Student bands balance school and musicBy Chandler Padgett | 04/18/2016 11:26am
When The Smooth Saddles are up on the stage performing a Tame Impala cover song, they have a connection with the audience that most bands don’t have –they often play for classmates.
For members of The Smooth Saddles and other student musicians at the University, it is a struggle to juggle schoolwork, extracurricular activities and band duties. However, the joy of playing music outweighs the occasional all-nighter and busy schedule.
“There’s a lot of time where personal life gets hectic, and there’s one thing we can always turn to, and that’s music. For a college student, when there’s too much stress, one night playing a gig can really release a lot of that,” said Graham Miles, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and the bassist for The Smooth Saddles.
The Smooth Saddles, composed wholly of members of Sigma Chi, came to fruition a little more than a year ago, brought together by a common affinity for music.
“We started playing as a bunch of my fraternity brothers got together. The guitarist, Jordan Artrip, and I had been talking about starting a band since we were freshmen, and we kinda put it together last fall, junior year,” said Ford Lindsay, a senior majoring in arts administration and lead singer. “We’re all seniors for the most part. It just really clicked. People started liking us. We’ve been gigging pretty hard, it’s been fun.”
Since their inception, The Smooth Saddles have played at bars and private events like fraternity parties across Tuscaloosa. For the band, doing shows is one of the biggest reasons they play.
“I like everything about it. Getting paid to do something that I would do for free, essentially," said Artrip, a senior majoring in finance. "It’s just that feeling you get when you’re up there playing. It’s hard to describe, it’s different than anything else. But when you just really lock in with the band, it’s just great.”
Given that Tuscaloosa is a college town, there are a lot of cover and student bands around. The Smooth Saddles think they offer something special.
“You see a lot of other bands play jam band kinda stuff, classic rock, 90s. We do some of that, but we also do a little alternative like Tame Impala,” Artrip said. “No one else really does that. We’re starting to involve synths now. A lot of bands go synth heavy or guitar heavy. We’re trying to mix it up. Our genre range is what sets us apart.”
However, there are positives to being in a college town, as it offers good opportunities to those starting new bands.
"Bars are great down here. If you go up pretty much to any of them and say ‘we’re a new band and trying to get started,’ most of them will at least hear you out,” Miles said. “They’ll give you a night chance, it may not be their best night ever, but they’ll give you a chance to play. They definitely support student-led bands.”
Of course, being a musician has drawbacks, especially for students and people like Lindsay who also have a job as well.
“It’s really hard to make time to practice and make time to play shows when you have assignments and things like that due. It just takes a lot of time management to make sure you hold up your end of the bargain to professors and schoolwork and then also to the employer who’s hiring your band to play,” said Pete Blankenship, a senior majoring in New College and entertainment management and drummer for the band. “You just want to do a good job.”
Studenthood also limits their options and ability to grow as musicians.
“I’m the one who wants to organize practice and try to keep us structured and that kind of thing," Miles said. "It all falls down to try to pick a date during the week that none of us have tests or none of us have a lot of homework, so it’s lot of pre-organizing between school and band stuff. Month by month we have to pick out dates that we know for sure we can’t do based on tests and that kind of thing.”
However, the two often benefit one another, especially for the students who are majoring in music-related studies like Lindsay and Blankenship.
“I eventually want to be a booking agent, so I go out and I book shows for us, I negotiate how much we’re going to get paid," Lindsay said. "Kind of like low-level agency work, so it’s been good on the ground experience for me."
Matt Lale, a freshman majoring in arts administration, is the keyboardist for The Smooth Saddles. It’s a learning experience for him as well.
“I think I’m learning a lot playing with these older guys," Lale said. "Even though I’m a freshman they treat me as an equal in the band, and they like hearing what I have to say if I have any song requests. I get a lot out of that.”
Since four out of the five band members are seniors, most of them will be graduating at the end of the year, likely meaning the end of The Smooth Saddles, though Lale hopes to continue the band with a new group of students next year. However, the seniors all expressed a desire to keep music in their life.
“Playing in college definitely keeps the spark going and makes you want to figure out some way to keep music in your life after college,” Miles said.