In January of this year the Yale Daily News published an overview of the campus music scene, mentioning such Bulldog bands-of-the-moment as Sister Helen, The Keep Calm, No We’re Not, High Defintiion, Jamestown and A Streetcar Named Funk.
Jamestown was recently profiled in Out of Order Magazine.
Such articles are very useful to us townies who aren’t privy to the basement, attic and boiler-room dormitory concerts of these academic rockers. Another handy resources is Tempo Tantrums, “The Blog for Yale Music Scene: An Undergraduate Organization” at http://tempotantrums.blogspot.com/
Few Yale bands make it off-campus to Toad’s or Café Nine or The Space. They don’t have to. They have built in fan bases among their classmates. Why spend time plastering fliers on phone poles when you could be writing songs?
Some members of the bands mentioned above have already graduated. It’s hard to know which if any of these acts will persevere through their senior years or (an even rarer phenomenon) post-graduation.
Here’s a list of some well-remembered Yale-based bands that attracted wider followings, played beyond the Yale gates or even got signed to national labels. There are actually far more than ten. We’ll be doing sequels every once in a while, as research continues and readers sound off with suggestions of their own.
1. Persona Non Grata. This trio put out a fun cassette in the early ‘90s and endeared themselves to the incipient punk-arts scene in the Ninth Square that revolved around the Art in Heaven gallery and the Grotto nightclub. Singer James Hanaham became a highly regarded reporter and critic for SPIN.
2. Jellyshirts. More a band of Yale employees than of students, Jellyshirts has been a New Haven local band institution for 20 years. Founding guitarist/songwriter Bret Logan and longtime bassist Nick Appleby work with computers at the university. The band, anchored by founding drummer Scott MacDonald, would likely have crumbled a couple of times if some graduate students hadn’t stepped into the fray as bassists and rhythm guitarists. The band has a refreshing lack of vanity or showiness, and is known to do some of their best shows at out-of-the-way venues such as Never Ending Books on State Street and Best Video in Hamden.
3. Holiday. Their red vinyl 7-inch single “Permission Slip” backed with “Fifteen Dollars” was a harbinger of several strong albums to come. Live shows were moody yet fun. It made a lot of sense for them to stay together as long as they did. Now, of course, a band named “Holiday” is positively unGoogle-able and might as well not exist. (Try Googling “Holiday music”!)
4. Root Boy Slim. This party-band messiah attended Yale and formed his first real band there.
5. Professors of Bluegrass. They are Yale professors who play bluegrass. They play out often enough to be an institution, but not so often that it affects their day jobs.
6. The Swansons. The guitarist and drummer were Yalies, the bassist and exotic singer (Lauren Fay) were townies. They picked up on the fuzzy glories of the Pixies, modified the sound to suit a female vocalist, and got signed to a major label deal (which fizzled after one album when post-graduation careers began to conflict with artistic goals). As well as strong originals, The Swansons had a wonderfully bizarre taste in cover songs, such as “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Antmusic.”
7. Dirty Projectors. Before Dave Longstreth personified the Brooklyn indie scene, he created a cult rock collective at Yale. Longstreth was as prolific a music-maker when he attended Yale as he became later on. He also promoted shows and encouraged others to form bands.
8. Low Strung. This cello ensemble, originally formed in 2004, performs rock classics by the Stones, Zeppelin, Metallica and others in new classical arrangements. They do two on-campus concerts a year, tour every spring and play a lot of private events in the area, from weddings to school functions.
9. Mia Doi Todd. She began playing and singing in her native Los Angeles, then went to Yale in the early ‘90s (where she palled around with Mark Mulcahy and The Butterflies of Love), then went to New York, then went to Japan, then went back to Los Angeles, where she’s still going strong and doing some of the best work of her career. Her calm, quiet demeanor and poetic lyrics have a mesmerizing effect.
10. The Stains. Can garage bands live in dorms where there are no garages? The Stains recorded a single in 1966. The A-side was a cover of Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” but the B-side—an original song called “Now and Then” is the cut beloved by garage enthusiasts. The record was produced by the brilliant Richard Perry, who went on to make notable albums for Captain Beefheart, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross. The Stains regrouped in 1967 as Five Cards Stud and had a Top 20 hit with “Everybody Needs Somebody,” also produced by Perry.
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