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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Wall-Stiles play for Dartmouth, Upper Valley communities


The Wall-Stiles is a quartet that defies genre with its eclectic blend of folk and rock. The members consist of bass player Dave Barthel, who is also a database administrator at the College; fiddler and back-up singer Nate Hamm, who is currently earning an earth sciences Ph.D.; lead singer and guitarist Brough, who works as a special instructor in the geography department; and drummer John Foster. All have vastly different backgrounds and musical experiences that contribute to the dynamic of The Wall-Stiles.

Brough and Barthel have known each other for many years, having attended graduate school together at the University of Delaware. Barthel introduced Brough to Foster, saying he has experienced "the whole nine yards" of life as a musician, according to Barthel. Foster left his home at age 16 to tour with a band and worked as a session musician in Nashville prior to his involvement with the Wall-Stiles.

Hamm is involved with numerous bands around campus in addition to The Wall-Stiles, and according to Brough, Hamm "adds a tremendous amount of energy to the band, and that comes through in his fiddle playing."

Hamm's energy may come from his youth he is also the youngest member of the group.

"He's younger than us, so the women are all interested in him don't put that in the article," Brough joked.

Barthel is the rookie member, and his experience as a bassist actually began with the band.

"We borrowed someone's bass, and they were patient with me," Barthel said, explaining that although he has played music before, he is new to the experience of playing bass and being in a band. "We noodled around in college, [but] being regimented and picking a specific part and sticking to it, that was new."

Brough is the front man of the group. In addition to singing and playing the guitar, he writes the songs and came up with the name The Wall-Stiles.

"We knew we wanted to do something that suggested antiquity, so we went through old books on old New England tools. We happened upon wall-stiles," Brough explained.

For those who may not be experts in early colonial agricultural practices, a wall-stile is a connector between two fields that allows people to pass, while keeping animals confined to their pastures.

"In our minds, we have many different musical genres incorporated into our own. I really feel that our music is an amalgam of many different styles and influences," Brough said, explaining the band's fitting name.

Brough listed James Taylor among his influences an interest that is manifest in his performance. Their music has something for everyone, it ranges from mellow to loud and retains a constant energetic vibe that the audience clearly responds to.

As demonstrated by their One Wheelock performance, The Wall-Stiles easily engage audiences when they perform.

"We could be playing to one person, and we'd still be excited," Brough said. "We have a really good chemistry, which I think is the most critical component for the success of any band."

Brough explained that it is easy to reconcile the two components of his persona: musician and teacher. As he pointed out, the two are not as different as they might seem.

"For me, performing is much like teaching. You might be nervous in the first two or three minutes but you start to feed off the energy of the audience," he said.

Further, his position at the College has left Brough with enough time to work on his music.

"This position has been good because its afforded me time to write music, to play music," Brough said. "If you talk to any artist, any writer, it requires a fair amount of discipline. Ninety-nine percent of what you write is going to be crap, but you live for that 1 percent."

Perhaps the most original aspect of The Wall-Stiles is the group members' selfless attitudes, both professionally and personally. On the professional front, the number of benefit concerts they have played is staggering, contributing to causes ranging from disaster relief to aid for local businesses.

The band's internal dynamic also shows its members' selflessness, according to Barthel. Motivated purely by the opportunity to play their music, The Wall-Stiles are a band with all heart and no ego something few groups can boast.

The Wall-Stiles will perform at Salt Hill Pub in Hanover on Nov. 27.