'The Garbage-Men' Rock A Trashy Sound

The Garbage-Men is a band of high school-aged musicians who play instruments made out of recycled cereal boxes, buckets, and other materials they've rescued from the trash. Guitarist Jack Berry and drummer Ollie Gray talk about the band and their signature "trashy" sound.

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FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: That is the trashy sound of The Garbage-Men, Ira.

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

Well, that's not very nice, trashy.

LICHTMAN: No, no. I mean it literally. It's literally picked out of the trash. The Garbage-Men is a band of five high school kids from Florida, and they make their instruments - the ones that you're hearing them playing - with stuff that they rescue from the trash, or even find on the side of the road. So, you know, no need to spend big bucks on a Stratocaster when you can use an empty Fruit Loops box, a yard stick and some duct tape. No drum kit? How about a five-gallon bucket and a trash-can lid? E-flat contrabass bugle? You get the idea.

So joining me now to talk about this is the band and their signature recycled sound is Jack Berry. He's the guitar player for The Garbage-Men. And also with me is Ollie Gray. That's the band's drummer. They're both students at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, guys.

JACK BERRY: Hi.

OLLIE GRAY: Hello.

LICHTMAN: Thanks for coming on.

BERRY: Thanks for having us.

GRAY: Yeah, great to be on.

LICHTMAN: Let's talk about these instruments. Why don't you give us a run-through of the instruments you play and what they're made of?

BERRY: All right. Well, I'm Jack, and I play the guitar, which is a one-string guitar made from a Cheerios cereal box with a yardstick for the neck and toothpicks for frets. Then we have Ollie over here.

GRAY: Yeah, I play the drums. I have a big, black trashcan for my bass drum. It's a big, plastic trashcan. My cymbals are two metal trashcan lids. And for my tom drum, I use a water jug, and that's placed upside-down in a bucket for maximum sound.

BERRY: And we also have a saxophone made from a kid's toy and a balloon.

LICHTMAN: Ooh, I want to hear more about that in just one second. You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY on NPR. I'm Flora Lichtman, with Ira Flatow and The Garbage-Men, high school students who have made - who have this awesome band where they play instruments made from recycled materials. So tell me about the saxophone.

BERRY: Well, it's made from a Fisher Price Corn Popper toy, and that makes up the body. It kind of looks like a saxophone. Then we took a old PVC pipe, drilled some holes in it for the sound, and then for the reed, we used part of a balloon.

LICHTMAN: Ooh.

BERRY: So it's kind of like a kazoo, but it sounds like a saxophone.

LICHTMAN: You can, by the way, see a video of The Garbage-Men on our website at sciencefriday.com - definitely, definitely worth a look. I think you're rocking out at a farmer's market in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: All right, guys(ph). So where did the idea for this come from? Who started this band?

GRAY: Well, originally, Jack had made a guitar out of a cereal box and a yardstick, and he had brought it to school to show to some people. And I thought that that was just a really great idea. So I told him that I thought it would be nice if we made an entire band out of instruments like these, just to, like, see what we could make for, like, each instrument. And that really just blossomed into what it was - what it is today. Like, I think back then, there were three instruments, and now we have, I'd say, eight, off the top of my head(ph).

LICHTMAN: Jack, where did you get the idea for that initial guitar?

BERRY: Well, I mean, I just wanted to build myself an instrument, and those were the materials I had lying around. I didn't go out thinking, hey, wouldn't it be cool to make a band out of garbage? But it just kind of turned out that way, because those are the things I have lying around the house.

FLATOW: Is there a piece of garbage you'd like to have that you haven't garbage-picked yet?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BERRY: Well, I've been looking for some cool-shaped things that kind of look like other instruments.

GRAY: I've been looking for a metal mailbox that won't fall apart after, like, one gig, because those have the ultimate sound.

LICHTMAN: OK. Well, anyone in your neighborhood who's listening, maybe they...

FLATOW: I've got one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: ...that they could - maybe Ira could get a SCIENCE FRIDAY mailbox. So has - have the instruments changed much? Have you learned anything about making these instruments since you began?

BERRY: Yeah, definitely. I've learned through trial and error with making the instruments. The very first guitar I made, the neck was really bendy, and it couldn't stay in tune. But through trial and error of making different instruments, they've definitely improved. The very first saxophone we made actually didn't work that well, because the balloon started to vibrate at a different overtone than it normally would have. But we fixed that, so it didn't squeak anymore.

LICHTMAN: Oh, nice. Do you guys play gigs?

BERRY: Yeah, every weekend, we do.

GRAY: Yeah, all whole weekend. Every weekend. Always.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: So where is your next gig, so we can come see you?

BERRY: Ooh. Well, we're actually playing at a festival in Tampa, in Ybor City - Tampa, Florida. It's called Tropical Heatwave.

LICHTMAN: Very cool.

FLATOW: Wow, wow.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. Have you played - what do people at school think? Are people trying get in on the band?

GRAY: Not really. They don't think much of it because like - I mean, it's not really that big or, like, showy or anything like that, like a lot of other bands at school are with the amount of people in them. But definitely, there are some people that like it, though, and, well, no one is really vested enough interest to, like, want to be in it or anything along those lines. Definitely there is, like, at least a small bit of support.

FLATOW: We'll wait to see it on "Glee" soon. We'll know you've made it.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I think they're going to play us out today, Ira. Jack Berry and Ollie Gray are two of the members of The Garbage-Men band, and look for them in front of the Whole Foods in Sarasota on May 19th. Or if you want a schedule of upcoming gigs, go to their website. You'll find some links to their schedule, and we have all the info on our website at sciencefriday.com. Thanks, guys, for coming on the show.

BERRY: Thank you.

GRAY: Thanks.

FLATOW: Thank you, Flora. And that's about all the time we have for today.

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