Los Angeles’ independent-music festival the F Yeah Fest just concluded a four-week continental loop around the Eastern, Southern and Midwestern U.S. in a vegetable-oil- and diesel-powered Blue Bird school bus. At various intervals, the inhabitants of this French-fried freight included Monotonix, Team Robespierre, Totally Michael, Josh Fadem, Matt & Kim, the Death Set, Crystal Antlers, Dan Deacon, Microcosm Publishing, Space 1026 art collective, Videothing, Sucka Pants photography and various tour managers, heartbreakers and foreign legionnaires (just kidding, but Monotonix are from Tel Aviv, so they’ve most likely had stints in the IDF).
Tod Seelie/Sucka Pants Photography
(Click to enlarge)
It makes delicious French fries too: This vehicle, though unreliable, made it across the country and back.
Tod Seelie/Sucka Pants Photography
(Click to enlarge)
The dreaded ass mike: Ami Shalev on vocals
The F Yeah Tour ended last week, with a show in Brooklyn headlined by the Circle Jerks (singer Keith Morris is one of the festival’s organizers). But Sean Carlson, the festival’s other organizer, and Phil Hoelting, one of the tour managers, have plans to continue this ecological and monetarily friendly way of touring the West Coast and abroad this fall. L.A. Weekly spoke with Carlson and Hoelting via telephone this week.
L.A. WEEKLY: What has surprised you most about touring by bus?
Phil Hoelting: How amazing it is to be able to find vegetable oil, the accessibility of it. Everyone that’s been touring now have their eyes trained to search for veggie oil. We get our hands dirty and dive into these oil troughs behind restaurants. When you find a grease trough filled with hundreds of gallons of oil, it’s like a gold rush. You’d never think these emotions exist. Finding good, clean grease and not being able to take it all in the tanks was the worst feeling. I’ll never forget Amarillo, Texas, for that reason.
Sean Carlson: Each bathroom break takes 45 minutes. The daily drama of getting everyone back to the bus. Everyone scatters at night to be with their friends, so if we have a noon leave time, we have to wake up at 9 a.m. If someone wants to sleep in at their friend’s house and not pick up their phone in the morning, we all end up standing outside the bus and waiting.
Does the bus have a name?
PH: Greased Lightning. The original name was Too Fast For Love. Ami, the singer for Monotonix, came up with that name. But then I was looking on the weather map on my phone and there were lightning storms everywhere, so we came up with the current name.
What’s been the most successful part of your journey?
SC: That the first show happened. That we got out of California. That the bus works. That we haven’t crashed. I don’t want to jinx it, but we’ve made it happen. Putting together a tour isn’t an easy thing. Phil and the crew help me a lot running the day-to-day. But there are a million other things, logistics, that go with it, which I’ve had to fly back and forth from the tour to L.A. to deal with — stuff for the F Yeah Fest.
Also, it’s amazing that we haven’t been pulled over yet, and that the bus hasn’t been broken into. In Atlanta, we had to park in front of a housing project, and it was my turn to sleep in the bus — every night, someone takes the responsibility of sleeping in the bus. But I couldn’t sleep because all night I kept hearing people muttering outside, “What’s in there?” I was holding a baseball bat and lying in the seat, and thinking to myself, “I’m gonna hit someone when they try to come in. I’m gonna hit someone and then they’re going to kill me.” Thankfully, none of that happened.
PH: Not counting oil scores? Well, we broke down three times, and each time, we un-broke down, which was a major success. We were leaving Alabama, after playing this amazing venue, the Bottle Tree, and Donovan [Lenker, one of the tour crew] was making a U-turn into a driveway, and our U-Haul trailer jackknifed and we got stuck. Eventually, we got AAA to come out, but by that time we had tried for so long to get unstuck that the wheels stopped turning. That was the first time the tour “was over.” I literally laid down on the ground and threw my keys, which I consequently lost, and fell asleep. But this local guy shows up, and he’s, like, “Hey, man, what’s the problem here? Let me have a look.” He brought a calm energy to the situation. Turns out we’d killed all the air pressure in the bus by trying to move, so we just had to let it rest.
Another time, about 30 miles outside of Pensacola, we ran out of diesel in a town that, we soon found out, had no diesel fuel. We called AAA, but they told us our best bet was to call 911. They said, “We don’t deliver diesel fuel, and we don’t tow buses.” That was the second time the tour “was over.” But I approached this really nice old man in this very small Christian town we were stuck in, and he made a phone call to another gas station 30 miles outside of town, and they actually brought us diesel fuel.
Anyone who gets on this bus realizes that it’s a lot of work. It’s free fuel, but it’s a hard time. When you go prowling for veggie oil, you just have to act like you know what you’re doing, so you don’t attract attention. We’re all definitely prepared to have “the talk” with police if they ever stop us — there are some issues because we’re not paying gas taxes when we run on vegetable oil. But, hopefully, the police will just be cool about it and let us go.
Describe the scariest experience involving bus nudity.
SC: Man, I’m sober 14 days on the tour, and then one time I get photographed naked and that photo gets on the Sucka Pants Web site and everyone thinks I’m naked all the time.
I didn’t ask about you personally, I just asked about general bus nudity.
SC: Sometimes we get naked on the bus. We got naked in Birmingham after a couple bottles of whiskey. I have a girlfriend, so I don’t really care. The sexual frustration is through the roof on the bus, though. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a boy or a girl anymore. We end up spending a lot of time spooning and holding one another.
PH: Sean’s the only one who gets to answer that.
Do any of the people at the shows already know what the F Yeah Fest is?
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SC: Yeah, absolutely. Every city has a lot of press, and it’s going over really well. They know what I do and what Keith does, so it’s nice. Right now, F Yeah Fest is just a show to them, but, hopefully, in a couple years it’ll grow into something that they recognize. Next, we’re planning to go to Japan and Australia with the band Fucked Up in December. We’re also starting the West Coast tour.
Ken Kesey’s bus trip with his Merry Pranksters in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is now symbolic of the psychedelic movement and the beginnings of New Journalism. What will the F Yeah Fest and Greased Lightning come to represent?
PH: Finding a way to give smaller bands opportunities to tour during these unstable [times of] insane gas prices. We can tour the country for very little money by running on vegetable oil. The venues can’t even give bands guarantees to cover gas money right now. With Sean, I want to package tours for bands that maybe couldn’t do it otherwise.
SC: Being young. Being dumb. Having fun. Enjoying your youth for as long as possible. No one helped me when I was 18 and started F Yeah Fest. Everyone thought this tour would be a bust. But we’ve done it.