Meet the bands: How student musicians found their footing in the Shenkman basement

Media Credit: Tyara Estrada | Photographer

Members of the two bands said they formed the groups from the relationships they built early in college and have since performed at venues on and around campus like Kogan Plaza and the Velvet Lounge.

For two student-run bands, the soundproof walls of the Student Musicians Coalition’s rehearsal studios in the Shenkman Hall basement are home.

The Shenkman basement houses five fully-equipped studios for student bands like Pinewalls and The Avenues to practice and make music. Members of the two bands said they formed the groups from the relationships they built early in college and have since performed at venues on and around campus like Kogan Plaza and the Velvet Lounge.

Pinewalls

Alumni Joey Allen and David Dell’Isola started the Pinewalls in summer 2017. Since they graduated, they continue to play with the band alongside juniors Greg Rice, Naiya Osiyemi, Austin Lajoie and Grant Petrusson, who all met during gigs or in the Shenkman basement.

The band was scheduled to perform at Program Board’s Pre-Fling last April, but the event was canceled due to inclement weather.

Allen, the lead singer of Pinewalls, said he drew inspiration for the band name from a short poem he wrote: “There were walls between us, and I knew they had to come down, but they were smooth and smelt of pine, so I let them stick around.” He said the poem is a metaphor for the dichotomy of “who you are and what you want to be and that space between.”

An economic and health care consultant by day, Allen describes his work with the band as his “alter ego,” but he said he would practice with the band every day if he could. The band meets in the Student Musicians Coalition’s space to practice a few days per week and every day to rehearse the week before a show, Allen said.

Pinewalls’ music can be found on streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, but only a handful of its original songs have been recorded. The band has about 30 unreleased songs it plays during shows at venues like Songbyrd.

Dell’Isola, the bass guitarist, said the band historically played at small venues like the Velvet Lounge and U Street locations. But he said the group is taking a step up and will perform Friday at Songbyrd in Adams Morgan. The group has also gained a large following, with about 26,000 Instagram followers.

“A special place in my heart will always lie with the Velvet Lounge because they’d give us so many gigs, and it was always such a fun venue to play,” Dell’Isola said. “It feels really authentic, and it feels like it’s actually a part of D.C.”

The newest addition to the band, Petrusson, said he is taking over as the lead guitarist for Lajoie while he studies abroad this year. Petrusson said he has been rehearsing with the band for the past few weeks, prepping for his first gig with Pinewalls since he has taken over for Lajoie.

“It’s hard and a lot of fun at the same time because they are trying to simultaneously teach me the songs as well as needing to prep for some of the upcoming gigs,” Petrusson said.

The Avenues

From alternative rock to punk, the four sophomores that make up The Avenues met through the Class of 2022 Facebook page.

With each member coming to GW from a different part of the country, the band formed when sophomores Wyatt Kirschner and Owen Levy met each other by chance at Colonial Orientation. The guitarist and the singer talked music for the remainder of the summer and knew they wanted to form a band on campus.

Looking to recruit other members, Kirschner posted in the Class of 2022 Facebook group asking if anyone wanted to start a band. Bassist Oliver Kogod direct messaged him about joining the band, saying that seeing the post “was probably the best day of my summer.”

“I had a band in high school and the real reason I was going to college was to find another band because that’s what I love to do,” Kogod said. “So when I saw Wyatt’s post, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this kid must be the coolest ever.’”

Drummer Dillon Cha joined The Avenues shortly after the other three members met when Kogod posted on Facebook looking for a drummer. Cha played drums and timpani in classic concert bands in high school but had never played in a rock band before, he said.

“I’ve never been in a band before, that kind of band before,” Cha said. “I’m always open to trying new things, so I was like, ‘Why not give this a shot?’”

The Avenues put on their first gig themselves, booking the Blackbox Theatre in the basement of West Hall. Members said the show was small and homegrown, but since then, the band has played gigs at the Velvet Lounge, restaurants around the District and most recently in Kogan Plaza for the March for Our Lives GW recruitment concert, alongside Pinewalls.

Although The Avenues have not released their music on streaming platforms, they have written nearly 20 original songs together and are hoping to put out an EP by the end of the year. While their songs are all within the rock genre, each song has a different sound, which Kogod said sets them apart from other bands.

“It’s not like each song sounds the same, so we have some punk songs, a metal song, indie, alt, psychedelic,” he said. “It’s all rock and it all can make you dance, but it’s not limited to one specific sub-genre.”

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