Band of Others
E.L. bands pride themselves on unique personas, local base
It all started with a lone ukulele. When his band members went their separate ways post-graduation in 2009, MSU alumnus Dylan Rogers longed to stay in Lansing, where he grew up.
So he took to the streets with a ukulele, a harmonica rack and a kick drum, not quite sure what he hoped to find. Now, with about 14 members, some historical inspiration and the occasional flame shooter, he has found his band, his other family.
They are The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle, and the streets of Lansing are their stage.
Among others, The Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle, or LUVS, has become part of a community of bands within East Lansing and Lansing, each with their own personal ties to MSU.
“We are a family unit, which is incredibly beautiful,” Rogers said. “I feel very lucky to not only be able to make music with these great musicians, but also be able to spend all of my free time with people that I really enjoy being around. We all have this support system, and we’ve built a community.”
Close to home
Rather than expanding their name through nationwide tours and record deals, Rogers said it has remained especially important for the band to embrace the local scene, both through street performances and intimate shows at venues such as The Loft, in Lansing.
“(The music industry is) kinda this rat race and this competitive thing that, when I started as a solo musician five years ago, I didn’t wanna get wrapped up in,” he said.
East Lansing spacey-folk band Desmond Jones, made up mostly of MSU students, can relate. Finance senior Chris Bota, the band’s guitarist, said it’s more important to reflect inward rather than cater to audience demands.
“The whole point of music is to express yourself,” Bota said. “People get hooked on ‘I wanna get famous’ or ‘I wanna make money off of this.’ It should be about having fun and doing what you wanna do and showing people what makes up your personality.”
Arts and humanities sophomore Isaac Berkowitz, who plays guitar and sings for Desmond Jones, said he has found shows at MSU cooperative houses more enjoyable because it gives students an easy outlet to watch them perform.
“We tend to like playing houses more than actual venues,” Berkowitz said. “The crowd’s always way more into it. They’re looking to see music and they’re not paying all this money for it.”
Rogers’ wife Jeana-Dee Allen Rogers, who makes costumes and creates backdrops for LUVS, said the ultimate goal of the band is to showcase Greater Lansing in a unique way.
“We’re just trying to make things and celebrate Michigan with other people, and not become celebrities,” Allen said. “We just really wanted to make something happen and not run around and be famous and get recognized.”
Blast from the past
While performing as a solo artist and living in Lansing’s Old Town, Rogers dove into history in search of musical inspiration. While drawing from immigrant music and New Orleans-style jazz, he settled on vaudeville, a style of entertainment from the late 1800s that included dance, comedy and elements of burlesque.
“I was thinking a lot about old Lansing and inspired by that to kind of make music that belonged more in a different era,” he said. “We always seemed to draw a crowd because we focused on having a lot of energy and a lot of weird-looking people playing a variety of instruments, so we kinda realized we had a pretty good thing going.”
In their own way, Desmond Jones looked back on past influences as well. Taking their name from the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” they also credit jazz composer Charles Mingus as part of their inspiration.
Though LUVS sought to create a scene from the past with their performances, Jerome White, a managing partner at The Loft, in Lansing, said the concept itself makes them stand out in the area.
“They’re the only game in town — what they do is nothing short of awesome,” White said. “The first time I saw them, I didn’t know what to expect, and they absolutely blew me away. In terms of creativity, ‘spectacle’ is fitting.”
With summer quickly approaching, LUVS will be kicking off their tour in June, when they will travel to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Residential College in the Arts and Humanities senior Ariel Vida will follow the band as well, filming a documentary on the experience.
Vida said she can’t wait to see how audiences will react to the band’s purely Lansing sound.
“They’re tapping into a style no one else has, and it shows Lansing’s talent and versatility,” Vida said. “It’s a huge band, they’re bringing in new members all the time. With the street performing and the various venues they play, they’re accessible in ways other bands might not be.”
Lansing resident Jenn Hill, a background singer in LUVS, said the band tells a story.
“We give people something different to hear,” Hill said. “Most of our songs come from experiences here in Michigan and Lansing. We’re very passionate about the area, and as it tries to come back from real hard times, people need to remember what’s great about us, and LUVS does that really well.”
As for Desmond Jones, the members will travel back and forth throughout the summer to practice. Regardless of where they end up, Lansing resident George Falk, who plays saxophone in the band, said Desmond Jones will remain an outlet of expression to him.
“It’s here whenever I need it,” Falk said. “It feels like I have stock in everything we do. I feel like I’m involved with the creative process … And if someone wants to change something, they do.”