It’s always great to discover a band that plays amazing music. But it’s even better when you discover a band that plays amazing music AND contains a vegan musician. However, The Material from San Diego have a vegan member and two vegetarians in their five-piece band. They also have a great debut album out called ‘What We Are’. We caught up with vegan guitarist Roi Elam – who goes by the name VeganRoi on Twitter and Tumblr and asked him what he thinks record labels want in a band, how they got their CD into Hot Topic and why everyone should watch Earthlings.
By Shari Black Velvet
Shari Black Velvet: The Material has toured with There For Tomorrow, Every Avenue, Sing It Loud and The Secret Handshake on the Motel 6 Rock Yourself To Sleep Tour, has played Warped Tour and has just completed a one month US tour. What has been one highlight tour experience/moment that you’ll never forget?
Roi Elam: One of the best memories I have had with this band was when we were flown out to New York City to play on MTV back in 2007 as part of the Dew Circuit Breakout. We were a really young band then so the whole thing was all really overwhelming but, in a good way. Not only did we get to play in front of millions of viewers, we got to meet Pete Wentz, Gabe Saporta, Ashlee Simpson, and the whole amazing MTV crew. When we were on the show we covered the song ‘Apologize’ by OneRepublic so every time I hear that song it takes me back to that time.
SBV: In order to get on the Motel 6 Rock Yourself To Sleep Tour you had to win a contest. The band has also been in other contests and your ‘Moving To Seattle’ song made it onto Rock Band after winning one contest. Jon Moreaux talked about entering contests, saying, ‘until a label who believes in us comes along to offer some support, the only way we can get better opportunities is by continuing to work hard as a band and continuing to rely on the support of our amazing fans’. Has anyone particularly important (ie. labels, other music industry folk) been in touch with you after seeing you in a contest or as a result of a contest, ie. on Rock Band, at a show etc? And how hard is it to do everything you want to without a label?
RE: Being a part of a contest has helped us out as an independent band. It's a way for us to get our amazing fans involved and to let their voices be heard. It's how we got on MTV, played Warped Tour, and got on the Rock Yourself To Sleep Tour. We have sparked some interest from labels but we are now starting to pursue it more. Being an indie band has its advantages and disadvantages for sure. The advantage being we own and control everything that we do. The disadvantage being that we don't have the financial and promotion support of a label behind us. It is really hard to be in a band in general nowadays. Even all the bands we know that are signed to smaller labels are still living at home with their parents and doing their best to make ends meet. It's a struggle because music is becoming less of a thing that people see the need to pay for which puts an independent band like us in a bind.
SBV: What do you think labels want in a band these days?
RE: Hit Singles. It's becoming less and less about full albums and more about the song that is going to be all over the radio and commercials. I am a big fan of listening to whole albums but it is becoming more apparent that fewer bands are putting an effort into writing a cohesive body of work.
SBV: Aside from online, your album ‘What We Are’ is currently on sale in various Californian Hot Topics. How did you get it in there? Does Hot Topic support a lot of local artists?
RE: That all happened through our friend Kevin from the band I Am Cassettes. He is good friends with the music buyer for Hot Topic so he put in a good word for us. It's amazing to me how gracious people are and how willing they are to help us out.
SBV: The Material have photos on www.picturehealing.com – a site where you earn points for causes/charities. How did you discover picturehealing.com?
RE: Our good friend Chris Brererton started Picture Healing and got us involved. He used to play in bands with our guitarist, Jon so it was just a natural thing to partner up with him.
SBV: Why did you choose Music Saves Lives, Oregon SATF and Keep A Breast as The Material’s three causes on there? RE: We have been friends with Russell from MSL for a while now so we wanted to do something to give back to him and his fantastic org. Oregon SATF is where my wife works so we wanted to help them out. Their main focus is sexual violence prevention which is something we can all get behind. Keep A Breast is doing a great job in engaging youth and making them aware of the causes of Breast Cancer.
SBV: Have you ever supported any animal charities/organisations? RE: Absolutely. We have been doing some work with Action For Animals and I used to work for the Animal Protection And Rescue League while I lived in San Diego. I have a passion for working with Animal Rights orgs.
SBV: You’re vegan while Colleen and Kevin from the band are vegetarian. For a five-piece band that’s not bad! But what’s it like being the only vegan in the band? Do you ever have to compromise when you’re on tour or are the meat eaters happy to visit veg*n diners? RE: My band is VERY accommodating to my dietary choices. We enjoy seeking out Veggie restaurants all over the country and will always find a place that will cater to all of our food choices. Chipotle is one of our favorite chain restaurant stops. It has something for everyone and, we all love burritos!
SBV: Your band members once lived with you and you would cook food for everyone. How did you get into cookery and how long did the band live with you for?
RE: Before I played music full time I worked in the kitchen at a few Vegan restaurants. I really enjoy cooking and love to make meals for anyone that is at my house. The band lived at my place for about three months last year while we were writing the new record. We would all go grocery shopping and then I would cook for everyone so we wouldn't have to go out to eat all the time. We even would pull out our propane stove and cook meals outside of our practice space instead of buying lunch.
SBV: Your Twitter (and Tumblr) name is VeganRoi. Having ‘vegan’ actually in your name sounds pretty dedicated to the cause – as a lot of people are vegan but don’t go so far as to put ‘vegan’ in their online name. Why did you decide to be ‘VeganRoi’ on Twitter/Tumblr? Do you like getting new vegan followers and making new vegan friends?
RE: Being Vegan is one of the biggest aspects of my life. It changed how I look at the day to day choices that I make about what I eat, wear, and what businesses I choose to support. I love making new friends that are vegan and have a passion for animal welfare. It's like a little support group of people that are all on the same page. A good portion of my Twitter and Facebook timelines are filled with people that believe in social issues and it keeps me inspired.
SBV: Which fellow vegan rockers do you think do the most for animal rights? Has anyone in particular inspired you?
RE: No one in particular in the music scene has inspired me. I look up more to my friends that run Animal Rights organizations like Amanda at Action For Animals or Brian and Kath from The Animal Protection And Rescue League. They are the people that are out there everyday fighting for the voiceless.
SBV: How long exactly have you been vegan and what was it that made you stop eating meat and all animal products?
RE: I have been Vegan for six years now but I was Vegetarian long before that. I made the switch to Vegan after I moved to San Diego and started working for The Animal Protection And Rescue League. We were doing work to educate the public about factory farming and the evidence was just too overwhelming to continue supporting it. I dropped the dairy and have never gone back!
SBV: There’s a song on ‘What We Are’ called ‘Bird Without Wings’. What do you think of birds that are in cages and hardly get to use their wings? I was in Hawaii last year and the Hyatt Regency had a parrot in a cage. It was sad seeing him in there every day just for ‘decoration’. RE: I don't like to see any animals used for entertainment. For example, I was just in Las Vegas last weekend and they had a large fish tank in a hotel lobby full of exotic fish that looked so incredibly sad to be confined to a small area and not in the ocean that they are accustomed to. I am strongly against the circus and even zoos. I would much rather go on an African Safari and see the animals in their natural habitat as opposed to seeing them in an obvious state of distress in a pseudo habitat at a zoo. On a side note, I think that everyone should watch the movie ‘Earthlings’. It does a great job shedding light on the industry of using animals for entertainment as well as all the other aspects of animal cruelty.
SBV: You take a lot of photos of the vegan food you eat and post them in your tumblr blog, http://veganroi.tumblr.com. What made you start taking photos of your food and sharing them? RE: People kept asking me "What do you eat?!" So, I decided to start a blog that showed what food I was eating. I have gotten some good responses to it and have been asked multiple times for recipes. I have kicked around the idea of writing a book but for now, I will keep blogging.
SBV: Besides going vegan what are some things you’re proud of doing a) for animals and b) for people? RE: One of my dogs is from a rescue as opposed to a breeder. I would encourage anyone looking for a pet to visit their local animal shelter or if they are looking for a breed specific dog to search out a rescue society in their area. So many animals are euthanized everyday and there is no reason for it. I think for people I just try to be a positive influence on anyone I meet. I can be a little introverted sometimes but I do my best to reach out to everyone and make them feel appreciated and loved on a daily basis.
SBV: The final song on The Material’s ‘What We Are’ album is ‘What Happens Next’. What do you HOPE happens next for you and the band? RE: World Domination? Seriously though, we just want to make a living doing what we love. One of our main goals for this year is to get out and do some international touring. We wrote ‘What Happens Next’ as the theme song to a show on MTV Australia called 'Freshwater Blue' so we are trying to get over there for some shows as soon as possible.