You don’t need kids to embrace the cargo bike lifestyle. Whether it’s about making your grocery runs more sustainable or adventuring with your pet, Yuba Cargo Bikes are ready to haul anything. Photographer Joel Caldwell sat down with musician Alex Collier whose Spicy Curry occasionally turns into a two-wheeled music machine riding around Charleston, South Carolina. Read about Alex’s inspiring journey and how the Spicy Curry helps him explore his city in a whole new way.
Photos & Copy By Joel Caldwell
Aboard The Spicy Curry: Exploring Charleston In New Ways
“The stuff you notice from a bike — it’s amazing.” I’m sitting on my front porch with Charleston, South Carolina based composer and multi-instrumentalist, Alex Collier. We’re discussing his career in music, and why an electric cargo bike is such a great fit for his lifestyle. “I’ve lived in Charleston for the majority of my life, but aboard the Spicy Curry I see things—buildings and architecture, details—that I’ve never noticed and wouldn’t see if I were driving.” Charleston, one of North America’s oldest cities, evolved over centuries before the invention of the automobile. While not a big city, Charleston retains the density and flavor of the Old World. “There are times when I want to travel without a car but still need to bring instruments,” Collier tells me. “If I’m recording with an artist nearby, I can put an amp and keyboard on the bike’s rear rack with the Carry-On. It’s brilliant. You don’t even have to pay for parking,” he laughs.
At only thirty-four years old, Collier has accomplished more within the ultra-competitive music industry than most successful musicians twice his age. Born and raised in the heart of historic Charleston, Collier grew up attending St. Patrick’s, the largest predominantly African-American Catholic Church in the state of South Carolina. As an altar server he spent time in the church, listening to the soaring music that accompanied High Mass. “Everything in the room sounded so great. The echo of the church. To me it was epic.” It wasn’t long before young Collier, not yet a teenager, found his way up to the keys. He began playing the piano by ear and ended up on the organ. When he was thirteen, an organist didn’t show up for mass and Collier was asked to play. “At the time I was only just starting to read music, but I had memorized the entire mass and started to play.”
Alex Collier: Paving His Own Way Into The Music Industry
Learning on the job, Collier soon began working his own original compositions into the liturgy. His obvious talent was recognized by Grammy Award winning musician Charleton Singleton, of Ranky Tanky and former leader of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, who took him under his wing and started teaching him the trumpet as well as piano and organ. At the tender age of thirteen, Collier became the organist and choir director at St. Pat’s, “My father had to drive me to church for the job—and then I’d be teaching twenty-five adults how to sing!” A year later he became an assistant organist at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. “I played all the masses that no-one else wanted to play. I loved it.”
Collier is not from an overly musical family, though his mother did play the bass clarinet in high school. He credits his older brother, Chris Collier, for initially exposing him to popular music. “Even in the Napster days I wasn’t into pop. I was downloading Dvorak’s symphony orchestras. Hardcore orchestral music.” His brother’s taste was a bit more mainstream and Collier remembers accompanying him to the record store where he bought No Doubt’s debut album and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Still, it wasn’t until he moved to Boston, attending the prestigious Berklee School of Music, that Collier’s musical world really expanded beyond the cathedral.
At Berklee, Collier studied Film Scoring, music for film and TV. School was an inspiration, but not a fit for long. “I ended up talking my way into the music business” he tells me with a smile. “I dropped out of college and started writing for Music Libraries—a middleman for music placements in film and TV.” His first film trailers were Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married and Kevin Costner’s Swing Vote. These early successes spelled the end of his college days. At nineteen he left school for good and started his own thing.
From Coachella To The Rear-Rack of the Spicy Curry
Back in Charleston, Collier resumed playing the odd mass at the cathedral. At the time he was managing an up-and-coming-band out of Mississippi called The Weeks. They were signing on to Kings of Leon’s record label and were in town for the weekend. “I was playing mass at the cathedral and they stopped by to listen to me play. They were like, “Oh my god you play the keys — you have to be in our band.” I had never planned to join a band, but I was on the road as tour manager so it was hard to say no. I was always there.” They toured nationally and then internationally. One thing led to another and Collier picked up other management clients, all the while continuing to compose original scores for film and television.
In 2018 Collier began managing and touring with New West Records’ artist Ron Gallo. “We’re in a music shop in L.A. and Ron buys this $3,500 keyboard and asks me to play it. We did Coachella for two weeks!” he recounts to me as if still not quite believing it had happened. For someone who claims to have had no aspirations of ever being in a band, Collier has graced some bigtime stages and festivals. When pressed on how this all came to happen, he just smiles and says, “I have a hard time saying no.”
Yuba Spicy Curry: The Two-Wheeled Music Machine
Finishing his glass of wine, Collier bids me so long and grabs his blue Yuba Spicy Curry bike to head up the peninsula to where he now lives in North Charleston. Fully loaded, the bike and its powerful Bosch mid-drive motor appear to be a two-wheeled music machine. A Marshall Amplifier and Moog keyboard are neatly tied-down to the rear rack with the cargo straps. Upfront, the Bread Basket is loaded with a snare drum and an eighties-era electronic instrument called an Omnichord. When I comment on the efficient use of space he responds by saying that when given the choice, he’d rather not drive a car. “Besides,” he says while taking the bike off its center stand, “you can fit whatever you need on here.” Throwing his leg over the bike and pushing off, he says “this is one of the most comfortable rides I’ve ever been on. I find myself thinking about the bike even when I’m not on it!” With that he accelerates down the road, waving gamely over his shoulder, rider and instruments disappearing around the corner.
To learn more about Alex’s current projects and to listen to his work, click here.