By Gabe Galligan – The Collegiate Staff
Music is something that affects everybody in one way or another. Most people have a favorite radio station, music artist or band that they enjoy listening to. The preferred selections and range of sounds they like can help form an emotional and spiritual identity. Music can motivate, comfort, heal, subdue, and among many other things to affect people and their inner and outer lives.
Even if someone doesn’t listen to music, the ebbs and flows of living life sometimes reflect qualities found in music. From the sound of the plow truck coming down the street, to the tap of a pencil against a desk, to the geese honking in the sky, these are all elements related to music that most people don’t even think about. How we define music is intertwined with how we define ourselves, and if we took away this natural component, we would be nothing more than machines.
With college being a time characterized by learning and growth, some students are following the natural call for self-expression by making forms of music. In doing this, they are speaking out as something more than a machine and finding their own voice. I found three young adults who were willing to share their musical journey with me.
Eighteen-year-old Joshua Bilisko of Michigan State University is a personal friend I’ve known since sophomore year in high school. Originally from Grand Rapids, he started playing music in the fifth grade on his electric guitar. Since that time, he has been a part of three alternative rock bands called Cloud Nine, Swiss Kitchen, and Marmalade.
He said his music is directed at kids his age, and his goal is to make people like it. Bilisko specializes in electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and vocals.
“I’m kind of in a weird place because I don’t have a band. I’d like to find a band if I can, but right now I mostly play acoustic,” Bilisko said.
He practices a couple hours every day, but sometimes takes a few days off to do school work. Once every two weeks, he aims to perform live, and does wherever he can find an opening.
“It makes me feel expressive and alive,” Bilisko said about performing.
A lot of the time he covers songs from bands like Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, Bilisko also writes his own music and has finished six original songs. His biggest inspiration is The Beatles and wanting to be like them.
To him, music is important because it lets people express their emotions, or if they listen to it, it allows them to identify with their emotions. He said it’s shaped his identity by making him more creative.
Currently, he is working on an acoustic project with Rob Gullett, a friend from high school who has similar goals for the future. In regards to the future of his music career, Bilisko said he plans to go as high as he can get, being able to play and make a good living doing it without doing anything else. He is considering going to California next summer to pursue music at a higher level.
The advice he would give to someone who is thinking about pursuing music is to play as much as you can and with as many different people as you can.
Here is a link to Bilisko’s new band, The Handlebars, formed November 12
Bilisko, in the center, with his new trio alternative rock band called The Handlebars, featuring members Mike Nisper, on the left, and Rob Gullett, on the right
Sixteen-year-old Benjamin Nguyen is a senior at Grandville High School who is originally from Grandville and started recording music in his bedroom in July 2015. His style includes indie rock and emo, and he mostly plays guitar and does vocals. Ever since his first show in April 2016, Nguyen had considered himself a solo artist, but just recently played his first show with a full band on October 14, 2017.
His band, called Ugly Flannel, is named after a memory from middle school when his friends used to laugh at people who wore flannels. The other members are Athen Erbter on drums, Kate Zacharias on bass, and Nick Rozengal on guitar. Nguyen also plays guitar in a hardcore band called Face Off, guitar in a math rock band called Catholic School, and bass for Second Try Saturdays.
With his music, Nguyen mainly just wants to be able to travel around the midwest and other areas and make friends along the way.
“I recently made a run to Somerset, Pennsylvania with Maddie Miner, and the people there were really nice to us and made it easier to be on the road again. Also, in May I got the opportunity to play Flood City Fest in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and got an experience out of it, sleeping on church floors, going on late night Sheetz runs, and many deep conversations.”
He tries to keep the number of live performances at one or two shows a month if it’s in his hometown, but will sometimes go on a weekender or book shows out of town. As a touring musician, he usually takes a cut of the door money and also makes money off of merchandise sales. It’s usually not a lot, and the life of a musician can be hard sometimes, but Nguyen said it feels really rewarding.
If you were to compile all the good ones with the bad ones, Nguyen said he’s probably written over 500 songs. His biggest influence is 90’s emo bands like The Promise Ring and Pedro The Lion, but also a hint of current bands like Mansions and Japanese Breakfast. In regards to the future of his music career, Nguyen said he’s not sure where he wants to take it but hopes all his musical visions will come true.
To him, music is important because for some artists it could be a source of living, it could be an outlet, and it can save lives. It’s the only way he truly is able to connect with other musicians. Also, Nguyen said without music he probably wouldn’t know who he is. It’s the only thing he finds himself thinking about at night, and it’s such an amazing thing because he gets to do what he loves and make friends doing it.
“As a freshman in high school, I’ve always dreamed of being in a band. There are many barriers such as fear and thinking you’re not good enough to do music,” Nguyen said. “But I accepted that I wasn’t that great and created something to the best of my ability. I just went for it and I encourage future artists to also just go for it cause you’ll never know what will happen. Don’t let barriers keep you from living your dreams.”
Link to Nguyen’s band https://uglyflannel.bandcamp.com
Robby Duffy is a 19-year-old freshman at Grand Rapids Community College who has been rapping for about two or three years. Originally from Bucharest, Europe, he said his biggest inspiration is the ones who don’t have faith in him.
“I just wanna change the world make it a better place frankly,” Duffy said.
He practices freestyling every day, and switches up styles depending on his mood. The lyrical content of his raps includes whatever’s going on in his life at the time. Duffy said he puts a lot of emotions into his music, tries to keep it real and doesn’t lie in his music.
He’s written more songs than he can probably count but has recorded four with his producer at River City Studios.
Duffy hasn’t had any performances because he doesn’t have enough music yet, but is looking to get a record deal with Robyn Robins, a West Michigan producer who produced for Bob Seger back in the day. If he can do that, Duffy said, he’s set in the game. For the time being, he is putting in mad hours at his family business, Peppino’s, and saving up the cash.
To him, music is important because it has the power to change your day and can play a very big role in saving lives. He’s been influenced by Frank Ocean and Drake, and the fact that the sound and the words they’re saying can bring you up when you’re feeling down is just awesome in his mind.
“Music is everything I love,” he said. “It’s just who I am. I really love it and I have a burning passion for it.”
Duffy’s advice for anyone who is thinking about pursuing music is to be willing to invest in yourself. He thinks it’s important to meet people along the way as well, but it comes down to how you’re able to make a way for yourself.
Link to Duffy freestyling live (WARNING: MILD PROFANITY) https://drive.google.com/open?id=1j-xhBeTGCmlaLwN0RgIQg7FzJwj2modE
Link to Duffy’s SoundCloud https://m.soundcloud.com/user-689375779