Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

Giving the steel pan a new sound

Every Thursday at 6:30 p.m., the members of Chromatic Crew gather at Joe Atkinson's house in Cincinnati for band practice.

For current Miami students Jen Clemens, Eva Reyes-Smith and Callie Miller, this means driving an hour from Oxford. For Atkinson and Taft Marsh, both Miami graduates, this means shifting their focus from their day jobs -- Atkinson as a substitute teacher and Marsh as a botanical specialist -- to the band.

The group is comprised of five members -- Atkinson on drums, junior Eva Reyes-Smith on bass, junior Callie Miller on guitar, senior Jenny Clemens on lead vocals and Taft Marsh on steel pan.

Marsh, a steel pan player for about nine years, conceptualized the band back in November, hoping to create a new musical space for the steel pan to exist.

"With Chromatic Crew ... I had a vision of putting together something different for steel pan," Marsh said. "I wanted to do something different with it, not just play the standard island music."

Their sound is rooted in funk music, drawing inspiration from artists such as Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder and the band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. None of the members would claim their musical background to be in funk music, but it's a style that they have all come to love.

"That seems to be the kind of music that makes people feel good and gets people up and dancing," Atkinson said.

Their setlists comprise mostly covers thus far, with songs such as The Jackson 5's "Blame it on the Boogie" and Amy Winehouse's "Valerie." In addition to letting the audience hear something familiar, covers also give the band a chance to play around with their sound.

"[Our sound] is still evolving," Marsh said. "I don't think we're ever going to really land on a super specific sound. We're always experimenting with new ideas and new concepts."

The group has gone through several different members before finding the right mix of people.

Atkinson was the first person Marsh brought on board. The two met during Atkinson's junior year at Miami and they have played together in the past. Marsh and Reyes-Smith have also had experience playing together in Just Dandy, another Oxford-based band, so he asked her to be a part of Chromatic Crew as well.

Clemens and Marsh have dated on and off for over a year, so he was able to convince her to try singing with the band. She never really pictured ever joining a band, and the music style isn't what she was accustomed to singing, but she ended up falling in love with it.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

"I just love the people and being there and it, you know, it's very fulfilling to get to play music with a group of really rad people," Clemens said.

Miller was the most recent addition to the band when they realized they were in need of a lead guitarist. She has been looking for musical outlets since coming to Miami that she doesn't get with her studies in biochemistry and French.

The end result is a group of musicians who are dedicated to growing their band while also bonding both musically and socially.

"We don't have any ego problems or any of the typical band issues really," Reyes-Smith said. "We all mesh really well together."

In the months that Chromatic Crew has been active, they've played house shows in Oxford, at Top Cats, a bar in Cincinnati, and at Top Deck on Green Beer Day.

Their goals for the future include writing original songs, making recordings, booking more shows in Cincinnati and simply playing together as much as they can.

"It's a good band now, and it's gonna keep being a good band as we're still playing and still passionate about it," Miller said. "We just have to see where it takes us."

For more information and updates on Chromatic Crew, visit their Facebook page, @ChromaticCrewBand.