Carmanah has had a good year.
Along with the release of the band’s first album, Speak in Rhythms, it also headlined at Canada Day celebrations in downtown Victoria — their hometown and, so far, the biggest crowd they have played to.
“That was a life goal achieved right there,” said Laura Mina Mitic, the band’s lead vocalist.
The group came together somewhat organically, all meeting in Victoria with many having lived there or elsewhere on the island beforehand.
Prior to the release of Speak in Rhythms in February, which the band calls its first album, came a number of EPs created in a do-it-yourself fashion.
The new album is being called the band’s first because the band went full-on with the production side of things — no basement recordings this time.
“It’s definitely the first where we’ve experienced the real production process where we’re truly ripping songs apart and putting them back together and making sure they’re truly a finished product,” Mitic said.
The album is just one part of what has made the year a good one. The experience is another.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons this year on what it takes and how much dedication it takes, and how to be a touring musician and work together in the studio,” Mitic said.
Another part is touring. The band just finished the eastern leg of its tour with Hey Ocean, playing shows in Ontario’s biggest cities and Montreal.
They’ll be back in B.C. soon though, beginning with a show in Kamloops on Nov. 15, at The Blue Grotto, once again opening for Hey Ocean. Tickets are $25 and available online via ticketweb.ca.
“I definitely do see some of the puzzle pieces falling into place to take us to the next level,” Mitic said.
The band has been out east before — previously putting together a “pretty humble” 30-shows-in-31-days tour, “or something crazy like that,” Mitic said, that took it all the way to Halifax.
The group’s schedule hasn’t gone quite as long this time, but the tour still appears to have paid off, with fans out to see Hey Ocean also taking notice of their music.
“It has definitely felt worthwhile and we’re grateful we got invited on this tour,” Mitic said.
Tours powered by vegetable oil
Pat Ferguson, Carmanah’s guitarist and mechanic, converted a 1997 Dodge Ram diesel truck to run on waste vegetable oil.
The truck uses a two-tank system, with the original diesel tank remaining and a custom vegetable oil tank and fuel system added.
The truck’s engine has to start on its diesel fuel but is switched over once it reaches its operating temperature. The vegetable oil is then heated and thinned to the point where it acts like diesel.
The fuel is switched to diesel once again before the engine is shut off in order to purge remaining vegetable oil.
Ferguson is also an industrial electrician and said he’s got a lot of mechanical experience. He said it took him two weeks of research, finding parts and labour to make the vegetable oil truck a reality, plus another week to put together a fuel storage and pumping system at home.
“This is a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not a walk in the park, but it has saved us nearly $15,000 in the last three years.”
Ferguson estimates the band has driven approximately 100,000 kilometres in those three years, hauling all of their equipment, the band’s five members — plus Mitic and Ferguson’s dog, Spud — and sometimes a camper trailer.
For some added comfort, the band will soon exchange the truck for a bus — a 1972 GMC PD4905A stage coach — that has a lot of history on the island, formerly making runs from Victoria to Port Hardy.
“It should drink straight vegetable oil rather problem-free, with 1,000 litres carried in her belly,” Ferguson said.
He estimates 1,000 litres will carry the band 4,500 kilometres.
“So we’ll leave home in Victoria for one of our common Western Canada loops fully loaded and return without the need of a fill-up,” he said.
There’s even plans for an oil cleaning system for anything they can pick up along the way.
Currently, the band gets most of their fuel from Victoria burger joint The Pink Bicycle, but while on the road, Ferguson is hoping for some help with sourcing some “relatively clean” waste vegetable oil across the country and in the U.S. while the group is on tour.
“We’d be appreciative and might even have time for a house concert as a thank you,” he said.