This article is the first part of a series exploring the musical careers of student musicians during quarantine.
On a normal day on Stanford’s campus, you might find student and folk-indie musician Elliot Dauber ’23 with his guitar, playing live music at a row house, CoHo or in his friends’ dorm rooms. Somewhere around the university, there’s almost always a place to be around other musicians and listen to others perform.
“Probably every weekend night there’s some sort of live music happening. There’s a ton of places on Stanford campus for students to play,” Dauber said.
But with most students off-campus and under strict shelter-in-place restrictions, typical campus music and culture hotspots are instead silently accumulating dust as students remain in isolation from their peers.
With student musicians unable to play together and almost all live concerts and performances either digitized, postponed or canceled completely, the world of music — one which thrives off of interacting with others — has come to a near standstill. “This is just kind of a sucky time for music, as well as for a lot of other things. It’s just a matter of making the most of it,” Dauber explained.
Pre-quarantine, he would perform every weekend with the student group Side by Side.
“We’re a choir group of sorts where everybody’s singing,” Dauber said. “We have one piano and we sing at retirement homes, which was really fun, but obviously that got shut down before a lot of other things, since retirement homes are so hard-hit by this.”
Dauber is also a member of Palm Drive Records, a student group founded during the 2019-20 school year, with which he would convene monthly to play songs together in dorms or around campus.
“A lot of the performances I would do [on campus] would be me and my friends playing songs for each other, and now we meet using Zoom to do so,” he said. “It’s not the best quality, obviously, but we make it work. It is what it is. This is just what we have right now.”
Dauber’s Spotify page describes his music as incorporating “folk influences” into deeply personal songs, primarily about “life and his observations of the world around him.”
His first album, “Standing Still,” was released in 2016 and focuses on “young love,” as well as “the feeling of being trapped by age.” Indeed, the eight-song EP — featuring songs like “With the Waves of the Ocean” and “Take My Heart to the Moon” — blends together heartfelt lyrics and piano features over guitar acoustics in the likes of The Lumineers.
Though he’s keeping busy with a summer internship, Dauber noted that he’s been using the free time to work on a new album.
“I’m hoping to get that out sometime this summer, and hopefully do some Instagram Live performances and some promotion or something like that to spread the word,” he said about the project. “Even if people are commenting, it feels weird. I’d rather just share that experience with friends and get direct feedback and have fun with it.”
Instead, Dauber focuses his time on his music, which he is able to accomplish by collaborating virtually with peer musicians. He will send track recordings to classmate and drummer Sam Kritzer ’23, who then sends accompanying parts back before Dauber layers the two together to create a piece. Dauber admitted that “it’s not as fun as crafting it all in person,” but is sufficient for the time being.
Kritzer agreed with Dauber that he prefers spending the extra time at home writing and creating new songs over making an effort to put on digital concerts with his Southern California rock band, Melted Vinyl.
The four-man band — comprised of two guitarists, one doubling as lead vocalist, a bassist and Kritzer, the drummer — describes their artistic style as playing rock “like they were raised in the 70s.” Their two albums, “Melted Vinyl” and “Lights We Chase,” have amassed thousands of listens on Spotify alone; “Queen of My Soul” from “Lights We Chase” reached over 55,000 listens, and “Dog Fight” from “Melted Vinyl” reached over 23,000. Well establishing itself as an up-and-coming Southern California rock band, Melted Vinyl has sold out famed Hollywood rock venues like The Troubadour and The Roxy.
The band was scheduled to open for American rock bands Blue Öyster Cult and Jefferson Starship in their California tour, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Melted Vinyl canceled their plans permanently. Though the band did perform once over Instagram Live at the beginning of quarantine, debuting their new song “Grandfather Time,” Kritzer explained the group decided to spend the free time writing new songs for an album instead of putting on more virtual shows.
According to Kritzer, attempting to perform live concerts and write new material at the same time would be too much of a “balancing act” for the band. “From the digital concerts we had seen, we knew that if we did one, we’d want to make it really good quality and really put the time into it,” he said. In the end, the band agreed that attempting both would be too complicated, and decided to dedicate their time to writing.
Kritzer acknowledged that the one Instagram Live performance they did was relatively laid-back. To the band, the acoustic concert, which showcased only one song, was a “new creative outlet” that enabled the band to experiment acoustically, something they wouldn’t have attempted under normal circumstances.
Alongside Kritzer, student artist Jacob Eisenach ’22 has been using quarantine as an opportunity to focus on personal projects and release new music.
His second five-song EP — scheduled to be released sometime in July — features trombonist Toby Frager ’22 in three songs, which the pair has been working on since shelter-in-place restrictions were first imposed. To collaborate from a distance, the two exchange voice memos over text, which Eisenach then layers together to create the completed song.
“Almost everything included [in the album] was sent over texts. I’d send him what I made — vocals, guitar, drums, bass — and say, ‘Hey, do you want to lay something groovy over here?’ And he’ll send me, like, seven back and I’ll sometimes splice and dice them to make a line that fits best with the song. It’s a weird process,” Eisenach said. Since the album will be released during isolation, he hopes to host an Instagram Live or a release party over Zoom debuting the new songs.
Eisenach’s upbeat style, dubbed “dorm pop,” is the newest unique spinoff of classic bedroom or indie pop — his music is undoubtedly different, but reminds listeners of the same warmth associated with comparable genres.
Similar to Kritzer, Eisenach stated that he instead tries to view the circumstances in a more positive light and sees the stay-at-home orders as an opportunity to devote time to creating.
“[On campus,] I lived in a triple, and I never really had a lot of time or a quiet place to myself to record,” Eisenach said. “So I took coming home almost like a Bon Iver-esque thing, when he went to his cabin in Wisconsin, drank beer for three months and then came out with an amazing album. I romanticized it a little bit.”
Contact Sophie Sullivan at sophiemsullivan ‘at’ gmail.com.