Cal Poly alumni making names for themselves in music

 

Comedic musician “Weird Al” Yankovic, graduated from Cal Poly in 1980. His eccentric parody songwriting has earned him three Grammy Awards out of nine nominations.

Kyle Loomis is a journalism senior and Mustang Daily music columnist.

Welcome back to school!

To kick off the quarter, here are some Mustang musicians that have excelled in the music industry. They’ve received national attention, and have achieved some of the most prestigious, sought-after achievements that artists strive for. Whether or not you already know that these artists are Cal Poly graduates, they absolutely deserve your attention. Support your fellow Mustangs!

M. Ward

Before M. Ward became the folk music icon that he is today, he was Cal Poly English student Matthew Stephen Ward, who was also a KCPR DJ and contributor to Byzantium, Cal Poly’s annual literary magazine.

To say that Ward’s musical career since his 1996 graduation is impressive would be an understatement. His accomplishments include seven studio albums released as a solo artist (three of which made the Billboard charts), a Grammy nomination alongside singer-actress Zooey Deschanel as folk duo She & Him, and performances in big-time music festivals such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Bonnaroo Music Festival.

Truly, Ward has established himself as a monster of folk music, and not just because he was a member of supergroup Monsters of Folk.

Still, it’s hard to believe that an artist with such mainstream success and high-profile collaborations traces his roots back to a modest California college town, where he played in a rock band called Rodriguez and worked at Boo Boo Records. But Ward put his education in English to good use — his songs are full of vivid poetry. Coupled with skillful guitar-playing, it’s not quite as surprising that Ward was able to ascend to the national stage.

His most recent album, “A Wasteland Companion” (2012), exemplifies the charm of the modern folk music scene. The tracks are well-varied — some, such as “Me and My Shadow,” are fun and upbeat. Others stay closer to the serene, simplistic styles of traditional folk, as seen in “There’s a Key.”

I highly recommend catching M. Ward in concert. He is scheduled to play at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 7. Better yet, Ward is long overdue for a performance here in San Luis Obispo.

“Weird Al” Yankovic

It takes a special kind of skill (and unique sense of humor) to produce the kind of catchy and clever parody songs that Alfred Yankovic has been writing for nearly three decades.

Known as “Weird Al” by fans, Yankovic — who graduated from Cal Poly in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture — has built an enormously successful career that started with recording songs in a bathroom on campus.

Comedy music is a genre that hardly gets any mainstream attention, but Yankovic has maintained a cult following that has kept him relevant in popular culture, not to mention helped him achieve some impressive milestones. He has won three Grammys (out of nine nominations), and has sold more than 10 million albums during his 30 years of making music.

Yankovic also hosts a weekly online talk show on the Nerdist YouTube channel, where he interviews other entertainers.

He understands that in the music (and entertainment) industry, personal branding is essential for success. Yankovic has preserved the same charmingly quirky style all these years, and the passage of time constantly provides him with new material.

I’ve been a casual Weird Al fan since I first heard “The Saga Begins,” a song that hilariously mocks “Star Wars” a la Don McLean’s “American Pie” several years ago. As a Cal Poly student, I find his 1978 LP “SLO Grown” to be especially engaging. “Take Me Down” is stuffed with references that any Central Coast resident will appreciate.

Yankovic is scheduled to tour in April, but not in California.

Sherwood

The indie rock group Sherwood isn’t quite as high-profile as the above artists, but this band of former Mustangs certainly deserves to be mentioned here.

Sherwood’s musical career started when bassist and vocalist Nate Henry and guitarist Dan Koch, both Cal Poly students at the time, met in 2001. The following year, drummer Joe Greenetz, guitarist Chris Armstrong and keyboardist Mark Leibovich were added to the roster.

The band began recording in 2002, and released its first EP, “A Long Story Short.” Sherwood got its first taste of success when its following two albums became wildly popular on its MySpace page (oh yeah, I think I remember MySpace).

Sherwood’s mainstream success peaked in 2009 with the release of the album, “Qu,” which debuted on the Billboard charts at 91.

The band’s sound fits the same mold as fellow indie pop-punk bands Yellowcard and Jack’s Mannequin, integrating power pop guitar melodies with wistful lyrics.

Unfortunately for Sherwood fans, the band officially broke up in spring 2012, citing the members’ desire to settle down and spend time with their families.

  • Gaylord Mc Cool

    What about the famous jazz singer, Inge Swearingen? She performed in the PAC with Doc Severensen’s program last October. She’s also been featured on the “Prairie Home Companion” several times. Also, the now deceased Danny Gans, who had his own showroom built for him at the Las Vegas Encore Hotel and he was entertainer of the year 11 years in a row in Las Vegas. He graduated in 1980 with Weird Al and Laura Diaz of Los Angeles T.V. news anchor fame. I’m sure there are many more.

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    • Kyle Loomis

      Gaylord Mc Cool,

      Cool suggestion! I was not aware that Inge Swearingen was a CP graduate. I’ll have to keep that in mind for any future columns! Thanks for reading!

      Kyle Loomis

  • Gaylord Mc Cool

    What about the famous jazz singer, Inge Swearingen? She performed in the PAC with Doc Severensen\’s program last October. She\’s also been featured on the \"Prairie Home Companion\" several times. Also, the now deceased Danny Gans, who had his own showroom built for him at the Las Vegas Encore Hotel and he was entertainer of the year 11 years in a row in Las Vegas. He graduated in 1980 with Weird Al and Laura Diaz of Los Angeles T.V. news anchor fame. I\’m sure there are many more.

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  • http://www.fialtamusic.com Mike Leibovich

    Hi Kyle,

    This is Mike Leibovich, keyboardist for Sherwood. I’d like to talk to you about a potential story re: another musical projects of mine with another member of Sherwood. Please contact me. Thanks!

  • Mike Funk

    M. Ward was never a KCPR DJ but his wife and many of his friends were.