When a band makes the decision to name itself after a Rolling Stones album, some might take this as a sign that its members are pretty serious about rock and roll. Of all the words to describe Exile on Court Street, however, serious comes in dead last.
The Geneseo-based band is comprised of sophomore political science major Alex Fantauzzo on vocals, guitar, and banjo; sophomore creative writing major Evan Goldstein on guitar and vocals; sophomore chemistry major Sam Miller on keyboard, guitar, and vocals, sophomore psychology major Sean Wraith on bass, and Rochester Institute of Technology graduate Mike Paunovski on drums. They have played on campus and at open mics and have also made a habit of busking outside the Statesman in the past.
So far, Exile has recorded one official song: a slow, more or less heartfelt folk track called “The Woman I Call Home.” A more recent live version tells a different story, however: one that involves drums and electric guitar. When asked about recording more in the future, the band gave a collective shrug. “I mean, now that you mention it…” Goldstein said, trailing off as if this was actually the first time he was considering the idea. “It’s good to get things out there, keep it fresh,” Paunovski said, finishing his sentence for him.
Although the guys in the band still prefer jamming to recording and share a common lack of commercial ambitions (which is not necessarily a bad thing), their beginnings were even more modest. Originally, the band was just comprised of Fantauzzo, Miller and Goldstein, and their sound may have been more Fleet Foxes than Stones. “I played banjo for six straight months,” Fantauzzo said.
So how did a folk trio expand into a legitimate, five-piece rock band? According to Goldstein, “Mike and I first [met] each other at Buzzo’s.” Last August, Mike Paunovski, a recent RIT graduate, had just moved to Geneseo after landing a full-time engineering job in neighboring Dansville. The story of how Goldstein brought “the rock” (which may or may not have referred to a physical rock from Letchworth State Park as well as a metaphorical one in the form of Paunovski) back to the band was told half-seriously (and possibly only half-truthfully), but it’s undeniable that this was a turning point. With the addition of a drummer and bassist Sean Wraith, they could rock—even if, according to Fantauzzo, the band “always played with a rock and roll attitude.”
Now they are fairly ambitious where their sound is concerned, listing, among their many impressive influences, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, The Black Keys and, of course, The Rolling Stones. “I’m actually Mick Jagger’s son,” Goldstein said. He is actually just a huge fan.
It can be difficult to discover the real, sometimes ordinary truth when talking to a band where every member makes it his mission to entertain—both verbally and musically. Still, somewhere in between joking around, music gets made.
The band’s generally laidback attitude seems to have contributed to a lack of competitiveness, both within and outside of the group. Several members both sing and play guitar. “I like sharing vocals,” Goldstein said. Still, the shift to expanding the size and sound of Exile on Court Street wasn’t universally embraced by its members. “I sort of lost my guitar spot,” Miller said. While he was initially resistant to the shift from languid folk to a tougher rock sound, however, Miller now plays an indispensable role as keyboardist.
Although performances are often collaborative, songwriting is necessarily less so. While he admits that Geneseo is small, Goldstein said of the process, “We all live in different places, both on campus and off, so it’s tough to sit down and write together. But we’re going to work on that more this semester.” Added Fantauzzo, “We don’t have much of a songwriting process. It just kind of happens.”
The band does allow that part of the reason for their casual attitude toward “serious” band tasks like recording may be the limited popularity of folk- and blues-inspired rock outside the immediate indie scene. “Everyone wants dubstep,” said Paunovski. “And we don’t do that. I mean, we could, but we don’t.”
Still, the members of Exile on Court Street always keep in mind just why they’re playing music in the first place: mostly (and, ultimately, maybe only) to have a good time. “I’m just here for the ride,” said Wraith. “This is enjoyable.”
Check out the original version of "The Woman I Call Home”: https://exileoncourtstreet.bandcamp.com/releases