When I first interviewed Vancouver political punks the Rebel Spell for Razorcake fanzine in 2008, conversation turned to the difficulties of spreading their message—rooted in a concern for environmentalism, animal rights, indigenous self-determination, and social justice—while remaining true to their ideals. “It’s so hard on the road,” singer Todd Serious said, adding that he would “starve to death” if he tried to maintain his ideal vegan diet while touring. “It’s funny, because the band is the reason I own a car. The band is the reason I’m not vegan. It’s just kinda fucked up.”
Flash forward six years, and Serious has found at least one solution to this conundrum. The Rebel Spell now tours in an environmentally friendly, veggie oil-fueled bus, converted, in typical punk rock DIY-fashion, by Serious himself.
“We’ve been running vegetable oil since 2010,” he tells the Straight, reached by cellphone at his home in Lillooet. “Basically, you need a diesel vehicle. The idea behind the diesel vehicle, originally, was to make a motor that could run on a fuel that farmers could grow themselves.” (Such as peanut oil.) Serious had heard “that you could get free fuel by either taking used vegetable oil and turning it into bio-diesel, or you can run it straight into the motor without first converting it."
He ultimately decided on the latter option. “The vehicle starts up on diesel and once it’s warmed up, you basically throw a switch and start running from your vegetable oil tank,” he explains. How do they get their oil? “Just dumpster it, collect it from the garbage. I have a centrifuge system to filter it, a pretty simple thing as well, and it spins the water and dirt out of the stuff, and you just dump it in the tank and burn it up.”
The process of converting the van took something like 30 hours of work, but that was mostly “trips to the fitting store to buy little pieces of brass or something that I needed,” Serious says. “It’s like any sort of home project, where you’re not totally sure what you’re doing yet, and you’re figuring it out, and it’s like: ‘Oh, I need one of those, or one of these,’ y’know? I’m sure I could do it much faster now.”
Besides doing what he can to look out for the environment, other causes Serious remains committed to include his support for “the small local Native movements around B.C.” (He describes the pipelines that may someday cross them as “another step down the path in the wrong direction.”) He’s also active in dog rescue, though his activities at present are mostly kept low-key and Lillooet-based. “If I’ve got a dog that really needs a place and it can’t work within a personal network, I mostly just use Facebook," he says. “I try to keep it local, that way I can check in with the adopted home.”
This spring and summer, however, the conscientious lead singer has another cause to concern himself with: the recording of the Rebel Spell’s yet-to-be-titled fourth full-length, which will be their first to draw on crowdsourcing. “The band is not a business… but it’s nice to recoup your costs, or some of your costs, so you’re not spending thousands of dollars to put out something for people. Crowdfunding is kind of neat, because it brings that up to the front. People want this? Help us pay for it. And people seem to be keen to do that, so…”
The Rebel Spell goes into the studio with Jesse Gander starting May 5. “We’re hoping to have everything done by the end of June, and get it off for mastering so we can release in October,” Serious continues, adding that hopefully we’ll see a vinyl edition at some point. (Serious explains that vinyl is expensive and complicated, but that the band would “love to press vinyl with everything” where possible. Thus far only their debut album, 2005’s Expression In Layman’s Terms, is available on wax).
The singer feels particularly confident about the current batch of songs, which they’ve been writing more or less since their last album was completed. “We’ve got at least fourteen songs that are looking good, and we’ll probably put twelve on the record,” he says, including a collaboration with Vancouver dark folk musician and fiddler, Jeff Andrew. “It’s a historical ballad, focused on an event in the gold rush-era Chilcotin, west of Williams Lake. It’s referred to historically as the Chilcotin War.”
Also known as the Bute Inlet Massacre, 1864’s Chilcotin War involved the killing of several white laborers working on a wagon route between the gold fields of Barkerville and the Cariboo Road. When brought to trial, the defendants—all Tsilhqot’in people—described their actions as an act of war, not murder. The folk elements to the song should make for an interesting follow-up to the Rebel Spell’s cover of Leon Rosselson’s similarly historically-themed “The World Turned Upside Down,” which deals with agrarian socialists the Diggers, from 2011’s It’s a Beautiful Future.
The Rebel Spell’s fundraiser for the new record, where a few songs from the upcoming album will see their Vancouver debut, is set to happen Friday (April 11) at Lanalou’s Rock’n’Roll Eatery (362 Powell), with support from the Flagpolers (whom Serious describes a “good pop-punk band” consisting of Irish friends who all live in Vancouver) and Frank Love (“a female-fronted hardcore punk band” that Serious himself is looking forward to seeing live for the first time). The fundraiser tour will continue on to Victoria and the prairies thereafter, if the veggie oil holds out.
Oh, by the way: by the time that Razorcake interview was published, a few months after the conversation took place, Todd Serious had totally gone vegan and has never looked back.