Pedals to the Metal
Local hardcore band Unrestrained pay it forward
For most bands, touring is a way to build a following, to move T-shirts and sell CDs. It is a way to get your name out there, boost your MySpace hits and maybe, just maybe, to get signed. But for Burlington’s Unrestrained, touring is not merely the means to an end. Touring is the end.
Since forming in 2006, the hardcore punk band has toured the United States several times over. And in the last 18 months, they have gone global, playing 26 countries on two continents — or roughly 25 more countries than the majority of local acts who are not named Grace Potter or Phish. That number will get a bump when the band tours Europe for two months this summer, marking their third trip across the pond in two years.
“Everyone in the band puts touring and writing music ahead of everything else,” explains guitarist Derek McIntire, 28. Unrestrained do not have label support or other financial backing. They book, plan and pay for their tours independently. They live a minimalist lifestyle in Burlington, sharing a cheap Old North End apartment, which they sublet while on the road. They work odd jobs, which they quit when it’s time to tour again. Or they work really odd jobs. Vocalist Ryan Krushenick, 25, has spent the last month in Boston taking part in an intensive — but lucrative — sleep study, during which he stays in a dimly lit room and has literally no contact with the outside world. Not even a window.
“We find ways to survive,” says bassist Phil England, 26, who also recently did the sleep study and describes it as a “difficult experience.”
They paint life on the road as a pauper-like existence. On a recent tour, the band traversed the country in a van with four seats, which would have been fine if Unrestrained were not a quintet. They sleep in tents or on floors in the ramshackle apartments of strangers. Or they sleep in shifts in the van driving overnight to a show. They eat out of Dumpsters. Especially for DIY bands, touring is generally a hand-to-mouth lifestyle. For Unrestrained, it is a step above transience.
“It’s not glamorous, that’s for sure,” says McIntire. “But at least we’re doing it.”
“It’s more of a struggle,” adds England. “But that motivates our music. Nothing that’s easy is ever really worth doing.”
Unrestrained’s vagabond resourcefulness will no doubt come in handy over the course of their next adventure, a two-week bicycle tour of New England. The journey will see the band travel roughly 700 miles from Burlington to Boston through New Hampshire and Maine. They will play seven shows using borrowed equipment, save for three guitars that will travel with them on an Xtracycle. The cargo bike trailer is on loan to the band from the Old Spokes Home, where McIntire works when he’s not touring. The tour kicks off this Thursday with a farewell show at Burlington’s 242 Main.
Inspiration for the trip arose from an almost comically calamitous series of events on, unsurprisingly, a recent tour. Last summer, the band was on the tail end of a trip that had taken them through the southern U.S., up the Pacific Coast and into Alaska. Following a show in Anchorage, the band’s van died.
“We just heard something shoot out of the engine and onto the road,” recalls McIntire.
The van had blown an engine rod and needed to be towed. Unrestrained used their AAA membership to have it hauled the remaining 100 miles to Fairbanks.
“While a couple of us hid in the van,” injects drummer Tom Fuller, 23.
The band played two shows in Fairbanks while mechanics assessed the damage. The verdict: The van was totaled. Unrestrained were stranded in Alaska.
An Internet search revealed the closest van for sale — in their $1000 price range, anyway — was back in Anchorage. So, McIntire and Krushenick hitchhiked to Anchorage, bought the van and drove it back to Fairbanks to pick up the rest of the band and, nearly a week later, finally leave Alaska.
They made it just past the Yukon border, roughly a 1200-mile trek, when, according to England, “The fucking wheel caught on fire.”
They were stranded again. Only this time they were in Watson Lake, Yukon. Or as McIntire refers to it, “the actual worst place on the planet.” What’s more, they were completely broke, having exhausted their money to buy the new van.
Through their MySpace page, Unrestrained got the word out that they were stuck in Canada. Friends in Alaska set up a PayPal account for the band and spread the word through online message boards. Over the next five days, while the only garage in Watson Lake — which is also a diner — worked on the van, the band received enough money in donations to pay for the repairs and get back on the road. And not a moment too soon. They had a plane to catch in New York four days later for a Central American tour. They made it. Barely.
“We went from Yukon to New York to Costa Rica to Guatemala without ever stopping to sleep,” boasts England.
Unrestrained view the bicycle tour as a way to say thanks to everyone who helped keep them on the road — and get them out of Watson Lake.
“We look at the band as our opportunity to see the world,” says McIntire, acknowledging that the donations helped them do just that. “But we can’t really pay everyone back individually.”
Instead, Unrestrained will donate the money they make from shows, which they otherwise would have spent on gas, to Oxfam International’s relief efforts in Haiti.
“We just thought it would be a cool way to give back,” says McIntire. “Plus, we love bikes.”