Campus bands: the year in review

caitlinhardee

You can’t play rock music in an ivory tower.

This cliché is drilled into pop culture by bands like Green Day: bands who drop out of, never enter, or otherwise flee the world of academia and stake their lives in music. Despite this, Whitman harbors an astoundingly vibrant scene of bands and musicians who balance demanding course loads with creativity and intense dedication to their art. As graduation approaches, we caught up with just a few of our campus bands to see what developments the year has brought.

Dude York


The duo, comprised of seniors Andrew Hall on drums and Peter Richards on vocals and guitar, formed this January and has played about seven performances together. The two discussed their formative musical experiences and how the band came to be.

“I was in some bands in high school,” said Richards. “I was kind of in Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head.”

Although he has spent considerably less time learning his instrument, Hall brings an important perspective to the band.

“I started playing drums in October, and then we played for the first time in December. We played that Webber song that I don’t think either of us remember, and two songs that have since gone on to become teen-pop staples,” Hall said with his characteristically dry humor. “I played a lot of really depressing Japanese rhythm games instead of like, having friends or leaving my house. So that gave me a leg up on other people who had only been learning drums for a month.”

Both members are graduating this year, but prize their musical chemistry and intend to keep writing songs together.

“One thing I think is cool about the way we work is we work from a place of agreement,” said Richards. “No matter what song we’re working on: what the ideas are: it’s like [Andrew is] inside my thoughts.”

Richards recalled one particularly groundbreaking performance of the semester.

“We had a show that was really sick: we played with the Tender Hips, which is [seniors] Alex Miller and Todd Wallenius, who are both awesome musicians and awesome dudes,” said Richards. “We were playing first, and there were these kids, who’d met up with Andrew earlier in the day.”

“I was at Hot Poop, the record store, and I got recognized as the drummer of the band, which is a pretty funny thing to have happened: they saw us the previous weekend at Rosaacs, and then when we played our show that night, there were a bunch of kids,” Hall said.

“They were trying to get in, but [senior] Marshall Baker wouldn’t let them in,” Richards remembered.

“There were all these 16-, 17-year-old kids outside the windows, just watching us: it was great,” said Hall.

White Vowels

Meanwhile, Richards debunked the legend of the now-defunct White Vowels.

“White Vowels was another thing I did. But it was also sort of like: when I was interviewed for it, I brought as many people as I could, to make it seem like it was a huge band,” said Richards. “We had all this crazy talk about how it was more like a colonial enterprise than it was a band, and like 25 guitars . . .”

And were the 25 guitars a complete fabrication?

“Yeah. That’s a ridiculous thing,” Richards said laughing. “It was just me making computer music in my room, and Andrew would come up with an idea and I’d steal it, and stuff like that.”

Other bands to break up this semester included The Floyd Webber Project and The Breezes. With the graduation of Riley Clubb ’09, The Floyd Webber Project is now on indefinite hiatus.

Sophomore  Breezes violinist Annie Truscott spoke over the uncertain state of the band.

“I have no idea,” she said, remarking that she has been out of touch with another of the band’s key members, junior Evan Fuller, for some months.

Combo Pack


Truscott’s other project, Combo Pack, is still going strong.

“We had a gig two weekends ago, and we’re having two tomorrow [Saturday, May 8],” said Truscott. “We didn’t have much going on for a while, and now with the end of the year, we’ve been asked to play a few places. So it’s still going on.”

Combo Pack operates mostly as a jam band, and is not actively trying to tour or record an album.

“For a while, we tried to get organized practices, once a week going, but everyone was always super busy,” said Truscott. “We decided we’re a better on-the-fly band, so we just play whenever, and not everyone has to be there: it’s a lot more relaxed, and totally just for fun.”

Redlight Bluelight


We caught up with Redlight Bluelight, one of Whitman’s premier campus bands, at their Coffeehouse gig two weeks ago. Frontman and senior Dan Oschrin discussed the band’s birth.

“We started last year: my friend [junior] Charlie [Procknow] is the lead guitarist, and we used to like to play blues together,” said Oschrin. “I’d never been in a band before. We were in the kitchen of the TKE house one day, and just decided, we were both bored and both wanted to do it. His roommate [junior Matt Bachmann] was the bassist. Our drummer had not drummed since high school: we just got a bunch of ragtag musicians together. The first couple practices were really rough, but we ended up opening for this band that came, and that was our first gig. We just kept at it, and it’s been what’s gotten me through college. It’s so fun.”

The band currently comprises Oschrin on guitar and lead vocals, Procknow on lead guitar, junior Ian Coleman on piano, saxophone, and backup vocals, junior Brian Vieth on drums, and Bachmann on bass, and had a Coffeehouse guest appearance from senior Ellie Sterne on violin and vocals. Oschrin handles the majority of all songwriting and composing.

“Basically, when I write songs, I write the lyrics, the melody, usually two guitar parts, and then Matt fills in the bass. I come up with a basic drum beat and Brian embellishes on it,” said Oschrin.

The band is about to release an album under the working title of Firecracker. Redlight Bluelight will not continue after Oschrin’s graduation this year.

“That’s why I want to get this album out, I kind of want it to be our final project,” he said. “I guess it’s theoretically possible we could get together and play again someday, but Matt Bachmann actually has a band called The Dogs that’s kind of blowing up right now, so I think that’s where his project is. I think it’s just been a really fun thing in college.”

Fun for the band, and certainly fun for their audiences.

“I just really want to make people happy and have a good time and enjoy a piece of music,” said Oschrin. “For me, when I love a song, it just really brightens my day up, so to have that effect on other people is kind of the dream.”

Judging by the crowd dancing exuberantly at the end of Redlight Bluelight’s set, that is a dream the band has attained.

Redlight Bluelight bassist Bachmann is also bassist for Chicago band The Dogs, who have experienced a wave of publicity and acclamation following the release of their last album, Free Write. Bachmann spoke humbly about their evolution and their plans for future albums.

“Every time we record an album, we learn about how we can do it better,” said Bachmann. “We learned a lot from last summer and I’m sure it’ll change how we go into this summer.”

Dabbles In Bloom


Although the year has brought many changes to the group, Dabbles In Bloom is still together, and in the midst of some landmark moments as a band.

“We’ve had kind of a crazy year,” said sophomore Adriel Borshansky. “It’s kind of a different group of people than it was at the beginning of the year. Now it’s myself, [sophomore] Rimmy Doowa, [and first-years] Jonas Myers and Robby Seager. It was a lot of luck and lack of luck, and . . . here we are. We’re all really happy to be the four of us, I think it’s as perfect as we could hope for. Our chemistry is really great.”

“For the past five months we’ve been recording an album: that and also troubles with the administration, having strict rules about events and things like that, are part of the reason we haven’t had a lot of big shows,” said Borshansky.

The band’s work and struggles have materialized in the form of their first album, released Tuesday, May 11, at their performance at the Fine Arts House.

Plateau / King Friday


As bandmates and roommates, sophomores Alex Folkerth and Matt Sweeney have come full circle this year, musically: from their album release and campus shows this fall as King Friday with junior Bailey Arango and first-year Bo Sagal, to their spring rebirth as Plateau, upon the return of the Plateau frontman, junior Adrian Tuohy, from his semester in Scotland. Throughout the changes, the two have made the most of the campus bands scene, playing live, touring outside of Whitman and gathering experience.

“We probably had a lot more fun and got tighter, just touring a little bit over the year. We played a lot more shows this year in general,” said Sweeney.

Orange Fight

Orange Fight seems to be single-handedly taking on the stereotypes about rock music and academia: and they come armed with titles and tenure. The band consists of Whitman’s Director of Institutional Research Neal Christopherson on vocals, Associate Professor of Sociology Michelle Janning on keyboard, backing vocals and extra percussion, Peterson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences Keith Farrington on bass, Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Prull on lead guitar, and ’89 Whitman alum and Detention Manager at Walla Walla’s Juvenile Justice Center Norrie Gregoire on drums.

“We first started playing together in August of ’08,” said Christopherson. “Keith and Norrie and Matt and I had been in a band before that was basically a covers band, and I had a bunch of songs that I wanted to play that I’d written, so we got together and started playing those. In March 2009 we played a Coffeehouse show, and that’s when we released our CD as well.”

Their self-titled album is currently available for purchase in the Whitman bookstore.