Big band, bigger ideas

Billy Low

While some bands may be content to perform at parties, Whitman’s White Vowels are looking to looking to distinguish itself as a company that will reach audiences beyond Whitman.

“We want this to be universal. We want everybody to playing us,” said junior Peter Richards. “Our goal is for you go to a house party where a live band is playing, and they won’t be playing their songs. They’ll be playing our songs.”

After several members had played together in the past, Richards, Julie McQuary ’08, Kevin Klein ’10 and Finn Straley ’10 organized the group this summer. The group now has 19 members, who work together to write and perform folk music influenced by different music from opera to the rock band Slipknot.

“We decided that we wanted there to be as big [a band] as possible, and that just started to translate into every conception of the word big: many band members, many different types of art at once in the performance, many  different types of bands portraying this same type of feeling; a  feeling of everyone in a room, whether they expected to or not,  participating in the experience everyone else in the room is having  in an exploratory and transformative way,” Richards said.

White Vowels, which performs only with guitars, plans to add new technologies to complement its performance and allow its audience to participate.

“We are working on interfacing a lot of different tools into it. For instance, instead of drums, we just have video game controls. Each different button contributes a different drum sound,” Richards said. “We are looking to expand the video performance aspect of
the band from prerecorded loops of footage into triggering patches of video footage with
music and  controlled from the audience by way of video game controllers.”

Although the company has limited its marketing to performances and a   MySpace page, it has drawn interest from several major record labels, including Sony BMI, Warner Bros. and Epitaph Records, Richards said.

Calvin Johnson, founder of K-Records, also discussed ideas with White Vowels when he visited Whitman in late September to help Harper Joy’s production of “Our Town.”

The company allows members to miss only two shows before they are fired, so it frequently adds new members.

The music “is such an organic sound that it’s easy to incorporate new people. If you haven’t been there for the making of a song, you can just find your place in it,” said sophomore Ariana Rampy.

Several members have joined White Vowels after watching the company perform.

“One show at the TKE house last year, a guy [senior Marty Skeels] had his guitar with him and just came up on stage and started performing with us. Now he’s written a song for us,” Straley said.

The group itself continues to perform its folk music at parties and is currently planning a tour of all the residence halls. But it is also working on incorporating “different orchestrations and instrumentation” for other Whitman bands, such as Lucid Dream and Danger Mermaid, Richards said.

“We want every other band to be a cover band for the White Vowels,” said Hall.