By McKenzie Collins and Julia Rette
Staff Writer and Correspondent
Whether it be through traditional art or a myriad of other forms, college campuses are typical epicenters of creativity. During the remote semester, college students have been looking for new ways to connect with their peers and regain a sense of community. Many have found this through their favorite student bands.
Music is a way for local groups such as ScreenAge, Cheyenne Dan and Ornamental to express themselves.
“Ornamental is an expression of heartfelt emotions that I wouldn’t normally express in visual art or waking life,” said Lucia Gardiner, a senior fine arts major and the singer and guitarist for Ornamental. “It’s mostly about reflecting on past events (or) memories and relationships, and making sense of those things that happened.”
As an indie band, their fan base is centered around their unique sound. Ornamental operates in a folk-inspired niche, finding inspiration from songwriting that places emphasis on a narrative tone.
“That’s why I love traditional folk,” Gardiner said. “It’s so simple and dynamic at the same time. A lot of these folk artists taught themselves how to play, made makeshift guitars (and) did anything just to be musical. It wasn’t about being a great singer, or even the best musician at times. It was about telling a story, and I think that’s really cool.”
Another local group, ScreenAge, describes their sound as mainly indie rock, citing popular bands such as Hippocampus and Radiohead as their inspiration. However, they also explained that they are trying to make their own distinctive sound. In building their albums, the songwriting process typically begins when someone creates a melody or riff and introduces it to the group in practice. Their teamwork has resulted in their first album, “Station 42,” which debuted in early 2019.
Alexander D’Amico, a junior computer science major and lead guitarist of ScreenAge, knew from a young age that he wanted to be a musician.
D’Amico was further encouraged by the School of Rock, emphasizing the value of giving younger students the opportunity to perform. Once the group was established, the members’ music became less of an extracurricular and more of a passion project that connected their community.
“Whenever we get together, we usually film all of the crazy shenanigans that goes on behind the scenes during rehearsal,” D’Amico said. “ It’s kind of a way to see those aspects of running the band and just having fun.”
Through Instagram contests, YouTube videos and other online events such as their appearance on WTSR radio, ScreenAge is very interactive with their fans. Listeners can find their music on Spotify or Apple Music, and follow them on most platforms under the username “ScreenAge.” A lot of work goes into their music beyond songwriting and recording, including marketing their brand, the members said.
“When it comes to Instagram or Youtube or whatever it is, everybody has to agree on what you want your story to be, or your image, or how you present yourself to your fanbase,” said Emily MacMahon, a sophomore music technology major at Stevens University and a key member of the group.
Whether it's a caption for an Instagram post or a concept for a YouTube video, MacMahon said that a lot of thought goes into planning the music they release and what kind of content they will create alongside it.
Jonah Malvey (‘20), the current guitar player for Cheyenne Dan, had no idea how much effort would go into selling t-shirts and advertising on social media.
“I find that especially with Cheyenne Dan, which is a project that we put a lot of time and effort into, you’ll always have to sacrifice your free time with stuff,” said Dylan Lembo, a senior communications major and the group’s bass player. “But this is one of the few things that I really enjoy doing in life so it doesn't even feel like work.”
Lembo went on to describe the fun, upbeat sound that has evolved and grown since the group was first established. “Every song has its own type of flavor and merit but overall it's just probably the most fun music you’ll ever hear,” he elaborated.
While Cheyenne Dan’s strength is its dynamic, Lembo said that it can be stressful if the group does not communicate.
“Being in a band is like marrying three other people,” Lembo said. “It can be really complex and sometimes it can put a strain on friendships. You have to be very vocal and communicative with your wants and desires, especially when you're dealing with things like ego, creativity and especially if money gets involved. … It’s like a relationship and you have to put a lot of heart into it.”
All of the bands had a tight schedule back in March, but Covid-19 has thrown a wrench in most people's plans. Gardiner voiced her frustration about working with people during the pandemic, but said how she was able to use the time to grow more on her own.
Ornamental is also looking forward to their new song “Urban Legends,” which will be released on Oct. 31. Fans can find more information on their social media platforms, under the username “OrnamentalNJ.”
ScreenAge is using this time to work on their second album. “It’s definitely nothing like we’ve done before. ...This one we’ve been writing for around two years and it’s shown how we’ve developed, not just as songwriters and musicians but through what we value,” MacMahon said.
Cheyenne Dan is preparing for their concert, which is streaming on Twitch on Oct. 30, with bands Lowercase People and Afloat. Additionally, they will be releasing a new collection of songs on Oct. 29 and are currently selling t-shirts on Instagram page.
“If anyone wants to hear us practice, just walk around Ewing and listen for our songs coming from the basement. But you can’t come into the house,” Lembo and Malvey joked.
Ultimately, the bands all hope to be examples of the endurance of the college community and the value of musical creativity.
To anyone who might be interested in starting their own band, MacMahon encourages just to go for it. Joey Banwer, another member of ScreenAge, summarized his advice by saying “It’s about the craft, it’s not about the knowledge.”
“You could spend your whole life trying to plan something out, but really, you just have to get together one day and have an instrument and do something,” MacMahon said. “That’s what we did. I texted and asked them if they wanted to be in a band, and one day we just met up at Sam’s house and were playing music.”