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Ecorazzi Interview with Adam Gardner of Guster & Reverb

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GusterWe’ve often talked about Reverb here on Ecorazzi, as we are super impressed with the concept. Founded by a husband and wife team – one a rocker, one a professional environmentalist, the organization that sets out to green the music industry has married two great topics.

Ecorazzi recently had the chance to talk with Adam Gardner of the band Guster and co-founder of Reverb with his wife Lauren Sullivan. You can see Guster and some other incredible bands at this year’s Earthfest in Boston on Saturday, May 26. There’s no excuse – it’s free – and sounds incredible!

Adam & Lauren live in a small condo in downtown Portland, Maine. The location allows them to walk most everywhere – that is, when Guster or Reverb aren’t on tour. In fact, Lauren & Adam even got others in the building to agree to composting. But they are doing more than just greening their personal lives – they are helping the entire music industry get on the bandwagon.

It’s not that the music industry and musicians haven’t wanted to be environmentally friendly, “There is a lot of intention there,” said Gardner, “There is just a lack of resources and knowledge. That’s where Reverb can come in and help.” Reverb will sit down with an artist and lay out all of their options. He explains that it’s not all or nothing and tells the musicians, “What do you want to do? You wanna do some, you wanna do all? You wanna order a la carte from the menu? Or you can do a combo meal, what would you like?

And as time goes on, it is becoming easier for musicians to go green. Guster used to have to fight with their label to get eco-friendly packaging for their music. Now, Adam tells us, it’s a different story, “We’ve been on this label for a bunch of years now and every time we put out a record I remember having that conversation. What are we doing about the paper, can we use soy inks? ‘Well you can, but it will cost more’. Now, again, when this record Ganging Up on the Sun came out last year, I was all ready to get in my fighting position with my product manager about eco-friendly paper and he was all ready to get into it to. We were in our crouching positions ready to fight and then he said, ‘Well, let me find out the cost differences again.’ Then he came back and said, ‘You know what? New policy, all paper will be eco-friendly.'” In fact, Warner Music Group even made Guster’s entire back catalog carbon neutral.

I commented to Adam that what I like about Reverb is that they are actually greening musicians & their tours – biodiesel buses, energy efficiency, education – as well as using offsets to make the remainder carbon neutral, which are controversial, I said, depending on who you talk to. That got him fired up…

Read on to find out what Adam Gardner thinks of carbon offsets, how Reverb is making going green sexier, who’s huffing on exhaust pipes, and which Guster band member is crazy for composting.

“Let’s talk about offsets for a sec. The NY Times has been running a bunch [of articles] about it lately. This is what I think about offsets: I think obviously you need to reduce your footprint first and foremost. You gotta do what you can to be more efficient, use less energy and create less carbon. So obviously you are shrinking your footprint first.

“And then there is some inevitable footprint left over – well then what do you do with that? That’s where I think offsets do come in. And the key to offsets is making sure that you’re buying them from the right place. Because carbon offsets are not created equal.

“There are a lot people out there that see dollar signs and are selling things that aren’t carbon offsets. We use Native Energy and what I like about them is that money goes directly towards building new renewable energy sources like wind farms and solar arrays. So to me that’s what you want to do, you want to be able to point to something and say that got built with my help. And that’s an offset – you’re creating something that otherwise wouldn’t have existed without your help. Help being in this case, simply buying renewable energy credits.”

Basically, he says, because a musician doesn’t have control over venues and many details about their show, offsets are the best option right now. But like he said, they are also working on shrinking their footprint, as well.

Adam’s band Guster didn’t get involved in Reverb until after the non-profit organization had started and already worked with incredible bands like Barenaked Ladies, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, and Jack Johnson. We wanted to know if they were excited about touring with Reverb. Here’s how Adam tells it:

“When Reverb started, Guster was writing and recording that takes a long time and actually…two year process. So Reverb had already existed for two years and had done some great tours … we had done a bunch of stuff already. So it was kind of like ‘So when do we get to do this? We’re your own band!’

“What was neat was watching them going from: ‘OK let’s try this, let’s see how this goes’, to taking full on ownership. “We were on tour and Brian was Googling composting. He wants to start a compost pile. We’re in New York City and he’s trying to figure out how to compost! That’s really encouraging, it’s exciting to see my own brothers in effect, we’ve been together for 16 years, it’s great to see that transformation that happens within me also happen within them.”

Reverb Eco-VillageEach member of Guster now has their own reusable water bottle – instead of asking for cases and cases of bottled water in their rider. Simple actions like this make a huge difference. I’m impressed, but are the fans? I wanted to know if Guster has found new fans through their green journey. Gardner replied,

“Moreso than gaining new fans, maybe we are, I don’t know…more than that we are deepening the bond between our fans and our band. The reaction from our fans to our relatively recent efforts is amazing. There’s tons of questions pouring in like ‘Where do I get biodiesel? Can I run that in my gas car?’ (No, you need a diesel engine.) So that’s been great.

“They’re getting a better sense of what we stand for and who we are. I think it’s added a little bit of a soul to our tour that the fans are actual appreciating it. And the key to that, and this is something I definitely want to stress is that we’re not preachy.”

He says he understands that people go to concerts for a fun experience, not necessarily to learn anything, “So Reverb’s been very aware making sure that it’s fun and making environmentalism a little sexier and saying ‘Hey, check out this car that runs on straight vegetable oil.’ We’ve got pictures of people literally huffing on the exhaust pipe. Or ‘Here, dip your finger in this vat of biodiesel and taste it. It’s less toxic than table salt.’ Making it an interactive experience.”

It sounds like fun! It’s incredible what Guster and many other bands have been able to accomplish because of Reverb. And it’s amazing what Reverb has been able to accomplish in such a short time with such a small staff. I’ll finish up with how Adam started off with me, “I’ve never had anything that has simultaneously given me so much energy and also make me so exhausted.” Amen!

Stay tuned for Part II of our interview where we look at one of Adam’s favorite TV shows, his favorite eco-product, and more!

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