Falling in love with Strictly Platonic
The sophomoric group talks new music, new sounds and a new year.
Courtesy of Audrey Hempel
Laughter — more than any melody, lyric or conversation — categorizes the rehearsal.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and Strictly Platonic, one of Yale’s hottest bands of the last school year, is practicing in the Trumbull College basement. Despite the daunting tasks ahead — replacing drummer Colman Seery ’22 and bassist Oliver Guinan ’25, trying to put together new songs and refining their old hits — the four sophomores still seem like a group of kids who just like to jam together. Audrey Hempel ’25 warms up her voice as her three bandmates noodle around with their instruments. The four of them tell jokes and discuss t-shirt designs. Keyboardist Keith Bruce ’25 pitches a 15-minute piano interlude in one of their songs and they all burst into laughter.
They settle in and begin to play. Hempel taps out the beat on the microphone and bounces up and down on her toes as if she is about to erupt with joy. Bruce puts his sunglasses on — indoors — and smiles at Hempel, shoulders shrugging to the melody. James Licato ’25 swings his leg back and forth, as his whole body moves in time with a riff. And his guitar companion Will Min ’25 plays with the same energy and the beginnings of a smirk on his face.
When I asked them to recall when this group dynamic formed, all four began talking over each other reminiscing about their early memories together.
“Honestly, I think we hit it off from the first cover we did, ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’” Bruce said.
“I remember when we were working on the guitar parts back and forth for [Hangover, the group’s first original piece], that was really special … and I knew when I heard Audrey sing,” Licato interrupted.
“The first show we played in Welch [Hall] in December, that was a very magical experience,” Min suggested.
“I think we started a band as something fun to do, and I don’t think any of us expected that much. … When we started writing, we were all kinda like … ‘woah,’” Hempel concluded for the group.
Strictly Platonic’s origin story begins —as so many Yale stories do— in a math class. Bruce regularly came to Hempel for help on the problem sets, and the two struck up a friendship. As Bruce explained with a laugh, the two “slowly discovered that [they] had musical tastes in common. And eventually, Audrey popped the question.”
The actual text exchange is perhaps a little less dramatic than the pianist made it seem, with Hempel asking rather bluntly on a Tuesday night: “Do you wanna start a band?” Bruce’s reply: “Alright.”
The two put up some posters around campus, texted a few friends and held auditions. The rest of Strictly Platonic — although the name wouldn’t come until later — slowly began to assemble.
The group began rehearsing in practice rooms and quickly realized they had a desire not only to play covers, but also to write their own original pieces. Licato and Min began bringing in riffs so that the group could assemble them into more complete songs. Hempel took the lead on lyric writing, and in a surprisingly short amount of time, they were ready to debut.
Their first show in Welch Hall was chaos. They had to borrow —without permission— drums from Timothy Dwight College’s practice room. To accomplish this, each band member took one drum, snuck it out a back entrance and then the group reassembled the kit inside of the suite in Welch. Licato and Min admitted that they underestimated just how difficult it would be to put on a show — “it’s a lot of carrying shit,” Min emphasized. But as soon as the performance began in the overcrowded first-year common room, the group felt they had stumbled onto something special.
Min described the show as a crazy hour akin to “a Disneyland ride,” and Bruce commented on the support the group quickly found.
“We had groupies right off the bat,” Bruce said, although Hempel was quick to note that those groupies predominantly consisted of friends and suitemates.
After their frenzied fire-hazard of a debut, Strictly Platonic transitioned from six friends messing around together into a more serious band. They continued playing in suites and began scheduling gigs at more formal venues.
While the fall and winter could be categorized as the band’s formative months, the spring offered Strictly Platonic the chance to burst onto the campus music scene, and the group seized that opportunity. A strong performance at Yale’s annual Battle of the Bands led to an invitation to perform at Spring Fling.
“Spring Fling was huge,” Licato explained. “Everything really worked out and it was just a great day. It was definitely a rush. At the end of the year, we had to compact everything into two weeks: recording two demos without a set and practicing a full 30-minute set for Spring Fling.”
Hempel, who admitted she was “sweating bullets” as she watched the stage get built up outside of her Old Campus suite, talked about the joy of performing at Spring Fling: “It was just incredible. I remember looking out onstage and I could see so many people. At our other concerts, we couldn’t really see anyone because we weren’t that high up, we didn’t have a stage and it was mostly in the dark. That was wild, being able to see a huge mass of people.”
If Battle of the Bands gave Strictly Platonic an introductory platform, Spring Fling gave them prominence. Each member of the band discussed how odd it was to have strangers stop them on the street to ask about the band.
Nader Granmayeh ’24, self-proclaimed Strictly Platonic superfan, tried to capture why so many people are drawn to the group.
“They hit on my every emotion,” Granmayeh said. “They’re so professional and their music sounds like a perfect blend of rock, pop, and joy. … And the best part of all, they’re great people. Every time I see one of them or hear their music, I notice a big smile on my face.”
A year ago, Strictly Platonic didn’t exist. Now, they enter their sophomore years with much higher expectations, both externally and internally.
The group, however, has embraced that fact, and doesn’t seem fazed by the pressure. Instead, they seem excited by the possibilities for the upcoming years.
“I feel more serious about it,” Bruce said. “Now we’re getting down to business. Before it was like freshman fantasies. We’ve gotten a bit more ambitious, but rightfully so.”
Licato built upon that, explaining how the group now has had time to establish plans instead of hopping from performance to performance without any clear aspirations.
“We didn’t really think of the big picture last year,” Licato said. “Spring Fling was on the brain, but it was a little ways away, and we didn’t plan too far behind that. This year we have a lot of plans, and hopefully everything works out.”
Included in those plans: replacing Guinan and Seery, recording a full album, getting paid, performing off campus and of course, trying to play Spring Fling again.
Given a summer to work on their music with no pressure to keep playing gigs, the group feels like they have a lot of exciting new songs in the works. Every practice, they explain, somebody’s bringing in a new riff, a new melody, a new lyric, a new song inspiration or a new way of arranging an older piece.
Their new songs — they wrote eight over the summer — “definitely have different styles, they’re more complex and stylistically they’re more interesting and fresh,” Licato said. Or, in Bruce’s words, “Our band has entered its experimental phase.”
Strictly Platonic is a young band and still developing, but they’re already dreaming big. As they keep writing and performing, one can’t help but wonder what the goal is. After all, the four current members all still have three years left of college.
“I think one of the big [dreams] is to formally get into a recording studio, and then, of course, it’s gotta be to tour,” Licato said. “You know, to play somewhere where we don’t know all the people in the audience and they don’t know us. They just want to come hear us and our music.”
For now, though, the world tour remains a goal for the distant future. Instead, it’s a Saturday afternoon in the Trumbull basement, and there are four friends goofing around. As they start putting their instruments away, they discuss the potential merits of the “Strictly Platonic Valentine’s Day no-dancing-with-a-significant-other show.”
As they walk out of rehearsal, Min pitches a new motif, Licato and Hempel debate what to call their new song and Bruce still hasn’t given up on his 15-minute piano interlude idea. The conversations continue as they close the door behind them. And then suddenly, they’re gone, the lights are off and the Trumbull practice room feels very quiet.
The joy they brought to this random afternoon practice with no drummer or bassist is hard to explain. But afterwards, you can’t help but think that even if they never make it to their dream tour, even if they never play Spring Fling again, it seems like they wouldn’t be too distraught. Because next week, Bruce will put his sunglasses back on; Hempel will belt out the lyrics to their newest song; and Min will keep the groove steady as Licato’s whole body moves with the melody. And the Trumbull practice room will be full of music and laughter again.