Tagged: Paul Curtis

Australian musicians band together to invest in solar

In the spring of 2017, immediately after the release of the Australian band Cloud Control’s third album, Zone, the band’s keyboard player, Heidi Lenffer, was contemplating what the their upcoming tour would cost. But this time she wasn’t just thinking about the money; she was thinking about emissions. Independent bands are used to running on a shoestring budget – a carbon-conscious Lenffer wanted Cloud Control to run a more environmentally efficient operation, too.

She began asking climate scientists in the field, and connected with Dr Chris Dey from Areté Sustainability. Dey crunched the numbers for Cloud Control’s two-week tour, playing 15 clubs and theatres from Byron Bay to Perth.

He found that it would produce about 28 tonnes of emissions – roughly equivalent to what an average household produces in a year. And that was just the national leg of an album tour that would take the band to the US three times.

“I had suspected that all of this flying, and all of the energy that goes into tours, can’t be very good for the environment – but there was no solution that existed beyond carbon offsetting,” Lenffer says.

Offsetting is essentially an attempt at equalisation: when you offset your flights, you try to compensate for your carbon footprint by donating to a program to suck it out of the atmosphere, via tree planting or sequestration somewhere else. Lenffer wanted to aim higher.

Partnering with the superannuation fund Future Super, and the developer Impact Investment Group, Lenffer has established FEAT. (Future Energy Artists): a platform that officially launches on Wednesday and will allow musicians to build and invest in their own solar farms.

Early signs are promising. As well as Cloud Control, other Australian bands already signed up include Midnight Oil, Vance Joy, Regurgitator, Big Scary, Peking Duk and Jack River. The first solar farm being built with their help is Brigalow: an 80-hectare project near Pittsworth on Queensland’s Darling Downs.

“At last, a project that takes the great passion many artists have for a healthy world powered by renewable energy, and makes it doable,” says Midnight Oil’s frontman, Peter Garrett. Paul Curtis, Regurgitator’s manager, talks about an “actively engaged citizenry embracing a more optimistic and progressive approach to the future”.

Lenffer wanted to tap into the creative drive of her industry to find a solution to a complex problem. “The environmental movement often lacks a positive premise for action,” she says. “It is exciting to own a piece of a solar farm. To do that collectively, we can leave a lasting, tangible infrastructure legacy and say, ‘We built that together.’”

Here’s how it works: money that artists invest in FEAT. is put into a portfolio which is managed by Future Super, and can be used to buy ownership stakes in solar farms or loaned to build their infrastructure. The land that Brigalow solar farm is being built on was previously used as a sorghum grain farm. It is now being leased from the land’s owner to build the solar project, whose progress is closely monitored by Impact Investment Group, which manages the underlying fund investing in Brigalow.

And artists can put forward as much as they can afford. Perhaps they want to throw in a one-off lump sum, or offer a percentage of their touring income; the idea is that everyone should be able to invest in their financial and environmental future – which is why FEAT. set a floor price of just $5 to set up an account.

FEAT. says the 34.55-megawatt Brigalow solar farm could power the equivalent of 11,300 homes for 30 years. (Looked at another way, it could generate more than 2,000 Cloud Control tours in renewable energy.) That energy is then sold into the energy market, with a target return on investment for artists of 5 percent a year.

The total emissions output of the global music sector is not well studied. A 2010 investigation into the UK industry found it was responsible for more than 540,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas every year, much of it from live music. Most of that was transport, not just of band members and equipment, but fans: audience travel alone accounted for 43 percent of emissions.

A further 26 percent came from the lifecycle of CDs, which speaks to the age of the study. But, according to researchers from the University of Glasgow, the streaming age hasn’t made for a cleaner product: the energy required to store and process music in the cloud makes for an even worse carbon footprint than manufacturing and distributing CDs and records.

For artists, the pitiful royalty rates generated from streaming, and the crash in sales of physical product, means that live music makes up the bulk of revenue. For Lenffer, going on tour meant contributing to the global climate emergency – but she was willing to gamble that “a progressive community like the music industry would have the guts and imagination to embrace change”.

Lenffer says she was inspired by community movements overseas, particularly in Europe, where groups were banding together to buy investments in renewables. “Sporting clubhouses would install solar panels on their rooftops purchased by the residents in the area, [who] would then be paid back through the energy generated over a period of time,” she explains. “I found about 70 groups in Australia doing it, as opposed to around 500 in Scotland and 1000 in Germany.”

But as well as being the biggest greenhouse gas emitters per capita, Australians also have the highest take-up of rooftop solar. Lenffer says this statistic “shows that people are driving the change where our government is not”. And, compared with Europe, there are far more abundant solar resources available in our sunburnt country.

Lenffer sees the potential for her idea to catch on. “There’s no reason why this couldn’t go global,” she says. “If we can demonstrate it works here – which I feel like we can, because we’ve already got a number of big-name and emerging artists signed up – if we can take ownership over building the solar assets that are going to power our future, which we need to do as quickly as possible, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be rolled out for every artist touring the world.”

First published in the Guardian, 4 June 2019

Regurgitator get their roxx off

Regurgitator’s Quan Yeomans is, in his own words, doing the dad thing. “Your grandmother will be here in a second! Do you mind?” he scolds his one-year-old son Bowie, mid-conversation. He also has a four-year-old, Cassius.

Ben Ely, the band’s co-founder and bassist, is also a father to young children for the second time, with a new partner. After what Yeomans describes as their “midlife crisis record” Dirty Pop Fantasy, released in 2013, their ninth, Headroxx, finds them in a far more settled place.

“We were both in very weird headspaces, not as confident in our lives, and not in love,” Yeomans says of Dirty Pop Fantasy. “This record, we’re both married now, we both have young kids – again, for Ben – so it’s got that vibe about it.”

The exception is drummer Peter Kostic. “Got my kids once a week, sometimes for sleepovers … Take them to the zoo, maintenance not an issue,” he sings on Weird Kind Of Hard, before the song dissolves into a long, absurd scat section, the whole band cracking up laughing.

It’s typical Regurgitator, to make a joke of a serious situation. And Kostic’s personal circumstances aside, Headroxx is a joy to listen to, a concise blast of electro-pop, rock, hip hop and noise that often sounds like a return to the feel of the band’s early work.

Sometimes it sounds like Regurgitator are, to coin a phrase, almost literally returning to their own vomit – no more so than Party Looks, which sounds more like Prince than their best-loved hit, The Song Formerly Known As. Yeomans cheerfully admits he’s heard that comment a lot.

“I don’t know if it’ll get played as much,” he chuckles. “That song is based on the idea of being in a really, really loud disco and not understanding what the person next to you is saying, so the whole conversation just erupts into some bizarre abstract thing.”

Headroxx was made quickly, a reflection of the tight constraints the band works within. “The records that we do these days are kind of like thrown together at the last minute,” Yeomans says.

“What generally happens is Paul [Curtis, the band’s manager] says ‘Oh, you’ve got to do a record, we’ve got a tour coming up, let’s do it now’. And we’re like, oh god, OK! And we sit down and we kind of go through the motions sometimes, but this one was pretty fun.”

That risks making Headroxx sound like a slapdash affair, but it does an injustice to the results. The band turns 25 next year, and while Yeomans agrees they’re a part-time proposition these days, there’s a synergy between the unit that only comes from working together for a long time.

Distance is both a help and a hindrance, in terms of both their longevity and working relationships: Yeomans, after several years in Hong Kong, is now in Melbourne; Ely is in the band’s home town, Brisbane, while Kostic is in Sydney.

“We’re not the kind of band that gets together and jams now, because the distance between us is too prohibitive,” Yeomans says. “But we do work regularly enough to feel like we play well together, and we’re like a family when we get together … There’s no infighting between us.”

Some bands fade away, and come back on money-spinning reunion tours. Regurgitator never fully went away, kept making good records, and Yeomans can’t see them stopping anytime soon.

“It would be harder for us to stop I think,” he says. “[We’re] addicted to it, to a certain degree, because it’s fun. We’re still capable, I think, as a live band; we look after our bodies, we’re not falling apart. It’s not painful to play.

“I’m actually looking forward to being a really old band where we have to play in wheelchairs, with aged-care people around us. I don’t know if we’ll get that far, but we still get a good reaction from crowds, we feel the energy that’s still within us. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and it works.”

First published in The Age (Shortlist), 1 August 2018