Jimi Hendrix once said if there was anything to be changed in this world, it could be done through music.
Music is a powerful force, a universal language that speaks inclusively to all who choose to partake. Lyrics can empathize with a listener, expressing thoughts they so badly wish to put into words, while instrumentals can take them to a another place, practically transcendentally.
The power of music is a living, breathing phenomena carefully articulated and matured by the loving devotees who are responsible for its growth and the extent of its impact. During the week of March 21, ambitious bands and artists alike competed for an opening spot in this year’s Art Attack! in SEE’s annual Battle of the Bands competition.
Each performer took the stage with a different sound, different inspiration and different objective. Despite these differences, they each performed with a common goal in mind: to give their audience something one-of-a-kind. To give them something memorable.
We had the opportunity to speak with four of the performers.
Todo Mas: Semi-Finalist
Sophomore jazz performance major Dean Emerson strives to push boundaries with his band Todo Mas, to create sounds never before heard and lyrics that resonate with their listeners. Inspired by the Beatles’ George Martin, Emerson prefers to take the behind-the-scenes approach to music making to take a focus on production.
A new album is currently in the works, complete with some covers of pop songs amongst other surprises:
How long have you been making music and what made you want to start?
Pretty much since fifth grade. I’ve always been writing, but I didn’t really get serious about music until my junior year of high school. I was playing in bands from eighth grade to pretty much now, but it wasn’t until about this time last year that I kind of started to realize that instead of trying to pull together a band, what I really liked was just writing the songs. So, I started writing music as a solo project and took it from there.
What musicians or groups have influenced the kind of music that you like to play?
I could go for hours on that. Musically, one of my big influences is Bombay Bicycle Club; however, the band Washed Out started to get me into more electronic music just because I really liked their sound and I started exploring more electronic music after them. I stumbled upon more “chill wave” artists. Since then, I really like Jamie XX, but I really love his production style. The way that he uses space and stuff like that, I’ve been trying to emulate that in one of the songs I’m mixing right now.
Lyrically, I am heavily influenced by both Steely Dan and Alex Turner of The Arctic Monkeys.
What do you hope to achieve through your music?
Lyrically, I kind of have this tendency to play devil’s advocate in a way. I can’t really agree with people in general because I always feel like there’s always more to a discussion than what is actually being presented. Nothing is as simple as it seems. So, I always like to muddy those waters, be a little jerk about it.
But honestly, musically is more where I like to try and convey my message. I like to push boundaries, and I like to experiment and create new sounds that aren’t so far out that it is hard to digest.
You had said that performing is not your favorite thing, but what did you think of Battle of the Bands and performing for that?
I think it’s a great opportunity for local Maryland talent to play — and shout out to Marcus and Hip-Hop Orchestra for winning the whole thing. They blew me away. They were absolutely amazing. I personally hate the term—I hate the whole concept—of a Battle of the Bands. Music isn’t a competitive sport.
The Radiographers: Finalist
Junior mechanical engineering major Mike Houser met junior computer science and linguistics major Devin Ganey in Honors100 freshman year. After discovering a common passion for music, the duo formed the indie rock group The Radiographers in 2014.
The group has since grown to a four-member band, and after touring and playing countless local shows, the band recently released their first studio album. “Talk with Transparency” is a collection of songs ranging from topics about anything from social issues to schizophrenia, and was both recorded and mixed at this university’s WMUC radio station.
How long have you been making music together? When did it start?
Devin: I played a lot of music in high school, and Mike, as he was introducing himself [in Honors100], was like “I liked to play a lot of music in high school, too.’ So I was like, ‘You know, I should talk to this guy.”
Mike: So we met up in CSPAC [Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center] and jammed a bit, and then jammed acoustically in the dorms, found a drummer through our mutual friend—he played the cajón and we jammed as a three piece for a while, and then we met Drew last year. We met him at the end of spring semester, but he didn’t officially join until this past fall.
Are there any musicians groups that influenced the type of music that you play?
Devin: To be stereotypical and say The Beatles … they’re definitely the biggest influence, but I don’t want to just say that. Me and Kevin especially like Radiohead, and I’m really into the Smiths. I’ve really been getting into this band Foxygen who uses experimental music styles and progressive, compositional styles, but implements a lot of catchy melodies and harmonies within the music, too, which we really like to implement.
What inspires your lyrics the most?
Mike: In the beginning it was definitely a lot more just writing about the female gender, but now we definitely try to incorporate some more, I don’t want to say deeper issues, but things that are less superficial. A lot of the stuff I write about in my songs has to do with mental health, kind of like what’s going on in my brain. I’ve had some schizophrenic tendencies for a little while, so that’s been interesting to put that into a song.
Is there a theme with this particular album, or is it just a compilation [of songs]?
Devin: It’s basically just a collection of songs we’ve written within the past year or two.
Mike: We wanted it to be very … all encompassing in the genre spectrum and pretty accessible so that our first thing [album] was able to reach a large audience. So we’re hoping in later releases to kind of hone in on our particular sound. In the beginning of the album, you have a lot of pop-y songs, and then in the middle there are a lot of genre changes. It goes from punk to folk to reggae real quick, and then towards the end you have the sound we’re trying to go towards for our next album.
How would you describe your Battle of the Bands experience this year?
Mike: It was really cool being voted into the final round. It was nice knowing that the general public really dug our sound, which at the end of the day, is the most important thing. And the two other bands we actually know really well. Because I’m the sound engineer at the radio station on campus, I recorded Hip-Hop Orchestra’s two singles that they’ll be playing, and we also play shows with Tomato Dodgers all the time. We’re super psyched that all the bands we’re playing with are good friends of ours.
Tomato Dodgers: Finalist
A side joke before their first show in 2013 created the temporary (or so they thought) band name, and Tomato Dodgers have been jamming ever since. Inspired by all things supernatural, lead singer and guitarist Asher Meerovich, a senior philosophy and Jewish studies double major, alongside his fellow band members, bring together unique tastes to create a compilation of talent and musical experimentation.
How did this current group get together?
Asher: The lineup was in flux for a long time because it would be me and then whoever else. People would come in and out. I met our drummer Pete outside on the mall at UMD. I was playing guitar outside and he just came over with a djembe. I met Joe at a party, actually. They needed a jazz band to play and there was no jazz band, so I just played guitar and Joe played bass so then we were like “Hey, that’s kind of cool. We should keep doing that.” And then Tera I met at a philosophy class, actually.
How did you come up with your band name? It’s really creative.
That was actually [from] the first drummer. Before our first show, we still didn’t have a name and he was like, “Well, shit, we’d better get ready to dodge tomatoes.” And it stuck. We thought, “Oh, you know, we’ll probably change that later,” but we never did.
What musicians, artists or other groups influence the kind of music that you make?
Part of it comes from the fact that we all listen to different kinds of music. Pete and I share a strong love for funk and dance-able kind of groovy music. And then Joe, our bass player, listens to a lot of like, I would say like Indian music and some pop and some folk and some classic rock and stuff like that. He brings a more songwriter element to it. And then Tera is really into electronic music, and she writes lyrics based on all sorts of stuff.
What most influences your lyrics?
I think there are more things that we write about, rather than things that inspire us. We evidently lean towards space and supernatural occurrences and like, conspiracies. Like, lizard people running the world and being teleported and time travel and all that shit.
Have you guys had any standout performances or memorable experiences happen to you yet you can think of off the top of your head?
We played a festival in western Virginia this past fall called Gypsy Fest and the promoter built us an obstacle course; and before our set, we ran this obstacle course while the crowd threw tomatoes at us. We were literally dodging tomatoes. And that, that was just great. There’s a video of it on Youtube somewhere. If you look up Tomato Dodgers Dodging Tomatoes on Youtube we are definitely there. It’s pretty good footage.
What are the biggest positives and negatives from tour?
Tour is the best. It’s what I want to do all the time. You get to play shows, meet people, meet other musicians, people pay attention, which blows my mind. We spread our message. It’s like being on vacation where you are doing work that you love. It’s great. It’s very physically demanding, and you’re not making money and it costs a lot. It’s just whether you can do it or not. And we’re in it.
Could you describe your Battle of the Bands experience?
I had a blast. It was a great time. I love The Radiographers. I love Hip-Hop Orchestra. They’re amazing and it’s great to be even around them. And I love all the bands that played, even in the first round, it was just so cool to be a part of that. It’s fun to play for people who don’t usually get to see us play. Maybe now they’ll be like, “Whoa, there’s this whole other thing going on that I didn’t know about and I should learn more about it. I should go see these bands and get more involved in the local community.”
Featured Photo Credit: Asher Meerovich, Lead guitar and vocals for the Tomato Dodgers performing at Battle of the Bands in the Baltimore room of Stamp. Asher is a senior philosophy and Jewish studies major. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.