When Boston's The Grownup Noise plays a show in Beantown, there's usually a solid turnout.
The fan base took about four years to fully cultivate. It began with family and friends, then strangers started taking notice. "When we first started, we would ask ourselves, Do they really like it, or are they just being nice?" singer and guitarist Paul Hansen recalls. "It's gotten to the point where a lot of them tend to be people we don't know. So, unless everyone's just being really nice, they actually like us."
The jazzy, low-key folk quartet doesn't fit into any of Boston's music scenes. But despite its varied approach to songwriting—it drifts from sorrowful, cello-heavy ballads to upbeat, swirling gypsy spellbinders—fans have been converted, one by one.
The task now is doing that to the rest of the country. Over the last few summers, The Grownup Noise has toured America, looking to get its name out without taking a bath financially. Last year, the band converted its van to a vegetable oil-fueled cash-conserving conveyance. "The reality of a band that's at our level is that we're not making any money," explains bassist Adam Sankowski. "We sort of realize that our petroleum culture is going to come to an end sooner or later, so why not be a part of the solution and also play music?"
When the tank runs dry, Hansen, Sankowski and co. find restaurants willing to part with their used vegetable oil. "Sometimes they're happy to give it to us, and sometimes they have no idea what we're talking about," Hansen explains. Incidentally, Sankowski says the Denny's on Central in the UNM area is an excellent source of fuel.
“You want it 49 percent sad, because that's the truth, and then 51 percent happy. The blend, overall, will taste good, but you get the full picture.”
Paul Hansen, The Grownup Noise guitarist
The Grownup Noise needs a fairly sizable vehicle to carry all its gear, which includes cellist Katie Franich's bulky contribution. Hansen and Sankowski auditioned several musicians, including saxophone players and pianists, before discovering Franich. She provided the missing set of strings that turned a straightforward drums-guitar-bass trio into a more unusual amalgamation. "It really filled this perfect void that we didn't realize was there," Sankowski says.
The joy levels in The Grownup Noise's work ebb and flow, but things tend to skew in the positive direction. That's by design. "I think songwriting and music in general is sort of therapy," Hansen says. "You want it 49 percent sad, because that's the truth, and then 51 percent happy. The blend, overall, will taste good, but you get the full picture."
The band recorded some of its first material during one of the most jubilant times in Red Sox history. Both Sankowski and Hansen say they're not big baseball fans. But in 2004, when the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 series deficit to defeat their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, both bandmates became enraptured. "We were recording our first album at the time, and running into the next room between vocal takes to see what was going on," Sankowski recalls. "I don't care if you were a punk rock musician or a jock, everybody was glued to the TV," Hansen adds.
The only official release The Grownup Noise touts is a self-titled LP put out in 2007. One of its more formidable tracks, "Oldest Running Feature," wound up on "The Real World: Brooklyn," after a friend got the album to the right set of ears at MTV. Hansen reports the band plans to head into the studio to record another album as soon as its tour concludes at month's end.
In the meantime, The Grownup Noise is gearing up for its third visit to Atomic Cantina on Friday, Aug. 21. Sankowski says in the past his band was paired with some louder, heavier acts. Despite genre clashes, The Grownup Noise has been well received. "I've come to an understanding that, in more of a punk rock club, someone coming up and giving you the finger right in your face isn't necessarily a bad thing," Hansen explains. "That happened a couple years ago. I was like, Oh, that dude really hates me, but I talked to him after the show and that was good energy. I just didn't know that type of communication."