Four students, strapped with instruments, are shoved between a pair of speakers in the corner of a Bouquet Gardens apartment as a spectrum of colors stream from a strobe light.
The crowd is stuffed into the rest of what would normally be the living room and kitchen — the first few rows listen intently and everyone else talks over a Beatles cover.
Maybe you were in that crowd, or maybe you were in the crowd weeks earlier, when that same band took a much larger stage on Bigelow Boulevard opening for Walk the Moon at Fall Fest.
“Playing on that large of a stage for hundreds of people [who] we didn’t know was definitely an experience we won’t forget,” band member Roger Toussaint said.
Lacking local traditional venues, it can be hard to find a good show around campus. Combine that with an ever-changing roster of student musicians, it might start to seem like Oakland’s music scene is non-existent. In reality, the talent is mostly represented in basement shows that serve as makeshift concert halls, while the University produces its fair share of economics majors moonlighting as rock stars.
The Naughties is a “soul jamboree”cover band, reinterpreting songs from the likes of Amy Winehouse, Tom Petty, Earth, Wind & Fire and Daft Punk.
The band’s four members met the way any motley crew of college musicians do — dorm life.
Jesse Wehner, guitar and lead vocals, lived in the same suite as Toussaint — drums and vocals — in Sutherland Hall their first year. Wehner met Jad Hilal — violin and vocals — when they roomed together abroad in London. Eric Stein — bass — is the only non-Pitt member of the band and joined via a Craigslist ad.
“Soul jamboree is not so much a genre but a theme, maybe even a lifestyle. It means that whatever we’re playing, it’s going to be a party,” said Toussaint, a senior economics and statistics major, whose entire drum set fits in his kick drum, which is an old plastic suitcase.
Though The Naughties cover a variety of songs, its sound remains consistent. The band brings rock band sensibility to the pop genre, with a guitar solo occasionally swapped for a violin.
“We’ll take any song that we like, and we figure out a way to make it original and fit our sound,” Toussaint said. “There’s really no limit.”
The Naughties, often clamoring for the attention of a distracted college audience, aim to lead listeners into a “state of shock,” according to Toussaint.
“Recently a lot of our antics have involved Jad ripping off his shirt and having various things written on his chest,” Toussaint said — Hilal’s chest notably read “H2P” at recent campus performances. “But we’re looking to get a little more creative in the future.”
The rambunctious band got to open for Walk the Moon after winning the 2015 Pitt Program Council’s annual Battle of the Bands. The Naughties recently performed alongside the Pitt Ballet Club during the season finale of Pitt Tonight.
Find The Naughties on Facebook and check them out next fall.
The Ugly Blondes also try to separate themselves from a smattering of pop-rock egos vying for the adulation of a young audience.
The Blondes’ four members have been performing and making music since early 2013 with a sound that’s not quite traditional and a full rock ‘n’ roll noise that doesn’t leave empty spaces. Combined with droning, echoey lead vocals, their sound is reminiscent of a grungier Queens of the Stone Age.
Nate Cross, a senior nonfiction writing major and the band’s frontman, expressed a distaste for “run-of-the-mill pop rock.”
“Usually, if something we’re working with kind of sounds strange or off-time or something along those lines, we’ll end up making it a song,” Cross said. “Our inspiration really doesn’t come from anywhere else other than asking ourselves how weird [we can] be compared to other rock bands.”
Cross and the band’s other members — his brother Justin Cross on second guitar, Nick Chesko on bass and Gareth Blyth on drums — played in assorted cover bands in high school, eventually leaving those groups behind for college.
As he worked on songs in his spare time, Cross felt it was time to get a new band together.
One by one, Cross found his crew, and the Blondes jammed in his parents’ garage until they hit on a substantial sound.
“After a while we realized we had some material,” Cross said. “We really liked everything we came up with, and we love playing together, so we decided it was time to become a real band.”
In the second semester, the Ugly Blondes won the Winter X Showcase at Pittsburgh’s Hard Rock Cafe. The band has since released new songs and done a takeover of a local radio station.
Cross said he isn’t exactly reaching for the sky — Pittsburgh suits the band just fine for now.
“All I can really hope for right now is just to keep pushing, play a bunch of shows anywhere and anytime we can, keep putting out material and hope people like it. If they don’t, that’s okay too,” Cross said. “We’re not in too much of a rush. Playing in Pittsburgh has been a lot of fun.”
Musicians at Pitt sometimes want to go it alone, which is what senior communications major Allegra Eidinger did when she began what she calls her queer solo project, AllegrA, in 2013.
“It’s inspired by a variety [of] female artists such as Waxahatchee, Cayetana, Girlpool, Kississippi and Alabama Shakes,” Eidinger said. “My music is wide-ranging and ever-evolving — it’s difficult to pinpoint any particular source of inspiration.”
AllegrA’s contralto, a low singing register for females, and honest vocals find a home somewhere in the neighborhood of Laura Stevenson’s raw lyricism and the throaty introspection of Beach House’s Victoria Legend.
While she works on her developing sound, Eidinger also plays bass for the indie rock band Yes Yes A Thousand Times Yes, which she called “a blend of David Bowie, Tera Melos and Death Cab [for Cutie].”
The end-product is a collection of pure basement jams. The band’s lengthy name —a line from the movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” — is sometimes abbreviated as YY1KXY.
Eidinger has found benefits of both projects, developing her own style and learning to meld it with a group’s collective vision.
“Being a part of Yes Yes A Thousand Times Yes has been a serious lesson in working towards solid collective sound,” she said. “With my music, it’s especially rewarding to work organically on my own sound and to feel like I’ve clearly captured my emotions through it.”
Eidinger has a lot to look forward to musically — YY1KXY is leaving Pittsburgh for a two-week tour along the east coast to promote its newest LP “Not Once, Not Never.”
While the band tours and plans for another LP later in the summer, Eidinger’s considering another foray into the music industry.
“My hope for the future is to put an all-female band together to play my songs,” she said. “It may already be in the works.”