Shane Trujillo ’13 grew up listening to Motown and classic rock—he was singing Diana Ross and the Supremes before even knowing what singing was. Trujillo had to admit the irony: he is now was president of Vassar’s all-male a cappella group, the Accidentals (or The Axies, for short).
The vitality and passion of Trujillo’s early musical idols are a model for all of his artistic endeavors, which include not only singing but prose and poetry. “I try to do everything I can with soul. No matter what kind of music it is, it has to have passion, depth and complexity,” he said.
Trujillo has been a member of the Axies since he was a freshman before becoming president this fall. The Axies usually perform twice a semester, often collaborating with the Night Owls, one of Vassar’s all-female a cappella groups. As president, Trujillo must coordinate performances, organize rehearsals, and manage rehearsals, a task he said can occasionally be difficult. “They can be a rambunctious group of guys,” Trujillo said.
The Axies, as an all-male a cappella group, can explore the male voice in a dynamic but subtle way, Trujillo observed. “In co-ed a cappella groups, you have a tenor and a bass. In the Axies, we have tenor one, tenor two, baritenors, baritones, and finally basses, so we can make our music more complex,” he explained.
According to Trujillo, the group’s secret weapon is its wide variety of voice types, from powerful belting voices and strong falsettos to those in the middle with a solid, universal chest voice, adding that being able to exploit the diversity of the male voice allows the group to create a richer, more complex sound.
Trujillo feels that performing with other people is a very powerful experience. “It’s so nice as a singer to have other people surrounding you and backing you up. It can be really scary on stage, especially by yourself, so it can be nice to have other people who know you really well to be able to sing with you,” he said.
In addition, he appreciates the laid-back nature of the group, citing their willingness to acknowledge mistakes by raising their hands—and even making a joke out of it during performances.
Trujillo recognized the relaxed attitude of the group even before he was a member. He recalled that during the audition process, the Axies made an effort to ensure that those auditioning felt comfortable, and were looking not only for those who could sing, but those who would fit in with the group environment. “My audition for the Axies was fairly low-key and intimate,” he said.
In addition to his work with the Axies, Trujillo is an avid writer. He writes both short stories and poetry, and sometimes even a combination of the two. Because of his singing background, he has a special connection with poetry, citing its similarity to the lyrics of a song. “When I write poetry, I ask myself how I would sing it. What would I want my audience to hear?”
As an extension of his impassioned approach to singing, Trujillo does not shy away from heavy or controversial topics. Indeed, his most common subjects are difficult ones, since for him, the best human emotions are those gathered in sadness, anger and fear. In the past, his themes have included issues of race, class, and sexuality.
Trujillo relates his thematic choices to his own college experiences at Vassar. “I’m a working class Hispanic student. I came to Vassar not believing I necessarily belonged here. For a long time I regretted that I had so much emotional weight on me from childhood until now,” Trujillo said.
“I thought it hindered me more than helped me, but by connecting through music and writing, it made me realize that I’m a stronger person because of it,” he continued. However, Trujillo does insist that has stories and poems are not autobiographical, even if they are inspired by his personal experiences.
Trujillo’s current project, entitled “Weight,” is a hybrid between prose and poetry. In it, Trujillo presents the story of a boy who struggles with a tumultuous relationship with his parents, his body, and the people around him.
Throughout the story, the events that unfold challenge the boy to view his mother as a complex person going through her own personal struggle. Unfortunately, a tragedy prevents him from fully realizing his growth, giving the piece a mournful air. “I like to make my characters suffer,” Trujillo admitted.
After he graduates this May, Trujillo plans to continue pursuing his love of music and writing. Currently, he is working with Kenzie Cook ’13 on producing a demo of Trujillo’s own music, which he describes as containing a mix of indie, blues, and R&B influences. He cites artists ranging from Amanda Palmer and St. Vincent to Nina Simone and Billie Holiday as having a profound influence on his musical interests.
He has plans to return to his native city of Denver to tour the local music scene with a group of musicians. In addition, he has pitched his writing to online blogs, from which he is waiting to hear back. While he does not completely look forward to leaving Vassar, he is excited about exploring his artistic voice in the real world.