hey considered Anchors Away. Perhaps Bananas in the Backseat. Maybe even Drifter Dan and the Wham Bam Band. Finally, 45 minutes before they had to declare their set to Arts Council for the Music Guild’s Winter Band Showcase, Peter Toronto, Dan Pflueger, Madeleine McCullough, and Alex Eichler, all MCAS ’20, settled on Word on the Street.
Word on the Street is the latest Boston College band to spring up, but its members are no strangers to BC’s music scene. McCullough and Eichler are part of the a cappella group Common Tones; Pflueger, Toronto, and Eichler are all members of Music Guild; and Eichler and Pflueger are involved with the jam session club Jammin’ Toast. Toronto lends his talents to the 10:15 mass, while McCullough sings in the University Chorale. In addition, Eichler, Pflueger, and Toronto were all previously members of other on-campus bands.
With all four so heavily involved in the music community, it was only a matter of time before they became friends. It took longer, though, before they decided to form their own band. The idea originated from Toronto and Pflueger. The pair, both of whom play guitar, enlisted two additional members in the fall, but the four couldn’t agree on the direction they wanted to take the group and disbanded. This semester, Eichler and McCullough joined the fledgling band as drummer and bassist, respectively. Toronto, Pflueger, and Cullough all serve as vocalists.
“The way that they phrased it was ‘Oh, you should come and jam with us,’ and I walked in the door and they said ‘We have two original songs and we’re working on a third and we’re probably going to perform for the Music Guild showcase in a week and a half,’ and I was like ‘That’s a shockingly short amount of time!’” McCullough said, laughing at the fond memory.
espite the impending deadline, the members found that their easy-going relationship as friends translated to a fruitful chemistry as musicians. Although Pflueger and Toronto wrote the band’s first two songs, “Vega” and “Wait Until Sunrise,” the four quickly transitioned to a collaborative songwriting process that involves experimentation and fine-tuning, a sort of jam session approach.
“Everybody in this group is a really good listener,” Pflueger said. “I’ve been in many groups where that’s not the case, and that’s where you lose that kind of energy and capacity to interact and connect with people—when you’re not listening.”
All members agree that melody takes priority over lyrics. When crafting a song, Word on the Street typically begins with a short musical phrase, or “lick.” The members build the chord structure around the lick, and then come up with the lyrics as a group. Other times, though, one member will introduce a lyrical idea and the others will construct the song around it. The band credits the diversity of members’ music taste and their openness to new ideas as the source of its creativity.
“Nine times out of 10 if you’re doing it individually you end up writing the same song like four times over any time you try, because the structure will stay the same,” Toronto said. “You’re predisposed to choosing whatever chord changes, and so having that sound board to bounce off of when you’re in a band makes all the difference in creating a product that sounds different and sounds interesting and people want to listen to.”
“I think that’s the fun of live music—getting as many people involved as possible."
he band currently has four original songs in its repertoire, with two more in the works. It hopes to record its music sometime in the future, but as of right now, all four members can’t make room in their busy schedules due to their numerous commitments to other music clubs and ensembles.
The band initially rehearsed in Carney 205 A, virtually the only meeting place for on-campus bands. But the room is only available from 9 p.m. to midnight on weekdays, and it’s booked almost every night through the Music Guild. As Eichler, Toronto, and Pflueger will be presidents and vice president, respectively, of Music Guild next year, they’ve made it their mission to introduce another practice space for BC bands.
The recently purchased property at 300 Hammond Pond Parkway is currently being used as a rehearsal space for dance groups, and they hope to extend its use to musicians as well. Word on the Street has begun to test run the new space, and it’s Music Guild’s goal to officially introduce it to other bands by next year, as well as organize bus routes to and from the property.
The initiative stems from the band’s dedication to the music scene at BC and a desire to see it grow.
“The ultimate goal is to foster more bands,” Eichler said. “Because now this is the fourth band I’ve played in and that’s been my BC life, and I want other people to have that experience.”
Word on the Street describes its sound as indie-rock with elements of pop, jazz, and blues, and cites bands like Coldplay, Mister Wives, and Tedeschi Trucks Band as influences. Rather than consciously aiming for a certain genre, the band prefers to let songs develop organically, focusing its energy on forging a strong connection with the audience.
“That idea of engaging with the audience, being performative, having a good time with the music that you’re playing has always been something that’s important to me,” McCullough said.
“I think that’s the fun of live music—getting as many people involved as possible,” Eichler said.
In many of its songs, Word on the Street incorporates sections where the band members encourage audience members to clap or sing along. In addition to audience participation, Word on the Street places high value on creating an atmosphere that naturally draws the audience in.
“When you’re in a band that doesn’t have that same kind of energy and camaraderie through it, it’s harder to engage with the people who are listening to your music if you’re not really engaged with the music yourself,” Toronto said.
hat confidence comes from the band’s friendship, as well as the members’ years of performance experience and trust in one another’s abilities. They’ve known each other for long enough that going onstage doesn’t induce the kind of stress that it would for most people.
Despite having only two performances under its belt—one at Music Guild’s Winter Band Showcase in February, the other at the first round of Battle of the Bands—Word on the Street has quickly found its groove.
The band only had time for one two-hour rehearsal between the Winter Showcase and Battle of the Bands, yet at the latter show it pulled off a slick performance that, true to its word, emphasized audience participation. The band was one of the three groups chosen to progress to the next round of Battle of the Bands on the Arts Fest stage, set for April 25. The final winner will open for the headliner at Modstock in May.
When asked if they were surprised that they were one of the three finalists chosen from the first round of Battle of the Bands, all four responded in the negative.
“It goes back to the trust that I have in these guys to perform their best on stage, and I think when we walked off of that stage finishing our set at the first round of Battle of the Bands, I wasn’t confident that we would make it through, but I was very proud of what we had put out there,” Toronto said.
“It’s not a make or break thing, and there are a bunch of great bands who could totally deserve to win, but if we were to win, it would just be confirming that this is the right thing that we’re doing right now.”
n-campus bands at BC are closely linked. The members of Word on the Street are good friends with fellow finalists Unit One and Shady Lady, and Eichler was previously the drummer for the latter. Pflueger even performed with another competitor at Battle of the Bands, the jazz fusion band K.C.Q. A byproduct of this camaraderie, the Battle of the Bands is less of a fierce competition than simply another opportunity for Word on the Street to perform and, hopefully in the process, get the chance to open at Modstock.
“[Winning Battle of the Bands] would be really confirming of the value that I place in this group,” Pflueger said. “It’s not a make or break thing, and there are a bunch of great bands who could totally deserve to win, but if we were to win, it would just be confirming that this is the right thing that we’re doing right now.”
In terms of musical experience, Word on the Street has had less exposure and time to cement its sound than its two Battle of the Bands competitors. Unit One released its debut album in February, and Shady Lady has also put out music on streaming services in recent months. Last year, Shady Lady won Battle of the Bands and performed at Modstock after less than a semester of playing together. This year, Word on the Street is gunning for the same outcome.
“If we don’t win I’m going to be happy for Unit One or Shady Lady because they’re our really good friends…” Eichler began.
“But also we’re going to destroy them!” Toronto added with a grin.
Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff