Before he officially arrived on campus, Nate Grein ’17 was comforted by one certainty. Thanks to a Facebook thread started by fellow incoming freshmen, the Portland, Oregon, native knew that he’d be playing in a band.
“Someone posted, ‘Who is interested in music?’ and I remember just writing, ‘Hey, I’d love to jam,’ ” Grein says. “That’s how I got in touch with my bandmates. We started trading messages about what bands we were interested in, what we’d like to do once we got to Carleton, and we realized, ‘Man, we’re into all the same stuff.’ We knew about each other before we ever arrived.”
Bonding over a mutual love of indie rock led to the instant formation of the Karate Squids. The first-year foursome—Grein, Cyrus Deloye (Chicago), Sanders McMillan (Taipei, Taiwan), and Eli Ruffer (Highland Park, Ill.)—mustered enough courage to start playing shows at the Cave. By year’s end, they had earned loyal followers and a coveted slot at Carleton’s Spring Concert.
For Grein, music has been his gateway to a greater sense of community on campus. Playing and hanging out at the Cave led to a close circle of friends and a job running sound at the longstanding campus venue. Practicing in the Goodhue Hall rehearsal room—a soundproofed space run by the student activities office that allows Carls to use equipment like amps, microphones, and a full drum kit—gave them discipline and purpose. And just because they could, the Squids even posted a four-song EP on Bandcamp after laying down tracks in the Weitz Center’s audio recording studio.
“If we didn’t have that drum kit, we wouldn’t have a band,” Grein says. “I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have these awesome spaces on campus. Everything you need is right here. That’s huge for someone who wants to play.”
As a freshman, Abby Easton ’16 (Nashville, Tenn.) remembers watching, wide-eyed, as student band Ova Yonder played at the Contented Cow in Northfield. “I want to do that,” she said, laughing at how far from reality the statement felt four years ago.
Now, she’s front and center as the lead singer of Northern Riot, a horn-happy funk/rock hybrid band that regularly performs to excited crowds.
“I didn’t come to Carleton saying that I wanted to be in a band,” Easton says. “I came here saying that I wanted to be around music, period. That’s where I feel at home. That’s where I feel happy.” Easton is also the vocalist for an intimate jazz combo that plays standards at formal campus events, another indication of the variety Carls pursue outside the classroom.
Ana Sontag, who oversees music extracurriculars for the student activities office, marvels at how students take ownership of their respective music scenes. It could be through KRLX or the Cave. It could be a handbell ensemble or one of several a cappella groups. It could be an all-cello choir called Just Cellin’. They make it happen their way. “It shows the well-roundedness of our students. They aren’t just single-minded and single-tracked, even though, let’s face it, academic life here can be stressful,” Sontag says. “The interests they have across the board—and music is such a huge part of that—are really valuable in creating the atmosphere we have on campus.”
Grein recalled being at the Cave during a recent Family Weekend when an alumnus knocked on the door and asked to come in. While a lot had changed in the 25 years since the alum last saw the venue, Grein loved that the space still “meant something” to him.
“I get that, because you share music with so many people here. It almost becomes this pillar for your life outside the Carleton workload,” Grein says. “I’m extremely proud to be part of that tradition.”