I know Austin pretty well, so when he told me he wouldn’t let me interview him unless I bought him a banana I reluctantly handed him my gold card. He came back a few moments later with no banana, reporting that none were ripe enough to meet his satisfaction. He slid into the seat across from me, folded his hands over one another, and looked me straight in the eye.
Austin started playing piano when he was five, was singing before that, and learned guitar when he was twelve because he thought it was cool. He started writing his own songs on a camping trip when he was fifteen.
If you watch Austin play it’s easy to notice his impressive musicianship. He plays by ear, having never taken a real formal lesson until this year, and lets the music flow through him in a way you can see by the expression on his face.
“I’ve always played by ear and had a very moderate scale knowledge. I’m taking jazz lessons now to bridge the gap between feeling the music and playing by ear, and having some structure with a more theoretical basis. More scales diversifies what you can play so much.”
When Austin came to Colorado College he underwent a yearlong hiatus. Years of untrained playing were catching up to him, and as he continued to play more in college he found that his shoulders and hands were in pain from improper technique.
“I don’t think it was totally physical. At some point I decided that I couldn’t play anymore and just made it so I was either playing or not playing, instead of that I was doing it wrong and needed to learn to do it better.”
With the introduction of new lessons and a little alternative physical therapy, Austin has picked up his guitar again and formed a group on campus called Randy and the Reptiles. The band was formed last spring semester with a few different members, but only this year has the band found stability. Having a reliable group of people to practice with combined with a formal practice space has propelled them into new territory, allowing the members to feel comfortable with one another and progress musically.
“I’ve always wanted to play music with other people. I didn’t push it for a really long time and I would play by myself or with one other person. It’s a lot different to jam and present your music to an audience. It’s kind of selfish to be a talented musician and not share it with other people. Music isn’t just about having a hobby, for me, it’s a powerful tool to bring people together. To have tons of people dancing and smiling together is an awesome thing.”
Randy and the Reptiles has filled a void in the music scene at CC. The current bands on campus are full of good musicians, perform well, and are fun to watch. However The Reptiles offer an emotional experience that is not found in many other groups. When they’re performing they give off a vibe that instills a sense of ease in the listener. By presenting themselves in a fun, comfortable, and relaxed way, they allow the listener to tune into this mindset and forgo any fear of judgment in a way that feels incredibly inclusive.
“There are bands on campus that I think are a lot better than us technically. Their musicianship and what they can play together is much tighter. I think honestly there’s a long way to go in the development of our sound. I also think that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. The actual notes that you’re playing are maybe a quarter to half of what’s going on. The way that you present yourself and the dynamic of the band is vastly more important.”
If you’ve ever gone to a Randy and the Reptiles show, what Austin is saying becomes evident. They cover songs that people know and aren’t that technically complicated, yet the audience is incredibly receptive to their music. There has yet to be a Reptiles show where people aren’t generally having a fun, carefree time.
“Even when we play basic covers that we learned two days ago and practiced once, as soon as we present them in an open and relaxed way where we’re not worried, it feeds with everyone there who can open up and have fun.”
So what’s in store for Austin’s future? He plans to keep playing with Randy and the Reptiles until the end of this semester when most of the members will be graduating. After that, Austin has no idea.
“I have no fucking clue what I’m going to do. I’ll be playing music all my life.”
Photo Credit: Richard Forbes