors, who sit on their balcony smoking cigarettes, listening to them play. “We say it’s like Alive at Five,” Valentine notes.

Are there plans for a new album? “Yes!” says Dunham with conviction. “Not really,” Valentine sighs in an unintentionally Napoleon Dynamite manner. (He’d been doing pretty damn good intentional Napoleon imitations throughout the night.) Dunham diplomatically changes the subject. “You know what’s cool? Greg has a digital recorder and we’re going to learn how to plug it into Brian’s burner. We’re going to try to burn shows and try to give them out at . . . that . . . show. So people will be like, ‘Whoa!’”

But as Dunham slinks off to the end of the bar to check out a prototype of a poster for a big gig they’re doing in the Catskills in June, Valentine starts to deliver the goods. “We had one show in Plattsburgh where for some reason . . . a kid dancing started just crawling along on the ground on his belly and, like, licking the floor and, you know, doing all this weird stuff. I just started to play this little riff at the time and just locked into this whole thing with this kid just squirming around on the ground.”

“It was nuts,” chuckles Finley a little uncomfortably, as if maybe another topic were in order.

But Valentine is off in wistful remembrance. “We locked into this groove . . . which kinda never would have happened if this kid wasn’t rolling around out there.”

“We were all just blown away by this kid rolling around on the floor,” offers Finley, by way of addition (and revision).

“You get down to this kind of groove,” Valentine illustrates, his voice lowering to a dramatic hush. “So you kinda keep trying to go in that direction. You kind of close your eyes and try to feel the . . .”

“Yeah, every time we play we’re definitely affected by the mood,” finishes Finley.

As to the future for School Bus Yellow, Childrose says the goal is to just “play as many shows as we possibly can.” Dunham adds, “We’re going to go for 150 shows this year.” Finley suggests, “We need to branch out.”

Valentine offers, “We’re playing a high school graduation party in, like, June. We played one last year—like, for a friend of mine—and it worked out really well.”

Shortly thereafter, the parameters of the interview have pretty much collapsed and all of us are buried in an intense game of team trivia at the bar. (Finley, Childrose, and Greer know everything about Napoleon Dynamite, but are no match for my team at “Rock music,” “Geology” and “Liquor.”) It’s amazingly easy to slip in and hang out among the School Bus Yellow guys. There truly is something guileless and relaxed about them. So maybe the angle is just that—this “fun” they keep talking about (and some reggae- and funk-laden jam grooves).

And, apparently, to the good-time- having jam band go the spoils. “Now we’ll, like, play in Plattsburgh,” Finley notes. “And we’ll get cats from Oneonta coming up to see us.”


ROUGH MIX

JOHN DELEHANTY SURE KNOWS HOW TO KEEP HIMSELF BUSY Local longtime rockers Martly are close to finishing recording a new full-length record at Scarlet East Recording (owned by Martly guitarist John Delehanty) with renowned producer Dale Penner, who has recorded well-known acts such as Econoline Crush and Nickelback. Just how did Martly get hooked up with such a well-known producer? Well, it was really a stroke of luck, Delehanty says. It seems that Martly’s entertainment lawyers happen to work on the same floor, in the same building, as Dale Penner’s entertainment lawyers, and voilá! A connection was born. The new album, titled Hum, is being mixed in Vancouver, B.C., and will have a release in late May or early June. Delehanty says that working with Penner was “a really good learning experience, to observe someone working who works for major labels.” Watching Penner, Delehanty picked up some new techniques, and “[Penner] reinforced some of the ways that I work, too,” he says. In addition to the Martly album, Delehanty’s downtown-Albany recording studio also is home to a few other projects. Delehanty is in preproduction for a new release from the Clay People; punk-rockers Blasé Debris’ new, as-yet-untitled album will be mixed at the end of April; the Erotics’ new album, recorded at the studio, is being pressed as we speak; and plans are in the works to record a solo album of Delehanty’s work, which will be titled XO.

NEW TOYS IN THE SAVOY In case any of you were wondering about the transition going on over at Justin’s, I’ve got an update for you. The restaurant’s interior renovations have been finished, complete with new upholstery, a new color scheme and a fireplace, just to name a few of the decorative changes. More importantly, though, the new management at Justin’s have pledged to make the restaurant a “more serious music venue,” and to keep their promise, they bought a brand-new PA system and a brand-new Yamaha grand piano, both of which now take up residence in the dining room. These new additions will come in handy since the restaurant has reinstated music on Saturday nights (shows have consistently been happening on other nights of the week and during Sunday brunch). Justin’s will host jazz artists from all over the region, as well as artists from (in some cases) around the world as part of their Visiting Artist Series. Also, FYI: Starting in May, showtimes will be from 9 PM to midnight every night there is music. So those of you looking to have a quiet dinner, be sure to book your reservations for early on in the evenings. Check our club listings for an updated weekly performance schedule.

COLLECTIVE SOUL SHINES ON NORTH ALLEN The band, not the street, that is. Collective Soul, the band famous for hits like “The World I Know” and “December,” have invited the local rockers to play a gig with them in Poughkeepsie. “This is a great opportunity to work with one of this decade’s definitive rock groups,” says drummer Tim Frank of North Allen. “Apparently Collective Soul heard about North Allen by word of mouth and asked our manager to send some music to the band.” As guitarist Matt Greco says, “they must have liked what they heard, because the next call they made was to ask us to play the Poughkeepsie show.” Impressive. North Allen are currently touring in support of their upcoming release Walkabout. The show will take place at the Chance (6 Crannel St., Poughkeepsie) on Tuesday, April 12 at 7 PM. Tickets are $25. Call (845) 471-1966 for more information.

HOW DOES ANYONE MAKE IT IN THIS FIELD, ANYWAY? Well, find out when Hudson Valley Community College hosts a music-industry workshop this weekend at the college’s Bulmer Telecommuni cations Center Auditorium. Budding songwriters and performers can learn about the industry and how to get their music played on the radio, and have their work critiqued by professionals. Singer-songwriters Michael Bowers, Kate McDonnell, Ben Murray, Scott Petito, Siobhan Quinn and Leslie Ritter will provide a “revealing look at the business of music on radio, television and film and how attendees can approach their careers and make them successful.” The workshop will begin with a concert at 8 PM on Friday; Saturday and Sunday sessions are from 11 AM to 4 PM. Admission for the weekend is $50. Individuals also can purchase tickets to Friday’s concert for $10 or Saturday’s session for $35. For more information, call 629-7170.

—Kathryn Lurie



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