The Baltimore Band Brighter Shades
Andrew Cohen talks about Brighter Shades and the touring van that runs on vegetable oil
Written by Rochelle Eisenberg
Being in a successful band is the dream of many, and Andrew Cohen is no exception. A junior at Towson University, he currently tours with three Jewish buddies (actually, one is his cousin) in a three-man independent band, Brighter Shades.
Cohen, a Beth El congregant, plays bass guitar and trumpet for Brighter Shades. He also sings back-up vocals. Joining him is cousin Trevor Simpson on vocals, guitars and drums, and friend Matt Galler on drums, vocals and piano. All three are from Baltimore; both Cohen and Simpson graduated from Owings Mills High School and Galler graduated from Franklin High School.
Recently iNSIDER sat down with Cohen to talk about his music. And, of course, we had to know more about the touring van the band drives — it runs on vegetable oil!
iNSIDER: How did you get started in music?
Cohen: I played trumpet in the sixth grade, but I didn’t have much desire to pursue it. I put it down for a couple of years, then picked it up 11/2 years ago. I got my first bass for my bar mitzvah from my cousin Trevor’s family.
Trevor called me when he was putting together a band four years ago. Did I want to join? We were (called) Gatsby Gets the Green Light. In the summer of ’07 we started Brighter Shades.
What sort of music does your band play?
Our music is a little pop and a little rock. We’re not trying to be constrained to any one genre.
Where have you played?
We toured with Thin Dark Line and All Time Low (in former band, Gatsby Gets the Green Light) through the east coast and we also went to St. Louis, Mo., and Nashville, Tenn. Brighter Shades has toured with (the band) Morning for the Masses.
What music has influenced you?
Pop music. When you say pop, it’s gotten such a bad rap. People think Britney Spears. But when I think of pop, I think of the Beatles, (Bob) Dylan, Pink Floyd, Death Cab For Cutie, The Rolling Stones. You can’t go wrong with the Rolling Stones.
The names of your bands are quite interesting. How did you pick them?
The first band I was in was called the Royal Pains. My grandfather always said we were royal pains. Then we were Gatsby Gets the Green Light. I love Gatsby and I love alliteration.
I heard on your tour with Morning for Masses you traveled in a van that runs on waste vegetable oil.
We converted the van two summers ago. We had just watched “An Inconvenient Truth.” It was a combination of concern about global warming and how we were going to pay for gas. We bought a kit to convert the van and asked a friend, Chad, who rebuilds cars as a hobby. We overhauled the engine to work off vegetable oil.
Did you have problems during the conversion?
The kit was made for truck engines and in the van, the engine is much more compact. We had to innovate. We made a bracket out of a wrench.
How does the van work?
You start the van on diesel fuel to heat the engine. In a second tank is vegetable oil and the gas tank heats the oil. When it hits 175 to 176 degrees, we switch the van to run off the vegetable oil. One to two minutes before we are done driving, we switch back to diesel fuel.
Where do you get the vegetable oil?
We got the first batch from a local restaurant chain. When we’re on the road, we ideally go to Chinese and Japanese restaurants, because they change the oil frequently and cook a lot of vegetables, rather than meat.
The problem is that we don’t speak one of the Asian languages and it’s hard to communicate and let them know what we want without them thinking we’re trying to pull a scam. As they say, “One man’s trash is another
Any funny incidents?
We were touring with Morning for the Masses. We were supposed to go to Las Vegas. We had to join the tour later, because we had a problem with the van. We were on (Interstate) 695 past Pikesville and the van conks out. We can’t go above 25 miles per hour. We’re trying to get back home on 795 and the other cars are going 70 or so.
We met up with the tour in upstate New York. We did the entire tour on vegetable oil.
How has the music business changed since you’ve begun working in it?
If you record something, you basically have to have MySpace. There are books upon books about how you promote your music on MySpace and on the internet. It’s gone from big studios to someone in the basement with a laptop putting out music. The record labels have been sluggish in responding. They are so set in their ways. An independent band can book successful tours and get a large following without a record label.
Are you planning to continue to tour nationally?
We’re being selective. We decided it was more important to write and record. We also decided to play regionally in the tri-state area and begin to build
Where can Baltimoreans look for Brighter Shades in the near future?
On March 20, we will be at Bourbon Street and on April 6 at Fletcher’s, both in downtown Baltimore.