Sapphire Man brings punk rock to the Evanston music scene


Photo courtesy of Zeki Hirsch

Sapphire Man at their Nov. 8 performance at The Burlington in Chicago.

Caryl Shepard, Reporter

Sapphire Man, a quartet composed of undergraduate students, started off as a piecemeal endeavor and currently continues influencing the local punk rock and house show scene.

The band is an eclectic mix of friends from a variety of majors who share a love of music. Weinberg junior Zeki Hirsch and Communication sophomore Sam Marshall play guitar and perform vocals, McCormick junior Liam Warlick plays bass and Weinberg sophomore Leo McKenna drums.

The four slowly met each other and started composing music. Hirsch and Marshall were the first to meet and initially started playing music on their own.

“Zeki and I first bonded over our similar music tastes and decided we wanted to be in a band that writes our own songs,” Marshall said. “From there, it was just a matter of finding people. And we did.”

Hirsch and Marshall first played together at Hillel’s annual Latkepalooza during Fall Quarter 2021, after which they recruited Warlick and McKenna to kickstart the band.

The four held their first practice in early January 2022 in the Foster-Walker Complex basement, Hirsch said.

McKenna said each member brought their own music tastes and inspiration to their practices. He said while all members shared an appreciation of Joy Division and The Velvet Underground, among other bands, each musician draws from their own respective inspiration to fuel their music.

After a few practices, the four said they realized that they were missing an essential element ― a band name. Marshall, McKenna and Warlick accepted Hirsch’s proposition to name the band Sapphire Man, drawing inspiration from a portrait he saw in art history Prof. Christina Normore’s Introduction to Medieval Art class during Fall Quarter 2021.

The painting is by Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century German mystic who had holy visions and wrote music. One of her portfolios, “The Man in Sapphire Blue,” depicts Christ as a light blue figure. Hirsch found the painting intriguing and favored the ambiguity of the name “Sapphire Man.”

“It doesn’t really mean anything. It means whatever you make of it,” Hirsch said.

Marshall said although it draws inspiration from a variety of sources, the band is ultimately “song-oriented,” focusing on how each person and instrument contributes to the music, rather than aiming to make one person stand out.

On drums, McKenna said he attempts to avoid flashy drumming and follows a more constant rhythm. He prides himself on helping the band maintain its flow during sets.

“Drumming (is) about keeping everybody in check and making sure the band doesn’t sound bad,” McKenna said. “That’s what I try to do.”

Sapphire Man played its first show at a house on Simpson Street last April.

Though the band has played at a few other gigs, the four agreed their favorite shows were the house shows they played last Halloween. The band played in two different houses — once in a friend’s basement and once with another band — while wearing Halloween costumes. Hirsch said there were more than 100 people present at each performance, which contributed to great energy both times.

While Sapphire Man has been practicing together for more than a year, it still faces some logistical challenges. Marshall said finding a practice space and carving out time to practice together following academic breaks is difficult.

While balancing school and extracurriculars at NU can be challenging, the band members said they enjoy practicing together as a way to decompress from the demands of the university.

“For all of us, it’s a flow state kind of thing,” Warlick said. “You’re only thinking about what you’re playing, you don’t really have time to think about anything else, and you just feel completely reset afterwards.”

Hirsch said the band finally has enough material to record an entire album. Ultimately, he said the band sees its music as a positive contribution to the current rock music scene and a beacon of hope for a deteriorating genre. Hirsch said he hopes bands like Sapphire Man can inspire an awakening.

“It’s really sad to see (the current state of rock music) because it feels like a very neutered, very corporate, bland brand (of music),” Hirsch said. “But it’s also really hopeful when a tiny basement is jam packed with groups of random kids. I truly think that is the future of rock music.”

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