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Four Yalies Who Rock
Not all Yale alumni are lawyers, investment bankers, and presidents. Here are four who make music on the far fringes of the independent rock scene.

Dirty Projectors

Dave Longstreth ’05 has a cell phone greeting unlike any I’ve ever heard. When you call, all you hear is Dave taking a breath, and then singing a single long, long note: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Then the standard recorded voice asks you to please leave a message after the tone.

On tour this spring, Dirty Projectors played 47 states in two months.

I know indie rock aficionados who speak of Longstreth as a gifted, if sometimes incoherent, avant-garde visionary. He first drew attention with the 2005 album The Getty Address, which he started recording as a sophomore at Yale. In its deliberately off-center, often discordant, but meticulously crafted tracks, one can hear influences ranging from jazz and plainchant to koto music and minimalism. One track features a haunting melody performed by a choir of women who sound as if they were singing from the bottom of a deep stone well; to create the sound, Longstreth had a group of singers sit in a circle on the floor of the Pierson College gym, with a microphone in the center.

For the most part, indie music critics love Longstreth—although even they are sometimes taken aback by the way he pushes the musical envelope. (Jason Crock, writing on the website Pitchfork Media, mentions “the cold-water shock I often get when first reapproaching” Longstreth’s music.) Critics often single out his “excellent,” “over the top,” “expressive” voice.

On tour this spring following release of the album New Attitude in 2006, Longstreth played 47 states in two months with his band, Dirty Projectors—though Dirty Projectors is less a band than Longstreth’s personal creative avatar. He writes all of its music and is the only permanent member. Depending on the music he’s working on in any given period, Dirty Projectors has included a double bass, two cellos, and a nylon guitar; or two drummers, a double bass, and an electric guitar; or three female singers, a drummer, and a guitarist.

At Longstreth’s last solo concert, in Cambridge at the nightclub Middle East in late 2005, he created an ensemble out of the audience. He divided the packed room into thirds. He had the middle section clap in rhythm, the section on his left chant bibbity-bop-bop-bop, and the section on his right chant buddah-buddah-bamp. Then he played “The Minutes I Live.”

The result was mostly cacophony. Longstreth struggled to assert his melodious, fragile voice over the jamboree of the audience, and when he succeeded, it often sounded as if he were singing with a zealous chorus of lunatics. But at other times the whole unlikely thing worked perfectly. “The more minutes I live / the less I can account for / the minutes I lived,” sang Longstreth. “Buddah-buddah-bamp,” went the crowd. And it was as if Longstreth were leading a spirited, slightly mournful religious revival. As one of his fans said, “You never know what to expect with him.”


The Butterflies of Love

During the day, Dan Greene ’95MAR teaches elementary school at an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva in New Haven. “There are no computers,” he says. “There is no library. There is just a big classroom with kids of all ages and me with my chalk and chalkboard.”

The Butterflies of Love are better known in the UK than the US.

But after dark, at a gig, there’s Greene, there are the five other members of The Butterflies of Love, and there are the fans. Greene founded the Butterflies in 1994 with his friend from college, Jeff Greene (no relation), and their moody lyrics and smooth melodies have been favorably compared to the work of The Cure in its early days. (Dan Greene also fronts two local bands, The Tradesmen and The Mountain Movers.) Things took off for the Butterflies in 1998: Greene sent a copy of their first CD, How to Know the Butterflies of Love, to John Peel, a legendary radio DJ in Britain. Peel played the track “Rob a Bank” on his show—and then invited the band to a recording session in his studio. That led to a record deal.

Today the Butterflies are better known in Britain than in the United States. In 2007, they played their eighth tour in the United Kingdom and released their third album, Famous Problems. A respectful review on an Italian independent music site, Indiepop.it, said the songs are full of “deep melancholy and burning desire.” New-Noise.net gave it what might be an indie-music lover’s highest accolade: Famous Problems, said reviewer Nadeem Ali, “will no doubt be one of the most underappreciated albums of 2007.”

Greene times his tours for the yeshiva’s holidays. He has written several songs for titles one of his students came up with, including “Let’s Open up the Chest” and “Martians Notice Stupid Humans.” Most of his students don’t listen to rock, says Greene, but they still think it’s pretty cool that their teacher is a rock musician. To his delight, the school’s rabbis and their wives are also quite supportive of his artistic life. “I’ll be at recess, talking with the rabbi, and he wants to know where I’ve been playing. So I try not to say that I was just at a bar with spilled beer, sawdust, and people falling over one another. But really, for the most part, the rabbi has been very supportive.”


Mia Doi Todd

Contemporaries of Mia Doi Todd ’97 will remember her from the concerts she used to give at Dwight Chapel—particularly the Halloween concerts, for which she covered herself with blood-red body paint, donned an old wedding dress, and sang “terribly sad songs.” The concertgoers wore their own outlandish getups. Todd fondly remembers people “dressed as trees, or as Mother Goose, and even as Gucci bags.”

Mia Doi Todd used to give Halloween concerts at Dwight Chapel.

Todd has released six albums, starting with the ewe and the eye in 1997. The most recent, a remix album called La Ninja: Amor and other dreams of Manzanita, came out earlier this year. Some critics call her a folk minimalist, but Todd herself says her music is “genre-defying.” LA Weekly said Todd’s music has “complexity and the quietly insistent sense of peculiar symmetry.”

Todd has worked with many other musicians, but some of her best songs are those she sings solo, accompanying herself on guitar. Her lyrics, too, have a kind of pithy, minimalist beauty, like these from the 2006 album Manzanita: “There’s a full moon rising, the stars are aligned. / We could spend the night together. / What if we do?” Todd says she named the album after the manzanita, a California shrub; and also after a Japanese internment camp, Manzanar. Both her mother and grandmother were imprisoned in a camp during World War II.



In November 2005, Leslie Blatteau ’97 was simultaneously running for mayor of New Haven and getting ready to go on tour in Estonia.

Groovski has a following among Poles in Chicago and New Britain, Connecticut.

Blatteau sings and plays guitar for Groovski, a local band that bills its music as “intense weird pop” influenced by Polish and Eastern European punk and new wave. The Polish aspect is earned: two of the band members (Adam Malec and Bogdan Chudy) were born in Poland, one (Tim Borkowski) is Polish American, most of the lyrics are Polish, and the band’s most important inspiration comes from the free-wheeling Polish radio of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Groovski is an intense experience, loud, ferocious, and raw. Reviewers use words like “fury” a lot, as in “honest fury of noisy new wave power” (Northeast Performer Magazine) and “early ’80s English-style new wave … with a healthier helping of fury” (Hamden Chronicle). The band released its third album, war on animals, in 2006, but their best known is still Groovski, from 2003. The self-named album made the top ten of a few critics, including Don Allred of the Village Voice.

Groovski has a particular following among Poles in Chicago and New Britain, Connecticut. They’re also known in Poland, Scandinavia, and the Baltics. The Estonia tour came about when they were invited by a festival organizer who promised to arrange for meals, housing, and travel expenses. Not long before the departure date, he e-mailed to ask what bus they’d be arriving on. The panicked reply, according to Blatteau: “What do you mean, bus?”

It seems the organizer thought Groovski wasn’t just artistically, but also literally, a Polish band. Blatteau and her bandmates had to try to raise money for plane tickets in the same week she was wrapping up her mayoral campaign. Granted, she didn’t expect to win. She was carrying on a New Haven performance art tradition. But she took it seriously: her platform called for more jobs and programs for New Haven youth.

Blatteau received the expected crushing defeat in the election. But life has moved on. She’ll receive her master’s in teaching at Yale this year and begin work in a New Haven school this fall. New Haven music-scene aficionados love the band. And yes, Groovski did make it to the festival, where they got rave reviews.  the end


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