Student Spotlight: six ’22s in rock band Moon Unit bolster Dartmouth music scene
Since its formation in 19S, the band has undergone a transition from brand new cover band to well-established musical presence on campus.
Charlie Pike, Tom Flynn and Andrew Culver perform at Bones Gate.
After a months-long hiatus due to the pandemic, Moon Unit — one of the few student bands on campus — has recently returned to action, making appearances at several outdoor venues in recent months.
Formed in the member musicians’ sophomore year, the band began by playing covers at fraternity parties and has since shifted towards writing and performing original music.
“Honestly, we just started screwing around as friends, and next thing we knew, we were playing at Bones Gate,” said Andrew Culver ’22. “We all know each other really well, so we can just kind of jam for a really long time.”
Moon Unit is one of a handful of bands in the homegrown Dartmouth music scene. The group is comprised of six members: guitarists Culver and Cooper Zebrack ’22, singer Charlie Pike ’22, Max Barret ’22 on the drums, Crawford Crooks ’22 on bass and Tom Flynn ’22 on the keys.
Pre-pandemic, the band performed most of their shows for raucous crowds at fraternities, with a repertoire including renditions of pop songs, nostalgic hits from the early 2000s and classic rock jams like those by Creedence Clearwater Revival — as well as the occasional original tune.
“We have the most fun when we’re kind of just jamming really long to a certain song,” Culver said, “but also, we have a lot of fun playing the songs that people want to hear, like Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me.’”
Longtime fan and friend of the band Robert Crawford ’22 said that the band plays a wide variety of music.
“They play songs that everyone loves and then the next songs are ones you’ve never heard of,” he said.
Crawford credits the band with introducing him to the Grateful Dead, one of Moon Unit’s major inspirations.
All the band members have known each other since their freshman fall and bonded over their shared musical interests, according to Culver.
Zebrack traces Moon Unit’s roots back to 19S, when he faced the task of needing to book a band for a BG formal one weekend. The band’s inception was a bit of a last-minute scramble, according to Pike, so the band was originally called “Short Notice.”
“We only had three days to prepare for the show,” said Pike.
The nascent band’s first performance piqued the interest of BG member PJ O’Sullivan ’19, who invited them back to play classic rock at the fraternity’s “Lifted-Fest” show.
After some deliberation over dinner at the Class of 1953 Commons, the band adopted the name “Moon Unit.” The moniker pays tribute to American singer-songwriter Frank Zappa’s daughter, Moon Unit Zappa.
The band’s new name stuck, and word quickly spread of the band’s reputation, leading them to play show after show at various events and formals as freshman spring progressed, according to Culver.
“One of the fun things about playing in a band at Dartmouth is that there are as many shows as you want,” Culver said. “The fraternities are always looking for people.”
The band scene at Dartmouth is relatively small, so older bands “love” to help and mentor younger bands, according to Culver. The guitarist said he is thankful to Read Receipts, another campus band, for showing Moon Unit the ropes of the scene and allowing them to open for the more established group.
“The biggest obstacle was always that we had such short windows to prepare before shows when we first started out,” Pike said. “We would go to the rehearsal spaces in the Hop and just grind for hours.”
Another difficulty Moon Unit faced was the logistics of obtaining the audio equipment suitable for whichever venue they were playing, according to Pike. Sometimes, fraternities would provide the necessary equipment, but other times, the band rented what they needed from Hanover Strings on Main Street and transported the hardware to the venue themselves.
“I only had to bring a mic to the shows,” said Pike. His job of providing the microphone and microphone cable was, admittedly, the easiest of all the band members, he said.
Sometimes, the band has made creative decisions on the fly. During a break from one particularly low-energy performance, the band refueled with a quick snack of mozzarella sticks at the Hop, according to Pike. When they came back to the venue, they decided to throw a short drum solo into a part that they had been having difficulty playing before.
“We can kind of make whatever we want out of these songs,” Pike said. “We don’t have to be beholden to what they are.”
After that night, the band began to take more creative liberties with the songs they performed, according to Pike.
According to Crawford, Moon Unit’s members understand that they are entertainers first and foremost.
“Charlie loves interacting with the crowd,” Crawford said. “[The members] all really get the crowd into it.”
Though the pandemic has disrupted the typical schedule of fraternity shows and campus events, leaving the band in the midst of an indefinite pause on performances, some of the band members have turned their musical inspiration towards personal projects. Flynn has put out two albums on Spotify over the past year, while Pike and Barrett have each released singles on the online platform.
The band was able to reconnect briefly in the fall, playing a few outdoor jam sessions, one of which took place on the lawn of Chi Gamma Epsilon and was informally dubbed “Chi Jam,” according to Culver. The sessions occurred on sunny days and all spectators were masked and distanced, as was the band.
“I was glad [Safety and Security] let us do that,” Culver said. “Hopefully this term, as it warms up, we’ll get to do some more stuff like that.”
Going forward, Pike hopes Moon Unit can continue to play shows as they did pre-pandemic, but said they want to shift the focus away from covers of popular music.
“Playing to a crowd that’s into it is the best part,” Pike said. “Those shows are really fun, but I think all of us are kind of looking to get a little more into working some of our own music and playing some more shows focused on our original stuff.”
One of the band’s goals is to play at Green Key before they graduate, according to Pike.
“We’re definitely coming back with a vengeance,” Pike said.
Andrew Culver ’22 is a former member of The Dartmouth news staff.