Q&A: Muse etc. talks jam sessions, breaking onto the scene


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

Muse etc. will perform its Notes from the Newsroom concert this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the Daily’s newsroom.

Tabi Parent, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Muse etc. is new on the Northwestern music scene, but don’t count the group out. Formed last fall, the six-man, all-freshman pop-influenced jazz band is ready to leave its footprint on campus. 

Band member Alex Neuser said the group succeeds because it plays to each other’s strengths. While four of the six members are students in the Bienen School of Music, the other two members are majoring in computer science and engineering —  a testament to the band’s multi-faceted persona. 

The Daily sat down with two members of Muse etc., Bienen freshmen Neuser and Jeremy Berkun, to talk about their upcoming Notes from the Newsroom performance — the band’s first official gig together. It won’t be their last, though, according to Berkun and Neuser. 

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

The Daily: Talk to me a little about how you guys got together. 

Berkun: Oh, this is a fun story.

Neuser: I had met these guys because most of us were music majors and were kind of in the music circle. We had all been talking individually about maybe getting a jam session together, but many of us didn’t really know each other. One random Saturday afternoon, I just said, “Yo, you guys just wanna come together and jam?”

Everyone showed up before me because my dorm — I lived in Bobb — had flooded. My carpet got ruined, and I went to Target and did a dual grocery shopping slash buy-a-new-rug run. So, I’m walking down Sheridan, my grocery bag had broken, my groceries were going everywhere, and I was lugging this rug, trying to get to this jam session. 

Then this guy named Tim, who’s in WNUR with me, walks across the street, and I say, “Yo, what are you up to?” And he says, “Oh, I’m actually going to Guitar Center in Chicago to play some basses.” And I’m like, “No way. We need a bass player.” That was the one instrument that we didn’t have. And I was like, “Do you want to just join us?” And he said yeah. And then he took my rug, and we went to Bienen. That was that.

Berkun: The jam session alone was really cool because I was under the impression that it was going to be just me and (Neuser). So I had shown up, and I was like, “Who are all these people?” But then we all started playing together, and it was f―ing awesome. I feel very grateful that it randomly all worked out. After that one rehearsal, we all were like, we have to meet again. We just have to keep jamming. 

The Daily: What does the process of composing music look like for you? What’s a typical day in the life of the band? 

Neuser: Usually someone brings in a riff. And then we spoof off of that idea, and it just kind of snowballs from there until we have a whole song fleshed out. It’s the best feeling in the world when that happens. 

Berkun: There’s one specific piece that we’re going to perform that was more of like a puzzle piece that was mixed and matched. It’s really based on when we’re together, just throwing out ideas and making sure everyone’s heard. 

The Daily: What projects do you have in the works right now? Is there an end goal? 

Berkun: We’re writing a bunch of originals now. Eventually, maybe by this summer, we want to get a recording of the two pieces that we will do for this performance and a bunch of other originals that we’re already working on. 

Neuser: We’re thinking of applying for a summer research grant to write an album and then staying here this summer to write it. 

The Daily: Besides getting an album out, what other goals do you have? 

Berkun: More gigs, man. This is our first actual performance together, and we want to use it as a platform to kick off what we want to be doing. 

The Daily: Describe your sound. Distill it into three words. 

Berkun: Smooth is one for sure. 

Neuser: Sunny?

Berkun: Sunny, sure. And like…vibey.

Neuser: Vibey — the most ambiguous of all words. 

Berkun: We’re trying to create music that we would enjoy listening to ourselves. We listen to a lot of really different music, and I think (our music) is the combination of all of our favorite genres and all of our different styles — because everyone plays differently, and not all of us necessarily have jazz backgrounds. 

The Daily: Talk to me about the band name. How did that come up?

Berkun: The type of music we’re creating right now is more like modern R&B, pop-jazz stuff. That’s very different and way more contemporary than the classical conservatory we’re a part of in Bienen. We wanted to have a little spoof on that idea. And that’s where the muses come in because they have a historical, classical context. 

Neuser: And yeah, the et cetera was thanks to Oliver (another band member). There’s this Wilco song called Jesus, Etc. He was like, “I love that song title.” 

Berkun: Et cetera adds an extra element to that muse metaphor because, in addition to being muses in this classical conservatory, we’re expanding upon that. 

The Daily: How are you guys feeling about Notes from the Newsroom?

Berkun: I think it’s a really cool opportunity. I saw this concert series, and as soon as I saw it, I was like, holy s―t, we have to do that. We sent out the application a while back, actually. Then randomly, I got a text two days ago that said, “Hey, your show date is Sunday.” We’ve been scrambling to get the band together, but we’ve been ready for a while. It’s gonna be really fun. 

The Daily: If your band were an animal, what animal would it be?

Berkun: Oliver would have something to say about this. I’m texting him right now. 

Neuser: A penguin. I’m reading a lot of Penguin Classics right now. 

Berkun: Absolutely not. 

Neuser: How about a flying squirrel? 

Berkun: I mess with that. Oh! Oliver says, a parrot bopping his head. 

Neuser: Yeah, yeah, yeah. See, Oliver knows.

To catch Muse etc.’s concert, tune into the live stream on Instagram or watch the recording on YouTube

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TabithaParent12

Related Stories:

Q&A: A conversation with Ava Earl, Northwestern singer-songwriter and romantic

Ava Earl: Notes from the Newsroom

Q&A: Jonathan Hodges, creative force behind Chicago solo project Bomethius, talks latest release