The best part about running on grease, according to members of Quiet Life, is the satisfaction of knowing somebody’s trash has taken you 500 miles down the road.
“I’ve spent only about $150 in diesel fuel to get across the country,” said singer/guitarist Sean Spellman. “That’s why we can afford to tour without a label. Our fuel costs are so low.”
Grease is what they call vegetable oil. Their van has two tanks, one for grease, the other for diesel. The van starts and stops with diesel and burns grease the rest of the time. A trip across the country takes about 400 gallons of oil. (Here's a film about it.)
Funny how recycling, when it comes to music, can be construed as a bad thing. Quiet Life’s sound references Nebraska-era Springsteen (Spellman and his brother, Ryan, the band’s drummer, have worshipped Bruce since they were young), the Band, Neil Young and CCR, music that’s certainly greasy. What’s more compatible with burning recycled grease across America than burning stages nightly with repurposed American rock?
Spellman spoke to the Advocate from the van. He’d recently arrived in Connecticut after driving cross-country, solo, from Portland, Ore., the band’s home base for the last four years. Sean, 29, and Ryan, 26, moved to Los Angeles several years ago from New London, Conn., where they grew up. The Spellmans, along with guitarists Craig Rupert and Thor Jensen, decided to leave when they realized they hated L.A. A producer they were working with mentioned a house was opening up in Portland, his hometown, that weekend, and that the band could sublet it if they wanted to.
“He said, ‘You guys are unhappy in L.A., and this house is going to be available on Sunday,’” Spellman said. “I had never been to Portland. We drove up, and we’ve been there ever since.”
Not knowing a soul, they spent much of the first year finding jobs and looking for a new bass player (their old bassist was happy in L.A.). Six months in, they were playing everywhere they could, mainly at the Doug Fir Lounge, where bigger acts perform, for no more than 20 people at a time. They now sell the place out.
The band finds itself in strange territory these days, said Spellman. Their new album, Wild Pack, set for a 2013 release, doesn’t have a label yet. They’ve shared stages with Dr. Dog, Alabama Shakes and Blitzen Trapper, but who knows if they’ll ever reach the same levels of success.
“We’ve gone on tour with the biggest names in the country,” Spellman said. “That used to mean you’d have a label immediately. But a lot of bands are still selling cds themselves. We’ve gotten a lot of offers. We’ll either go for our high end shops, the really good labels, or we’ll do it ourselves.”
Quiet Life’s ties with Connecticut are still warm. Sean and Ryan’s parents live in Waterford. Big Green, their latest record, was released by New Haven’s Safety Meeting Records. On Sept. 28, they’ll play a local show at New London’s Hygienic Art Park with Mystic’s Graverobbers and New Haven’s Elison Jackson, who’ll be celebrating a record release.
Spellman doesn’t spend much time in Portland. “I’ve only been there for a month and a half since March,” he said. “I did a tour with a band called the Lumineers, me and [bassist] Jesse [Bates], which ended in Salt Lake City... Our tours have put us all over the place. It’s a constant life of putting together these tours. Basically I just drove from Portland to Connecticut in a week and a half. I did this one myself.”
Their current tour started in New York, winds through the Northeast, and ends in London, Paris and Dublin. (Not too many bands can say they’ll play London and New London a week apart.) Touring with national acts like Dr. Dog and Alabama Shakes has taught Quiet Life how to stay sane on the road.
“They’re pros,” Spellman said. “Their crew is top notch... It’s a job, and there’s a lot of things that go along with that. [Dr. Dog] click so well together. They made me realize that it’s not just the band that you see onstage. The sound guy is an additional member. So’s the guitar tech. Watching those guys work is impressive.” Quiet Life was playing with Alabama Shakes when they started to reach critical mass. “They were in awe,” Spellman says. “Those guys are all friends of ours now.”
Spellman and Quiet Life are good enough to do the same. A lot rides on the next record. “One bit of feedback we got from management is that … there aren’t any singles,” Spellman said. “I wanted to make a record that wasn’t just a barn-burning, live-sounding rock record. We’ve done that, that sloppy rock and roll vibe.” When mastering is completed, Spellman plans to send it back out to labels, even ones that have so far been less than receptive. “I think people’s opinion will change when they give it a good listen,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s not super loud rock and roll.” It’s not a folk record, Spellman said, but it’s a “sadder” record. He wouldn’t say why.
“I guess you’ll figure that out when you hear the record,” Spellman said.
Quiet Life w/ GraveRobbers and Elison Jackson, Sept. 28, 7 p.m., $8, Hygienic Art Park, 79 Bank St., New London, (860) 443-8001, hygienic.org.