Grinnell Artists: Zoo Safarians


Maddi Shinall

“Zoo Safarians” looks forward to playing a show in their signature spontaneous style once College restrictions allow. Photo by Maddi Shinall.

Millie Peck

Growing up, Evan Borberg `24 listened to the group “Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit,” not just for the jazzy riffs but also because he thought the name hilarious, stating that it was just ironic enough for him to laugh at. Borberg decided that if he were ever to have a band, it would need to have an equally funny name.  His father, who is a musician himself and would play gigs with Borberg on bass, suggested the name “Zoo Safarians.”  Borberg didn’t have a chance to try out his dad’s suggestion until last semester, when Borberg joined a true band. Thus, the “Zoo Safarians” were born.  

 Declan O’Reilly `22 played drums for the Grinnell band “Sorry We’re Late” before the pandemic. After his bandmates graduated, O’Reilly arrived back on campus last semester itching to perform and started actively seeking out new bandmates. 

 “I wanted to play in a band, and I knew I didn’t have a lot of time and I know a lot of people on campus don’t have a lot of time, so my solution was just to throw talent to the problem,” said O’Reilly. 

 His first challenge was finding other students to play alongside. Shloke Meresh `23 performed frequently at events before the pandemic, playing piano and singing. O’Reilly saw him perform at the Grinnellian, the College’s student music festival, in the spring of 2021. O’Reilly thought Meresh had a lot of talent, so he reached out to him.  

 The two began “jamming” together last fall with O’Reilly on drums and Meresh on keys and vocals. After a couple of sessions, they agreed that they had a real shot at forming a band and began to seek out other students to flush out the rest of the group. O’Reilly is in Latin Ensemble with bass player Borberg and guitarist Bethany Willig `23, so he suggested the four of them get together and play. 

I wanted to play in a band, and I knew I didn’t have a lot of time and I know a lot of people on campus don’t have a lot of time, so my solution was just to throw talent to the problem.

-Declan O’Reilly ’22

 “We brought them in, and we just mesh really well. We sound great. Right off the bat, I knew it would work. After our first rehearsal we were like, ‘I guess we’re a band now!’” said O’Reilly 

 The group decided to perform for a small group of friends after only rehearsing two and a half times. They were nervous about their lack of practice but felt that the performance went very well. 

They are in the process of trying to work with Freesound, the College’s student-run music organization, to put on a concert in Gardner lounge. However, due to restrictions on gatherings set by evolving COVID-19 procedures, their future of performing in the iconic campus concert space is still up in the air.  

 In the meantime, they added a fifth member to the group, Phukao Prommolmard `25 on keys, and continue to practice a few times a week. 

 “Sorry We’re Late” produced their own original music, but given the newness of the band, “Zoo Safarians” plays whatever covers the bandmates are interested in. Often their selections are dependent on what Meresh wants to sing, what is popular or just their favorite. The set they performed at their first concert included a range of songs, from Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” to the “Hotel California” by the Eagles.  

 Willig’s personal favorite to play is Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” but they think that one of the new songs they are working on, “Heat Waves” by the Glass Animals, is set to become their cover of choice.  

 The group is very new, having only practiced a handful of times, and they’re still finding their unique style and distinct sound. The group came together based on their shared love of playing music, and that passion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  

 As restrictions on public gatherings and events at the College evolve, keep an eye out for a “Zoo Safarians” concert coming your way.