Macalester Today Fall 2010

By Jim Walsh, Photos By Darin Back

Whether they’re singing, playing, or signing bands, these Macalester alumni have made lives in the music business.

In 1989, Bob Mould ’82 told The Minnesota Daily, “Your first couple years in college should be about finding yourself. Take classes that you find interesting and fulfilling. Experiment. You have the rest of your life to figure out what you want to do with your life; college should be about exploring.” That much was true for Mould, who spent the late ’70s and early ’80s attending Macalester and forming the legendary Twin Cities punk trio Hüsker Dü. Mould may be one of Macalester’s most renowned musical graduates, but he’s certainly not the only one. Here are six more folks who discovered themselves through music and Mac, and continue to do so today.

John Kimbrough ’90

Trivia question: Name the Macalester grad who is the only known link between beloved professor Walt Mink and mega-Disney kid-stars the Jonas Brothers.

Answer: John Kimbrough ’90.

Back in 1988, Kimbrough, along with fellow Mac grads Joey Waronker ’92 and Candace Belanoff ’90, formed the popular fuzz-pop trio Walt Mink. Kimbrough now lives in Los Angeles, where he plays with his power-pop band Valley Lodge and scores movies and television shows, including JONAS, starring the Jonas Brothers, for the Disney Channel.

“I don’t write the Jonas Brothers’ songs, but I write all the underscore music,” says Kimbrough, who won an Emmy for writing the opening medley for the Oscars in 2009. “When you hear the music that goes between or under the scenes, 90 percent of that is mine. Every episode is all original music, and it’s a ton of work but it’s really fun. I’m happy to have a gig, and happy to be doing it.”

Kimbrough has worked on dozens of high-profile projects, from the MTV Music Awards to the Video Game Awards. He brings a professional artistry to what he calls “cranking it out,” and has fond memories of how it all got started.

“I grew up in New York City and applied to four schools. Right when I was on the fence about which school to choose, [Hüsker Dü’s 1988 epic] Zen Arcade came out. I was a huge Hüsker Dü fan, and honestly, I just thought, ‘These amazing records are coming out of that place, I want to go to college there.’

“I didn’t even know there was a Macalester connection with Hüsker Dü. I had no idea Bob [Mould] had gone to Macalester. Those guys were like super people to me, and then I got there and heard, ‘Oh yeah, Bob lived in the basement of Bigelow.’”

Kimbrough’s own time at Mac was spent as a history major (and “a bit of a screw-up; I was really focused on playing music”) and the creative force behind Walt Mink. He joined forces with his old friends Waronker (now a studio and touring drummer for the likes of Beck, R.E.M., and Thom Yorke of Radiohead) and Belanoff, who last year received her PhD in public health from Harvard.

“We were taking this psychology class together that was taught by Walt Mink,” recalls Kimbrough. “And we liked it and were thinking about how to get people to come see our band, and we thought it would be hilarious to name the band Walt Mink.

“So we asked Walt Mink if we could use his name and he said, ‘Well, I’ll have to hear the music.’ We gave him this basement four-track demo tape that we’d been circulating around campus and he came back to us and said, ‘It’s really good. You have my blessing.’”

Gary Hines ’74

Over the course of three decades, Hines and his cohorts in three-time Grammy Award-winning Sounds Of Blackness have worked hard to meld scintillating music with simmering social consciousness. For Hines, that marriage began in the early ’70s at Mac.

“You have to remember what time it was. It was a moment in time when everything was happening at once,” says Hines, who became the Sounds’ music director his sophomore year. “It was the
Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the women’s liberation movement, the anti-war movement. We were bonded by the movement; it wasn’t a question of if you were involved, it was a
question of how involved you were.

“I was blessed to attend many of Mahmoud El- Kati’s classes on African American history and culture, and he still encourages us to be an institution, not just a band, so that African American experience would be preserved in all its forms.”

 

“And music reflected all that. Everything from Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On’ to James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, every artist was involved in some way. Sounds Of Blackness was no exception. We were born out of the movement."

Hines grew up in Yonkers, New York. Soon after his jazz singer mother moved the family to the Twin Cities in the late ’60s, Hines gravitated to Macalester. The seeds of Sounds Of Blackness (originally called The Macalester College Black Voices) were planted in 1969, and Hines recalls how supportive college staff and students were: Rehearsal and recording spaces were provided, as was invaluable guidance from professors.

“[Former choral director] Dale Warland, or ‘the maestro’ as I call him, is still a good friend and supporter of Sounds, and a role model of sorts,” says Hines. “He was helpful when I was looking for singers, and he encouraged me to take Sounds on tour. I was blessed to attend many of Mahmoud El-Kati’s classes on African American history and culture, and he still encourages us to be an institution, not just a band, so that African American experience would be preserved in all its forms.”

From those beginnings, a Twin Cities music institution was launched. Sounds Of Blackness has released more than a dozen recordings, including two greatest hits compilations on A&M Records,
and has performed at the opening ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup, the 1996 Summer Olympics, and the 1998 World Figure Skating Championships. The group has also performed five times at the
White House.

These days, in addition to regularly performing with Sounds and running the Sounds Of Blackness record label, Hines coordinates seminars in African American music.

Tim Teichgraeber ’90

“Macalester taught me that I could affect change. It was empowering. It wasn’t hard to get involved with something and drive an issue or organization. It helped give me the confidence to pursue the things that I really like in life, which for me are music and writing."

The The music business is a slithery beast that can devour even the hardiest souls. So when Tim Teichgraeber ’90 graduated from Macalester, he decided to marry his love of music (honed in his band Gneissmaker) with his liberal arts education and pursue an entertainment law degree.

“A lot of times there isn’t so much malicious intent in the music business, but it’s kind of an amateur culture,” says Teichgraeber from his home in San Francisco, where he works as an entertainment lawyer and wine writer. “People try to make a living at this and they make a lot of mistakes, and I sort of figured if I studied up on it, I could actually be of some service.

“Macalester taught me that I could affect change. It was empowering. It wasn’t hard to get involved with something and drive an issue or organization. It helped give me the confidence to pursue the things that I really like in life, which for me are music and writing.

“There weren’t a lot of kids from Kentucky going to Macalester, but I was looking to go someplace in a city that had a good music scene,” he says. “I got involved right away with the radio station, WMCN. I went from being a deejay to being the general manager. And that just puts you in the same little club with all the other people in college who are really fanatical about music.”

As an entertainment attorney, Teichgraeber has represented many independent artists and businesses, including bands such as Lifter Puller, Dillinger Four, The Oranges Band, and Von Iva, and labels such as Lookout! Records, Stand Up! Records, and Doomtree.

When it all gets to be too much, Teichgraeber escapes to his wine writing, which he says has “little or nothing” to do with his law practice— other than that both passions started at Mac.

Zack Kline ’02

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, Zack Kline knew he wanted to major in music in college. He took his violin to Vanderbilt University for a year, but ultimately found the rigors of conservatory study limiting, and transferred to Macalester.

“At Macalester, I had friends whose senior recital was all Irish music or half jazz; for me it was half classical and half my own music,” says Kline. “To have the freedom to do that was rare, actually. Often at other schools, you have to audition your stuff and it has to be classical. It has to be approved through a whole juried process before you’re even allowed to perform it at your recital.

“I also really liked getting a broad education and meeting people who were not just music nerds.
Mark Mazullo is an amazing music teacher. My first year was his first year teaching. He was inspiring
because he’s still practicing and being a really good performer, and he’s still trying to learn about the
history of everything. He was really serious about his instrument, and really knowledgeable.”

That combination of freedom and hands-on instruction led Kline to form his current group, The Orange Mighty Trio, with Mike Vasich ’04 on piano and Nick Gaudette on bass. Kline met Gaudette
while teaching at a Mankato summer music camp led by Macalester studio instructor Mary Horozaniecki. The trio, a self-described “blue grassical” outfit that City Pages has described as “maverick chamber music,” has recorded an EP and a CD, and is scoring two independent
films.

So what did Kline—who balances night gigs with a day job as string ensemble director at Minneapolis’s City Of Lakes Waldorf School—take away from Mac that he passes on to his students?

“You’re always finding yourself repeating phrases from your own teachers,” he says. “Part
of the reason I wanted to come to Macalester was because of the Flying Fingers folk group, because I love to do all sorts of bluegrass and jazz, so having that folk group was a big attraction. I played in that while I was at Mac, and I still bring a lot of nonclassical music to my string students. And Macalester was definitely super supportive of that."

Sonia Grover ’97

“Can’t you guess why a girl from Maryland ended up in Minneapolis?” asks Sonia Grover, who has worked at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue since the year after she graduated from Macalester and is now its booking manager. The answer mostly has to do with The Replacements,
Minneapolis’s most mythic rock band.

“Don’t get me wrong, Macalester is an awesome school; I wouldn’t have gone to it otherwise,” says Grover. “I looked at a bunch of schools, but my heart was in the Twin Cities. I was 13 when I got into The Replacements.

“In high school I went to see Robyn Hitchcock play, and my friend got us backstage. And I heard people backstage saying The Replacements had just played there and I remember thinking, ‘That’s it. I want to be in music and I want to be in the Twin Cities.’”

Like Like many music fanatics, Grover soon signed on with the college radio station and poured herself into the local music community. At WMCN, she hosted a local music show and interviewed such rising stars as the Jayhawks, Magnatone, Polara, and the Hang Ups, and began and ended each show with a song by—who else?—The Replacements. These days, Grover spends her time booking national and local bands, fielding countless emails and phone calls from hungry musicians hoping for a break.

Indirectly, Mac led her to First Avenue. First, Mac mentor Dave Gardner ’93, who was in the Selby Tigers and National Dynamite, helped her get an internship at former radio station REV 105. Later, Grover got another internship, this one with local record label owners and bookers John Kass and Chris Strouth, “and that’s how I got to First Avenue,” she says.

Amanda Warner ’01

It doesn’t take much prompting to get Amanda Warner—a.k.a. half of the New York–based electronic duo MNDR—to gush about how Macalester fostered her as an artist.

“The music department was very challenging,” says Warner. “Carleton Macy is a great, challenging theory and form instructor. I was tired of conventional Western music theory. I had done that as a kid, all the way up to competitions as a concert pianist, so by the time I got to college I was much more interested in experimental composition and sound design. Having the electronic music lab and Jan Gilbert—a well-respected electronic music composer—on staff gave me a lot of opportunities to work on my music and expand outside of a traditional Western musical education.

“I loved it. I was able to work with software and work with instructors on that. Sound design was new and instructors let me explore that like an art school would. I could design my own courses and that laid the foundation for where I am now, writing music and touring.”

Warner, who transferred from Lewis and Clark College, is originally from Fargo. She was drawn to Mac by the Twin Cities music scene and the college’s reputation for progressive politics. “It was really politically crazy when I was there, actually,” she says. “There was a yearlong peace camp in the middle of campus, and protests happening all the time. It felt good to be at Macalester and have a lot of friends who protested and talked about what was going on.”

What else was going on, for Warner, was her music. She played with several bands, including indie rock bands Triangle and the Busy Signals, and in a jazz trio with former music professor Tom Cravens. Meanwhile, she also earned a music degree and took lots of science classes. That educational foundation has proven helpful to her work as a lighting-soundsong artist, exhausting though it may have been back in the day. “I’d play at First Avenue and be there until three in the morning,” she recalls. “And then I’d have to be at chemistry lab by 8 a.m.”

Today Warner supports herself as a songwriter and musician. MNDR (pronounced “mandar,” the band’s other member is Peter Wade) keeps busy opening for cutting-edge artists such as Yacht, Massive Attack, and Deerhoof. Its first full-length CD is set for release next year.