Whether in the Mug or the Shiva to the TH’s and BurgerFi, bands at Vassar have plenty of opportunities to showcase their talent. Many students, however, don’t know the group dynamics and challenges that go on behind the scenes, or they aren’t aware of the process of writing and developing the music and lyrics that become the songs they dance to.
Bands are not formed out of thin air. They often go through an evolution: changing members, even sounds and names, until they find a combination that sticks. Even then, they may keep evolving in the future. Stitched in Blue is one of these bands that has had a few different lives. Two of its members, Marty Ascher ’16 and Jordan Burns ’16, were in a different band their sophomore year than the other two members, Jason Sill ’16 and John Mason ’16. Sill remembers loving Ascher’s and Burns’s music. He said, “Junior year, John was abroad in the fall, so Marty and Jordan invited me to drum with them in a band we ended up calling Backpack Babies.”
That spring, Marty and Jordan left, so this year they formed Stitched in Blue. They began by playing covers at their shows, but Burns, the band’s bassist and a singer/songwriter, explained: “Writing and playing our own music was a goal from the beginning, and we quickly began penning and playing more of our own material.”
The band Lizard Pile has gone through a similar metamorphosis. Sam Gilbert ’18, a drummer, remembers finding Jack Fischer ’18 on Facebook his freshman year. When he realized Fischer played music by his profile picture, Gilbert sent him a message. Gilbert said, “I was trying to find a band. And we ended up working really well together. After that first band broke up we formed Lizard Pile.”
After two name changes and the addition of Oriana Catton ’17 on lead vocals after winter break, the group stumbled upon their final name: Lizard Pile. Benedict Luongo ’19, a guitarist, remembered: “We were walking out of the Shiva theater training, Sam showed us a video of this lizard and we were talking about having a pet lizard and somehow lizard pile got thrown out there and we were like that would be a good band name and so it stuck.”
Often an integral part of a being in a student band isn’t just playing music but writing it. As Stitched in Blue’s rhythm guitarist and one of the singer/songwriters, Sill elaborated on their process of songwriting: “In terms of writing, usually someone brings an idea to the group, and we try different things out with it and see where it goes.”
Burns also commented on the songwriting process: “Someone will bring in a cool riff on guitar or something and we’ll workshop it and jam on it until it becomes something with some structure.” Most of Burns’ songs are about relationships and breakups. He described one song in particular: “I wrote ‘A Woman I Can Love’ my junior year when I was feeling sort of fed up with the hook up culture and was wanting a little stability and just some respect/decency from the people around me. It wasn’t directed at any one person, just sort of a channeling of the amazement at how fearful we are at holding someone’s hand and admitting we like them for more than just sex.”
Luongo said that when he’s working on a song, he writes the music first and then finds the words to fit with the sound. Luongo reflected: “It’s maybe the hardest part, writing the lyrics. With the lyrics you’re trying to give some credulity to the song, you know like if the lyrics are just silly or just thrown in there just to have something to say then no one is going to take it seriously. At the same time, there’s this sort of self-awareness or self-consciousness about what you’re sharing.”
While performing is the highlight, finding places to perform is not always easy. Sill recognized this struggle: “I think there are so many amazing things going on here any given night, it’s hard to have student music shows consistently. And when there are student music events, there aren’t a whole lot of bands getting to play. We’ve been really lucky getting our foot in the door to play around campus, but I think if you’re new to student music at Vassar it can be really difficult to be able to showcase your talents.”
New bands and seasoned ones alike suffer from forms of stage fright. Luongo said, “Honestly, I’m praying to God that my strings don’t break. And then I’m also thinking ‘what’s Jack up to, what’s he going to do?’ I think of ways I can just make noise. Honestly, I get nervous after, I get nervous walking off the stage. I just sorta think, wow, that show is over and whether we did well or not there’s a thought of, ‘Okay, what’s the reaction going to be to this show?’”
Burns echoed the feelings of many band members when he pointed out that performing is the most exciting part, however. When his band played at a soccer TH, he said, “They ended up requesting three encores and we just kept playing. It was awesome. We’d never played for a crowd with that kind of energy before. They got us really pumped up, and honestly I felt like a rock star.” Sill and Ascher agreed that the TH has been their favorite performance so far.
Sill described the performance: “It felt like all of the stereotypes that I dreamed of when I was watching my favorite bands as a kid, which sounds silly, but playing in a super crowded, hot, sweaty, way-too-loud room where everyone is shouting and shoulder to shoulder bobbing along to the music–it really was a dream come true.”