Published November 24, 2010
If you frequent some of the regular art walks and farmerss markets around Sarasota, you may have seen a band of teens entertaining crowds with some rather unorthodox versions of your favorite Beatles songs. But these covers are no mash-up, more like a trash-up, because they’re played on trash. Literally.
The Garbage Men — comprised of a quartet of Pine View freshmen — started their band last summer as a way to not only have some fun playing music, but to draw attention to green living and what can be accomplished through recycling and a little ingenuity. Seeing how they all play on instruments salvaged from random household items, they’re obviously not lacking in the imagination department. But what they’ve managed to use as building material is quite impressive.
Lead guitarist Jack shreds up a yardstick guitar neck with toothpicks in place of frets and a Mini Wheats box to hold the rig together (I guess it’s a hollow body…). Bassist Alex gears up with a fretless section of stairway banister attached to a large cigar box. Horn player Harrison mostly works with PVC piping and funnels as opposed to your standard brass. And percussionist Ollie rounds out the outfit with the most fitting setup of all: a trashcan drum kit.
Both of the “guitars” are one-stringed instruments with pick-ups plucked from the bodies of $3 rummage sale axes — one from eBay, the other from a garage sale.
While this is Ollie and Alex’s first band experience, Jack and Harrison have had some time in the spotlight as members of Fogt’s Junior All-Stars, and Jack even more so as the guitarist for Uneven Lanes, although he now sees The Garbage Men as his main project.
As for how the idea behind the band came up, it wasn’t too complicated: “I wanted to make a guitar and I had just bought a box of Lucky Charms,” says Jack, “so I made a guitar out of it.” But it turns out building an instrument from breakfast isn’t as easy as it sounds. “I don’t think any of us are on the first instrument we made,” says Ollie. “My olds drums were a cardboard box with a can and a jar taped to the side. It sounded alright, but it was hard to play everything.”
Harrison’s assessment of his horn’s capability reveals his musical knowledge as a trombone player: “It plays the overtones, the one and five and octave,” he says, “like one position on a trombone or one fingering on a trumpet.” He had first attempted a PVC trombone, but it lost too much air. So his current instrument plays “like a bugle.” Ollie’s drum kit was a bit less involved. “I was standing in my backyard and I said, ‘Hey, look a trash can,’” he recalls, “and I just kinda took it.” The cymbals came courtesy of a “nice old lady” at Home Depot who liked the boys’ idea.
While it might just appear to be a cute street performance novelty act to score a few extra bucks, a look at the band’s Facebook page confirms their real motive, citing a few recycling statistics in the tagline box. “We have got people to recycle,” says Alex. “They always throw bottles into our tip jar.” That’s probably because they use a recycling bin. But do people ever throw money? “Sometimes,” says Jack, “but we don’t recycle that.”
Actually, in a way they do. Aside from helping the planet, The Garbage Men also work to help the poor. All the money they receive from CD sales and during shows is donated to Heifer International, a global charity that buys animals for people in poverty stricken countries to be used for food and clothing. “We’re looking to buy a llama for a family,” says Jack, “We almost have enough.”
For now the band is expanding their repertoire and getting ready to add a few Christmas songs to their set list of mostly oldies tunes. They’ll continue to play at the Palm Avenue and Towles Court Art Walks, on St. Armands, and at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, although their Whole Foods gig was terminated after an anonymous noise complaint (“One person said they didn’t like it. He was probably trying to read outside or something.”). At least they got some consolation in the form of a note on Whole Food’s bulletin board reading, “Please bring The Garbage Men back.”
But who needs Whole Food when your goals are set so much higher? The boys have already made it through the third round in the audition process to be contestants on America’s Got Talent, and other “non-competition-based” shows have expressed interest as well.
The only thing The Garbage Men are missing now is a vocalist. So, do they plan on bringing in a singer anytime soon? “Probably not,” says Jack, “they’d have to make their own microphone.”
Find them at facebook.com/thegarbagemen.