Arts & Culture

From folk to soul, students and alums pursue pro music careers

Brown musicians release albums, perform in bands and write blockbuster theme songs

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, March 1, 2013

Pitchfork and BBC Radio 1 darling Nicolas Jaar ’12 is not the only rising musical star with Brown connections. The University boasts an impressive array of musicians who are releasing EPs and albums, playing local and global shows and leveraging the power of social media to advance their musical careers while they are still at — or just out of — Brown.

Several factors unique to the Brown environment, including University-owned recording facilities, student-friendly performance venues in Providence and a highly collaborative community, have influenced their artistic development, student musicians said.

 

Andy Suzuki & The Method

Forty-four thousand dollars is no small sum, especially for recent college graduates. But it is the sum New York-based trio Andy Suzuki & The Method needs to independently release its second full-length album this April, said frontman Andy Suzuki ’09. Since its 2008 debut at The Underground in the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, the band — Suzuki, Kozza Babumba ’06 and Jason Gorelick ’12 — has garnered favorable reviews on NPR and in Keyboard Magazine and Time Out New York, rising above the wash of musical post-graduate projects with distinctive instrumentation —piano, electric violin and djembe — and an intriguing, genre-bending lyrical pop sensibility.

In order to put together what Suzuki called its “definitive project” — an album slated to feature a seven-piece band, a string quartet and professional recording, mixing and mastering — the group turned to the power of crowdsourcing. An ambitious ongoing campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdsourcing website, raised nearly $9,000 in its first week, landing Andy Suzuki & The Method a spot on the popular fundraising platform’s homepage.

The band’s success goes beyond Generation Y social media strategies: Good old-fashioned networking is still at a premium. “A lot of the impressive opportunities we’ve had … have come to us through our friends,” said Gorelick.

Gorelick, a computer science concentrator, said he chose to “study abroad” at Columbia to continue playing with the group after his bandmates both graduated.

Through friends in the computer science department at Columbia, the band arranged a three-week tour of Southeast Asia. A sponsorship from Kentucky Fried Chicken Brunei allowed the group to become the first international artist to tour the country in 10 years, Gorelick said.

If all goes well with the funding campaign, the band hoped to make its East and West Coasts and London their next destinations, he added. The group also performed at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin in 2012.

The process of navigating a post-college music career has been “night-and-day different” from pursuing it while at Brown, said Suzuki, who left the Jabberwocks after two years to focus on his own music. He added that while he was a student at Brown, a friend recorded and produced his senior-year, full-length album “300 Pianos” partly at the University and partly at Suzuki’s home in New York.

Some instrumental tracks on his second EP, “The Ghost Stories EP,” were recorded in Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Suzuki said, adding that the band began living together and recording intensively at the Carriage House in Connecticut this week.

For Gorelick, the youngest member of the group, driving back and forth between New York and Providence nearly every weekend to perform took a toll on his involvement on campus. “My Brown experience was defined by something very separate from Brown,” he said.

Still, it was facilities and programs specific to the University that brought the group together. Babumba and Suzuki met through a mutual friend at the Gate in 2005 and began playing Suzuki’s music together around campus. Babumba continued to commute to Brown for shows after he graduated.

Gorelick joined the duo in 2008 after meeting Suzuki at a beginning-of-the-year meeting for students in the Music Department’s Applied Music Program, through which he was taking jazz piano lessons, Suzuki said.

 

Clyde Lawrence

When you have already written the theme song of a major Hollywood blockbuster by the age of 5, where else is there to go as a composer? For Clyde Lawrence ’15, Brown was a good start. His childhood composition was blind-selected as the pageant theme for the 2000 blockbuster “Miss Congeniality,” which his father, Marc Lawrence, co-wrote, Lawrence said.

Since then, Lawrence has made a name for himself as a self-described “blue-eyed soul, pop and blues” songwriter and performer. In high school he performed regularly at the Carlyle Club on Madison Avenue in Manhattan with jazz singer Steve Tyrell, and he has appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show”, Fox’s “Good Day New York” and ABC’s “TAXI TV.”

He recorded “Homesick,” a seven-track album, over the course of the spring 2012 semester, returning to his hometown of New York City for several weekends of additional recording with Cloud 9 Studios on Long Island before completing the album over the summer, he said.

One challenge student artists face is balancing online and electronic sales with selling physical copies. On Jan. 5, Lawrence played a CD release party in New York, selling all 100 physical copies he had thought to bring along, he said. A second order, for release on campus, resulted in the “embarrassing” experience of wheeling 500 CDs from J. Walter Wilson to his room last month, Lawrence added. Though he now periodically mails those copies to radio stations and blogs, Lawrence said he is “no marketing guru.”

As for other Brown artists, the collaborative spirit of Lawrence’s musical classmates has served him well. The party featured the talents of bandmates Johnny Koh ’13, Sam Askin ’13 and Greg Nissan ’15, as well as trumpet player Matt Block ’13. Album artwork was done by suitemates Danny Sobor ’15 and Tom Sullivan ’15, a photo editor for The Herald.

Brown’s recording studios in Granoff had a considerable impact on Lawrence’s recording process. He was deeply excited upon seeing Granoff during a pre-college visit to Brown, he said, adding that he hoped to go to a school where music could be an extracurricular while he pursued a degree in psychology.

Next summer, Lawrence will be scoring a full-length soundtrack for an “indie film with some romantic elements,” he said. “I’ve always thought about writing music in the context of songs, verses, chorus. … I’m definitely a verse-chorus kind of guy,” he said. He looks forward to taking a different approach for this project, creating more cohesive background music, he said.

Lawrence will play March 8 at The Spot in Providence.

 

Kayla Ringelheim

Several notable folk acts have come out of Brown over the years, including singers Erin McKeown ’00, Catie Curtis ’89 and Mary Chapin Carpenter ’81, and Deb Talan ’90 of The Weepies and Providence-based indie folk band The Low Anthem.

Singer-songwriter Kayla Ringelheim ’11 should be added to the list. The Boston-based folk songstress got her start at Club Passim in Harvard Square and recorded her first EP in 2007. She went on to sing for four years with the Higher Keys while at Brown, she said.

The summer between her sophomore and junior years at Brown, she stayed in Providence making connections with a network of local student-friendly performing venues, including AS220, a downtown artists’ collective, the speakeasy at Local 121 and Taza Café, which had a now-defunct Sunday night open mic, Ringelheim said.

She added that she hosted Brown’s In-The-Round section of the Brown Folk Festival for two years, playing with headliner McKeown.

“A big part of our philosophy … was trying to connect Brown songwriters with the city at large,” she said. Most recently, Ringelheim released her LP “Wandering Feet” with producer Lorne Entress, doing much of the recording at his studio outside of Hartford, Conn., between May and September 2012.

Ringelheim, who currently balances a job at Farm Fresh Rhode Island with playing one or two shows a month, said she sees music as “something that can enrich my ‘mainstream’ life.” Ringelheim will play a series of shows in Canada in May.