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ISSUE 119 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/28/2005

From a basement on the hill: Exploring the underbelly of campus bands

By Peter Farrell
Variety Editor
and Rob Martin
Arts Editor

Friday, October 28, 2005

If F. Melius Christiansen were a student at St. Olaf College today, would he play lead guitar for a campus band and routinely stage dive like Eddie Vedder? For over a hundred years St. Olaf has a long history of supporting musical excellence, but the specter of the on-campus music organizations has often eclipsed student bands striving to fill a vacant niche in alternative music.

While the classical ensembles soak up most of the limelight, many student bands explore new frontiers in contemporary music. The choirs, bands and orchestras maintain a budget and touring schedule that would make most wannabe rockstars weep in envy.

These campus bands, who are quite at home in smoky bars and dank basements, possess cutting edge sounds that give a breath of fresh air to Oles fed up with the typical "music person."

The Plagiarists

The band – comprised of sophomores Blake Weregeland, Davis Wille, Eric Wilson and Mikael Witte – joined together at the beginning of last year. Drawn together by a mutual love of indie rock, the four former Northfield-residents-turned-St. Olaf-students write songs that recall the guitar crunch of Weezer and the Pixies while also paying homage to the dark dream-pop of The Cure or Interpol.

Held together by Weregeland’s frantic drumming and Witte’s complex but captivating bass lines, The Plagiarists push their frenzied rhythm section up against the more fluid twin guitar parts of Wille and Wilson. The result is a fiery rush of pop piled on top of ballsy rock aggression.

The Plagiarists spent the bulk of last year molding that aggressive pop sensibility into workable songs through weekly practices at the Lion’s Pause. After a successful gig at last year’s Lutefest, the band went into the studio to record a demo with Afternoon Records, an independent Minneapolis based record label run by fellow St. Olaf student Ian Anderson ‘07. The band remains unsigned, but hopes to record more in the near future.

According to Wille, however, The Plagiarists immediate priority remains performing songs in the Twin Cities: "We’re much more focused on playing live right now. We just performed our first ‘real gig’ at the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, and we also have upcoming gigs in November at Station 4 and the Dinkytowner."

Wilson, who also handles lead vocal duties, agrees: "We really want to establish ourselves in a live setting and then worry about the recording stuff later."

The Unicorn Basement

"On the sixth day the unicorn created The Unicorn Basement in his own image" begin the lyrics in their set opening song, "Genesis." To some people, The Unicorn Basement may seem like a paganistic, unicorn-worshipping cult. But in reality, they just want to make people dance with wild abandon.

The trio comprised of Jon Lindsley '06, Deanna Steege '06 and Max Clark '05 have made a name for themselves on campus as a premier basement party band. Their unique instrumentation, employing a drum machine, an electric guitar, and a hot-pink, Casio keytar (an electronic keyboard fitted with a shoulder strap to be worn like a guitar) give their band a sound some fans call dance/grunge.

The band formed after members attended Lutefest in 2004. "There were so many Christian bands we were like, holy smokes, let’s create something just the opposite. The satanic undertones are just a joke, we think it's funny" Lindsley said.

But perhaps The Unicorn Basement and the bands they’re reacting against share something in common. They hope their music affects people right down to their souls. "It’s a religious experience for not the typical Oles. We hope to bring back some magic into peoples lives and make them dance like rockstars," Steege said.

While The Unicorn Basement has played at The Fallout, an urban art center near uptown Minneapolis, they more frequently jam out at house parties in Northfield.

With rave-like beats pulsing from the drum machine and Steege plunking out haunting melodies on the keytar, Clark often flops on the ground like a fish on land, screaming lyrics into the mic.

“Max was really sick before our last show but as soon as he got on stage it was like he transformed into Jim Morrison,” Lindsley said.

The energy put out by the band often seeps into the crowd – creating mobs of frantically dancing fans. "Last weekend I got kicked super hard by someone swinging from a pipe,” Lindsley said. “I didn't even care, I thought, 'This is so cool'."

Tarlton

Late in 2004, the critically celebrated Minneapolis electronica band Tiki Obmar called it quits. Former Tiki Obmar drummer and St. Olaf student Brett Bullion ’07 left his former band with a surplus of ideas, however, and he turned those ideas into a fascinating side project he dubbed Tarlton.

Along with bassist Chris Morrissey, Bullion recorded sporadically over the summer, until eventually Tarlton had enough songs to make an album. Released on Oct. 16, Van showcases Bullion’s immense creativity as both a songwriter and studio innovator.

Fusing minimalist electronica beats to soft vocals and mellow bass, Van is an enticing experiment with modern sounds. “We wanted to use the studio as an instrument,” Bullion said.

In particular, Bullion takes pride in the sounds he was able to create in the studio on a shoestring budget. “We didn’t use anything big or fancy to get the sounds we ended up getting. We just used two tracks, a stand-alone Roland, and ran the keyboards and drums directly into the board,” Bullion said. “Other than that, we just experimented with different recording sounds.”

For Tarlton, that experimentation entailed clever microphone placement and testing out unorthodox ideas, like taping Tupperware mats to drums to get a particularly muted sound.

Bullion eventually wants Tarlton to become a full-time band, but for now, he is taking the time to concentrate on his schoolwork. “I simply don’t have the time to gig or tour much while I’m a full-time student,” Bullion said. “Plus, I don’t have much time to write, either.”

Despite his busy schedule, Bullion will be taking the time to play a smattering of shows in the Twin Cities area. Look for Tarlton to perform at Dinkytown’s Varsity Theater on Nov. 23 with Halloween Alaska and Dosh.

Until then, you can check out Tarlton at www.tarltonmusic.com.





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