Harvard professors are no novelty on Nightline or in The New York Times. Now, one is staking a name in the CD racks at Tower Records, HMV, and Newbury Comics.
Monkeypuzzle, the first nationally released album of the band Baby Ray, will hit store shelves Tuesday. Frontman Erich M. Groat, who wrote the music on the CD, is also an associate in linguistics at the Extension School and a visiting assistant professor of linguistics at the City University of New York.
Kenneth Lafler, the systems coordinator for financial aid at Harvard Law School, Nathan Logus, a Web page designer at the School of Continuing Education, and Paul Simonoff, 33, a local motorcycle racer, are also in the band.
The 13-song album, described by band manager Judy Collins as "catchy, alternative pop," is the first of four Baby Ray is scheduled to make with the New York indie label Thirsty Ear Records.
Groat said he is happy to take on the challenge of straddling teaching and writing music.
"Each is a really great release for the other," he said. "Teaching is like making music because I'm showing people something I think is interesting and beautiful, and I try to relate that to them rather than just driving hard facts."
Although critics have yet to weigh in on Monkeypuzzle, Groat already garners rave reviews as a teacher.
"It's a great class, and he's a wonderful instructor," said one of his students, Brian J. Tarbox of Littleton, Mass. "When he answers questions he doesn't just answer them, but he also makes the person who asked it feel really good about themselves-he really makes you want to come to class."
Tarbox said he was not surprised to learn Groat is a musician.
"He's not up there dancing or anything, but he's very charismatic in a quiet sort of way," he said.
Groat received his doctorate in linguistics from Harvard in 1997. A book of his, titled A Derivational Approach to Syntactic Relations, was published by Oxford University Press earlier this month.
Boston college radio stations and local radio shows already play two songs Baby Ray released last year, in addition to a single, "Never Know My Name," released last week. Several national music magazines have agreed to review Monkeypuzzle, Collins said.
Lafler said he and Groat began recording together two years ago.
Baby Ray was born about a year ago when drummer Logus and bassplayer Simonoff joined Groat and Lafler, whosing and play guitar on the album.
The band recorded Monkeypuzzle in a logcabin in the Adirondack Mountains.
"It has that do-it-yourself sound," but it's apretty big do-it-yourself sound," said Logus. "Wegot to play around and do a lot of things we mightnot have been able to do in a studio watching theclock."
Lafler said the members of Baby Ray wereinfluenced by various artists including XTC, NRBQ,the Beatles, Guided by Voices and Joni Mitchell.
Lafler said it is up to the listener tointerpret the music, which he calledunconventional.
"Some of the songs jump out as being about thisor about that, but one thing we definitely try notto do is write 'Gee, I love you, baby' songs," hesaid. "We try to do different kinds of things."
Logus previously played drums for thewell-known Boston band the Barnies, and Groat iscurrently still a mandolin-playing member ofWillard Grand Conspiracy. Though Willard sells outlarge venues in Europe, Groat does not travel withthe band because of his teaching obligations.
Baby Ray is performing tonight at Cambridge'sLizard Lounge