Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

On the road with local band Leisure Colony

Henry White’s Honda Element sat directly behind his bandmates’ two-wheel drive pickup truck. The truck lost traction on the snowy hill and began sliding back toward White’s car. Once the truck stopped, a decision was made to use the Element’s superior snow capabilities – the car has four-wheel drive – to push the pickup truck up the mountain.

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Both cars began to spin their wheels with enough speed to produce a strong aroma of burning rubber. White backed up, only to realize that the pickup truck was sliding down the mountain toward him. The line of cars beginning to accumulate began to reverse with the pickup truck’s decline.

Eventually, bandmates Paulo Menuez and Josh Paul were able to stop and pull off to the side of the road to wait for the police.

Their show in Bennington, Vt., was just a few hours away, and they were beginning to get nervous they weren’t going to make it.

Paulo Menuez, Henry White, Josh Paul and David Herr are members of the band Leisure Colony, and the trip to Bennington was one example of the band working hard in order to play music. The band’s fifth member, Martin Zimmermann, is a Bennington student. He waited for the rest of the band’s arrival in hopes of getting in some practice time before the start of that evening’s show.

Leisure Colony- “Feast of the Gods”

Menuez, Paul and Herr are seniors at Hampshire College. White graduated from Hampshire last year but has stayed in the area to continue playing with the band.

To get an idea of their music and lifestyle, Leisure Colony allowed me to follow them for 48 hours. The band is about to graduate and is hoping to make it big – to take that next step. Whether this is possible remains to be seen. Leisure Colony is reaching a point where they are going to have to make decisions about the future of the band. Will they stay together after graduation or not?

The band has been together for about a year and a half. They are friends who, in one way or another, knew each other and wanted to play music.

Leisure Colony- “This Magic / Josie”

Hampshire College Life

On the way to Home Depot, the Honda’s radio was tuned to the local public radio station where a story was being told about a film documenting an expensive artistic problem in Philadelphia. The band was quiet, listening to the news report.

“Depending on whom you ask, ‘The Art of the Steal’ is either a searing exposé about the biggest art heist of the young century, or two hours of half-baked conspiracy theories,” said NPR’s Joel Rose.

NPR speaks well to the personality of the band – they’re a group that’s intellectual and naturally curious about the world. White spent much of his time in Home Depot explaining the science behind sound acoustics and how there are ways to dampen sound by playing competing tones that will, according to White, cancel each other out. This conversation occurred about a minute after White politely thanked the Home Depot store clerk for pointing him in the right direction to find the silver and gold spray paint they were looking for.

Leisure Colony- “Chromaton Cooldown”

White is polite beyond belief, never hesitating to thank a store clerk for their help or apologizing when he feels it might be necessary. Herr is more argumentative, but in a way that is meant to provoke conversation, not instigate tension. Menuez is often bluntly honest and is more like Herr than White, while Paul is the kind of guy who will crack a joke or tell the story of a prank from his high school days that didn’t turn out like he expected.

Being from Hampshire College, each band member exudes a certain laid back quality – a personality trait that is essential if you want to minimize conflict in any group of people who are frequently in close proximity. Even the band members’ style of dress is similar – there is a definitive plaid theme. White’s bathrobe is plaid. Their jeans are usually of the “slim fit” variety – especially Herr’s. Tennis shoes are forgotten for loosely tied brown Timberland boots.

According to Herr, the band tends to get along. “We all bond over the music aspect,” said Herr. “That’s where most of our conversations end up – that, and practical things about the three of us living together. ‘Oh, we have to pay the rent.’ Between those two things, that is where 80 percent of our conversations come from.”

Leisure Colony- “Your Eyes Deserve the Best (Me)”

Herr wasn’t exaggerating. During most car rides, the conversations steered toward music. Classical music was a frequent listening choice, and during one song on the way to Bennington that the band believed was by Bach, they listened and pointed out a spot where he “broke the rules.”

Much of this intellectualism can be linked to the culture of Hampshire College. Menuez described Hampshire College as a place where students are “free to fail.” According to Menuez, “If you want to get any value out of your education [at Hampshire], you have to do it yourself. Teachers don’t give a shit about you unless you involve yourself in their life.”

“A lot of the teachers are like the students,” Menuez continued as he scribbled the track names for another CD. “They are like academia bums.”

“Tons of kids drop out. There are kids who come here and it’s like absolute freedom and they bug out, they don’t realize that they don’t know how to deal with it.”

A generally easygoing attitude along with Hampshire’s reputation as a school for hippie kids who do a lot of drugs creates an interesting campus culture.

Each band member said they have done pretty well at Hampshire, considering how easy it would have been to do nothing and fall by the wayside. Each member seemed to accomplish this by staying interested.

Leisure Colony- “Golden Boy”

Hard Work

The snowstorm occurred on Saturday afternoon en route to their second concert in two days. The previous day’s show was at Hampshire College and the band spent the afternoon doing prep work for the Bennington gig.

The afternoon started with simple errands. White and Herr needed to pick up spray paint to inscribe their logo onto band merchandise to be sold at “negotiable prices” at the show that evening.

In many groups, one person is always responsible for all of the driving duties. In Leisure Colony, this person is White. According to Herr, White did not buy the Honda Element, but rather won it after filling out a customer service survey he received on the back of a Kentucky Fried Chicken receipt.

First, White and Herr needed to pick up blank CDs to burn and then give away that evening, along with the t-shirts. Best Buy was their first stop, and they ended up splitting an $11.68 receipt after a conversation about which set of CDs was going to be most affordable. As expected, being in a college band does not remove the issue of money from a person’s life. The members of Leisure Colony consistently kept tabs on how much one band member owed another, and they did their best to identify the best deals and cheapest ways of obtaining the products needed to publicize the group.

At Paul’s house in Hadley, Mass., Menuez, Herr and White spent a couple of hours spray painting t-shirts (they bought them on the cheap at the Salvation Army) and burning the band’s CDs on White’s MacBook Pro.

As they were discussing the student culture at Hampshire College, Herr was attempting to wash his spray paint-stained hands with, among other things, cheap bourbon, no doubt inspired by inhaling an impressive amount of noxious spraycan fumes during t-shirt production. It was just the three band members at this point. They had not been drinking, messing around or getting high. They were focused on what they had to do while staying laid back.

The concert at Hampshire that night was to take place at what the band called the “Red Barn.” The name described the venue perfectly. Leisure Colony was scheduled to play second of three acts.

The barn was sizeable – about 40 by 80 feet with a high ceiling, worn wood floors and white Christmas lights encircling each of the 10 or so beams supporting the roof. The Christmas lights were a nice effect; they cast a low light on the crowd and band alike and complemented the laid-back vibe of the Hampshire arena.

During the first set of the show, Leisure Colony decided that it was time to start drinking. Herr grabbed one of his beers while Menuez, Paul and White began to drink from a couple of bottles of cheap whiskey. Herr commented that the band smokes and drinks because they have to hurry up and wait to do anything.

Leisure Colony came on around quarter past nine to a crowd of about 40 to 60 people. The band started playing and the crowd once again commenced dancing.

Old footage of Woodstock appears on MTV or VH1 from time to time. In these videos, hippies are inevitably dancing. The style, it seems, hasn’t changed much in the more-than-40 years that have gone by since that fabled concert. The Hampshire College crowd replicated their dancing patterns – I purposely neglect to call it a style. The main rule of Hampshire College dance seems to be to just do whatever you want while inflicting the least harm to others. Movements were free and rhythms were optional, but everyone could move in whichever way made them feel best. It was a scene that would be in place at Hampshire, hippie concert festivals, reggae shows and probably your own college.

Leisure Colony Review

My younger brother Zachary Phillis, 19, attends the University of Delaware and possesses the vast majority of musical skill and taste in the family. My brother and many of the members of Leisure Colony describe their tastes as “eclectic.” Anyway, Zachary has an ear for music – he reviewed the band’s work.

The earlier Leisure Colony recordings, according to Zachary, were a combination of rock and folk. There wasn’t a consistent theme to the albums, but much of that has changed with their new five-song EP, “Protectorate.”

“They’re actually pretty good,” he said. “The new stuff is a lot more accessible than the old. They moved towards their alternative rock side and not so much towards the folk stuff.”

The band overlays instrumentals to generate a sophisticated texture; Zachary feels that this is one of their strongest points. The band’s song “Chromatone Cooldown,” according to Zachary, was the album’s high point. “The song has a good walking baseline. There is an appropriate drum line that is complicated without being overreaching. It doesn’t overpower.” Some songs lack prominent vocals that would improve some of their sound, but overall, Zachary called them “technically, very good.”

The final verdict: “If my iPod was on shuffle, I wouldn’t skip their stuff. It might not be the first thing I jump to but it’s definitely something I would be happy to listen to.” Coming from my brother, who is often extremely critical about music, this is high praise indeed.

The Future

After the show at Hampshire College, a few members of the band went to their girlfriends’ places. All four members of Leisure Colony from Hampshire College are dating – so much for the groupie myth.

The following day was going to be the Bennington show.

White, Herr and Menuez’s apartment is near the center of Northampton. It’s an older place with a good amount of room, even though it shows its age. When you walk in, the darkened photograph behind you on the wall is of White sitting naked, one leg crossed over his privates with a smile running from ear to ear. When I first entered, I couldn’t tell what the picture was, so I took a closer look. Needless to say, it’s somewhat awkward to have your face inches away from a naked picture of the guy standing next to you.

The other walls of the apartment hold a variety of band posters along with a picture of Mao Zedong in one corner, who presides over a faded old couch. A calendar hangs in the living room stuck on the month of November. Clothing is scattered over the floor in most of the bedrooms. However, the place is nonetheless comfortable. They’ve made it their own.

In the afternoon, band members began to file back home. Herr sat down to play piano while White began programming visual effects on his computer to be projected onto the wall during the Bennington show.

White and Herr were enthusiastic about the idea of getting some practice time in with Zimmermann. Because Leisure Colony has one member from a different school and sometimes plays as a group of only four, practice time with all five members is hard to come by.

Due to the weather, nothing about the ride to Bennington went as planned. There wasn’t any time to practice before the band had to begin preparations for the show. Leisure Colony was scheduled to be the second of three acts. Zimmermann was scheduled to play two sets that night; he was in the opening act, Twigz, as their drummer.

The first band had a highly attended set. Beer and alcohol was barely disguised for the show, and easily 60 to 70 Bennington students crowded into the low-lit lobby to see them play.

Because of its size, Bennington doesn’t always have much to do and everyone knows everyone else. Herr described Bennington as “Hampshire College with a third of the people and twice the [physical] size.” Except it’s weirder. Bennington has a gothic crowd that isn’t as visible at Hampshire.

“At Bennington,” Herr said, “Everybody knows everybody.” According to Herr, Hampshire students have their own cliques. It’s a big enough school for that – this isn’t as true at Bennington. “When you try to talk to someone at Bennington, it’s like you are trying to impede on a family.”

After their set, White said the show had gone well. The band had gotten louder as more people filed in to see them. Once their hour-long set was complete, they left to have a drink as the final band came on.

The last act was a noise band. Their guitarist explained their playing best – “No one is really able to hear what the others are playing. They can only hear themselves.” She had this about right.

White came in to watch the set mid-way through and had to cover his ears. The noise was loud, devoid of time signature or structure of any kind. They played what they advertised – noise.

After the noise band finished its long, torturous set, a girl sitting in a nearby chair screamed, “My degree means nothing.” A few people laughed awkwardly, probably because they knew their fellow Bennington student had a point. Just like the members of Leisure Colony, they were about to graduate soon, and a degree from Hampshire or Bennington College, according to their own students, doesn’t necessarily mean a prosperous future.

The band didn’t have many conversations about the future of their group. According to White, the band is going to be able to play shows together through the end of June when they’re all in town. After that, they’re not so sure. The members told me separately about their different hopes for the coming months while conceding that, collectively, they hadn’t really addressed the future.

The day before the Bennington show, White, the only band member who already graduated from college, got a job as a bagger at Big Y, a local grocery store. During the summer, White lives in Texas and wants to teach English in a foreign country this year. He has already applied. White is hoping the band will take a hiatus and then return to playing when he comes back. He thinks they’ll have a future together after they all graduate.

“We all have different ideas of where we are going to be,” said Herr. The band enjoys playing together – that they all seem to agree on. “[The future] is sort of up in the air,” Herr ventured.

“We are trying to enjoy the moment … We all have a certain level of commitment towards the band.”

Quickly, however, the issues the band would face if they were to try to stay together become clear. They are not signed to any recording contract and, according to White, getting signed by an independent label still requires a manager who knows somebody. Right now, they don’t have this kind of manager to make the next step. They want to continue to play shows, but there are only a few months left and it’s not at all clear that they will even be in the same area. Even if White doesn’t go to another country to teach, he lives in Texas while some of the other band members, like Menuez and Herr, live in the New York area.

When asked about the possibilities for the future, Paul said that the band had mostly just avoided the issue.

“We always find it easy to draw analogies between the band and a girlfriend,” said Paul. “It’s like you have this college thing going on, and its cool, but you’re about to get out of college, do you want to move in together? Do you want to get married? Do you want to wait it out and see what happens and wherever it goes it goes? That is kind of the situation.”

“Right now, we are kind of in the mode where we are planning our lives a little bit outside of the band, while keeping it going as long as we can.”

The inevitable conversation will come, according to Paul. Leisure Colony was well-received during their shows. They are talented, but without a leap forward or a record deal, reality calls for an ending that is just as glamorous as their show prep where Herr tries not to breathe in the toxic smell of spray paint as he paints the band’s logo on their Salvation Army-purchased t-shirts.

This band needs that break, that big push from the arenas of Hampshire College and Bennington – and its much smaller reach, musically – to a bigger scene and a chance to be heard by those outside their normal demographic, by those that may give it an extension on its one-and-a-half-year existence.

“There is going to be, though, that one day where we are going to have to decide,” said Paul. “In or out?”

Michael Phillis can be reached at [email protected].

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  • A

    A Skeezy Girl.Mar 31, 2010 at 3:16 am

    but are they still DOWN for some groupie action?

  • R

    rolandMar 30, 2010 at 12:04 am

    this band is the shit! i heard they’re playing at earthfoods on thursday.

  • E

    EricMar 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    I Saw these guys on March 27,2010 at Diamond Juction Bowling Lanes in Palmer, MA and thought they were a great band, I would recommend that if you have a chance to see them, make sure you do. Great show guys.

  • H

    HalMar 29, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    I thought they were signed to Sneaky Elizabeth…