On Thursday, January 29, four bands are performing that both mark significant achievements in Vassar’s musical bookings in their prestige alone and are acts representative of the College itself. And although no band in the lineup for the concert at the Matthew’s Mug concert/dance floor space in Main building at 9 p.m. is made up of any VC students or alumnae/i, one is based in the neighboring city of New Paltz and considers its roots too in our very own Poughkeepsie.
Quarterbacks is a grunge pop rock band made up of Dean Engle on lead guitar and vocals, Tom Christie on bass and Max Restaino on drums. Engle and Restaino attended all of their schooling, elementary onward, together, in Poughkeepsie, and would play in talent shows alongside one another in their high school years. They met Christie, the third member, by chance one night.
“Tom grew up in Dover Plains, east from here but close enough to play an open mic at The Cubbyhole, a coffee shop by Vassar. I was there, not sure why, and saw him play, he was incredible, we met then,” Engle said in an emailed statement, adding, “We became friends through attending basement shows and playing music together and he eventually moved to New Paltz for school. We started a band called Ken Griffey Junior and Max joined too. It was a Star Wars-themed hardcore band.”
Barring their intergalactic-summoning roots, Quarterbacks’ mantra undoubtedly has a sense of humor. They consequently have an air of modesty to their work, and their earnest pursuit of organically making good music with good people shines through. The bandleader declined to answer for his band’s demographic or target audience, instead focusing on the defining simplicities of his artistic mission in this quite minimalist rock band characterized by short bursts of energy and anguish. When asked what he wishes to improve or grow into with the band going forward, Engle, true to the band’s mix of acid-tongued humor and measured, economical tone, said in an email, “I would like to learn how to write more than two songs per year.”
The band’s modesty extends to their live presence. Engles describes the band’s demeanor in very reserved terms, saying he even wears earplugs to drown out the noise of the crowd and often can’t tell if his audience is clapping along or not.
“When I’m onstage I tend to disassociate from my surroundings and only truly check back in once we’re packing up…I like that, playing for strangers…Sometimes in the middle of a song I think about how I’m the only person in the room with a microphone and I feel so guilty,” Engles described in an email.
Because for Engle, the experience comes down to some very simple, solid truths. “I just want to play fun shows with my friends,” he said via email. What one may see as unambitious, the members of Quarterbacks make playfully low-stakes, perhaps even honest, though the group’s veracity has been cast in a different light in terms of their unique, efficient style.
“Every blog post about Quarterbacks and Dean Engle’s writing style uses words like ‘honest’ or ‘catchy’ or ‘twee,’ and those are certainly all apt…Dean just writes these super catchy and short’n’sweet songs that barely go beyond the two minute mark,” Zack Wilks ’17, No-ViCE Chair who helped acquire the band for the booking, said via email.
Quarterbacks is slowly but surely gaining traction in the underground bedroom-rock lo-fi movement. Their discographic output includes an initial demo (January 2012), an LP-length cassette (2012’s “Loveseat”), an EP (2014’s “Sportscenter”), a solo tape from Engle (“Quarterboy”) and an upcoming, self-titled LP compilation that promises to be a summation of where the band is currently with their sound, as well as perhaps tracking an sonic evolution over time.
The band’s refinements of sound are reminiscent of The Mountain Goats moniker in recent years becoming more than lead singer/songwriter/mastermind John Darnielle’s lo-fi man-guitar-and-amp confessional solo work. Likewise, Engle has taken the band in a more elaborate and polished place by smartly featuring work from her other bandmates.
“The addition of drums and bass adds that punk-y drive that gives the songs some groove. Quarterbacks are part of the regional DIY…scene, and they take the best of both genres and meld it into an awesome mix of confessional and punk,” Wilks said in an emailed statement.
The selection of the four bands together was certainly complementary in terms of presentation and entertainment as a whole show, but their styles and members all intermingle, despite being from four geographically separate cities—Boston for Gracie, Los Angeles for Girlpool, New York City for Porches., and New Paltz for Quarterbacks.
Gracie is newer to the music scene, but Girlpool, an all-women band, just had an album published on Spotify, and recently, Porches. was featured by Pitchfork, a noteable music review website.
“I’ve seen an Intsagram photo of Aaron Maine and Greta Kline from Porches. both wearing Quarterbacks sweatshirts, and I know the folks in Girlpool are big fans,” Wilks said in an email, noting, “Gracie Jackson is sort of the odd band out sound-wise, but she and her band absolutely rule. Quarterbacks, Girlpool and Porches. all write absurdly catchy, sparse and relatable songs that are good at getting crowds to dance or shut up and just listen.”
Excitement brews on campus to get the chance to ‘shut up and just listen’ on the 29th, with over 300 Brewers committed to attending the event on Facebook. Of Quarterbacks’ relationship to their venue, Engle wryly quipped,“Vassar wait-listed me in 2009, so I’d say the music fits but comes up a little short.”