Yale student musicians often showcase their work at venues on campus and beyond — but the coronavirus pandemic flatlined live performances for the duration of the semester. Each week for the month of September, the News will feature recent student-released music to provide a platform for discovery aside from a stage.
EMILI’s latest single “Autopilot” began, like many of her other songs, as a journal entry.
When singer-songwriter EMILI, Emily Li ’22, finds difficulty working through her feelings, she writes about them — whether they’re sparked by frustration or interesting signs she passes on the street.
Li said her journal entries aren’t poetic. But when she decides to write a song, she takes her guitar and journal into a room and begins to sing and strum through the entries until she finds a phrase or idea she likes. For “Autopilot,” the phrase was “pull my finger, call my name.” She liked how the three-word phrases swung into an easy rhythm.
In November 2019, Li wrote the song’s acoustic version, using only her voice and guitar. But from January to March 2020, she rearranged the piece with Sam Lopate ’20 and Jason Altshuler ’23. They added harmony and texture with percussion, electric guitar and synths. When the coronavirus pandemic sent students home, the group finished the production separately.
“We started working on the song again in April and May,” Li said. “Everyone added their ideas, and it tumbled into the song it is now.”
“Autopilot” is about self-ownership. Li said she often feels like she’s “just reacting to what people expect and want” from her.
“It feels like I’m going on autopilot and not actually figuring out who I am or expressing myself in any way,” Li said. “[The song] is about the fear of turning that off and being myself and not being liked.”
Li’s recent music draws inspiration from artists like Sara Bareilles, Bruno Major and Ingrid Michaelson. She has released a single each month since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Her next song, “Better,” is a “cheesy and happy song” she wrote for her sister’s wedding. It will be available at the end of September.
Window Seat: “Call Me in the Morning”
Window Seat is a pop-punk group composed of Delia McConnell ’22 on vocals and bass, Noah Gershenson ’21 on guitar and vocals and Jack Berry ’22 on drums. They released their debut album, “Call Me in the Morning,” on April 10.
The songs on “Call Me in the Morning” have titles like “Just Friends,” “Coming Down” and “Teenage Sweetheart.” McConnell said the album is about trying to navigate relationships, “in the broad sense of the word, and acknowledging how hard and complicated and weird but also really cool it is to be vulnerable with another person.”
When McConnell, Gershenson and Berry began to play and write songs together in the spring of 2019, they didn’t know the songs would yield an album. They wrote songs and played music just because they enjoyed it.
“We’d sit in a room together and, just, noodle,” McConnell said. Noodling led to a series of gigs at venues around Yale and New Haven. They became increasingly acquainted with their songs through repeated performance.
And McConnell remembers listening to the album all the way through right after the band recorded it.
“I love driving and listening to music in my car, and I always sing, if I’m alone,” McConnell said. “And it’s so weird to sound exactly like the person whose music you’re listening to.”
Sargasso: “Sacred Plums” and “Baianas”
Sargasso is a band that understands how its four voices — Thomas Hagen ’20, Soledad Tejada ’20, Maria Campos Saadi ’21 and Noah Goodman ’21 — meld. The music they released over the last three years has dipped into alternative rock, electro, contemporary indie and more.
But their two newest singles further expand the range of genres that influence their music. “Baianas” is influenced by Tropicália, a 1960s Brazilian artistic movement that combined rock and avant-garde music with native Brazilian rhythms.
Campos Saadi, who is from Brazil, said that Tropicália reckoned with the place of American instruments in Brazilian music. The artistic movement was also tied to contemporary politics. Amidst military rule and strict censorship, Tropicálistas fought for their self-expression by including intense wordplay in their lyrics.
“Baianas” is sung in Portuguese. “I don’t even know if my Brazilian friends know what I’m saying,” Campos Saadi said. The song is about violence in Rio and how art and violence are sometimes inseparable — this inseparability is exemplified by Carnival, one of the city’s biggest entertainment events that Campos Saadi said is “basically run by a mafia.”
Because “Baianas” is multi-textured, Goodman said it’s one of the hardest songs the band has put together. “We ended up banging pots and pans together on the song and then going into a bathroom and sitting with the guitar pressed against the amp,” Goodman said. He added that its complexity leads the band in a new direction.
“Sacred Plums,” Sargasso’s most recent release, is also an experiment in trying new genres. The song resembles shoegaze, a subgenre of indie and alternative rock named for bands who play music while staring at their feet. The musicians’ sights are often cast downward to look at effects pedal controls, but it indicates angst and disengagement nonetheless.
The song stemmed from a chord progression and voice memo that Tejada wrote and recorded in high school. She shared it with the band last summer, and since, it has grown into a song about “taking responsibility” for choosing to view past events in sad or negative ways.
“A huge part of the song is about this angsty-ness that I don’t want to pass judgment on,” Tejada said. “But sometimes we choose it because we can feel good.”
Sargasso recorded “Baianas” and “Sacred Plums” this summer with recording engineer Noah Silvestry ’19. Hagen explained that with two of the band’s members graduating, they don’t know if they will have another summer together — so they’ve used this one to produce material for an upcoming third album, their biggest project yet.
Phoebe Liu | email@example.com
Correction, Sept. 2: A previous version of this article used Saadi, not Campos Saadi, as Maria Campos Saadi’s last name upon second reference. Additionally, “Baianas” and “Sacred Plums” were recorded with Noah Silvestry, not Noah Goodman.