By Reines Maliksi
“Asian Hannah Montana” is how senior cell biology and molecular genetics major Jared Cunanan perceives his double-life. As a student, he envisions having a normal career as a scientist once he graduates in the spring. But he also knows that he can put the “Hannah wig” on to transform into his musical persona.
You’ve heard of two-syllable named indie artists, such as Clairo and Joji. Well, meet Cuni.
Cuni is a DIY indie, emo and punk student musician who began making music about a year and a half ago and released his first EP titled “Saturn” in April. He describes his art as a stream of consciousness, an outlet for all his feelings and strives for his music to be as “emotionally noisy as possible.” Nonetheless, being a student musician is no easy task at all.
“It’s kind of like I have to pick on some days: Am I going to skip class and try to record something? Or am I going to be responsible?,” Cunanan said. “I guess that’s the peril of being a cell bio major and musician at the same time. Yet I’m trying to do both.”
Cunanan was introduced to music at an early age by his parents. They wanted him to play piano and violin, but it felt like something he was forced to do and he consequently had no attraction toward it.
It was not until he picked up an acoustic guitar that he began writing music and was exposed to the wondrous opportunities that he could explore within this realm. Cunanan realized he could do the music himself.
When it comes to crafting his art, there is no precise blueprint. Sometimes, a lyric will simply come to him, or he’ll read poetry that will make him want to write. Other times, he’ll watch a movie that evokes emotion but it’s never the same process twice.
He will also look to his several musical idols for inspiration. He even has a list on his phone called “Frankenstein salad” where he notes all the different artists he adores and aspires to sound like, such as Sidney Gish and Joy Division.
Cuni is essentially a one-man-band as he writes the music and sings all the songs, but he’s sometimes accompanied by his roommate and junior computer engineering major, Roshen Abraham, who plays the drums alongside him during live performances.
Abraham said he only recently “joined the band” in late October, but he’s known Cunanan for four years now since they were forced into a quad together their freshman year. Over the years, he’s been a witness to Cuni’s development as an artist.
He said that Cunanan’s first-ever recordings closely resembled a third-grader making music on GarageBand, but today his productions are now professional beyond belief.
“Just watching him grow as a person and artist since freshman year reminds me that growth is slow but bountiful in the end,” Abraham said.
On Dec. 4, Cuni released his debut music video for “Kim Pine,” a song off his EP that garnered over 700 views the weekend it premiered on YouTube. The video follows his lavender-haired self jamming out to the track titled after the “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” character, who Cunanan said deserved a lot better than how she was treated in the movie.
Daniel Merkowitz-Bustos, a senior computer science and studio art double major, has also known Cunanan since freshman year, is roommates with him and directed the “Kim Pine” music video himself. It was his first time filming any project like this, but he strived to capture the authenticity that Cuni reflects and represents in his music.
“He really cares about making sure he likes what he releases and does not conform to the expected way of doing things,” Merkowitz-Bustos said.
Although the pandemic has prevented Cuni from playing any in-person shows, he did get the opportunity to perform “Kim Pine” at Maryland Night Live’s show on Sept. 11. MNL is a comedy group that was organized by UMD students who took inspiration from “Saturday Night Live”.
Stephanie Moy, a senior biology and psychology major, was one of the head directors of MNL who chose Cuni to be featured as a musical artist for the show. She immediately admired Cuni from the start when he submitted his audition.
She commended the way he was able to smoothly adapt to performing virtually while offering lively energy.
“I was drawn to Cuni by his openness and comfort surrounding music,” said Moy. “I thought he did great juggling the distance, syncing his audio with the track within the mic and maintaining a really fun stage presence over a screen.”
Rachel Niswander, a junior math major who was a head writer for MNL, believed his performance had a positive effect on the overall tone of the show. She also said that she continued listening to his music on Spotify after his performance.
“Cuni’s music feels like something from a coming-of-age movie where the main characters blast the song and can’t help but dance,” said Niswander.
But the day that groups of people can unite and venues can be packed with bodies again, Cunanan hopes to play a show in none other than a basement. He says the greatest night of his life was when he attended a concert in a basement, where six bands performed and merch was sold throughout the guest bedrooms of the house. He wants to mimic that same night and someday play alongside his friends.
Second, on his list of dream venues is Denny’s. He often watches a video of a punk band that rolled into an abandoned Denny’s diner with giant amps and created a mosh pit. The scene has become a comforting video for whenever he gets anxious, in addition to evolving into an ambitious dream.
“I don’t care about selling stadiums, I just want the Denny’s,” said Cunanan.
In the meantime, Cunanan will focus on making his next EP or album and continue navigating his life as a student musician. He admits that there are plenty of DIY musicians who struggle with balancing music and education, and he has not yet discovered the secret formula for managing it all.
“I’m just gonna keep trying to make things that make me happy,” said Cunanan.
Check out Cuni’s music on Spotify here.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Merkowitz-Bustos.
Reines Maliksi is a junior information science and journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.