Music : Martha's Vineyard's Max Currier and Shake the Baron make their mark in New York
Photo by Benjamin Sweet
Forming a rock band while in college is a common enough endeavor. Keeping the band together after graduation involves another level of commitment; and moving to New York, playing gigs in small local bars while scraping by at a low paying full-time job is the kind of dedication to your art that few manage to sustain for very long, before falling prey to disillusionment and the harsh realities of life beyond rock and roll.
Max Currier of West Tisbury has demonstrated just that sort of perseverance and his gamble is starting to pay off. Twenty-three year old Mr. Currier, known as Spike to his friends, is the bass player for the Brooklyn-based band Shake the Baron ("As for the name, some things are better left a mystery," Mr. Currier writes in an email). In just a short three years, they have managed to record and release a CD, get signed to an independent record label, and establish themselves in the very competitive music scene in New York. Recently they were chosen to compete in a contest held by The Deli Magazine to select the Best Emerging Artist in NYC. The Deli is an online and print publication covering the indie pop/rock scene in ten U.S. cities. Although Shake the Baron didn't win the title, the contest opened a few more doors for the hardworking musicians.
"They found us somehow through the internet," Mr. Currier says. "They had a panel of judges who are club owners and guys who work in studios. Although we didn't win, they chose us to be on one of the stages for a Best of New York show series. They have a couple venues. We're gonna be on one of the stages."
The nomination by The Deli and the connections they have made through the magazine have contributed to the band's popularity. "We just started off having to really push ourselves. Now we have all the emails coming to us. So we can choose the dates," he says.
Although the band owes this opportunity, in part, to the workings of the 21st century star machine — the Internet — the band members have certainly paid their dues. The original three members — Mr. Currier, Andrew Oedel, 22 (guitar, vocals), and Matt Addison, 22 (drums), met while all were rooming together their freshman year at Connecticut College. They started playing around campus — individually and, eventually, as a group, and developed a following. After graduation the three moved together to a large two-floor apartment in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn where they have converted a basement area into a rehearsal space. Guitarist Jon Markson, 21, joined the group a year and a half ago. He is currently a junior at Connecticut College and travels to New York for gigs and rehearsals.
Shake the Baron plays regularly at a couple of Brooklyn clubs and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They have played at a number of NYC clubs and have also traveled to Philadelphia, New Haven, and elsewhere for gigs. The band performed at a mini music festival at the Vineyard's Featherstone Center for the Arts when they were first starting.
Mr. Currier has been playing music since his days as a student at the West Tisbury School. He credits his piano teacher, Will Luckey, with instilling a love of music in him. "I got a lot of love for that guy," says Mr. Currier.
He started playing bass and keyboards with a few local bands, beginning while he was in junior high. He was a member of bands Special Bus and Pink Sox. He still occasionally gigs with local band Drawing Guts, with whom he recently recorded an album.
While working towards a degree in East Asian studies with a focus on Chinese language and literature and eastern philosophy, Mr. Currier maintained his passion for music, jamming with his roommates and eventually forming their current band. Mr. Currier graduated from Connecticut College in 2009 and spent nine months in China leading community services-oriented trips across China with high school students. Currently he works for a Chinese trading company in New York that imports tea and silk comforters.
Last January, Shake the Baron released a self-titled album on a small label, Super Duper Records. They did all of the recording while still in college, using the campus facilities, and then finished up the production at a studio in NYC where artists such Paul Simon and The Strokes have recorded. The Deli magazine writes about their freshman recording effort, "Shake the Baron reels you in from the start, the music danceable without losing the alternative rock sound and the lyrics just as impressive. Their self-titled debut displays the band's talent for layering harmonies and creating an unmistakably good vibe throughout."
The four members co-write all of their songs. Asked about the band's influences Mr. Currier replies, "Burger King and Colt 45. Bocce. All these things play really big in our psyches when we're working."
Right now the band is working on a series of music videos with Ben Sweet from the Vineyard, who was Mr. Currier's best friend growing up. Mr. Sweet lives right down the street from Mr. Currier, who says, "When we're not working together on this project we're hanging out." He notes that other high school friends live in the area as well. "We have this little Vineyard community," he notes. "I live closer to people now than I did on the Vineyard."
By this time next year Mr. Currier says he'd like to be still living in New York and finishing up the band's next record and "Not sweating so much at the first of the month. Making a little more money." He adds, "I like what I'm doing. I don't mind selling tea, but I'd rather be selling CDs."
Mr. Currier is optimistic about the band's prospects. "The wheels are in motion," he says. "Now we've got to just keep them moving."