The sweet smell of incense and undertones of stale beer accent the room as electrical cords run haphazardly across the clutter and confetti on the floor. Conversations in subdued tones silence under the loud clash of snare drum and cymbals, followed quickly by the twang of a power chord as deep, low bass notes simultaneously begin to swell, shaking the small apartment.
It’s time for band practice.
A short riff plays on the reddish-amber guitar and the drummer quickly adds the beat, a catchy, destructive sound employing almost every piece of the drum kit. The bass player fiddles with his finger pattern and joins in, deep bass notes providing faithful accordance with the
Tan Universe, a band made up of three UNC Asheville students, is relatively new to the local music scene. Daniel O’Grady, the creator and lead guitarist, made music under the band name for the past year. When he moved off campus this fall to an apartment beside his friends Jack Ryan and Bryce Wallace, he brought his instruments with him and the band formed soon after.
“When I first moved to Asheville, we were driving to the UNCA campus and we drove by this tanning salon on Patton Avenue called ‘Tan Universe’ and it caught my eye because it seemed out of place, like why would anyone ever go tanning?” 19-year-old O’Grady said.
O’Grady played guitar since he was a child although he said he never really got into it until eighth grade.
“That’s when I started to like it a lot,” he said. “I’ve just been playing ever since.”
The other band members, bassist Ryan and drummer Wallace, both 19, have less musical experience but make up for it with dedication and eagerness.
“I’ve never owned or picked up a bass before this year, but I’ve been playing guitar since I was nine,” Ryan laughed.
“I first started with the guitar,” Wallace said. “I had a drum kit for a few years but then didn’t really get into it. I screwed around on kits here and there, but it’s been about a six-year span of me not playing drums.”
For the first few Tan Universe songs created, O’Grady played and recorded every part: guitar, drums, bass. Now with the formation of the band, there’s more room for creativity.
“It’s more than house show music,” said Alejandro Mojica, a student at UNCA and also a musician. “It’s different. Their personality comes across.”
Mojica, part of local band Stayne, hosts and plays shows with Tan Universe at his house. He said he’s very impressed by them and their songwriting capability, especially O’Grady.
“I always wanted to write songs with other people but didn’t even know how to begin to do it,” O’Grady said. “When we jam or we’re just improvising, we come up with a lot of stuff and our favorite things tend to stick and develop.”
From the Beatles to the Clash to current hip-hop artists, each member of Tan Universe brings a different musically eclectic taste. The three musicians credit major influences to classic rock and punk shown to them as children.
“Rock stars were larger-than life gods,” Wallace said. “Being a rock star is the coolest shit ever. It was something you’re always like ‘yeah, I want to do that.’”
Toby King, an assistant professor of music at UNCA, sees punk and rock music as diverse genres with many characteristics. He said each attempt at modern styles is a new form of classic punk rock.
“We’re on sort of a third cycle,” King said. “In the ‘70s, it was a deliberate artistic stance which started in New York and got characterized in the U.K. and then got rearticulated in the West Coast as an imitation of the U.K.’s stuff.”
Oblivious of a ‘new wave’ of punk rock, Tan Universe creates their music based on what they enjoy. O’Grady plays a riff and asks Wallace and Ryan if they like it. They jam on it briefly until a melody develops, later followed by lyrics.
“Daniel kind of started Tan Universe and then brought me and Jack into it and it’s really developed our sound,” Wallace said. “I think we have a really unique sound together.”
This uniqueness shows not just in slow, melodic songs where the loud and raucous punk style is sometimes foregone, but also in the high energy, fast-paced numbers where punk harmonizes indie rock.
Tan Universe plays a few covers of their favorite songs, but the majority of their performances are originals played at different unofficial locales. Their first performance was in the small apartment where they rehearse and was well-received. Unfortunately, it was less so appreciated by the neighbors and they have since found alternative venues, typically house shows.
“Once you have the ability to be in the front row of somebody you really enjoy, you’re star struck,” Ryan said. “You’re in the moment with everything and it’s so much fun.”
The band members describe their past musical experiences as if building to the formation of Tan Universe. They attribute their affinity for their new group to helping them create their best music.
“Before meeting Jack and Bryce I jammed a little with people back home but never really had any connection or chemistry with anyone,” said O’Grady, a native of Chapel Hill.
As soon as the band begins to play, their cohesiveness is evident. Ryan and Wallace maintain communication for keeping rhythm, opening the stage for O’Grady to improvise.
“You can see the progression in just two months of us being a band,” Wallace said. “It’s crazy. You can tell we’re about it and we want to get better.”
Tan Universe performs shows in and around Asheville. Their music is available on Spotify.