Pop in a hard place

The Young Republic stay DIY at Berklee
By IAN SANDS  |  July 5, 2006

DESERVING WIDER RECOGNITION:  Nobody loves them but their families — and they could be jivin’ too.
I’m crammed into a Berklee practice room with seven out of nine members of the orchestral folk-pop collective the Young Republic, listening to — but mostly laughing at — the awful grooves of a metal outfit down the hall. “There are so many bands around here. I kind of want to do a noise collage-record of the stuff you hear coming out of dorm rooms,” says Tennessee-born lyricist, guitarist, and lead singer Julian Saporiti. You’d think Berklee would be an optimal environment for a young band like the Young Republic. Better than a college music scene: a community, in which aspiring, ambitious musicians coalesce and challenge one another in and out of the classroom.

But the Young Republic haven’t had this experience — which seems ironic, not only because all nine just finished their sophomore years at the school but also because they came together in the fall of 2004 as freshmen in the Berklee cafeteria. It was there that Saporiti persuaded Seoul-raised pianist MJ Kim and viola-playing film-score major Nate Underkuffler to join up with him. He found other members through classroom-related activities (he met guitarist Bob Merkl during the first-year guitar-placement test) and through dorm-room assignments (bassist Chris Miller was his freshman-year roommate). True to their name, the Young Republic were to be democratically run — each member would have a part in composing and arranging the material. Recording would take place around class and homework assignments in school practice and dorm rooms.

A few months later, the group debuted live as an 11-piece act in the cafeteria in front of 20 spectators. But they have yet to get permission to perform at any of the more desirable spots on campus. “That’s the biggest venue we’ve been allowed to play,” says Saporiti. So the Young Republic have pooled their meager resources in order to put out their five CDs, the most recent of which is the full-length Modern Plays.

“Berklee started as a jazz school, which is what probably close to half the kids are: jazz kids,” Saporiti explains. And pop? He says the school prefers whatever’s marketable. At the moment, that would be radio-ready metal acts like the group down the hall, except more refined, as well as pop divas in training and John Mayer copycats. (Mayer is a Berklee dropout.)

The Young Republic don’t fit any of those categories. Their sound touches on orchestral indie rock, folk, and country, springing from the group’s diverse musical backgrounds. Saporiti has always been in rock bands. But Kathleen Neis grew up as a classical flutist, and Matt Smith, a composer in his own time, has as much jazz as rock in his drumming. Kristin Weber and Jon Lee play violin (Lee doubles on trumpet); they’re put to good use on “Girl from the Northern States,” from last year’s four-song Your Heart Belongs in Tennessee. Saporiti cries out in the second verse, “As soon as you can, please get past Baltimore/’Cause you’ll never see nothin’ as green as Virginia flying out your door,” prompting the violins to swoop in and paint the scene in all its grandeur.

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