The Basement Revolution: Student Bands to Watch Out For

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With only a limited number of outlets, the student bands at Yale are not the most visible performing arts groups. Yet those who want to play music with other students are determined. Forming a band, rehearsing, gaining an audience and finding success might be difficult, but Yale’s undergraduate musicians will tell you it’s a highly rewarding experience. There is diversity in their music, and the stories behind their groups ultimately make for a rich music scene — which might not always be appreciated or more importantly, heard.

Eva Lawitts and Chris Mobley had been playing music together since childhood. Years later, when they were in the eighth grade with Nathan Campbell ’14, the three friends joined forces to form a new band. At that time, another would-be Yalie, Sam Brudner ’12, was also actually a member of the band, although he would leave in 2008. But since that year, the aggressively alternative Sister Helen has had a set roster. With frontman and lyricist Campbell, guitarist Krasnow, bassist Lawitts, and drummer Mobley, Sister Helen is a band whose members aren’t Yalies (Mobley and Lawitts attend Purchase College SUNY and City College of New York, respectively).

“Since three-fourths of the band goes to school elsewhere, Sister Helen’s presence on Yale isn’t that high,” Campbell said.

But if you’ve been to the shows at 216 Dwight St., you may have seen Sister Helen perform — the band has already been featured there twice. And if you remember last year’s Spring Fling, Sister Helen was a part of the opening act after placing third in WYBC’s Battle of the Bands competition. Most of the band’s performances, though, occur in New York City during weekends and breaks when all the members are able to convene.

Campbell described his band’s sound and performance style as a little over-the-top for the majority of people at Yale.

“We got a couple very amusing and not entirely flattering writeups,” Campbell said.

The band is currently working on its third album. For the music lovers on Yale’s campus, be on the lookout — Sister Helen’s new music will be more complex and more sophisticated than its previous tunes.

THE KEEP CALM

Buttoned-up power-pop outfit The Keep Calm is a relatively young band — it began just last year when Alexander Bae ’14 and Ishan Sinha ’14 were both enrolled in a freshman seminar called “The Beatles, Bob Dylan, & the 1960s.” Bae and Sinha, who became friends during seminar, met a few times outside of class to play a few Beatles songs. Soon, they decided to form a band with Bae on vocals and Sinha on guitar.

“Over spring break I wrote acoustic versions of our first couple songs,” Bae said. “And upon returning to campus, Ishan and I busied ourselves trying to find band members.”

Sinha enlisted John Cocco ‘14, with whom he had attended high school and previously played music. Since Bae found it difficult to do justice to the bass lines while singing, the band started to look for a bassist. The band found a stand-in bassist for the Battle of the Bands competition who dropped out the night before. As a las- minute substitution, Bae asked Kenneth Crouch ’14, his suitemate, to play bass guitar for them. Out of sympathy, Crouch agreed, but following the show, Crouch decided he enjoyed playing with The Keep Calm so much that he joined the band as a full-time bassist.

This past summer, the band recorded an EP at Tarquin Studios, where bands such as The National and Interpol have recorded. Since then, the band has played eight shows, including shows for the Yale College Council, Sophomore Council and Relay for Life. Last Thursday, The Keep Calm was featured at Toad’s. This year, the band hopes for even bigger gigs.

“We’re trying to play BOMBfest and Gathering of the Vibes this summer and go on a mini-tour,” Sinha said. “This process so far has been incredible — I’ve always wanted to be in a serious band, and finally, here at college, I was able to.”

When Rich Gilliland ’13 asked Peter Lewis ’13 to play a flute part in a song he was writing, Lewis happily agreed and brought along Zach Simao ’13 and Nathan Prillaman ’13, with whom he had been performing since freshman year under the name Mojoceratops. The group instantly clicked — soon, it officialized with Gilliland on lead vocals and guitar, Lewis on backup vocals, Prillaman on lead guitar and Simao on percussion.

“Everyone in the group was really open to performing all different genres of music,” Gilliland said. “Before we knew it, we had five covers and five originals and were ready to play a show.”

While No, We’re Not is in its early stages, the members have already started recording demo songs tending towards party-experimental. Its first gig happened just last weekend in an off-campus basement. Gilliland mentioned that his favorite venues are those “random” off-campus house parties. And, he added, while it’s more difficult to draw an audience to these kinds of events, the environment is much more conducive to enjoying a live band. No, We’re Not is planning more gigs in the near future.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like we’ve all got this sense of wonder and anticipation about what’s coming next,” Gilliland said.

Hip-hop duo High Definition bring a DIY approach to party-rap. The group is composed of Carson Weinand ’13 and his best friend Brad Canada, a student at Rollins College. The two began their collaboration while Weinand and Canada were attending the same high school in Naples, Fla. Both of them had always been passionate about music, and one day they decided to mess around with some cheap equipment and the Apple program GarageBand.

Slowly, the two bandmates improved musically, writing better songs and perfecting their delivery. High Definition has already recorded at professional studios but has not yet played at a venue on campus, since Canada attends school in Florida.

“Because we go to different schools it’s sometimes difficult to record,” Weinand said. “But when we’re in Florida for breaks we make sure to record new music.”

But if you want to hear an alternative to the soft, slow rock that most Yale student bands produce, then just go on your computer to hear High Definition’s music — this past summer, the band recorded a nine-song EP called “It’ll Be Okay,” which is now for sale on iTunes.

When Will Moritz ’12 was a freshman, he put out flyers all over campus looking for people interested in starting a rock band.

“I got a lot of calls,” Moritz said. “People very quickly called me to ask if there was room.”

With so much demand, Moritz was able to have his pick of members — Moritz, who plays guitar, formed the band with songwriter Mark Sonnenblick ’12, lead singer Raphael Shapiro ’13 and backup singers Brendan Ternus ’12 and Yael Zinkow ’12.

Together, the five bandmates play rock originals and a few covers, essentially party music. The band finds time to practice together twice a week in the residential college music rooms. The band has played in many venues, their favorite being sweaty and dirty basements to really engage their audience.

“We’ve played a bunch of different kinds of shows,” Moritz said. “We’ve played one where there was literally not an audience member, and we’ve also played at Woolsey Hall for the YSO show.”

A Streetcar Named Funk, which plays soul, R&B, rock, pop and funk, was just a group of instrumentalists while they were looking for a singer. It consisted of Moritz ’13 on guitar, Prillaman ’13 on bass, Simao ’13 on drums, Andi Zhou ’13 on piano, Alyssa Hasbrouck ’14 and Grant Phelps ’13 on saxophone, Nathaniel Meyer ’13 on trumpet and Tim Gladding ’13 on euphonium. They finally found their vocalist, Michael Blume ’13, and formed the student band on campus with the most expansive lineup.

With nine members, Moritz said that it was almost impossible to coordinate practice times.

“At Yale, everyone’s so busy,” Moritz said. “We practice from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Tuesday nights, since that’s literally the only time we could all make the practice.”

Like Moritz’s other band, Jamestown, A Streetcar Named Funk has had a few funny shows in which only a few people showed up.

“That’s life and performing,” Blume said. “But we’ve also done some awesome shows in packed basements with great energy.”

If you’re looking for a balance of covers and originals, then A Streetcar Named Funk may be your Yale band. Head to an off-campus basement party and you might just catch them.

Comments

  • WYBCRecords

    Hello… this is Nathan from Sister Helen. Thanks for the write-up! Of the other bands featured here, I’ve had the pleasure to see the Keep Calm and Jamestown in action, but I look forward to seeing Streetcar, No, We’re Not, and High Definition.

    I’d also like to alert people to a new band on campus that I saw last week: Nine Tigers, a group of freshmen including Sam Frampton ’15, Temitayo Ajayi ’15, and three other great musicians. I watched them effortlessly switching between genres and sometimes time signatures during a well-populated, high-energy, and distinctly funky set at 216 Dwight.

    Listen to their eminently listenable recording of “Turned Out a Banker” here: https://www.facebook.com/ninetigers?sk=app_182222305144028

    Hope to see them (and all of you) at Battle of the Bands this year!