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Sarasota rock band creates music out of trash

The Garbage-Men promote sustainability and recycling through musical instruments of their own creation.

Jack Berry plays at The Bay Park in December 2023.
Jack Berry plays at The Bay Park in December 2023.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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In order to join the seven-piece lineup of The Garbage-Men, there’s one hurdle you have to clear first.

New band members must prove their ability by creating their own instrument — using recycled materials.

That's because when Jack Berry started the band at age 13 or 14, he didn’t have any woodworking tools to build a guitar. 

But after he heard his father, Dave Berry, playing songs by the Beatles on guitar, he wanted his own instrument, so he decided to use the materials he had available: a Mini Wheats cereal box, a yardstick and a toothpick. 

When he brought the instrument with him to school, his friend Ollie Gray suggested they form a band centered on the concept, and so in 2010, The Garbage-Men band was born.

Over the next few years, the band played a string of venues, including Times Square, “America’s Got Talent” and  The National Guitar Museum Exhibit, while sharing a mission of sustainability.

But it wasn’t until about two years ago that the band re-formed after a hiatus due to members attending different colleges.

Distinct style 

With plenty of PVC piping, tattered cereal boxes and guitar picks made of used credit and gift cards, the instruments of The Garbage-Men weren't like anything found among musicians at venues in the community. 

The youth band's very first group performance was held on the Towles Court Art Walk and featured Berry, Zach Zildjian and Alex Eiffert. At varying times, the band's lineup has included Gray, Evan Tucker, Austin Siegel and Paul Colin.

It was also around that time, while riding his bike through Siesta Key Village to play for donations, that Berry first heard Jamie Tremps performing at The Blasé Cafe & Martini Bar. (She's now his girlfriend and a member of the band.)

Jack Berry, Jamieson Martel and Jamie Tremps perform at The Blasé Café & Martini Bar on Feb. 14.
Photo by Ian Swaby

Over time, the band members were invited to play with different bar bands, growing connections in the community. By college, when the band members split up to attend schools in different cities, Berry had begun to turn his focus exclusively to real instruments. 

He thought the cereal box instruments had become a thing of his past, but two years ago, Berry realized it was time for a revival.

Owen’s Fish Camp in Sarasota expressed an interest in a return of The Garbage-Men. Tremps, with whom Berry had begun performing gigs, encouraged him to give the idea a chance. 

At the time, the group lacked a drummer. 

Tremps had experience singing and playing guitar, along with experience as high school marching band drummer. Taking up the The Garbage-Men's version of the instrument, she discovered the repurposed buckets and materials were easier to play than she had anticipated, due to the lack of foot pedals. 

Drummer Wesley Backer also found the instrument easy to take up. 

"They only gave me one instruction, which was to hit the drums as hard as I could," he said. 

Jamie Tremps and Sindie Pennavaria play with The Garbage-Men at The Bay Park in December 2023.
Photo by Ian Swaby

As the band took to the stage at Owen's Fish Camp, Berry had some doubts about whether it would achieve the same success that it had on the streets with the captive audience of a restaurant. 

To his surprise, he found the crowd was listening and engaged. 

"No one got up and left," said Backer. 

Afterward, Berry's perspective on the band began to shift. 

“After we did a few shows with the new lineup and the singing, I thought, ‘You know what, I'm not scared anymore,'” he said. “I know what it's like to play in restaurants and bars here, and I know what it's like to play at festivals here, because I've done it with a bunch of other bands. It's time to do it with my own band, and our own instruments and our own songs.”


Renaissance lineup

With a lineup of Berry, Jack's brother Trent Berry, Jamie Tremps, her son Jamieson Martel, 8, Harrison Paparatto, Wesley Backer and his girlfriend Syndie Pennavaria, the band has entered what Berry describes as a renaissance. 

The newfound success has seen a following from the public, part of which Jack Berry attributes to the audience never knowing what to expect. The band is always innovating, he explained.

Jack Berry has gone through four to five guitars since 2010, but each time members create new instruments, something they do often, they add improvements. 

The Feb. 14, 2024, concert at Blasé Cafe Siesta Key was the first time the band ever tried out the "hula horn" and a new trash can lid. 

Created from two busted hula hoops discarded by a neighbor, the hula horn involves two hoops duct-taped together to make a single tube, with a trombone mouthpiece fixed to one end and a funnel on the other.

Performing with instruments like these creates a distinct experience, for performers and for listeners.

Wesley Backer performs at The Blasé Café & Martini Bar on Feb. 14.
Photo by Ian Swaby

The drum set, for instance, lacks any foot pedals. The guitars feature just one string, as opposed to the standard six strings on traditional guitars. 

Initially, these design choices were made out of necessity, but Berry said it became a deliberate decision inspired by Ornette Coleman's harmolodic theory in jazz. 

“We’re deliberately working within limits here,” he said.

Sustainable sounds

As with jazz, Jack Berry said, the musical notes come from disparate sources, but together they create a more complex whole. 

Increasingly part of that whole has been Tremps' son Jamieson. He enjoys music, constantly listening to songs on Spotify. 

"All these songs ended up on his playlist, and he listens to them repeatedly, never ending, and he learns them, and they don't stick in my head as well as his," Tremps said. 

Members also contribute knowledge that goes beyond music. 

Before Wesley backer became a band member, Jack Berry went to visit him at college and discovered that Backer had his own record collection, which led to his role as drummer.

His role has grown to become the repair and tech expert of the group who fixes instruments, and who even created a new one. 

Until recently, the band lacked the one instrument they didn't know how to create from garbage: a microphone.

Backer was able to find a substitute in some old telephones acquired from Goodwill. The result was the distinctive, tinny vocals that have come to define the band's performances.

Trent Berry originally served as their CD salesman, but also became involved with the band, which he said complements the work he performs outdoors restoring native habitats. 

“It’s another way to promote an aspect of sustainability and ecological thinking, and I like doing things with my brother. It’s fun,” Trent Berry said.

Jack said the general sound of the band is inspired by rock 'n’ roll. He describes it as melding various influences and cites major influences as The Beatles and Mothers of Invention.

The Garbage-Men create their instruments using items from the trash.
Photo by Ian Swaby

The band often plays songs by The Beatles, which he said people know and connect with lyrically and musically, and which have several easy-to-play yet intricate chord progressions.

Nonetheless, it's also important to him that people don’t get exactly what they expect. For instance, if they group gets a request to play "Brown-Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, they don't respond straightforwardly. They might play the song in a minor key instead of a major key, for instance. 

“We deliberately subvert that. And we try to do something different. And maybe a little provocative,” Jack Berry said. 

He said the band's current goal is to perform at more community events and festivals locally, traveling and touring to other communities to spread their ethos.

“We want to show people with our instruments and creativity and ingenuity that instead of this consumer culture that we have, instead of just buying things new, and throwing them away when you're done with them, it's such a more fulfilling and rewarding experience for yourself and the community and the world to find something that already exists, and use your creativity and self-expression to reuse and repurpose it in a creative, artistic way,” he said.  

On March 2, the band will be performing at Maine Colony Community Day, at Phillippi Crest Community Club in Sarasota. 

Jack Berry said an organization they work with is Transition Sarasota. It helped organize and performed at their most recent annual Eat Local Week, and will perform with them at Fogartyville’s Earth Day Art and Music Fest on April 21.

Jack Berry said the band’s goal is being met; people who have never made instruments before said he’s inspired them to give instruments made from garbage a try.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Syndie Pennavaria's name, include Trent Berry in the band's new lineup and correct the date of the band's Earth Day show.



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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