In the Clubs: Albany-based jam band School Bus Yellow creates multipart musical universe

Thursday, April 16, 2009
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Yellow School Bus brings its musical storytelling to Red Square on Friday.
Yellow School Bus brings its musical storytelling to Red Square on Friday.

In five years, Albany-based jam band School Bus Yellow has managed to create its own musical universe.

Listening to the group’s 34 original songs, this becomes readily apparent. Characters surface within the lyrics with names such as Gus the Bus Driver, Gravity Girl and Macy Mertle, often reappearing throughout multiple songs. There’s also the “crazy lady in the basement who stole my toothbrush so she could comb her hair,” apparently a true story that happened to rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Jeremy Dunham at some point, although he didn’t reveal any other details.

“I always pictured — if you were going to look at our album cover, you’d see a bus with all the characters, with their heads out the windows, from all our different songs,” said drummer Greg Finley during a recent band interview at the group’s practice space in Rensselaer.

Working on material

That debut album shouldn’t be too far off at this point, as the group has been working on new material with hopes of beginning recording this summer. Because of that, in recent months the band has been scaling back on live shows, its usual bread and butter (in 2005 and 2006, the group was playing over 100 shows a year).

Natural Breakdown, School Bus Yellow, All the Leftovers

When: 5 p.m. Friday

Where: Red Square, 388 Broadway, Albany

How Much: call for prices

More Info: 465-0444,

But things will pick up when the band, also featuring bassist Kevin Greer and lead guitarist Chuck Valentine, opens for New Jersey jammers Natural Breakdown at Red Square on Friday evening along with All the Leftovers. The show is an after-party for The Dead’s performance at the Times Union Center on the same night, part of that legendary band’s first tour together since 2004.

“Hopefully in late August, early September, we’re going to hit the road and hit the college scene hard,” Dunham said. “And Plattsburgh, we have a few shows up there. My favorite place in the world is Plattsburgh to play.”

Well, besides Red Square. “That’s our real favorite; it’s our favorite new bar,” Dunham added.

The band has played more than 400 shows in its existence, some as far south as Florida and Tennessee, but mostly in the Northeast. Most of these performances have been recorded and distributed free, and some tracks can be found at or

Plattsburgh’s Monopole Bar in particular, one of the band’s regular venues, holds a special place for the group’s members. Over the years the group has built a fan base there that has literally grown up with School Bus Yellow.

“[At Monopole] we’ve met kids coming in [and] snuck them in,” Valentine said. “They’d call us up or somehow get in touch with us before the show, e-mail us.”

“They grow up and we don’t,” joked Dunham. “We stay the same age. Actually, we’re regressing.”

School Bus Yellow in its present incarnation first solidified on New Year’s Eve in 2004. Prior to this, next-door neighbors Dunham and Finley would play guitar together, eventually working up enough songs to pull a band together. Greer was the first to join up.

“I met Jeremy at the Lark Tavern playing darts,” Greer said. “We just started talking about music, and he was looking for a bass player, and I was like, ‘You know what, I just bought a bass, so let’s try this out.’ And then Chuck and I have known each other since probably the sixth grade.”

Valentine came into the picture with the band looking for a drummer. Finley soon switched to drums, allowing Valentine to join as lead guitarist.

“Chuck comes over one day, he’s sitting on the couch, and all of a sudden I hear this riffing coming from my living room,” Dunham said. “I’m going, ‘What the hell is this guy?’ Sometimes I still find myself doing that onstage; I’ll be like, ‘Damn, nice solo, Chuck.’ ”

Musical map

Although rooted in the sounds of Phish and The Grateful Dead, School Bus Yellow draws from all over the musical map. The band’s varied influences range from punk and metal (Greer and Finley) to hip-hop artists such as The Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg, a major influence on Dunham’s rapid-fire vocal delivery. The mix is apparent in the group’s audience, as well.

“We had this old hippy lady come to one of our shows at the Monopole, and she’s like, ‘I put your song Disco Bus on my answering machine,’ ” Finley said.

“We’ll be playing at the show, and you’ll see like some big, bald hardcore dude with tattoos and stuff bobbing his head in the back, with a heavy metal T-shirt on or something, just hanging at our show,” Greer added. “We definitely draw a mixed crowd. I think a lot of different people can get into our music.”

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