Adley Penner and Carolyn Herlhey created the musical bike power-touring group Bicicletas Por La Paz while gathering San Francisco Bay Area musicians to create the Biketopia Muisc Collective. They dive into the early days of romance with biking and one another, saving one of the first nuclear activist from suicide and the community response from seeing a group of musicians carrying their PA system and instruments on bikes while delivering hot Latin circus funk jazz music to remote places from Oregon through Mexico.
Watch “Googleamos” live music video:
Inception and South American Inspiration
LMC: Tell me about the band. Where did Bicicletas Por La Paz come from?
Adley: Carolyn created the name from our first bike tour. It was the two of us. We biked two and a half months to Nagarite, Mexico from the [San Francisco] Bay Area. We just had a Ukulele with us.
We wrote our first song there. It was so incredible that we decided to create a band that tours by bike. That was the inception of our band. “Bikes for Peace” [Bicicletas Por La Paz] was in Spanish because we took the band to Mexico a bunch of times using the bike to promote peace.
LMC: That’s wonderful. You guys play are clearly influenced by Latin Jazz. Can you talk about where the music comes from?
Carolyn: I think there are a few things that are important to note. Touring is a big piece of the bands beginning. Knowing that we were going to be in Spanish speaking countries made sense to us to play music that was in both Spanish and English. It felt strange to be tour in a Spanish speaking country and only sing in English.
Our songs are structured in half Spanish and half English. A lot of that came from touring in Mexico. It also came from living in California where much of our culture is Spanish speaking although English is the primary language. Bridging that gap between us and our neighbors and widening our social construct. Like what languages are used the most, spoken the most and how much we have exposure to them.
Neither of us are native Spanish speakers and neither of us are Latino so that’s something that can be a question sometimes, “Oh, what’s up with that”?
Adley traveled in South America for a few years. He ended up living in Colombia for two years where he studied music. He has a lot of education in Colombian folklore and when he moved to the Bay Area he connected with that community.
It was this really cool connection where he was able to bridge a bit of the gap for Colombians living here and have a musical exchange that felt really full.
When he was translating into [Bicicletas Por La Paz] the Colombian music came through as did the funk and the psychedelic rock, which is more our culture. It’s fusion. We pulled in a few Colombians, a few folks from the States and Adley is from Canada. We’re working with the idea of creating a musical fusion in our bands demographic and in the music we are sharing.
LMC: What is your music background, Carolyn?
Carolyn: I didn’t start studying or playing music until I met Adley. I studied Clarinet when I was 12 but it wasn’t really a big part of my life.
We met through our love of bikes. I loved to digest music. We’d go to a lot of shows. We met at a jam in Oakland, CA years ago. When Adley and I were on that first bike tour he was like “Hey, sing with me. Let’s sing this song”. When he would present that I should sing, I would often break into tears because I couldn’t sing. I had a huge mental emotional block around music.
It was a gift to be in a partnership with Adley because he continues to offer this opportunity. He’s say “Hey, it doesn’t have to be so serious. Let’s play music”. A lot of my education comes from him. I’ve taken a lot of lessons from people in my community. Heather [Normandale] being one of them. Heather’s been a great musical teacher for me.
LMC: Adley, tell me why you decided to go to South America and study music.
Adley: I wouldn’t say I went to South America to study music. I went there to learn Spanish and definitely music is the number one focus in my life. I’d say no matter what I’m doing music is going to be a huge part of it.
I ended up going to Colombia after Bolivia and Equador which I resided in for four months each. All my friends were Colombian and Equadorian. I went to Colombia with a friend and fell in love with it after a week. I went to the Caribbean coast of Colombia and saw the most amazing street performers performing with Colombian folklore drumming. The kids were four and six years old dancing in incredible ways that I’ve never seen adults dance.
When we settled down in Medellín, Colombia in 2004 or 2005, we were there for a year and a half, two years. We found a teacher who taught us folklore music from the Caribbean coast of Colombia. He broke down all the rhythms for us, different patterns and fills.
Colombia they say they have more festivals than days of year. We traveled around to a lot festivals there. We’d try to see the finest musicians perform in Colombia.
It was really inspirational. That’s why we have a folkloric contingent in our music.
LMC: Explain the song “Googleamos” to me?
Aldey: “Googleamos”? Oh, haha, Carolyn take this one.
Carolyn: This song is really inspired by Adley and my budding relationship. We are in romantic partnership and in a band together. A lot of times what it means to be in a band means doing a lot of difficult computer work. Sometimes you are making music but a lot of times it’s admin work. Adley has moments where he says “I’m not a musician to do admin work”.
He made up this term called “Googleamos” which is the love affair that you have with Google and the computer. Even when you are with your friends or with your partner, in these moments where you’re like things could be dynamic, sweet or interesting, everyone’s focused on the computer instead.
Adley: The phrase “Googleamos”, that we google, came from my friend. We were just goofing off at like two in the morning at the house chatting and joking about how online dating is so prominent in society and how hanging out with your partner is all about looking at your Instagram and checking your phone at the same time and we were like “Googleamos, Googlelamos, Googlelemos.”
We were joking around with that and I said I should actually use that in a song because technology is so prominent not just in our relationships but in our everyday perspective of reality now. Technology is so pervasive.
LMC: Tell me about “Tengo Una Bici y Quiero Montar”?
Adley: Well, the title pretty much sums up the song. “I have a bike and I want to ride it”. (laughing) I have a bike and I’m gonna get on it.
Watch “Tengo Una Bici y Quiero Montar” live music video:
We try to really represent bike touring and bike culture through our music and our band. We try to be a part of as many bike related things as possible.
Bike Power Inception, Saving Lives, The Collective
LMC: You have this bike peddle system. Tell me when and how that started. What do you intend to do with it?
Aldey: We did a crowd funding campaign three years ago to procure the peddle part sound system. We decided we wanted to go on a big bike tour with multiple bands so we started the Biketopia Music Collective, which encapsulates four to five different bands. The idea is to bring pedal power technology. Music run by people biking to create electricity in any town anywhere off the grid at any time.
When we acquired the sound system we took the train up to Vancouver then spent two and a half months biking south to the Bay Area. We put on about 30 bicycle powered concerts in cities and towns along the way.
LMC: How was the reception? Did people get out and ride the bikes?
Adley:It depends on the town. You get the off town. Like last Summer, Tom Quell wrote a song called “Heat-Induced Lethargy” because we were playing in Eugene, OR and it was 105 degrees out. Nobody wanted to get on the bike. He was sitting there about to go on and he witness what was happening and he composed the song “Heat-Induced Lethargy” about the crowd being to hot to do anything.
The reception was amazing. We did a tour with the collective two times. Last summer was really amazing. It was affecting people in really profound ways.
LMC: Do you think that it has to do with the climate change awareness or that people live very sedentary lives these days?
Adley: Both. I think the political climate has made people feel a sense of desperation. When they see something really positive and it’s not just a concept, but something tangible, I think it sparks a sense of greater hope that they are part of a collective movement that they want to grab onto.
For example, we met this lady in Astoria who was one of the first nuclear activists in Oregon. She had a motorized wheelchair. She was older around early 50s, mid 60s. She said before she met us she was considering suicide. She was crying when she talked to us. She said she wasn’t going to do it now, “You guys gave me hope. Now I know there’s hope in the next generation”.
This other time we were in Brookings, OR and this guy had an oxygen tank he wore all the time. He took it off for two hours during our concert and danced. It was inspiring to know that we have some kind of impact.
Carolyn: I want to expand on some of the questions. One is the start of the collective and I’d like to name the people who came before us who were doing this.
In the Bay Area we have friends at Rock the Bike. They are a local organization who developed and engineered a sound system that ran entirely off bike power. Kip Chogee was doing a similar thing with this group called the Pleasant Revolution. Heather Normandale toured with them when that was going on.
Adley and I admired that. We want to tour with a bike powered sound system and enliven the experience. At that time the Pleasant Revolution stopped touring.
We decided to crowd fund for the sound system. We thought it was just going to be our band but then all these people started joining us. Heather got involved and said she really wanted to go on another bike tour with us. Several other musicians connected with us who wanted to join.
We thought this was beyond us and our band. This is truly a collective.
In terms of inspiration, I think what we offer is a strong symbol of community. We are so interdependent of each other while we tour. Nothing is possible without every single person showing up every single day. To the weight you carry on your bike, to the sound system, to performing the show, to getting fed.
People see that and they feel it. They ask “How do you carry all that weight?” Well we all carry it. It’s what is possible when people work together. And in our individualistic society we don’t see that often.
To be such a public example of it riding down the street and putting on free concerts, all of a sudden people see what it’s like to work together; this is what it looks like to create joy together, to work together.
LMC: Thank you for doing that. It’s very inspirational.
Carolyn: I think that’s what Adley is speaking to when people feel so moved by it. We are really starved of that example. People are really lonely.
There’s the element of environmentalism that’s real. There’s an impact in that way of “Hey, let’s think about it in a different way”. Riding the bike is an option. It’s not an option for everyone but it is an option for many but not necessarily the solution. I think people seeing a side step to the system they’re in which can be done differently.
Finding Home, Music Community and The Bay Area
LMC: What brought you to the Bay Area?
Aldey: I’m from the outskirts of Vancouver, BC. I moved to the Bay Area to pursue music. I tried to give it a go in Vancouver but it was pretty lame so I decided I needed to move somewhere with a thriving art scene.
Some of my favorite bands growing up are from the Bay Area so it only seemed right to move here. A lot of the politics I am into were more aligned here.
Carolyn: I moved to the Bay in 2010. I had graduated college and wanted to do Ameri Corp. It’s like the Peace Corp but in the States. Essentially you are placed with an organization and are a volunteer with them for a year filling in holes they need filled. I applied to a position in Oakland which was working at a drug and alcohol rehab for teenagers. I had worked a lot with teens in my past, studied Psychology and studied addiction. I got the position.
I thought I’d go for a year. I didn’t move here thinking I’d be here 10 years later. But I fell in love with the work I was doing ended being and employee for them for the organization for four years.
LMC: You were saying your introduction to music as an adult was through Aldey.
Carolyn: Yeah, I never considered myself a musician or musically inclined. I was more focused on the social justice edge and visual art before I met him. It’s funny how my life evolved.
I talk with friends from high school or college and some of them say “You’re a rock star”. I don’t think I’m a rock star. It’s so crazy I’m musical now.
LMC: Tell me about the local music scene in the Bay Area?
Carolyn: I feel like the music scene is so collaborative and supportive. It’s so beautiful. Everywhere I look, everyone’s an epic musician and honed in on their craft. It’s really inspiring.
There’s not this air of “Oh, I’m better that you” or “You can’t participate”. People can grow into their musicianship which is what I experienced.
Music is seeping out of everything. Every party you go to there’s live music, jams happening all the time. Bands are always collaborating with each other putting on cool events. The music is political. People really put that edge into it. People get the idea that they have a platform so I should use it.
Adley: This is one of the best places to make music and bring it to the world. This is a place that accepts the normal to experimental music. There is always a community for any of those things. People come here to live and experience something different. It’s an awesome place to be a part of a bigger creation other than yourself.
It’s a reflection often of what ‘s happening in people minds, bodies and hearts. It’s profound.
The music that we create with our band, Bicicletas Por La Paz, is music for dancing and for people to express themselves and move. Ideally it’s not just a party but something people can reflect on and think about some of the issues. How they can get involved; think about each persons complacency and a lot of these problems that exist in society. Ourselves included. Be a part of some kind of positive change.
Bicicletas Por La Pazplays live around the San Francisco Bay Area and in festivals around the country. You can check them out at https://www.bicicletasporlapaz.com