DECATUR — For students in Millikin University’s commercial music program, some level of participation in local bands is almost an eventuality. Beyond the ensembles, choirs and symphonies that are all directly tied to the university, there are the student bands that flare to life during four-year tenures at the college, most to vanish again shortly thereafter.
With a record label, recording studio and supportive music community, though, a rock band such as Good Safari has as good a chance to succeed there as they do in most places.
“It’s a very supportive place as a whole,” said singer Jake Pearson, who graduated from Millikin in the spring alongside his Good Safari bandmates Jeffery Bensmiller and Ryan Martini. “There’s a lot of basement shows to play and professors you can turn to for help in recording. There’s a small but loyal fanbase for most bands. I think more outreach to the general campus and the outside
community would make it even better.”
However, given their tendency to reset every few years, few student bands make a sizable impact off campus. Good Safari is hoping to change that, as the group returns to Decatur for a free Saturday evening show at Donnie’s Homespun Pizza. Pearson says the band is now spread out after graduation, but still writing new material and performing shows.
“When we first got together we were just playing the music we love, for us and not anybody else,” he said. “It’s pretty honest, in that sense. We’ve gone a bit heavier, more punk, over time. It’s going to be a loud room at Donnie’s.”
Pearson is now in the process of moving to Chicago, where he’ll continue in a musical career after graduating with his commercial music degree from Millikin. The group put out its debut album “Hunter” earlier in the year on the university’s Blue Box Records label, but post-graduation they will no longer be bound to the label for representation. The future is uncertain, but Pearson is positive.
“The way I understand it, we’re not tied to Blue Box when it comes time for doing another record or tour,” he said. “Just getting the album out though was a pinnacle that we had been working toward for a long time. I would have been happy even if nothing else happened just to be able to hold the album.”
And whether or not Good Safari remains active, Pearson and his bandmates have at the very least had an opportunity to experience aspects of the professional music industry that many young musicians never reach. Rather than self-produced records recorded on basement laptops, they can all say they’ve had real training on recording in the studio, just for starters.
“The promise of learning how to produce a record and make it sound good was one of the main reasons I went into commercial music,” Pearson said. “You leave knowing how to produce music in all aspects.”
Perhaps more than any of the lessons he learned in class, though, Pearson is simply thankful for the opportunity he had at the university to perform alongside close friends. There is a genuine brotherhood between the three musicians who will perform Saturday evening at Donnie’s that distance cannot dispel.
“We’ve all been friends since freshman year and if I had my way we would all be together forever,” the singer said. “Being at Millikin helped make me a professional musician, but in the end the people I met were the best part of my experience here.”