Campus & Community

Room for North House at the top

5 min read
The band North House performs outside Holyoke Center during Arts First 2000. Band member Al Bennett ’00 plays guitar.

Hey, Mister Cabdriver

Said, where the hell are you taking me?

I know this ain’t the way back to my home

Cuz I sleep alone

And I know I always leave my light on

Just to show my way back home

When they started jammin’ together two years ago, Al Bennett, a Harvard senior concentrating in East Asian studies, and Becky Warren, a Wellesley College senior studying Russian history, knew they had something special. So they solicited help from a few friends and cut an album at the Quad Sound studio in the basement of the Pforzheimer House.

Now, Bennett and Warren stand on the brink of big-time success.

The group they formed last year, North House, recently placed second among more than 300 entries in a nationwide competition of college bands sponsored by the Internet Underground Music Archives (IUMA). After winning the regional competition in an online vote earlier this spring (“we went door to door to get votes,” according to Bennett), the band flew to California two weeks ago, where it played before a live audience at the famous Fillmore Theater in San Francisco.

“We had a blast,” Bennett says. “They really took care of us, and treated us well. It was incredible playing the Fillmore. There were probably more than 1,000 people in the audience – the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for, and on the walls of the Fillmore are pictures of all the bands who’ve ever played there, everybody you can think of – Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, everybody – so it was really a thrill for us to get up there.”

Hey Mister, Cabdriver

Your meter’s runnin’ all through my head

Demandin’ something that I can’t pay

With all these red lights in my way

And I know even if I had a million dimes

You’d still be drivin’ slow and you’d still be

keepin’ time

North House’s sound is an intense and powerful combination of musical elements. Bennett, who sings and plays electric guitar, describes their style as “the love child of Bonnie Raitt and Lenny Kravitz… with the lyrical content of folk music, the intensity of rock, and the sexiness of the blues.” Keyboard player Jose Sandoval ’01, a theoretical physics concentrator and one of the recent additions to the group, says it’s difficult to classify the band because the members are “trying to create a new sound.”

Along with Sandoval, who joined the band in February, Bennett and Warren also recruited Harvard freshman Altay Guvench to play bass, and recent graduate Andy Eggers to play the drums. The combination seems to be working.

“We all have our little niche when fitting in with the band,” Sandoval says, “and this complement of yin and yang, lyrics and music, really go well together to produce a wonderful sound.”

North House’s complex and spirited sound is most evident on two tracks on the band’s album Two Stories. “Bought and Sold” features a solid, choppy beat and insightful lyrics (“you have forced me to contemplate blindness”), showcasing Warren’s deep, soulful vocal talents. “Chinese Cabdriver” is a more textured composition, with Bennett teaming with Warren on lead vocals, creating a blues-style mood, punctuated by the occasional wailing of an electric guitar. There are 11 tracks on the album, exhibiting the band’s wide range of styles.

Hey, Mister Cabdriver

You gotta help me out of this boulevard

You and I both know, it ain’t all that it seems

Just some over-passin’ dreams

And I know that I belong

In the holes of some other people’s song

Despite finishing second at the IUMA competition (a band called Pseudopod, from the University of California at Los Angeles(UCLA), placed first), Bennett says it was a thrill being treated “like rock stars” for a weekend, being shuttled around San Francisco in limousines, signing autographs, and being interviewed on television. The greatest satisfaction, he says, came from “people in the crowd responding to our music.”

From Bennett’s perspective, the band won much more than it lost in San Francisco, by gaining the opportunity to participate in such a major competition, Webcast to the world. He hopes that nationwide attention could propel North House into the musical big leagues.

“Our CD sales, from our Website [] went through the roof, plus we got a lot of exposure on the West Coast, so it’s been really good,” Bennett says. “It’s also brought the band closer together, and we’re playing a lot better now.”

The band has become a staple of the local nightclub scene in recent months, playing such diverse venues as TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, the White Horse Tavern in Allston, and ARTS FIRST 2000 last weekend at Harvard. On May 25 at 10:30 p.m., North House will play the Kirkland Cafe in Somerville.

“Ideally, we’d like to keep playing at clubs and building a grassroots following,” Sandoval says. “It takes a lot of time and effort, but I think we can do it.”

Say it’ll be a long, long way

’Till I find just words to say

And there’s a long, long way to go

It’s a long, long way to go…

Where the band goes from here is anyone’s guess. Bennett says they may hook up with a manager who approached them in San Francisco. Sandoval is prepared to devote himself to music full time after he graduates.

“It’s worth taking a year off to chase your dream,” he says. “We’re open to anything, and we’re going to push on every single front we possibly can in order to make something happen.”

Keep listening. This song isn’t over yet.