Celebrating the End of Classes With Smallpools, Grizfolk, and Vinyl Theatre at Exit/In

Last night Smallpools played Exit/In for the second time in the past six months, this time promoting their new album LOVETAP!

Last night Smallpools played Exit/In for the second time in the past six months, this time promoting their new album LOVETAP!

*Note: DJ Blumy will still be contributing occasional music commentary and reviews to The VU Backstage because he is an unemployed philosophy major and has nothing better to do.

At 3pm yesterday, I turned in the final assignment of my college career. Partially to celebrate and partially to distract myself from the terror of facing the adult world, I headed over to Exit/In with my friend Sparling to see Smallpools rock the joint. My sister loves the band and had turned me on to their music, so making her jealous was another great reason to go to the show.

We arrived at 7:30 to find the half-full floor dominated by people without the over-21 hand stamps. Any illusion I had of being able to escape feeling old vanished immediately. Pitying the venue for what promised to be a slow night of alcohol sales, I grabbed a Shiner Bock and snagged a spot in the crowd just behind a couple of girls taking selfies. Naturally, Sparling and I photobombed as many as we could.

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Julia Seales – “Taylor the Latte Boy”

The finals grind has us real busy at The VU Backstage–we don’t get paid enough for this–but we finally have video footage for you of Julia Seales’ performance!  Check out this awesome video by Tony of Julia playing “Taylor the Latte Boy,” originally by Kristin Chenowith.

 

Jamie Cohen on The VU Backstage

Jamie Cohen on The VU Backstage

Jamie Cohen on The VU Backstage

The VU Backstage entered a new era on Sunday night as I, DJ Jack, took over the show from DJ Blumy. For my first guest, I had the wonderfully talented Jamie Cohen perform songs from her EP True Blue, as well as a couple of unreleased songs. Take a listen below for some soothing ukulele tunes, and to hear Jamie talk about 3d art instillations, music as a hobby and west coast road trips.

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Vanderbilt Needs To Embrace Music City

*Note: This piece originally appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler on April 15, 2015.  It has been republished here so that all my work can be found in one place.

I was thrilled to see The Hustler put the spotlight on our student musicians in its feature “Making it in Music City.” As the former head of RVU Records and a WRVU DJ who has interviewed Vanderbilt’s musicians for the past three years, I know most of the people they highlighted and can’t think of any more deserving stories to be shared with the student body. From Two Friends’ meteoric rise in the EDM world to Nate Banks’ promising solo career and everyone in between, this campus is bursting with musical talent.

But you may not have known this if The Hustler hadn’t taken interest. Whether it’s our school’s self-centered culture of studying toward financial success, Blair’s focus on classical music or the presence of Belmont just down the street, some factor suppresses the vibrancy and visibility of a homegrown Vanderbilt popular music scene. And it’s a shame, because over my WRVU career I’ve met several talented artists whose musical aspirations have been limited by academic pressure and a lack of avenues to exposure.

To be fair, opportunities for aspiring musicians and music businesspeople have increased noticeably since I arrived here in 2011. The Business Careers in Entertainment Club provides wonderful connections and opportunities for interested students. Both RVU Records and Studio CRB allow musicians to record on the cheap, with the former offering audio engineering training as well. McGill Coffeehouse open mics are always jovial and at times feature spellbinding performances. Even VSG’s first-year CommonDores Leadership Council pleasantly surprised me by hosting an open mic in February, although in its naivete it alienated the performers from our campus culture by calling the event “Belmont.”

Nevertheless, despite these growing on-campus opportunities and mainstays such as Deanna Walker’s songwriting class, Vanderbilt students who hope to make it in the music industry must pursue their dreams on their own. The university’s alumni network and recruiting profile, so strong in areas like consulting and finance and engineering, are negligible in the business that gives this city its nickname. Many students drawn here by Nashville’s appeal find themselves trapped in the Vandy Bubble, unsupported by a campus culture that rewards individual drive and academic success above all.  Even as the Melodores have become national darlings and a cappella as a whole has flourished here, that growth has yet to translate into real investment in a college music scene by the Vanderbilt administration or student body. Instead of fostering a robust pipeline into Music City that would differentiate us from other top-20 schools and beautify our campus culture, our general reaction to musical ambition ranges from lukewarm appreciation to total apathy.

I’m aware that my reaction to this issue is probably stronger than most other students’, that my disappointment is likely not shared by everyone reading this and that most of you probably don’t have the time or desire to rectify the situation.  That’s why all I ask of you, the general student body, is to keep your ears open to the amazing musical talent we have here and try to attend at least one Vanderbilt student artist’s performance before you graduate. Unlike most of us, these classmates of ours will rely exclusively on peer support to make their living, so even liking their Facebook pages or sharing their songs online means more than you can imagine — and it takes almost no effort on your part.

To those of you who are moved by the paucity of a Vanderbilt music scene and want to do something about it, I have a couple of suggestions that would immediately increase visibility of and institutional support for popular musicians on campus.  The first of these is a campaign to build resources at the Career Center or Blair for those students who want to make or deal in music for a living. I’ve met Vanderbilt alumni in the industry, and I am astounded that the university hasn’t built them into a network to help its aspiring songwriters, artists and music business people. In a world where interpersonal connections dwarf academic success in importance, such a network would be a tremendous boon in helping students land that coveted internship at Sony Music or meet the producer who will turn their rough demo into a smash hit.

The second is to increase the number of musical opportunities on campus. Putting a few drum kits on Commons would be a great way to encourage first-years to form bands. In terms of performances, I don’t think it’s out of the question for VPB, Music Group and the BCEC to pool their resources to found a monthly Songwriters’ Night on campus, featuring some combination of professional and amateur musicians.  Certainly within the realm of possibility would be a weekly open mic at the Pub. A veteran Vanderbilt audio engineer once told me that John Mayer played there in the early 2000s (sadly I could not confirm it). Even if that isn’t true, how cool would it be if something like it happened in the future?

We can build a thriving music scene on this campus. The interest is there, as is the talent. All that’s missing is the cultural and institutional shift. If effective steps are taken to make it happen, Vanderbilt will have made it in Music City.

Lena Stone on The VU Backstage

I can still remember the first post I ever wrote for this website.  An audio recording of a novice interviewer and his talented guest, with a sentence describing the recording.  Simple, to the point, but also unimaginative.

Lena Stone came back with a new name and amazing music.  I think I've gotten better at interviewing, too.

Lena Stone came back with a new name and amazing music. I think I’ve gotten better at interviewing, too.

Two and a half years later, that same guest returned with a different name and a vastly improved song catalog.  And the hour she spent on the air, and the website where the recording of that hour will reside forever, seem like a completely different endeavor.  Lena Stone’s music and personality shone through the microphone and left me gaping in wonder at the strides she has taken.  I hope The VU Backstage’s progress has matched her growth.

Harry Chapin once sang, “All my life’s a circle.”  Never has that phrase felt truer to me than it did this past Sunday.  I’ll be handing off the reins of The VU Backstage to my successor, Jack Sentell, before the month is over.  It was only fitting for me to bring my stewardship of the Vanderbilt music scene’s voice to a close with Lena.  You can check out the full recording of the show below.

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I Hope I Age Like Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder kept Bridgestone rocking past midnight last night.

Stevie Wonder kept Bridgestone rocking past midnight last night.

When my mom found out Stevie Wonder was coming to Nashville, she wanted me to go so badly that she helped me pay for the tickets.  Not that I wouldn’t have tried to go anyways.  Stevie is 64 years old, so who knows how long he’ll be touring?  And word was that he would be playing his seminal 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life in full.

From the moment I found my seat at Bridgestone Arena I knew the show was going to be an extravagant production.  On the stage sat two drum kits, two percussion arrays, seats for a ten-piece string ensemble and six-piece brass section, risers for a horde of backing vocalists, several keyboards and guitars waiting to be played, and of course Stevie’s setup front and center: his signature Hohner Clavinet and a Yamaha electric grand piano.

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Nate Banks and I Ignore Equipment Malfunctions

We’ve been pretty good about avoiding technical issues this year at The VU Backstage.  In the past, we’ve had recordings that sound like they’ve been put through a bitcrusher, Garage Band deciding that it was a good idea to peace out as the MP3 file was exporting, and studio phones that, despite the explicit directions, simply would not connect to the on-air feed.  This year, mostly due to my persistent complaints about these issues and RVU Records’ audio engineering skills, most of these problems had vanished into the dark recesses of the past.

Or so I thought until last night.

It was like a year’s worth of bad juju was being stored up in a storm that finally broke last night.  RVU Records couldn’t supply an audio engineer.  The Garage Band feed in the studio thought it would be fun to come disconnected from the on-air feed.  Microphone 4 flat-out refused to turn on.  Fortunately our videographer Tony captured the show on his two cameras (well, one of the two ran out of storage halfway through) but God knows how the audio will sound.

But as Nate Banks sings in his song “Some People,” “We don’t need to worry about all of those things, ’cause I got you, and you got me.”

Technical difficulties couldn't keep Nate Banks and me from the usual Sunday night shenanigans.

Technical difficulties couldn’t keep Nate Banks and me from the usual Sunday night shenanigans.

That was basically our attitude last night.  We had a blast talking about his victory in the Vanderbilt Star competition, his upcoming EP release (click here for info on the release party), and what can be done to improve the Vanderbilt music scene.  He’s a phenomenal songwriter and I really hope you’ll get his EP, because this is a guy to start tracking now.

We’ll be back next week with another great show, and hopefully the WRVU studio will be fully functional once again so you can actually hear what transpires after the fact.  Until then, keep up with The VU Backstage on Facebook and Twitter!