Jesse Harman, Staff Columnist
The unique cultural identity of a George Mason student remains elusive. A school of a nearly unrivaled diversity faces a clear question: What exactly constitutes a ‘Mason student?’ What is our ‘identity?’ This problem pervades nearly all aspects of campus life, and it manifests itself so prominently in the music scene surrounding the school. Northern Virginia-based indie band The Duskwhales not only recognizes this discrepancy, they also have ideas on how to fix it.
The Duskwhales are comprised of Mason student Chris Baker (drums) and fellow locals, Brian Majewski (keyboards) and Seth Flynn (guitar/vocals). The band crafts a rich soundscape of spry keyboards and organs, driving guitars and intense, polyrhythmic percussion. Think the Doors’ jazzy tone meets garage grunge edge.
The trio’s history spans several years, having seen a backlog of past members and slow popularity, but the close-knit group has lately become a truly promising local band. The Duskwhales humble origins is a primary contribution to the band’s authenticity.
“We’ve all known each other for a very long time,” said Majewski. “We started as just a high school band – a hobby.”
Upon its inception, The Duskwhales were initially a whopping six members. But the group has since downsized considerably.
“We’ve been a trio for about a year and a half,” said Baker. “We just sort of settled into it, and it’s stuck ever since.”
Most bands tend to part ways after a short period of time, especially during those turbulent teen years. One would question how The Duskwhales managed to emerge from the chaos as such a veritable musical force. After sitting with the band for even just a few minutes, the answer is clear: each member, together and individually, exudes toward their craft the necessary confidence, positivity, and professionalism.
“Among [us three],” said Majewski, “we’ve basically only got school, work, and the band. And for me, the band is gradually becoming more a job, and my job is becoming more of the hobby.”
The band has the work ethic of a talented and polished group of musicians, and they certainly have the track record to back up their sound. The Duskwhales have graced the stages of prominent local venues, such as Jammin’ Java, Rock & Roll Hotel and Black Cat. Fairfax’s Epicure Café has also served as a backdrop for the band’s rise to success. The quaint spot was one of the first venues to host The Duskwhales, and it soon became a common stomping ground for the trio.
However, for all the love the Northern Virginia region has shown The Duskwhales, the pitfalls highlighted in this column permeate the picture and depict an awful truth: the music scene in Fairfax, Northern Virginia, D.C., and beyond is in desperate need of help.
“One thing we struggle with is that this music scene isn’t really geared towards us,” said Majewski. “There isn’t much of the scene that works with bands with our sound.”
The issue of inclusivity among genres is a major problem locally. Instead of operating as a cohesive community, the music scene is divided into exclusive bubbles, many of which are geared only toward affluence. In short, this music scene lacks a sense of collaboration and selflessness.
“We’ve played a lot of locations out of state,” said Majewski, “and everyone always seems very willing to help you in those areas. Other scenes are so connected, and down here it’s so distant. It’s almost – and I don’t want to sound too negative – hostile.”
“It feels like people don’t want to work with you unless they have something to gain from it,” added Baker. It becomes a community based around profit and marketability.
“After playing and touring away from home so much,” said Flynn, “let’s just say we’ve had a lot of thoughts about this area.”
Recognizing an issue with the music scene is a step many bands take. However, few manage to suggest a potential solution – a missing link in the Community Chain. The Duskwhales noted a lack of a supporting presence in the area, and they drummed up an intriguing, provocative viewpoint:
“I call it the ‘Layman Theory,’” said Baker. “A layman, in religious terms, is someone in the congregation – not a member of the clergy – who assist in any way they can, like helping with services, putting on events, and more. We need people like that [in our music scene]. We need more laymen, people who put shows on, promote the art. We need more middlemen.”
The concept explains a few core issues surrounding the music scene in this area. Most notably, the absence of a support system fatally hinders bands’ progress.
“It’s a lot like driving in D.C.,” said Majewski. “Everyone is driving like crazy, trying to screw over the next person and get to where they’re going fast. We don’t need more of those kinds of drivers. Nobody is stopping to help one another.”
Still, for all the problems in the area, the Mason-centric scene is at least attempting to recover.
“It’s great when you’ve got people like Caroline [Weinroth, President of Music Productions Club] working to try and formulate a real scene here,” said Baker. “People like her are the people we need. Putting on shows, helping other bands just to help.”
As for the future, The Duskwhales have already begun the recording process of a new album.
“We’ve already buckled down,” said Flynn. “We’re in the pre-studio prep stage, and we’re just about ready to go.”
“We’re gearing up to tour again in the summer,” said Baker. “Ideally we’ll have the album out by the spring, and we’ll probably try to push down to the south and west.”
The short-term objective is to make the rounds at college campuses and capitalize on the swelling populations at house shows in towns like Richmond, Harrisonburg and Williamsburg.
“In terms of Mason-centric things, we’ve already been involved in some events on campus,” said Baker. The band performed at the most recent Mason Day concert. “We’re trying to get more stuff working for the fall. If not, hopefully we’ll get going in the spring here.”
“The goal now is to just get working and get the material out,” said Flynn. “We’ve got a lot to share.”
Music scenes inherently build communities. Music and arts stand at the cusp of culture, and they help shape a regional identity. A school struggling to fully understand its own identity needs bands like The Duskwhales. To take a page out of the trio’s book, everyone – in layman’s terms – should start looking out for one another to help build this community.
The Harmonium Project, Steubenville, Ohio (Sept. 25)
Annapolis Fringe Festival, Annapolis, Maryland (Sept. 26)
GMU (with Funeral Advantage from Boston) (Sept. 28)
Jammin’ Java, Vienna, Virginia (Oct. 24)