Harvard-based indie-folk-pop band The New Dakotas is plenty fortified for the Battle for Yardfest.
By MARISSA GARCIA
Refashioning a recycling bin into percussion, Alasdair Mackenzie ‘19 of Harvard College and then-band-member Charles Winston ‘19 of Tufts University performed the New Dakotas’ song, “Roll It Later,” for Kelsey O’Connor ‘18, the previous Podcast Editor, as she interviewed them on Episode 1.4 Classic Artists and New Dakotas. With the accompaniment of vocals, tambourine, and guitar, the recycling bin distinctively kept the pulse — and this all seemed felicitous, as the New Dakotas inherently have a recycled sound: derivative of their inspiration of the Beach Boys, but, nevertheless, new.
When O’Connor asked the season’s question of “Who inspires you?” their response was instant: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who notably “created revolutionary recordings in the 60s using soundscapes.”
Mackenzie enthused, “[The Beach Boys] brought to pop music some sounds that are outside the realm of the rock combo… there are crazy vocal arrangements of course, but there’s also like a bicycle horn in one of my favorite songs, or there’s horse hooves… or there are unusual combinations of things…”
And though the New Dakotas have yet to percussively reinvent the horse hoof, they — in a nod to the Beach Boys — certainly have retained equestrian eccentricities, as “Hold That Pose” — their most recent release — chimes, “Well, I was sitting on the fence / I was talking to my pony / The pony said, ‘Hey man!’”
When I interrupted a New Dakotas’ rehearsal — in a room neighboring the Queen’s Head Pub — for an interview, I just had to admit to the primary singer-songwriter, Mackenzie, that I had the tune of “Hold That Pose” incessantly and uncontrollably galloping through my mind — unbridled.
When asked where such a volition to sing about ponies came from, Mackenzie divulged, “‘Talking to my pony’ just sounds nice phonetically… and it’s kind of striking, right? Like, we’re talking about it, right? And we’re not talking about any of the other lyrics…”
The Beach Boys effectively diversified the palette of percussion, mastering the art of unexpected instrumentation, and the New Dakotas have successfully reincarnated this method, by the medium of words, mastering the art of unexpected lyricism — both undeniably indelible. The New Dakotas, reminiscent of The Beach Boys, have become the savants of, as in Alasdair’s words, “unusual combinations of things,” an epithet correlative to even the band itself. No longer the duo as captured by Tell Me More a year ago, the New Dakotas have evolved into a four-man lineup comprised of Harvard students from a melange of musical backgrounds. Scott Roberts ‘19 (synthesizer) had been a jazz pianist, whereas Juan Carlos Fernandez del Castillo ‘20 (keyboard) had dabbled in the classical. Chris Haley ‘19 (vocals + guitar) recalls his dad listening to U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind album, the soundtrack of his first three years of memory, while Mackenzie (vocals + drums) recalls his mom revealing, “[Your aunt and uncle] wrote that song, you know!” as he listened to music only made by his family members, his soundtrack ever since “[he] could move his arms.”
The New Dakotas will be auditioning to compete in Battle for Yardfest, a Queen’s Head-based set of performances given by five different acts. Based off of the popular vote of the students, two of these acts are chosen to perform at Yardfest.
In a battle between appealing to an audience and honoring artistic authenticity, I inquired about the judicial process of selecting the song to be performed, pondering whether the two tasks could be reconciled or if one must be compromised. Though they admitted to there being a pressure to answer yes to the litmus of “Does [the song] get the kids tapping their toes?”, there does not need to be a disparity between appeal and authenticity. MacKenzie addressed other points of evaluation, such as “Can [we] fit danceability and something more classically aesthetic into one song?… a danceable beat is probably necessary but not sufficient to make an impression.”
Haley, having played keys in a different band in the Battle for Yardfest last year, noted a change in structure for the auditions. He remarked, “When they said that they were going to have ten bands, I was, like… who’s going to apply?” Roberts interjected, “Are there even five bands at Harvard?”, galvanizing laughter amongst his bandmates — albeit laughter somewhat solemn, in submission to the truth of the scarce “band scene” at Harvard College, as Haley disclosed.
It seems plausible that the offer of ten audition spots this year — instead of the traditional five — may be a move to remedy the challenge of convincing Harvard students to engage in creative expression not so institutionalized or structured — a revitalization of musical recreation.
They will be performing Friday, February 23rd at 8pm in the Queen’s Head Pub, whereat the audience may be fortuitous enough to experience their cover of “I’m Waiting For The Day” by the Beach Boys — a song off Pet Sounds, the album inspiring it all — which has a tempo that admittedly ceases the toe-tapping but also a musical moment that ceases any qualms about performing it: sung seamlessly by Haley is a high note no one sees coming.
Marissa Garcia ([email protected]) very well might be talking to a pony on the next episode of Tell Me More, in her first season as Podcast Editor.