For Ezra Stiles junior Matthew Trowbridge, Sundays are “dreadful” — and not only because of the mountains of readings that await his return to New Haven. He is still consumed by his weekend in front of the microphone, creating strange and beautiful sounds, and riling audiences of over 200 into a frenzy.
“The lights are going, your own music is playing,” said Trowbridge, his green eyes widening and possessed. “It’s exhilarating. It’s totally addictive.”
So while during the weekdays Trowbridge is a soft-spoken music major sitting in Au Bon Pain or reading for his Milton class, on the weekends he electrifies the crowd as Mr. Durant, his stage persona as the keyboardist and singer of the up-and-coming band RANA. After playing numerous shows this past year and a half in New York area clubs, especially the legendary (and recently shut-down) Wetlands Preserve, RANA completed its first tour in August. Along the way, they picked up some die-hard fans and a nomination to the Jammy’s Awards, the Jamband scene’s answer to the Grammys.
But Trowbridge insists, “jam band is a limiting title” for the RANA’s eclectic repertoire. He prefers to call it “stretch rock,” a self-described hybrid between the spontaneity of jam and the structure of rock. This unusual fusion embraces themes like daily contacts, romance, and distortions of reality.
Trowbridge points to the range of his influences for the variety of sounds that the band produces.
“We are very impressionable people,” he said, recalling his obsessions with Nirvana, Phish, and Talking Heads. He confesses to being so easily influenced that he can “put quotations around my music and cite it to a source.”
Does this present a problem of originality for the band?
“We’ve been searching for our own sounds, but we are really starting to pin-point it,” said Ryan Thornton, the drummer for the band and Trowbridge’s long time friend.
“It’s something new, a unique sound they’ve created,” agreed Alexander Oveis ’03, who has followed the band for two years. “It’s genre-jumping, unified with RANA sound.”
Trowbridge thinks he knows where that sound is coming from.
“When all different musics blend into one, then that’s my voice,” he said.
And RANA’s ascendancy from its small beginnings speaks for the success of those influences.
RANA kicked off as a three-man band in 1995 in New Jersey when Trowbridge was in the ninth grade. Mr. Southern and Mr. Thornton, his two best friends, picked up the guitar and the drums, respectively. Trowbridge was the designated keyboardist because he had played the piano since he was seven or eight.
“I think, from the very early age, when we first heard a piano composition he had worked out, it had a sort of a sweet integrity to them,” remembers his father, Jim Trowbridge, who plays old Chicago jazz piano as a hobby. Matt skipped classical training and jumped into jazz, teaching himself from his music collection.
“We’ve learned music together,” said Trowbridge of his band mates.
In high school, Trowbridge exposed himself to a variety of musical genres by joining many different groups, singing for various choirs (some gospel) and playing percussion in an instrumental ensemble.
“It’s all about being open to all different kinds of music,” said Trowbridge. “Trying to learn as many angles as possible is crucial for your music as well as for your personal development.”
The band eventually picked up another guitarist, Mr. Metzger, with a jazz background. At that point, Mr. Southern moved to the bass, and their line-up was complete.
“They had terrific synergy,” said Jim Trowbridge, who supported his son at many of RANA’s first performances. “They’re very close friends, they criticize each other, and I think that they are committed to seeing it through.”
This dedication continued even as high school flew by and band members dispersed to different universities throughout New York. They met up around once a week for practice and shows, befriending New Jersey-based local performers Ween and Chris Harford.
“It was a time for the band to gel” recalled Trowbridge of the time that the band spent rehearsing and playing DJ in the basement of Harford’s house.
Trowbridge is now glad that he resisted the temptation of taking time off from Yale to dedicate more time to RANA. “I am being influenced greatly [at Yale],” he said, which is nothing new in his life. This time, it’s the exposure to musical theory, history, and classical training that helps shape his approach to music.
“You can’t take music anywhere new unless you know where it’s from,” he said. His track record thus far indicates his plans to take RANA’s music to unchartered territories.
In 2000, RANA packed a lounge gig they landed in New York’s Wetlands Preserve. The show convinced the owner of the reknowned club, which nurtured Phish and Blues Traveler in its infancy, to take RANA under its wings. Trowbridge estimates that they have played the club about 25 times in the past year and a half as well as other clubs around the city, building a fan-base of New Yorkers and college students.
“We have some die-hard fans,” said Trowbridge. He was surprised recently by a review of his show in which one such fan pointed out every word that the band had changed in their revamped music.
They also hoarded new fans on their August tour covering South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama; some drove six hour stretches between Nashville and Charleston to catch the final show.
“It’s a big responsibility,” said Trowbridge about being on stage in front of a cheering crowd. “Once the platform is big enough, you’re passing your influence onto others.”
But Thornton praises Trowbridge’s stage performance.
“He always gets the crowd really into it,” he said. “He is usually the first to take it to the new level, to throw himself on stage, to run and cut himself and not really care, to throw over the equipment.”
Armed with a new manager — the old booking agent for Wetlands, Jake Szufnarowski — it looks like the band will have plenty of opportunities to take their RANA sound to the next level, perhaps even to a big enough platform.
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