Music News

The Real Alternative

While most bands are looking for sponsors like Fender and Gibson, Boston-based band Constants would prefer support from somebody like Wesson or Mazola vegetable oil. In March, the psychedelic indie prog-rock band kicked off a nine-month U.S. tour in a 66-passenger school bus that's been modified to run on organic oils like veggie, cottonseed, and olive oil.

After seeing the success of fellow Bostonians Piebald's veggie-oil-fueled tour last year, the members of Constants — vocalist and guitarist Will Benoit, guitarist John Hassel, bassist Duncan Rich, and drummer Orion Wainer — decided to try it out themselves. They bought a 1995 school bus and spent 14 hours a day for two weeks gutting it and painting it, then installing beds, a living area, and a kitchen. They got instructions off the Internet on how to convert the engine, and with the help of a mechanic, they installed a new fuel tank inside the bus. "I've learned more about diesel engines in the last six months than I ever cared to know," Hassel says.

Here's how it works: The 30-gallon tank sits in the middle of the bus, surrounded by several five-gallon jugs of used vegetable oil, which the band members refill with waste oil from restaurants. There are two fueling systems — diesel and biodiesel — and to start the bus, someone hits the diesel switch under the bus' hood. Then the band members pour the veggie oil into the interior tank, where a heating coil raises the temperature of the oil to 160 degrees (the viscosity of the vegetable oil has to match the viscosity of the diesel fuel for the bus to run).

The Constants' bus always smells like French fries, but the band members say it's worth it when they're getting about 250 miles out of a tank full of free veggie oil, and they really want to spread the word about alternatives to gas fueling.

"It's good for people to be aware that you don't have to be spending $3 a gallon," Wainer says. "Obviously, not everybody can go to a Dumpster and get oil, but the idea is that any diesel vehicle can run on biodiesel, so we're the far left of this, but the fact is that everyone's going to have to be dealing with some form of vegetable oil in the future. Fossil fuel won't last forever."

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea