Interview by Nora Gosselin
I sat down with the guys of Paxsonator—JJ Bellassai, Cameron Mckie, Arthur Back and Alejandro (Gango) Subiotto—to talk about their formation, their presence on Brown’s campus, and their hopes for the the band. Perched among the musical wreckage of the T.F. Green practice space, the guys talked excitedly, their voices adding to the general buzzing current of the room and tangling together like the wires at our feet.
How’d you guys get started?
JJ: On the first day of international orientation, we met at a barbeque. Cameron says ‘I play guitar’ and we were like, ‘Oh we play guitar.’ Then we just started jamming, and then we had a show for the talent show for the freshmen orientation.
Gango: It was like three guitars. Not me, I watched them at that show and was like, I wish, I wish.
Arthur: Then he just started stalking us. We were in Computers and Music together.
Gango: But we’d also talked about maybe jamming, or making a band through the Facebook group the year earlier, in April.
Arthur: Yeah, in Computers and Music I sat down next to Alejandro and he was like, ‘yo, do you still want a drummer for your band?’ And I was like yeah that would be awesome. Originally we thought JJ might drum for us…
JJ: I drummed for one session.
Arthur: And we were like, ‘this is pretty good.’ Then Alejandro came in and just killed it so we figured okay well, this is so much better.
What backgrounds to you guys bring to the group?
JJ: I had a high school band. We played mostly punk rock. I listen to punk rock almost all the time—Blink 182, Green Day, pop punk stuff.
Arthur: I had never performed on stage. It was just me playing guitar and singing covers and writing my own stuff, in my room.
As the guys reflected on their personal music backgrounds, they began to expand on their writing, performance and collaboration choices.
Gango: They all write their own stuff on a regular basis. As a drummer, I just see what they’ve come up with and try and…
Arthur: … add his flavor. But you should definitely write something. We could have a little interlude in the show where the drummer comes up with a guitar.
Cameron: Then the guitarist goes back and plays drums.
Gango: But that’s what’s interesting about us. Like they play guitar, and we have a bass now so sometimes JJ plays the bass, sometimes Cameron plays the bass.
JJ: We switch around a lot—rotating instruments, rotating singers. I guess Cameron sings more because he writes more than us, and at a faster rate.
Gango: Arthur plays funky riffs and improvises.
Arthur: Yeah I do a lot. When I’m not singing and playing rhythm guitar, I’m usually on the electric, backing up JJ and Cameron. I mostly improvise melodies and just kind of figure out cool rhythms that can go with the chords they play.
Cameron: You’ve got a lot… with like, your Southern roots… you’ve got a lot of blues in your blood, you know.
Arthur: Yeah, that’s my background—Southern classic rock, like the Allman Brothers. My mom’s from Mississippi, but I’m actually from Paris.
JJ: We’re all international students.
Cameron: Yeah, our selling point is that we’ve all got very different backgrounds
How would you guys describe your sound?
Cameron: Sad. (laughs)
Here, the guys eagerly launched into a discussion about one of their recent successes-- getting their single, “Think of Me,” on Spotify.
Gango: We made it onto one of those alternative playlists. You know how they like do those compilations and stuff?
JJ: I just uploaded it. There’s a ton of websites on the Internet.
Arthur: Websites on the Internet? No way.
JJ: (Laughs) Yeah, they’ll post your stuff on Spotify for like seven bucks, that’s it.
Gango: Wait, so do we get any money from this?
JJ: We’ll make the minimum—at least 10 cents I think. We’re going to make something!
Gango: We’re making money now!
Arthur: We’re pros. (laughs)
Gango: Anyway, we don’t really have one sound.
Arthur: It depends on who’s playing the song.
Gango: Yeah, if it’s JJ’s song it sounds very punky. If it’s Cameron’s song, it’s more British alternative.
Cameron: Like Coldplay, that kind of thing.
Arthur: I’m more like… classic rock, I guess.
Gango: Yeah, he’s more like blues, funky.
Cameron: When you combine all of them… it’s kind of… there’s a few songs that we’re writing all together, and you get some funky rhythms, some wobble on the guitar.
Gango: What, like “Lazy Days”?
Cameron: Yeah, like that. Within some of the new songs we’ve been doing, the beat is kind of funky but then Arthur comes in with the electric, and it doesn’t really match up with the song. That’s kind of cool; it’s what we do. I pride myself on the lyrics. These guys bring the actual music to it.
Where have been your favorite places to perform?
JJ: We performed one time at Findy. That was our first show.
Cameron: It was a tiny room, really intense. We played loud and it was fantastic.
Gango: It was my first show ever.
Cameron: We had a song that was specifically set up to end the show and we just played for as long as wanted on that last one, waiting for the other band to get on. It was so fun!
Gango: We played covers of songs that we hadn’t agreed on before because they were just like keep playing. We had all this extra time.
Arthur: Yeah, the other band was like our drummer isn’t here so keep going. We played All Star by Smash Mouth, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Wonderwall.
Arthur: Then we had a weird show on Wriston—it was fun, but we had some logistical issues, and the sound system was a bit off. It was an Earth Day celebration.
Cameron: At least the sun was out that day.
Arthur: So our main goal this year is to try and get a lot more gigs. We signed with Benevolent Records, a label at Brown. They’re trying to organize the music scene a bit better and give everyone a chance.
JJ: They give each band a team.
Arthur: Yeah, bands and artists are given teams of one manager, a producer.
Cameron: Basically trying to link people together, bringing together different interests, all under music. So you might have a band that wants to produce a music video, then someone who wants to be a video editor. You put them together.
What do you think of the music scene at Brown? Do you think it’s accessible, or do you have a hard time finding spaces to play?
Arthur: We’re having a hard time because we’re relatively new. There’s also a lot of monopoly by a top five bands. It’s hard to get through that. Also, we don’t really have our own equipment, which makes it hard. We’re getting there. We also don’t have a car to take this stuff anywhere so we have some obstacles.
Gango: And look, this is the state of the practice space.
Cameron: I mean, we did only pay like ten dollars for four years of this space, so it’s not surprising that it’s pretty bad. We can still make music here. But if you want to play out in Providence, you have so much competition from the local Providence bands, who have all their stuff in the back of a van. It’s just really not accessible to you. The only way you can play is if you’re on Brown’s campus and someone’s organizing an event with live music.
What are your plans moving forward?
Arthur: Get our music out there! We have a lot of stuff already, now it’s a matter of getting people to know who we are.
Gango: Yeah, the material for us is not a problem.
Arthur: It would also be great to get in the studio, but it just takes so much time. You need to know how to set up the mics and how to connect everything up.
Cameron: That’s probably where Benevolent Records would come in, to hook us up with a person who knows that kind of thing and has access to the studio.
Anything else you guys want to share?
JJ: I love the whole interview-Brown-bands idea. I read the B-Side interview with Attic Wood, and thought it was cool—things like that should be happening more.
Cameron: People who are hiring for events have no idea about bands at Brown unless some publication can put it out there. It helps connect people who want bands with bands who want events.
JJ: Check us out on Spotify and Soundcloud!
Arthur: We have more stuff coming out soon.
Cameron: Also, don’t be afraid to start something, especially if you’re a lonely freshman. If you want to do it, then there are ways.
Arthur: Yeah, I’ve had some of my best times at Brown playing with these guys.
JJ: We just got really lucky that we formed on the first day. I wanted to start a band when I first came to Brown, but I had no idea that it would happen right away.
The guys of Paxsonator ended the interview by playing me a few of their recent songs. Exchanging glances and nods, occasionally stumbling through lyrics with laughter, and reaching a truly impressive volume, the group has an undeniably unique energy about them, just waiting to be released on the Brown community.