What? is the band bringing packed houses and funky tunes to New Paltz. Playing sets ranging from original songs to covers of Phish and Stevie Wonder, What? is sure to make you want to dance. The band features Dan Steen on guitar, Ryan Perrone on trombone and keys, Jeremiah Mahoney on bass, Alex Endres on percussion and Russell Hartman on saxophone.
The band has evolved tremendously since forming during Steen and Perrone’s freshman year and are continuing to do so as they record their debut album.
Q: How did you get your name?
Ryan: We were just coming up with stupid names and we came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to corner ourselves with the type of music that we would play. Then it was like what should we call ourselves? Like what we should call ourselves. What? And then we tried it at open mic and people really seemed to like it.
Q: How would you describe your sound?
Dan: Funk rock with heavy jazz influence and a little bit of R&B on our newer tunes.
Q: How do you think you’ve evolved musically since the start of What?
Jerry: It was mostly jam band progressions based around the trombone and now there’s a lot more jazz, funk and acid jazz.
Dan: We also have a lot more structure; we’ve gotten less silly.
Q: Where do you see What? after New Paltz?
Ryan: We definitely want to expand past New York and see where we can go and perform at different venues. We just want to share with more audiences.
Russell: We have a Google doc where we’ve compiled a list planning out what our first tour would be. Hypothetically, we’d do a loop starting in New Paltz, down to Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, circling up to Nashville, up to Cincinnati and then back—hitting all the big cities. We’ve done a lot of research on DIY groups and different places. Whether it be house shows or clubs, we just want to play.
Alex: Ideally next summer we’ll have a small tour or a bunch of gigs so we can just get out there.
Q: You just announced that you will be recording your first album, what can we expect?
Ryan: All the classics. Old and new stuff.
Dan: We just want it to be super clean and polished. Our EP was live in College Hall and didn’t do all of the tunes justice, so we’re excited to get those recorded in a studio.
Russell: We want it to be an album that people put on and don’t skip any songs—just listen all the way through.
Q: Who/what are you most influenced by?
Dan: I think we all have such different backgrounds when it comes to the type of music that we play, so that keeps it interesting.
Russell: I was in a metal band in high school. I used to listen to a lot of rock and heavy metal and then I started listening to more jazz and things like that. Jerry listens to folk so he has influence of folk in his playing. It’s great because we all get to present our ideas and we all get to interact in different ways on stage.
Q: Most of you are in multiple bands. How do you handle that and what makes What? different from the other bands?
Jerry: I think it’s important to be in multiple bands and it’s important to play as much as possible. Ryan and Russell are in another band called “The Big Takeover,” Alex and I are in a band called “Soup Outside,” and I’m also in a band called “Sass and Brass”. It’s busy but all of us love performing that much.
Russell: This summer Ryan and I toured with The Big Takeover—a reggae and ska group. It was cool to see what that next level is where we need to get ourselves to. Playing shows in different places, doing media appearances and live streams, makes us more hungry to get to that point. It’s encouraging to see that it’s possible if we work hard.
Ryan: The other bands that I’m in have a very specific sound. I’ll hear that and know the vibe that they stick to. It’s not that What? doesn’t have a sound, but I think that we’re very interested in variety and want to have a lot of contrasting pieces.
Dan: I think that we have a sound, but because we all come from different backgrounds and we’ve all written songs. It shows our song writing variety. We all influence each other.
Q: What’s your creative process?
Ryan: Usually we’ll come up with something on our own, we’ll share it with each other along the way, give each other critiques and then it’ll result in sheet music. From there, we play it a bunch of times and massage it into a nice spot.
Q: How does improv play into that?
Jerry: We all study or studied jazz at New Paltz to some degree, so that’s a lot of improv. The horns take the majority of the solos and that’s improvised. A lot of the accompaniment and the rhythm section isn’t necessarily the same each time. There’s a lot of freedom to make little changes.
Q: Do you have a favorite gig you’ve played so far?
Jerry: Any time we play at Snugs.
Dan: There was this one night when we were playing at Snugs and it was so packed. There was this group of six guys in the front and they stuck our stickers to their foreheads. They were just losing their minds, moshing, going crazy. I’ll never forget that.
Russell: We get some cool crowds and we get the people dancing. It’s a lot of fun to play there.
Jerry: Crossroads is tight. The people who run that do a great job. They had recordings for us, a sound guy and photos afterwards.
Q: What’s your favorite part about being in What?
Ryan: Getting to turn my music into something real. I’ll use preset beats on my Yamaha and come up with something and show the guys and they make it sound like real music.
Q: Is there anything you want people to know about What?
Dan: We’re going into the studio at the end of the month so lookout for our first album around the winter time. Stay tuned.
Jerry: Come see us live!
Ryan: We really appreciate all of the support from everyone and hope they stick with us!
A version of this post originally appeared in
The Teller October 2019 Issue #7
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