Faculty swings into school year with new CD

By Stephanie Szuda

Six people in the history department share more than a passion for history. They also love music, which is why they formed the band Captain Swing in the summer of 2004.

Captain Swing started playing cover songs at a few department parties. In January, all six members started to write their own songs for their latest album, “Historiography.”

The album has 14 songs. All but two were written in the last six months.

“Historiography” has a very eclectic mix of music, said assistant history professor Jason Hawke, guitarist in the band. There is everything from Mardi Gras-inspired grooves to radio-friendly alternative rock, bluegrass, country, reggae and southern-fried soul. All the members grew up listening to different music, and each has their own style, Hawke said.

“There’s not a single song on this album that we didn’t all like,” Hawke said. “Good music is good music, as long as it’s written well.”

Jim Schmidt, associate history professor and guitarist, along with Taylor Atkins, associate history professor and bassist/percussionist, played department Christmas parties several years ago. They have played together for more than five years.

In the next few years, additions followed to form the five-member band, including Beatrix Hoffman, associate history professor and percussionist, Eric Jones, assistant history professor and guitarist, and Sean Farrell, assistant history professor and keyboardist.

“At that point we sort of realized we had a band,” Hawke said.

They not only had a band, but had some talent as well, Hawke said.

“Practicing became more like playing when our colleagues didn’t laugh us out of the room,” Hawke said. “They seemed to genuinely enjoy it.”

They soon after moved away from cover songs and started playing original music. It seemed to be a natural step to record an album, Hawke said. It took the band about five days to record.

Jones is in Malaysia for the academic year doing research and Farrell is a visiting scholar in Montreal. When one or both come back Captain Swing may play some live shows, Schmidt said.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Schmidt said. “We would probably be more likely to record another CD. We all really enjoyed doing it.”

The name Captain Swing came from a mythical historical figure from 19th century British history, Schmidt said.

Graduate history student David Healy first saw Captain Swing at last year’s Christmas party. He bought the album as soon as it came out.

“I knew the music was good even before I picked it up, but I was surprised at how well they managed to master the disc without any professional equipment,” Healy said. “It’s pretty impressive that they did this, since they just formed a year ago, and managed to write and perform a whole CD’s worth of original music in that time, on top of being history professors.”

Healy knows most of the professors in Captain Swing because graduate students are well-connected in the history department.

Those interested in Captain Swing can contact Hawke at jhawke@niu.edu.