While St Andrews might not be the first place you think of as having a major music scene, a number of up-and-coming student bands have been making waves on the gig circuit of balls and private events that our little town is, indeed, fairly legendary for. From groups playing your favourite tunes at Glitterball and DRA Ball, to the rise of popular music events hosted by Saints Sizzle, it’s more than likely that a local band has participated in making the memories of one of your most-loved events. But the question remains. Which band is the coolest, the grooviest, the funkiest, the most Crushdrews-worthy of them all? For the first time in St Andrews history, the Music Fund is putting together a battle-royale of the town’s hottest bands – but who will come out on top? The Stand had an exclusive interview with four of the bands participating in this year’s Battle: Verbatim, Downstem, The Slick, and Sheer Dumb Luck. Discussing strategy, inspirations, fanbase names, and bongos, read on to learn everything that you’d ever want to know about these talented groups who will be taking the stage this coming Saturday. This is the second part of that interview, featuring my conversations with Downstem and Sheer Dumb Luck.
For their pre-show interview, Downstem sent an envoy in the form of their bassist and occasional songwriter, Noo Rashbass. Representing the rest of the band’s members, including vocalist Mona Giff, guitarist Elijah Price, and drummer Solomon Plotch, Downstem’s unofficial “Instagram Reel Demon” sat down to discuss the upcoming Battle of the Bands, the diverse inspirations for their sound, and the question that’s on everyone’s mind – what makes Downstem their cat’s favourite band? “We just like cats a lot,” was Noo’s reasoning, saying that Downstem’s “relationship with feline animals” makes it into the music that they create. One of the most popular and ubiquitous bands in town, Downstem has scored such coveted gigs as Opening Ball, RockSoc’s 30th Anniversary Concert, and May Ball. Nevertheless, when asked to pick his favourite gig with Downstem, Noo mentioned the band’s headlining set at the inaugural Saints Sizzle sessions as a particular highlight. He recounted how Mona ran into the founder of the popular St Andrews seaside burger joint, who was keen to host the band for a well-attended gig. With the event happening shortly before Halloween, it was also Mona’s idea for the group to dress as Playboy Bunnies – “purely because she wanted to be Hugh Hefner”, Noo laughed, recalling Mona singing in the Playboy founder’s iconic red lounge jacket. “I’ve still got a pair of bunny ears on a lamp in my kitchen.”
Reflecting on the band’s musical style when asked to explain Downstem’s sound to first-time listeners, Noo listed diverse inspirations from each of the band’s members that compose their overall indie and alt-rock sound. While Solomon and Elijah both favour heavy metal, Mona enjoys the music that came out of the Riot Grrrl subculture, as well as having trained as a jazz vocalist. Noo is also a sometime jazz musician and saxophonist – though when asked if the sax will make an appearance at the Battle of the Bands, he didn’t rule it out.
Noo praised the upcoming event organised by the Music Fund as a unique opportunity to bring together the many bands that make up the local music scene for a night of unbeatable live music. “We’re really good friends with a lot of the other bands, and help each other out whenever we can,” Noo said. “It’s really nice that we’ve been given a space where everyone will be playing, and to get to hear all the other bands.” When asked what fans of Downstem (which, when prompted to name the fanbase, he decided on The Meow – collectively) should look forward to about the event, Noo kept it simple: “We’re just gonna go up and play some songs”, and teased debuts of brand-new material alongside old favourites and songs from their first EP. So, to all you ‘cool cats and kittens’ out there, make sure you don’t miss their set!
Sheer Dumb Luck
When I asked Sheer Dumb Luck to tell me the origin story of their name, I was told by the band’s keys player, Paul, that they wanted to come up with a catchy moniker that would double as an easy answer for any interview question. Fortunately, their answers to my questions were far more diverse, encompassing favourite gig memories and the instruments they’d most like to sample on a future song. Founded relatively recently in August of 2022, Sheer Dumb Luck has been a frequent performer at the Open Mic nights hosted by the Music Fund, where they’ve debuted much of their original material. Featuring Fraser Paterson on vocals and guitar, Paul Woulfe on keys, Leif McCoy on bass, Benjamin Sonnet on drums, and Ben Godfrey on guitar, all except the latter made it to our interview. Sheer Dumb Luck started out as a hard rock band, but evolved more towards mellow indie rock, citing inspirations including Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, The Strokes, and Lord Huron. Leif, the band’s unofficial “warden of opening the door when the person tells us it’s time to leave the Music Centre”, added that although he does take “a lot of heat for listening to country and acoustic music,” he’s still “trying to introduce it in the most tasteful way possible… sometimes not so tasteful.” Sheer Dumb Luck also write their own original songs in a process that they agree to be collaborative, with Benjamin enjoying how each member “adds in their own little touches” to make the song collectively theirs. Fraser added that “Paul usually stays up until 5 in the morning, and I’ll get a text with scrolls of words, and I’ll find a way to put it all together.”
Although until now, Sheer Dumb Luck has mostly played smaller-scale gigs at the Union, they undeniably enjoy the experience of performing live. They fondly recalled their gig for a BAME Students’ Network event, when they realised the setup would have to be a bit more acoustic than they’d anticipated – to the point of having no drum kit, and Benjamin having to improvise on some bongos. When I asked the band what other unconventional instruments they’d like to feature on a future track, suggestions included the ocarina, baritone guitar, and rubber gloves to create a clapping effect. This last suggestion was put forward by Leif, with Fraser helpfully offering to source them from the chemistry building.
While Sheer Dumb Luck will be down one member at the Battle of the Bands, they have put together a set of their most popular and crowd-pleasing songs, based on their reception and feedback at past gigs. When I asked each member what they were most looking forward to about one of their biggest gigs yet, Fraser expressed his excitement to see all the bands playing on the night, Leif shared his hope to make people happy through the band’s music, and Benjamin looked forward to “celebrating all of the good music of St Andrews”. While Paul will be cheering the band on from afar, you – dear reader – can hopefully make it out in person to support Sheer Dumb Luck and, of course, all the bands participating in the event!
The Battle of the Bands is happening this Saturday 8 April at the Union, with doors opening at 8:30 PM. Don’t miss Downstem and Sheer Dumb Luck’s highly anticipated sets, and don’t forget to check out part one of my interview with Verbatim and The Slick.