It’s Thursday night at Vassar College, a time typically reserved by those looking for a good time for a variously congested and disappointing trip to Billy Bob’s. But, on this select evening, there’s another option. Two days after the release of their second album, Squeeze, Vassar’s own Spud Cannon debuted some soon-to-be-signature tunes live for the first time in a TH for a sea of student fans and friends.
“Vassar shows are always fun,” says Jackson Lewis, the band’s guitarist, “You get to play for your best buds and people seem to know the songs and sing along, which is always nice.” These words are an understatement; there is hardly a moment free from movement, and several times the crowd narrowly escapes transformation into a mosh pit. As with many things, this inability to stand still comes straight from the top; Lewis leaps on tables, pianist Ari Bowe bops behind her keyboard, and new drummer Ben Scharf whips his head on each beat with such assimilated ease that it’s hard to believe he’s only found a home with Spud Cannon in October.
Spud Cannon has been a mainstay on campus for several years, prolific for their masterful canvassing of custom sticker advertising on sidewalks and bathroom stall doors. But, coming into this year with a drummer-gone-abroad, they weren’t sure they’d be able to maintain the same level of activity. “All of us were asking as many first years as possible [if they knew someone] who played drums,” recalls bassist Lucy Horgan, “When Ben sat down with us, we instantly clicked and he nailed the rhythms right away.” Adds Scharf himself; “I quickly learned that simply replicating the parts [of the former drummer] wouldn’t be enough to make us cohesive. You really have to put effort into adding variations that showcase your own personal strengths and creativity.”
Which brings us to the music itself; a dreamy combination of ‘80’s-influenced synths and innovative instrumentation, the group’s sophomore effort is full to the brim with blissful sway-alongs and funky earworms (none exceeding four minutes!). Listing Blondie and The Talking Heads as Squeeze’s biggest influencers, Bowe explains that their recording process this time around was nothing short of an adventure; “We started recording towards the end of 2017 at AV Lab in Beacon, and then finished writing the album at the tail end of our summer tour [in 2018]. We just barely finished recording the album in two days in Los Angeles.”
Squeeze, compared to their first album, is wildly more experimental, something Horgan attributes to the forced physical closeness of a tour; “Our music became more adventurous as we got closer.” The sense of nostalgia that defined their debut, Next Time Read the Fine Print, is still front and center, now heightened by their New Wave-influences.
Lead singer and songwriter Meg Matthews sums up the aforementioned writing process best, saying, “They [Jackson, Ari, Lucy and Ben] do some cool things with their instruments while I make random sounds that feel nice… Then, there’s some hard thinking to turn those sounds into words.” Fans of Matthew’s wordless melodies need worry not; they make their appearances, namely on album-closer “Shadows You Turn To”.
The day after their secret show, Spud Cannon voyaged to Yale to play for the Ivy League crowd, and this weekend will host an album launch party in Brooklyn. Of the former experience, Lewis says, “While the show was fun, it was all the incredible people we met there and the bizarre frat party we went to after that remain most fondly in my memory.” Fans of connection and community, the group also relish in experiences that may seem, to less free minds, like potholes. “”Some of our best shows, in my opinion, have been played to almost empty or very still rooms,” says Horgan, with Bowe adding, “We can dance like nobody’s watching because, in those situations, nobody is.”
Article by Charlie Hobbs
Photos by Hannah Benton