Oberlin Blogs

The Fun Part

October 28, 2009

Will Mason ’10

The first half of my fall break, spent in Oberlin for the first time ever, was marked by boredom, tranquility, and bad cooking. The second half proved more interesting. The rock band I play in, Like Bells, made the trip to perform in the CMJ music marathon in New York City, along with a pit stop for a show in Philadelphia.

But before heading out, we went into the TIMARA studio for an afternoon to record some demos of our new songs. Songs that sound great when you're playing them can end up sounding like garbage from the perspective of a listener -- I have gigabytes of unlistenable music I've composed that attests to this. So it's always a helpful precautionary measure to get a recording of how everything sounds prior to playing it in any live setting. There was also a "Why Not?" element to it -- the TIMARA studio (a slight misnomer--there are four studios in the TIMARA basement, but only one with a substantial live room) is freaking sweet, not to mention centrally located. If we've got the time (and believe me, over fall break we had ample time to kill) why not get some demos together?

I'm reluctant to post a song from our recordings, only because the songs are still in a state of flux, and we won't record the actual cd until January. (Winter Term project, anyone?) But here are some photos of us/the studio:

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After our five-week odyssey this past summer, a three day jaunt to two cities we love was a piece of cake. There are a lot of stories and lessons that you accrue from traveling to bars, clubs, and places of ill repute in cities all across the country, and regrettably many of my more interesting stories would also get me kicked off the blog roll here. But the one thing that persists across every city we visit is that people are fundamentally good. I tend to be a cynic by nature, and my status as a news junkie does not help, since the media tends not to peddle much in the way of uplift. But we've met so many complete strangers who have been unflaggingly kind to us: putting us up in their homes, feeding us, buying our cruddy little cd, or even just listening to us play -- perhaps the most meaningful gesture of all. This isn't to say that I'm growing naive -- I still am paranoid and on constant alert for someone looking to steal our gear or rob us. But the more often this paranoia is invalidated, the more often I'm learning to greet strangers with a smile and a handshake instead of a nervous glance.

In Philadelphia we met a father who had snuck his 8-year-old son into the bar where we were performing. Cynical Will made all kinds of bad parenting assumptions. After our set, the man introduced his son to me. He had just started playing drums and his dad wanted to get him some inspiration, so he'd been taking him to just about every live performance he could. What a thing to do; Oberlin Conservatory Class of 2024, get ready for this kid to come in and destroy everyone.

In NYC, I finally got to see the ultra-trendy Williamsburg, and a lot about my fellow classmates was made clear. Our venue was a toilet: an old unfinished basement below a bar. It was pouring rain and the drains were blocked, so water was slowly trickling into the room. When they finally unclogged the drains, a thick jet of turbid filth sprayed out from one of the drains in the floor, and we frantically ran around grabbing gear. It was an interesting exercise, actually: we each now know exactly what we would save if there were a fire and we could only escape with whatever we could carry. Fortunately they got the water cleaned up, and the place was dank and smelly to begin with so the additional smells from the drain really didn't matter much.

Most important of all, though, was that the place was pretty packed during our set, and we had a blast. (I'd rather play in a sketchy venue with a lot of people than in a gorgeous empty venue, and I've done both.) CMJ is an interesting festival in that it's colossal: over 1,000 bands are participants, and some play as many as 14 shows during the five days of the festival. Its stated purpose as a means for connecting bands to industry professionals seems a bit ludicrous to me given the scope of the event and the circumstances surrounding the music industry these days. In reality, I view CMJ as one big party: the entire city of New York takes five days to throw a bunch of concerts, saturating the place with music of all flavors performed by struggling indie bands happy simply to play for people who will listen. And here, as elsewhere, the crowd obliges.

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