At 11:30, Tyler Trudeau sits at Koffee Too, sipping his cup of tea and talking excitedly about the New Haven music scene. Wearing a red striped polo shirt, dark jeans and black Converse sneakers, 23-year-old Trudeau could easily pass for a Yale student on a midday break.
But Trudeau is actually the lead singer and guitarist of The Tyler Trudeau Attempt, one of the many New Haven bands working the Rudy’s/CafZ
At 12:30, Alex Nemser ’06 sits in the Berkeley dining hall, eating his falafel sandwich and talking excitedly about the Yale music scene. Wearing a navy blue suit, Nemser is out of his usual uniform of jeans and a t-shirt because he will not have time to change before participating in a poetry reading at the Beinecke Library later in the day.
While the t-shirt may be gone, Nemser still wears his trademark thick black-framed glasses, the inspiration for the name of his band — The Spectacles. Together, he and Daoud Tyler-Ameen ’06 play together, sometimes as only a duo, sometimes with additional members, both wearing Rivers Cuomo-style specs.
Tyler-Ameen was the third person Nemser met at Yale, and they began playing together soon after. Early in their freshman year, the duo played a gig at Koffee Too for approximately 20 people, receiving two complimentary cups of tea in payment. They also played last year’s Battle of the Bands at Toad’s Place, with the addition of a bespectacled drummer and bassist, performing two original songs and a cover of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.”
Despite the duo’s relatively wide exposure, Nemser said he is not sure what the place for bands — especially rock bands — is at Yale, where a large amount of students’ artistic energies are focused on “higher” art forms such as drama or photography.
“Kids like rock concerts, but it’s not like an art opening or an opera — or even a poetry reading,” Nemser said.
Two weeks ago, the duo, with yet a different drummer and bassist, played Weezer’s Blue Album to a crowd of approximately 150 students in the Morse dining hall. Last Saturday, the duo played an acoustic set in the Women’s Center. While Nemser said both of those shows went well, he said it was usually difficult to organize big concerts and to find the practice space to prepare for the concerts. Part of the reason for The Spectacles’ status as a guitar duo is the difficulty of locating a drumset, Nemser said, and the problems with practicing loud music among studying Yalies.
“Of all the activities I have tried to participate in at Yale, I have received by far the least support for this,” Nemser said.
Silas Meredith ’04, the bassist for both the jazz quartet the Jazz Aesthetic and the salsa group Sonido Unidad (“Sound Unity”), said being a band affiliated with Yale has both positive and negative implications. While the Jazz Aesthetic is composed entirely of Yalies — three seniors and one junior — Sonido Unidad is a mix of Yale undergraduates, graduate students and alumni, and New Haven area residents.
Meredith said he thinks Sonido Unidad could pass as either a Yale band or a New Haven band, and he would be happy with either classification.
“Yale provides a fan base and it provides some great venues. We’re not looking for financial support or official recognition,” Meredith said. “We’re a band. We just want to play.”
Founded in the fall of 2001, Sonido Unidad won Toad’s Battle of the Bands last year and is currently in the process of recording its second CD. The band will be playing in the Branford dining hall tomorrow night with an Afrobeat band from Princeton, providing live music in a party atmosphere — something Meredith said he thinks is lacking on the Yale campus. While the God Quad has hosted parties with bands, live music is otherwise conspicuously absent at most Yale bashes, Meredith said as his one complaint about the Yale music scene.
Milo may be another band to help reverse this trend. Wednesday night — the night after placing second in the Battle of the Bands and winning a spot playing at Spring Fling — the guys of Milo are jamming in a recording studio in the Digital Media Center for the Arts and planning their set for their show Thursday at Bar and their concert tonight at Davenport.
The Davenport concert is a Sudler Fund show, which will allow the band to provide a better sound and light system than usual. Guitarist and vocalist Dan Zukowski ’04 said most bands do not realize that their music is a legitimate use of a Sudler fund, but Milo applied for one and got it with no problems.
That is not to say, however, that they have always had an easy time being a band at Yale. Like the other bands, Milo’s number-one complaint was the difficulty of obtaining practice space on the Yale campus. After being kicked out of Davenport because the practice room is not soundproofed for amplified music, they have been looking for permanent practice spot.
Zukowski also said he feels that music sometimes gets a “low art” reputation at Yale. Milo, primarily a jam band, tries to play mostly originals and is very much focused on musicality, drummer Larry Lebron ’04 said. But while they hope the crowds they’ve played for at BAR, Toad’s, Bottega and the now-defunct Tune In appreciate the skill that goes into their music, that’s doesn’t mean they don’t also like to have fun.
“We play to drunken crowds all the time, and they love it,” Zukowski said.
“And we love it,” bassist Andy Roach ’04 chimed in.
As the three seniors pack up their instruments, they look back on the Yale music scene over the past four years. After a brief argument about whether a music scene even exists at Yale anymore, they reach a joint conclusion that the bands are better now, but there is not as much cohesiveness between them, hence not much of a “scene.” The guys say they did not know at least half of the bands they had been battling against the night before, which they attribute to the lack of coordination.
“Since there’s no natural scene at Yale, it’s all on the band to do it,” Zukowski said. “It takes extra effort to be a band here.”
While Yale may not be all that musicians might hope for, New Haven itself is a surprisingly good location for bands, Trudeau said. Trudeau, who plans on touring with his band for a month this summer, said New Haven’s large number of good bands, good venues and affordable pricing make it an “awesome” place to live, one where musicians can have “free-flowing ids” unrestrained by the pressures of trying to make it big.
“People don’t think of New Haven as hip. Hardly anyone playing music in this town at this time really expects to get huge — no one expects to get discovered in New Haven,” Trudeau said. “The effect is kind of like high school kids rocking out in their bedrooms when no one else can hear … uninhibited and wild.”
Nemser and Tyler-Ameen may not be high school kids, but they do rock out in Nemser’s bedroom, their practice spot of choice, when the neighbors don’t complain. And for now, they’re happy with that and the occasional Yale or New Haven gig.
“I don’t know if The Spectacles are going to sell one million records,” Nemser said. “I don’t care. I like playing music.”