Cut To The Quick
AT LAST WEEK'S Head of the Charles party at Memorial Hall, a Boston College student was heard to remark, "For such an elitist college, Harvard has unproductive, unoriginal bands." Putting aside considerations of Harvard's elitism and what possible connection it could have to productivity and originality, the statement is simply not true, say members of the Harvard band Men of Clay.
They should know. Besides being talented and productive, they will soon be among the busiest musicians on campus with their second band, The Quick.
The roots of Men of Clay extend back almost a decade, when brothers Thomas M. Hammond '90 (guitar and vocals) and Benjamin M. Hammond '89 (bass) used that name for their band in junior high school. Taking their name from a friend's home movie, Men of Clay was originally a heavy metal band.
"Every band goes through that stage," Ben Hammond explains. "The key is to come out of it," adds Tom Hammond.
They came out of it at Harvard, where Ben Hammond met Shankar Ramaswami '89 in a squash class. "He was braggin' and I was braggin'," Ramaswami says, and soon Men of Clay had a new drummer.
Unlike many Harvard bands, Men of Clay plays mostly originals. Their music has an ethereal sound in the Sting-Police vein. Or, as one listener at Memorial Hall last week described their sound, "[It's] like U2 without Bono."
Artistically, this is fine and good, but can you dance to it? Not really, admits the band. "Men of Clay's the kind of stuff you just want to listen to on the headphones with your eyes closed," Tom Hammond says. Hence Men of Clay's new venture: The Quick.
"THE QUICK is for people who want to just move their feet," Tom Hammond says. Its members include the brothers Hammond, Ramaswami, keyboardist Fred W. Heiberger '88, and vocalists Kenny "Cool" Johnson '87 and Ann F. Schaffer '89.
The Quick features some of Harvard's best talent drawn from other Harvard bands. Ben Hammond and Heiberger had played together in Christian and the Infidels--"for two days," Heiberger says--before Heiberger joined Robespierre. Johnson sang with Continuous Funktion, which, as Ramaswami quips, is now "defunked."
The band "discovered" Schaffer through auditions. Though her venture with The Quick is her first in a Harvard band, she did sing in bands throughout high school. What attracted her to The Quick was its "challenging" repertoire, Schaffer says.
This repertoire consists entirely of "very danceable cover tunes," Heiberger says, dropping such names as Prince, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Atlantic Starr, and the Time. "It's funk/dance of the serious variety," Ramaswami says. "The key word is groove," agree the Hammonds.
THE QUICK already has a busy schedule of future engagements, including a party this Saturday night at Currier House. Men of Clay is also keeping busy. And Ben Hammond and Heiberger are currently the music directors for the Citystep dance ensemble. How do these Harvard students, already overcommitted by nature, balance the demands of so many different musical groups?
"You mean, how do we deal with competition against ourselves?" Ben Hammond says. "We haven't figured that out yet."
The musicians' relentless musical activity may be a reaction against what they perceive as Harvard's stifling live music scene. Heiberger complains that there is "not enough demand for live bands" among Harvard audiences and house committees that are "too easily pacified with disc jockeys." There is also the problem of finding practice space in the houses.
The band does acknowledge that there are "a lot of good musicians" at Harvard, and they find the audiences as well as the musicians unusually knowledgeable. "Generally everybody at Harvard knows something about music," Ben Hammond says.
What does the future hold for Men of Clay and The Quick? The musicians plan to record a demo tape, perform at local clubs and other campuses, and play more fusion-oriented music; "we're jazz musicians at heart," Heiberger says.
"We want to become so famous that we go on David Letterman and get embarrassed," Tom Hammond says.