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Piebald tour US on 40Ę a gallon

The DIY ethos fuels indie bands from across this great land of ours. But so does gas. Driving that beat-up tour van from gig to gig burns a lot of fuel, and with gas prices as pumped up as they are these days, a nationwide tour just isnít feasible for many bands.

But Piebald, the Andover emo dudes who struck out for a new home in sunny LA three years ago, have taken things into their own hands. For their current tour, which comes to the Middle East on November 25, they converted their gas-guzzling van to run on vegetable oil. Now, says frontman Travis Shettel from a Wal-Mart somewhere between Chicago and Ames, Iowa, "the rest of the world needs to catch on."

Shettel and Piebald guitarist Aaron Stuart drove their 12-person van ó which has logged 200,000 miles in the bandís decade-long existence ó from Los Angeles to Boston a couple weeks ago. Aside from a quick gas-station fill-up, the rest of the trip was fueled by gratis grease from restaurants along the way. "Itís pretty amazing. Weíre driving basically for free now," he says. "I think the cost per mile of our trip so far, a little over 4000 miles, has been just about four cents a mile. Thatís unbelievable."

And, of course, whatís more punk rock than hitting the Bushiesí oily oligarchy where it hurts? "Gas prices are obscene," Shettel says. "I think a lot of people today feel a little bit let down by the government, and [buying gas] is a major way that people have to support the government. But ya know what? You donít have to."

The idea came from Mike Parziale, a lifelong friend of the band whoíd converted his own truck to veggie-oil fuel use. ("Whatever he touches turns to gold," says Shettel.) Stuart, a former mechanic, helped make it happen. The process ó which is laid out in detail on Parzialeís Web site, Greasenotgas.com, as well as on a DVD accompanying Piebaldís new Killa Bros and Killa Bees (SideOneDummy) ó is simpler than you think.

The only caveat is that the vehicle needs a diesel engine. "Even if you donít know anything about cars, you can make it happen," says Shettel. "You donít change anything with the engine. You have a switch up in the front which controls whether the engine is pulling fuel from the diesel tank or the vegetable-oil tank." The band welded a 100-gallon drum into the back of the van ("now we canít put bags back there, but I donít care ícause Iím riding for free"), and then spliced the gas line. "It sounds a little bit crazy, but the more I look at it and the more I think about it, it seems pretty logical." The whole process cost the band just $600. And besides the environmental and economic benefits, "you get better gas mileage. And itís better for the engine. Itís self-lubricating."

So who needs gas stations when you can procure vegetable, canola, or other cooking oils from your friendly neighborhood restaurant? "Asian places are best," Shettel says. "They change their grease the most frequently, and itís usually the cleanest." At Buddhaís Delight in Chinatown, he thought heíd found the mother lode. "But it turned out we were taking it from the restaurant next door. It was really clean; they only fry French fries and mozzarella sticks in it. There was another place in New Hampshire. A Japanese restaurant. They had a lot of really great grease."

Some eatery owners are amused when these scraggly indie rockers approach them looking to fuel up with kitchen dross. But a few words of explanation usually greases their wheels. And since restaurants have to pay to take grease away, "they almost always donít mind giving it away for free."

Now, Shettelís just hoping others start following Piebaldís lead. "We announce it every night from stage. Last night a lot of kids came out afterwards to check out the van. We want people to look at it, we want people to find out about it, to know that this isnít something thatís impossible."

Issue Date: November 4 - 10, 2005
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