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Westminster student brings heavy metal to community through impromptu concerts

Head banging, gnarly guitar licks and the sound of drums that could rupture eardrums: these are some of the characteristics that make metal music. Jay Gagne knows the last one especially well.

Gagne, a senior music major and gender studies minor at Westminster College, is the drummer for Blind Magus, a Utah-based metal band.

Jay Gagne, drummer for Blind Magus and senior music major, focuses his drumming with singer Benjamin Tremblay during a practice session at Gagne and Tremblay’s apartment Sept. 16. Gagne has been drumming for over 14 years. Photo courtesy of Channing Gibbs.

“I’ve always been intimidated by [metal music], but meeting Jay really normalized it,” said Jerica Bird, a Westminster alum and one of Gagne’s friends. “He and his bandmates are all just really cool dudes.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Blind Magus was unable to perform at many of the scheduled shows and venues they usually played at, inspiring the band to seek out new places to play, according to Gagne.

“We got so sick of not playing shows that we bought our own [public address] system and just went to public places just to play in front of people,” said Benjamin Tremblay, guitarist for Blind Magus.

Tremblay said he felt a difference playing in front of crowds, and that it is nice to play in front of people again.

Benjamin Tremblay, Blind Magus guitarist, talks to drummer and senior music major Jay Gagne about one of the band’s songs at Gagne and Temblay’s apartment Sept. 16. Tremblay was introduced to the guitar at the age of 6 and has played seriously for over 10 years. Photo courtesy of Channing Gibbs.

“When I get to play in front of people, I get to really let myself loose,” Tremblay said. “At practice, I won’t be headbanging, because I want to get the notes right. But when we’re at shows, during specific songs […] I will mosh in the audience while I play.”

The Forum sat down with Gagne to learn more about his band and how they have managed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Dario Crivello, singer for Blind Magus, reviews lyrics before running through songs at Gagne and Tremblay’s apartment Sept. 16. Crivello originally started the band in middle school, according to Blind Magus’ guitarist Benjamin Tremblay. Photo courtesy of Channing Gibbs.

Q: How did Blind Magus start?

A: We started out trying to make money at the farmers market in tips. In the farmers market, you can’t bring electric instruments or drums, so we only had acoustic guitars. Then we got scheduled for a battle of the bands so we had to come up with some material. That’s when we brought out the electrical instruments and I got out the drums.

Q: Where does your band play?

A: We used to walk around at the farmers market with instruments and just play wherever we could, so I think we have a naturally nomadic nature to us. We’ll play at Sugar House Park a lot. They actually have outlets there that we can plug our amps into so we can just set up and do that.

Q: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about metal?

A: I wish more people knew more about our band and came and checked us out. I wish they knew we were a readily available source of metal music.

Q: Was it hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to find places to play?

A: Oh yeah, we couldn’t do anything. Even if we got offered something, that would mean playing in an enclosed space, with maskless people probably. It was tough, not playing any shows at all, and worrying if we did, people would get exposed. I think that’s why we like to play outdoors, during this time at least, because people can come and there’s not a worry about being in an enclosed space.

Q: Are you hoping to see COVID-19 restrictions lessen soon?

A: I think a lot of people right now, especially in the music community, just want venues to open back up again and to have big crowds. I understand that, but I don’t think it’s safe. I wouldn’t want to see that until cases were going down, or there is less risk in general, because I would personally feel awful if we had a show and there [were] less restrictions and we contributed to a spread. For the time being, I’m happy with just playing outdoors.

Benjamin Treblay, guitarist for Blind Magus, plays a guitar riff during a practice session at Gagne and Tremblay’s apartment Sept. 16. Tremblay said playing guitar is both a stress reliever and a way of expressing himself. Photo courtesy of Channing Gibbs.

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