Student playlist moves fast forward

By Connor Rice

NIU is getting all mixed up.

In an attempt to spread his love of music, senior biology major Frederick Gunther began the Modern American Playlist project. Armed with passion and hundreds of blank CDs, he began anonymously distributing mixtapes on the NIU campus, free of charge.

With volumes two and three on the way, Gunther sat down with the Northern Star to talk about his process and what he hopes to accomplish.

What brought this whole thing about?

Really, it began as kind of a passion I’ve always had for music in general and for… trying to expose people to music, because there are so many people who just don’t realize the other world of music that is out there, outside of what is played for you on TV and on the radio, and whatnot. So, me and a couple of buddies got together – and one of my brothers – and just started refining this playlist over and over, and trying to get a combination of songs that we knew to be poppy and catchy and at the same time, beneath the surface of everything else that’s out there that the vast majority of people have heard. Disc two is currently being worked on, and it should be out in a couple of weeks.

Was there any other specific criteria that you used to pick the songs?

We needed it to be accessible enough because there is a lot of weird stuff out there, and this is just kind of an introduction to… the “indie” world. Indie, as a genre, doesn’t really mean much. It’s just kind of rock or experimental music that doesn’t confine to the same standards as [other music] … But the criteria, it was pretty loose. We were trying mostly just to expose people to a nice, eclectic collection of different things.

Was there anything that didn’t fit the criteria that you would have wanted to see on there? Something not as accessible?

I’m very much into electronic music. Not necessarily “electronic,” just computer-aided music, where people can put samples into a computer and manipulate them that way. I utilize my little brother, who goes to U of I. I show him a lot of music, and he takes what I show him and shows it to a big fraternity. He shows it to all those guys, and he gives me feedback on what hits with a crowd and what doesn’t. So in that respect, it’s hard exposing people to that [kind of] “electronic,” just because it’s so far removed from what they’re used to hearing … Disc two is going to be a little more abstract in that respect, but I’m still happy with it without Aphex Twin on there.

So, with each mixtape that comes out, do you guys kind of plan to ween the audience off of mainstream stuff?

That is kind of the main idea. I did it mostly for just those one or two people that, for the first time, just kind of thought to themselves, “I’ve never heard anything like this, but I like it. For some reason, I can’t explain why, it’s just different.” Part of me feels like people have a subconscious desire to hear things that are new and things that are different just because things just get recycled over and over in terms of pop music, mostly.

You made it sound like there are more people than just you involved in this project. Who else are you working with?

I’m working with my roommate [junior business and environmental science major] Michael Hearn. It’s not cheap to put out these disks, so he helps me financially, and he’s also this person that I can bounce ideas off of, because I didn’t want it to just end up being a list of my personal favorite 13 songs. I wanted to get outside of my own personal taste … It’s mostly Mike and my little brother Sam. [Sam] was actually in Singapore last semester. That’s when I had the idea, so we kind of had to communicate over email and over Skype, just trying to filter it down and get the solid playlist we wanted.

Why is this important to do?

I feel like there are so many people on campus, and this is such an easy way to sort of escape the grasp of radio and pop music and dive into something a little bit deeper; something that kind of gets you on a more emotional level of music that isn’t just for simplicity or for your enjoyment. It doesn’t have a catchy chorus you can sing along to. If just one person picked up the disc and heard the Beck track or the Vampire Weekend track and just really loved it and that kind of opened up a door for them … That would be worthwhile.