Student Band “Particles” On Meeting, Songwriting, and the Revival of Campus Music

Six studens stand along a staircase
The members of the student band Particles pose for the camera in Thatcher Music Building’s Lyman Hall at Pomona College. (Zeke Wapner • The Student Life)

The members of the fusion band Particles, who hail from three of the five Claremont Colleges, spoke with TSL about their band history, collaboration, what music means to them, and the dynamic 5C student music scene. They finished their warm-up tune – which they had developed from a riff played by their guitarist Kevin Bengtsson HM ’18 two years ago – and settled in a circle amidst the mics and instruments they had set up for their weekly rehearsal. Through the talk, Bengtsson HM ’18 occasionally strummed the strings of his guitar, providing informal musical accompaniment to their interview. 

The group members include Bengtsson, along with vocalist and bassist Tali Caspi SC ’18, drummer Jack Litle PO ’18, vocalist Liam Reese PO ’18, saxophonist Remy Rossi PO ’17, and Alex Woods PO ’18, who plays the keyboard. The band, along with fellow Claremont band Goldy, performed in front of a packed house at the Motley last Friday. The band has played in several other on-campus locations as well, such as the Hive and the Grove House. 

TSL: What are themes, styles, or moods that you typically find in your music and performances?

Alex Woods: We do have some dominating tunes and styles. Most of us are also in the Pomona Jazz band, so there’s definitely something jazzy about our music. That saxophone, and that upright bass – definite indications of jazz.

Tali Caspi: I would call us a rock band too though. I think it’s difficult to define our main genre or vibe though; I have no idea what to say when people ask me “what kind of music do you play?” It’s a weird melding of fusions … but some people seem to like it and connect with it. 

Kevin Bengtsson: And the vibe of the gig can change with varying locations since we feed off the energy of our audience. Our concert last year at the Grove House was later at night which changed things up; the audience got really into the music and danced and stuff. It was much less formal than our Motley gigs for example.

TSL: Can you say a little bit about the conception of this group, about how each of you found your way to the Particles?

Caspi: The members in the band, and what they contribute really seems to depend on whose around. People go abroad for study or graduate, and existing bands change a little bit. Some of us started off in an older group called Details, started by Evelyn Landow PO ’17. When she graduated, we continued to play Details tunes, but we also started working with new stuff and mixed into new groups.

Jack Litle: Tali, Kevin, Alex and I were all in Details. But we went through many different group arrangements and versions before we reached Particles. Some of us were in the band called Hot Like Sauce for a little bit … We called ourselves Liminal at another point.

Remy Rossi: I wasn’t with these guys when they started out. I used to watch this great band called Details perform during my first year and I used to have so much fun in the audience, kind of just singing along with them. I’m still singing with them. And it was great to be able to experience both sides.

Litle: In this context of shifting groups, I think the hardest part about creating music as this band has been to understand how each member fits in and know how each of us is going to contribute to the group. It’s been a little bit rocky, but I think we’re finally at a place that we’re happy with.

Caspi: We’re always down to jam with whoever wants to jam with us, but when we’re performing for an audience, the structure of our roles seems good.

Liam Reese: For me, the formation of Particles is like a beautiful full circle. I remember Alex and I were on the same orientation trip freshman year, and we got to talking about music. And we kind of joked about starting a band together sometime in our college career. We are now in a band together, and my college career is like closing with me in that band.

A woman sings and plays upright bass
Tali Caspi SC ’18 sings and plays the upright bass during a rehearsal. (Zeke Wapner • The Student Life)

TSL: How do you usually write your songs?

Litle: Well, we typically have two ways of writing songs. The first is of all of us kind of devising the song together from scratch. Someone will come up with a cool riff and we ask ourselves “what else we here with it” and then put different elements together till we have a song.

Caspi: We were singing something today that’s based off a riff that Kevin had come up with some two years ago. We’ve been saying that we need to make a song from it through the two years, and now finally, we were able to think about it, and have ideas around it in a way that did make it a song. It doesn’t happen super often, but band members have brought in songs that they’ve written individually as well. I have played my songs for the band. But we’ve worked on these finished songs together anyway, and they usually change a whole lot to becomes something new. So, both writing processes are very collaborative.

TSL: Why is being in this band important to each of you?

Caspi: The best things about the band is my bandmates. They’re my best friends. We end up doing a lot of things together and it’s always fun. I think it can be rare to find a musical group that extends beyond music, in which we’re not just putting up with each other because we need someone’s musical genius. Additionally, for me, I never sang before coming to college. So, finding that ability, and gaining the confidence to play, has been awesome. I do think that female band musicians in the campuses are somewhat under-represented, not because of a lack of talent but because of the idea that band music is a kind of boy’s club. So, it’s been wonderful to have my artistic vision respected and worked on.

Reese: I was talking about music with a musician friend earlier today, and he also asked me why I do what I do. I think I want to make people feel. The songs we write come from a genuine place. They mean something to us and if we can make someone in the audience connect with anything that means something to them through our music, I think that what we’re doing is worth it.

TSL: What is the music scene on campus like right now?

Rossi: I think our performances get better and better, and more popular.

Woods: We had like 170 people at the Motley last year – they were spilling out of the doors and everything.

Caspi: And I think at our first performance we only had 25, maybe only 15, people. With more student bands emerging though we also try and go for each other’s events and support each other.

Bengtsson: It’s interesting to see how the music scene in college had changed. It’s become more and more about what students do themselves. When I first came on as a freshman I had no idea that any of this existed at all.

Litle: This Pitzer alum met us a couple of weeks back, and said something like, “I’m so happy there are bands on campus now,” which definitely indicates what the scene was before.

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