For the freshly minted band THE CAGE, getting their start in the University of Virginia’s music scene could be summed up with one phrase: nerve-wracking.
Luckily for the punk rock band, University Records’ mission of supporting small UVA musicians helped the group land its first live gig in early September.
Students Erik Holmer, Connor Bettge and Kennedy Harder serve as the co-presidents of University Records, which students simply call “URecords” or even “URec.” It’s a student-led organization that connects like-minded musicians, organizes performances and practices, manages equipment and helps to engage beginners in the UVA music scene.
Harder described URecords as “a community that fosters a welcoming environment for music lovers on Grounds to find each other and to collaborate. We give people the opportunity to participate in the full range of efforts that go into organizing a show.”
While musicians are the most visible part of the club, URecords’ focus is on cultivating connections between anyone with enthusiasm for live music, not just musicians. URecords offers involvement opportunities for all aspects of music, including producing, sound engineering, show management, graphic design and more.
“One of my favorite things about URecords is that we have so many people reaching out to find other like-minded musicians,” Harder, a second-year student, said. “Like people might say, ‘I am interested in jamming with someone. Here are my areas of expertise,’ or ‘I am looking to form a band. Reach out to me if you are interested.’”
Through funding from the University’s Student Activities Fee, URecords maintains a room with equipment that its members can rent out, ranging from microphones and sound boards to actual instruments.
Additionally, the club hosts regular jam sessions in the University Chapel, which all music lovers, regardless of interests or skill level, are encouraged to attend. The next sessions are Monday and on Oct. 17 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“People really love our jam session in the chapel,” Harder said. “It is such a cool space, and the acoustics are amazing, so it makes for a great location.”
Over the four years of URecords’ existence, countless small UVA bands, solo acts, DJs and producers have reaped the benefits and made their dreams of performing come true – including THE CAGE.
Comprising fourth-year lead vocalist Lou Wilkin, third-year bassist William Waugh, first-year drummer Josh Tomiak and guitarist Cal Toscano, THE CAGE is grungy, unapologetically loud, eccentric and nonconformist.
“I would describe our sound as heavy, angry, indie pop music,” Toscano said. “We have a lot of punk, grunge and metal influences. Also, we focus on our own music rather than covering other artists’ songs. We take the production and songwriting aspect of our band really seriously.”
Wilkin and Toscano initially met through mutual friends, and eventually Waugh was added into the mix after meeting Wilkin in a jazz class. After a three-week search for a drummer, Tomaik popped into their lives after he responded to a flier.
While only Wilkin and Tomiak were originally members of URecords, there’s no doubt URecords steered the band in the right direction after its formation. Wilkin was introduced to Harder through another URecords performance and credited her for getting their band off the ground.
“[Harder] has been our No. 1 advocate in the URecords space,” Wilkin said. “Anytime we have questions, concerns, or in pursuit of a gig, I will go to her or URecords because I know they will be an advocate for our band.
“I don’t think we would be able to have the basis that our band has without the help of URecords and Kennedy.”
Each band member has their own background in music, ranging from experience with UVA a cappella groups to performances with church choirs. While Tomiak had previous experience with the piano, it was not until three years ago that he first picked up a pair of drumsticks.
“I am from a small town in Southwest Virginia,” he said. “Where I come from, there isn’t much of a music scene. Being able to come to [the University] and dive right into performing music has been so incredible.”
Tomiak lives in a dorm without space for a drum kit. But URecords has provided him the ability to practice and perform on Grounds.
”There are no drums at UVA. There’s nowhere you can just rent a drum kit from,” Tomiak said. “With URecords, you can actually rent drum kits from the club. The co-president, Erik, has been driving those drums back and forth to me all the time, and that has been a real game-changer in getting started.”
As a beginner in the UVA music scene, and at UVA itself, Tomaik leaned on URecords to express himself musically.
“The club was so cool to me as soon as I found it,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be in a band, but never could be. And all the sudden, with URecords, it’s like, ‘Yes! I can finally do everything I’ve wanted to do with music.’”
For students who might feel apprehensive about entering the UVA music scene, regardless of their skill level, the members of THE CAGE have one piece of advice: Rip the Band-aid off.
“When you first start playing, it’s normal to be worried that people won’t like you or your music. You might even feel that people will invalidate you, but that is so not true,” Toscano said. “Do not be afraid to put yourself out there. People are always rooting for you, especially the people in URecords.”
As for the future of THE CAGE, the group has several gigs lined up.
“We are going to release a couple of singles and hopefully an album eventually,” Toscano said. “We are all very driven people. I’m looking forward to what we achieve in the future because I know only the sky’s the limit for us as a band.”