Black Box Sounds makes the college rounds

by Annie Huang / Beacon Staff • March 23, 2016

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Emerson band Ben Mueller and the Low Ceilings performed.
Emerson band Ben Mueller and the Low Ceilings performed.

Last Friday night, a group of college artists from around Boston performed at the Black Box Sounds Student Showcase, an ArtsEmerson concert series known for featuring local musicians.

At the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theater, musicians from Emerson, Berklee College of Music, and Boston College played to a crowd of over 50. The concert was co-sponsored by Wax on Felt, Emerson’s only student-run record label, and The Record Company. Matt McArthur, founder of the organization, said the Company strives to build up Boston’s music scene and reclaim its reputation.

“When you ask people about Boston’s musical identity, most of the time they will say the Boston Symphony Orchestra,” McArthur said. “It’s really unfortunate for younger people who want to consume other kinds of music, because it doesn't do a good job of representing the many excellent young musicians we have here.”

According to McArthur, the organization gave facilities and studio time as a raffle prize, which was open to those who attended the concert. 

“We want to help musicians by providing them with services and things that they need in order to actually stay here as a [part of the] community,” McArthur said.

Many of the performers, aside from those signed with Wax on Felt, got involved in the organization through friends at Emerson. Alex Navarro, a senior at Boston College, opened the show with his new bandmates, most of whom are in their 50’s. Navarro, who until recently performed as a solo act, said his more mature group gives a fun, entertaining mix. 

“I was looking for stability and reliability [when looking for new bandmates],” Navarro said. 

Navarro’s soulful opening brought the audience to their feet and at the edge of the stage. He said that the energy of the crowd is what urged him to search for a band.

“I feel a real responsibility to access the emotional content and give everything I had to the audience,” Navarro said. “That’s on us as artists to do.”

According to Navarro, he’s good friends with the other act from Boston College, Juice. Navarro said their eight-person performance brought a great end to the concert.

“I have been listening to them for years,” Navarro said. “They are really fun live.”

Cherry Mellow, a four-person Berklee band signed under Wax on Felt, performed a few songs from their EP, Take A Lick. The self-dubbed “indie Russian roulette” group also took the opportunity to announce that their first album, Feng Shui, will be releasing on May 8.

Feng Shui is about the ability or willingness to plow through all kinds of BS you get thrown at in your life,” recent Berklee graduate and lead singer Ryan Meier said. “Sometimes it is outside of your control, but it is about thinking that eventually everything will work out.”

Emma Brady, a freshman visual and media arts major, said she came to see Cherry Mellow after seeing the band perform at Cafe 939 at Berklee.

“[Cherry Mellow] is really good live,” Brady said. “I also adored all the artists. I think Wax on Felt is picking really good performers this year, so I will probably come to see them again.” 

Sara Kendall, a Berklee student, delivered a soulful performance with just a keyboard and no band members. The original five-person group, except for Kendall, could not attend due to scheduling reasons. The artist did a solo act instead with a few songs from the current EP, Love You More, and a cover of “The Hills” by The Weeknd. 

Artemis Friel, a sophomore student from Suffolk University, attended the concert to see her friends from Ben Mueller and the Low Ceilings. Friel said that she applauds Kendall for performing despite her bandmates not being present.

“[Kendall’s voice] captured my soul and me,” Friel said. “She was phenomenal. I liked that she was able to perform such upfront, personal songs.”

Ben Mueller and the Low Ceilings, a five-person band of Emerson sophomores, began with their song, “California Mountains.” The former Wax on Felt group, all of who jokingly described their sound as “psychedelic freak folk,” performed with unconventional instruments like a washboard and a suitcase “kick drum.” Formerly a quartet, they recently added sophomore visual and media arts major Jesse Buchter as the new mandolin player.

“We are influenced by ‘60s rock, classic rock, and just very different things,” sophomore visual and media arts major and lead singer Ben Mueller said. “We have definitely been influenced by the people we played with the past few years.”

Phillip Jones, a sophomore visual and media arts major and bass player in Ben Mueller and the Low Ceilings, said this crowd was their largest yet. According to Jones, the band has previously played with some of the groups at the student showcase, like Cherry Mellow and The Symptoms.

“The shows we played at have a devoted following,” Jones said. “Our biggest fans are usually the other bands that we play with. We all go to each other’s shows even when we are not playing.”

According to Mueller, the group is releasing a new album before the end of the year. Mueller said that he does not anticipate for this project to blow up because the goal is simply about playing music.

“[The album] is not about getting us anywhere, it is about just doing it and growing ourselves as people who play music,” Mueller said. “We just like being friends with people who like music and being a part of an inclusive community.”