Potpourri: From Open Mic to “Open House”

Meet the Band

Most recording studios don’t include a whiteboard covered with equations and mathematical functions.

But when the guitarist’s day job is studying as an undergraduate math major and two other members of the band are engineering students, it’s not all that surprising.

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Bassist Peter Morrison. Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann

For the band Potpourri, finding the time to both create and perform original music in between going to class is a challenge they face that most other musicians don’t have to deal with.

“It’s hard, but if you like it enough you’ll do it,” drummer and chemical engineering senior Ray Lumokso said while sitting behind his drum set at one of the band’s recent practices.

On the other side of a living room cluttered with speakers and backpacks, his fellow band members were tuning their guitars and comparing musical notes with each other.

Lumokso finished checking Snapchat, shifted his charging iPhone out of the way and grabbed his drumsticks.

“There’s gonna be a part when I cut out, because I don’t know what I’m playing,” he said in warning as the group got set to work on a new song.

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Drummer Ray Lumokso. Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann

While the first guitar chords rang out through the amps, bandmate Josh “Toasty” Perez sat back on the couch without his usual saxophone. He couldn’t stay long, but was waiting to hear the rest of the song before hurrying off to one of his graduate-level environmental engineering classes.

Although missing his instrument, Perez couldn’t resist miming along to the music. He puffed out his cheeks as his gloved hands shifted in mid-air through different finger positions on an imaginary saxophone.

Over beneath the whiteboard, Peter Morrison alternated between standing and leaning on one of the speakers as he played the bass. Unlike the rest of the band members who are Manhattan College students, Morrison studies business at nearby Fordham University.

He became involved with Potpourri through his friendship with lead singer and guitarist Vincent Harris. The two knew each other back home in Connecticut before both coming to The Bronx to go to school.

While hanging out in his basement one day a little over a year ago, Harris saw Morrison play. He decided to ask him to join the band as a bassist, even though Morrison was still relatively new to the instrument.

“I’ve only played bass for less than two years,” Morrison said. But with his trendy thick-framed glasses and laid-back attitude, he fits the part.

Harris, an English major at MC, was the founding member of the band. He first started Potpourri as a solo project consisting only of an acoustic guitar, his voice and the GarageBand program on his computer that he would use to create original songs.

“I took them offline though because they were not good,” Harris said.

The story of how the band then grew to a five-man operation depends on which person you ask.

Harris and Lumokso give Perez the credit for bringing most of the group together. But guitarist Rocco Pascale is quick to challenge that claim and take some of the responsibility himself.

Pascale, the math major, actually started out playing the bongo alongside Harris rather than guitar. But after spending time watching Harris and Lumokso play the guitar, he decided to switch over from percussion to strings.

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Lead singer Vincent Harris and guitarist Rocco Pascale. Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann

“We always say, that the joke is, the best guitarist in the band doesn’t play guitar,” Pascale said, referring to Lumokso, who now sticks to the drums despite also having talent on a six-string.

The most vocal member of the group, Pascale is also seemingly the band’s organizer. When he grew tired of struggling to get everyone together to practice, he collected everyone’s schedules and marked out the mutual times they had free.

“It’s like going to practice like a sports team,” he said. “You know when it is and can schedule your homework and everything around it.”

Now the band meets twice a week where they plan for shows and work on new material—like the song they were debuting for Perez before he left practice early to go to class.

“That was rough,” Pascale said as the final notes died out. The new track had potential, but was still a work in progress.

From Open Mic to “Open House”

Since the beginning of the spring semester, Potpourri has kept busy playing about a show a week. Back on a chilly Thursday night in early February, they fittingly performed at An Beal Bocht Cafe to release their first EP, “Open House.”

The cozy pub and popular venue for local artists was the place where the group first began performing together, taking advantage of the Open Mic nights.

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Harris and Morrison perform at An Beal Bocht Cafe. Photo by Sean Sonnemann

“We kind of got together through An Beal, honestly,” Lumokso said. “We don’t take classes together, but we shared that common interest.”

That night, friends of the band and mostly other upperclassman packed in to hear the band play. By the time Potpourri was going through their sound check, the windows of the bar had already fogged up in stark contrast to the bitter cold outside.

With an opening drumbeat from Lumokso and a beachy guitar riff from Pascale, the band got the crowd nodding their heads along to the music right away.

A little jazzy, a little ska and a little punk, the band’s style is hard to categorize—fitting for a group known as Potpourri.

Pascale pegs their sound as “Modest Mouse in the style of Morrissey,” referring to the frontman of 80s band The Smiths. But he also acknowledges that “the solos are very surf rock.”

When they play, the group sometimes resembles more of a jazz ensemble than a rock band, building off each other and taking turns with solos and sharing the spotlight. Each member writes the music for his respective instrument.

“It’s not like we tell each other what to play. It’s a collaboration,” Lumokso said. “More like a jam basically.”

At An Beal, Perez chose to stand on a chair to perform his sax solos, much to the delight of the audience repeatedly calling out his nickname “Toast.”

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Saxophonist Josh Perez performs at An Beal. Photo by Sean Sonnemann.

Taking a break between songs, he ordered a Guinness from the bar while other members of the band passed out free copies of their CD complete with “Open House” scrawled in black marker on the front.

The no-frills, homemade touch suits a tape that the group produced themselves at the off-campus house where they practice.

The guitars were recorded in the living room of the house, while the drums were done in the kitchen. They all met over this past winter break throughout the course of a week to put together the eight track, half-hour long demo.

“We call it a demo. An album is a lot more work,” Pascale said. “But, I think it’s a damn good demo.”

While it is the band’s first release and also available for download online, their fans have already heard the material at different shows throughout the past year. Some of the tracks even include lyrics written by Harris before the entire current lineup was assembled.

Now, Potpourri is working on new material and wants to take a hiatus from performing in order to finish making more music.

“Hopefully we can get all these songs recorded,” Harris said. “Don’t know when, but hopefully soon.”

Even if that doesn’t happen before graduation, the band plans on continuing playing and performing together if geography permits them to do so.

“Thanks to my lab partners for coming out tonight,” Perez said over one of the microphones after Potpourri finished their Thursday night set. “Shoutout to the lab rats.”

As friends came over to congratulate the band on their performance, an An Beal employee worked his way through the crowd to collect donations.

Quite a few people reached into their wallets to toss some singles in the basket.

Meanwhile, the band members were busy packing up their instruments and speakers. Five college students enjoying making music with each other and performing for their friends, there were no roadies for this rock band—at least not yet.

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Photo by Kevin Fuhrmann.