Monday, January 17, 2022

Let’s Be Leonard — the boys on the bus

GF-bred band took to the road in pink & aqua tour bus

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Let’s Be Leonard, the Glens Falls-bred progressive jam-rock-jazz band, is doing its first-ever tour in style — in a salmon pink-and aqua-blue tour bus. The eye-catching vehicle is a converted school bus the five guys in the band renovated themselves, with a little help from family and friends, says drummer Paul Guay.

Paul, age 22, from Glens Falls, spoke with The Chronicle from Cincinnati, on the last leg of a month-long tour that brought the band through Virginia; Pennsylvania; Georgia; Nashville; Wichita, Kansas; Austin, Texas; and Iowa, of all places.

They’re back in town for a homecoming show on Saturday, June 18, at 9 p.m. at Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs. (Doors open at 8 p.m.; tix $7, $12 ages 18-20; Space Carnival from Oneonta opens.)

L to R: Connor, Matt, JP, Karl, Paul, Chris
L to R: Connor, Matt, JP, Karl, Paul, Chris

“We bought the bus in Fair Haven, Vermont, last august for 1,800 bucks,” Paul says. “It’s a full bus, 45-feet long.”

It was mainly Matt Grifffin, the lead guitarist, who did the renovations with his father Matt — who happens to be a school bus driver instructor.

“All of us worked on it at first,” Paul says, describing with relish how “we gutted the whole thing, ripped out the seats and the rubber floors, put in snap-in hardwood floors.” They installed recycled bunk beds, a kitchenette set with propane stove that they bought for $100 from a guy demolishing a house in Saratoga — “We sold off the countertop for $200, so we even made money on that,” he says.

How’s it been, on the road?

“We haven’t had any trouble parking,” is Paul’s first reaction. “No one’s pulled us over yet” — something of a surprise, he suggests, given “we’re driving this big pink school bus through the South, with New York plates on it.”

“We’ve saved a lot of money,” he says. “We haven’t booked a hotel since we left” — on May 17, when they drove straight through for 12 hours, arriving at 9 a.m. in Virginia Beach. The first leg of the tour, Matt’s father Mark Griffin came along, to teach them how to drive the thing.

Virginia Beach Babes
New fans in Virginia Beach happened to be sporting the same colors as the bus.

“Gas hasn’t been too bad,” Paul says. “It gets about 10 miles to the gallon, diesel.”

Matter-of-fact, deep in the conversation, he mentions almost as a aside, well, the bus doesn’t always start on its own. They learned to pop-start it, five of the entourage pushing the bus in neutral while one mans the driver’s seat.

“One funny scene: We’re in downtown Milwaukee, five of us behind this big school bus, pushing it down the road in the middle of the city, huffing behind it, yelling, encouraging each other, ‘C’mon Matt, put it in gear!’ This big puff of black smoke comes out and it’s going. You could put that scene in a movie.”

Another time, “somewhere in Iowa I think,” Paul recalls: “At that point we weren’t good at pop-starting it. A couple of road workers tried to help us, but nothing. Then this big guy with a huge handlebar mustache stopped and — just looked at it. He put his hand out, he just touched the bus, and it worked.”

They booked the tour themselves, using a Website called Indie Band on the Move, then filling in holes on the route through their own research, Paul said.

Highlights, he said, included sax-man Connor Dunn’s cousin’s bar in Waterloo, Iowa. “We pulled in and he was smoking ribs for us out back, gave us food and let us shower. We played the bar on a Thursday and the next day, we had planned a rehearsal during the day. Connor’s cousin called up his friends, so we had about 15 people hanging out.”

He said, “We haven’t had big crowds in all the cities. It’s our first tour. We’re finding out which spots have music scenes for the next tour. We kept finding little gems of venues.”

He adds, “Most of us have been in bands for a while now. This is what we’ve always wanted, and now we’re finally doing it. There’s no need for us to be mad at each other. We’re all in great spirits and having a great time.”

He says, “We all lived together before we went on tour, so, a lot of the petty squabbles from when we started living together, we already got over it.”

They cook together, mostly rice and beans or pasta, “Simple stuff that’s cheap. We all cook, and we all do dishes,” Paul says.

Leonard w-Cousin Mike in Waterloo Iowa
Leonard w-Cousin Mike in Waterloo Iowa

On the bus, they’ve spent a lot of time watching the Star Wars movies — Paul’s a huge fan, he says, and some of his bandmates hadn’t seen any of the movies. “We’re also doing a lot of reading.”

The tour will barely break even, he says. “We have enough money to get home, and buy food,” he says. “We’ve got eight small festivals June to August, that’s gonna support us. By the end of the summer we should be debt-free. In mid- to late September, we’ll hit the road again, and we will go farther.” The plan is to go through Colorado and land in California for the winter.

All of the band members had already left whatever day jobs they’d had before the tour. They’re full-time musicians, Paul says, each earning extra cash teaching music lessons, picking up day work in construction, maybe, or taking on session work and side gigs.

He said, he learned, “It’s important to connect with people on the road.” We wandered the town, the coffee shops, talked to locals at the venue.

It helps: “We’re driving a big pink bus everywhere. That gets attention. We’ve gotten over giving away free CDs. Anyone comes over, we hand people a CD and a sticker. It’s about getting the word out.”

Crowd favorites on the road are the same as home: “People like Young Sprite, a parody blues that becomes kind of a joke, and then it goes into the prog rock intense chorus with all this cool stuff.” Another is Matt’s song “Jump Ship,” which Paul describes as “a sad sappy love song.”

One practical lesson: “If we go out again in the summer, we need air conditioning. The bus is basically a sweat lodge.”

Copyright © 2016 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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