Perennially sitting in the shadow of the Bienen School of Music, Northwestern’s rock groups know NU doesn’t have the most lively band scene. But whether they experienced their dreams here or not, recent graduates can still look back and say that it put them in a good place today.
Anyone looking to spend their Saturday nights seeing local bands on campus might soon grow restless with the Northwestern scene. It’s small, it’s disjointed, and like many college campuses it’s not always concerned with the height of musical perfection.
Mori Einsidler, a singer-songwriter who graduated last year, looks back on her senior year Battle of the Bands experience with cheerful exasperation.
“We played some of our own stuff, and it was cool,” she said. “And then we played some Taylor Swift and people lost their shit.” She said that if you’re playing at a Northwestern and you’re not a music major, you’re going to need to get used to a majority of your audience not really caring whether you’re expressing yourself or not.
“They’re just there to party,” she said. Still, a lot of graduates look back on their stage-time here with an unparalleled feeling of home.
“It was like the experience that I always wanted,” said Derek Tam, drummer for Northwestern-based band Jet Jaguar, most of whom graduated in the summer of 2012.
Recalling late-night concerts in the basement of the band’s guitarist Sean Kane, he said “it just fulfilled all those weird stereotypes and dreams that I had. It was like really hot, people were all sweaty and throwing beer everywhere, and it was great.”
“Playing live music is like the best thing in the world,” Kane agreed. “It’s just wonderful.”
After graduation, many Northwestern performers found ways to keep music in their lives.
Mori, for instance, currently holds a day job with a music publishing company, saving her songwriting and performing for after hours. She said she tries to play at least one show a month, and finds the difference between New York and Northwestern refreshing.
“The thing about playing a show in New York,” she said, “is you’re playing to these people who came to this concert because they want to see a show. Which is great.”
“At Northwestern, you’re playing for a bunch of people who just drank a bunch and they’re there for God knows what reason, but it’s probably not the music.”
Jet Jaguar too still manages to get together to play, even though its members are pursuing careers that have them living in scattered cities away from each other.
“We were kind of like a Catholic family about it, in that everybody wanted to stay together, but we didn’t really talk about it,”
said guitarist Matt Connolly. Bassist Katie Park agreed, and added that even though they didn’t all know what they
were going to be doing after graduation, or where they all would be, they wanted to keep playing as much as they could.
“I think we always want to be playing more than we are, just because it’s so much fun,” she said. “But you know, we do what we
Josh Brechner, who graduated at the same time as the majority of Jet Jaguar, found no shortage of opportunities since his return
to New York, and some of it wouldn’t have been possible without his time spent at Northwestern.
“I’ve scored a play,” he said, “I’ve worked on a few short shows, I’m helping supervise the music for a new documentary that’s
also coming out of the Northwestern alumni circles. My fingers are in a lot of different pots, but I like it diverse.”
Brechner, who works primarily with electronic music, also had some critiques of the music scene on campus, while he was here.
“Basically, I was feeling that a lot of the art that’s created on campus is institutionalized in campus groups and, you know, quartets and such. I didn’t feel that there was really a way for students to share their work.”
He talked about the importance of branching out off-campus, a sentiment that was echoed by every graduate.
“I know a lot of bands really branched out and did the Chicago thing, and that’s something which I really regret not doing more,” said Mori. She and others said that the opportunities available at Northwestern just weren’t enough for a complete musical experience.
“Northwestern doesn’t have a super vibrant music scene,” Kane said. “There were always bands, but most of the shows you’d plan yourself in your basement, or you’d go into the city, or you’d play DM battle of the bands, or Dillo Day Battle of the Bands.”
“I think the best thing you can do before you graduate is to get at least some experience playing off campus,” Connolly. “If you only play school-sanctioned stuff, then after you graduate you don’t necessarily know what to do.”
One last thing that many agree on is the importance of getting an album under your belt. It gives you a calling card, they say, establishing you as a serious contender for gigs. “When we applied for any of the Battle of the Bands stuff and we used the recording camera we didn’t get in, and then we recorded it professionally and we got in,” said Kasey.
Sean threw in, “and it gives your kids something to stumble upon when you’re old and uncool.”
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