The many aliases of Soi Disantra


Ohana Sarvotham

From left to right: Dylan Laurianti `23, Nick Parker `23, Will Sweek `23, Henry Gold `25 and Kenny Atlas `23.

Oliver Wolfe, Staff Writer

You might not know their name, especially given that it is prone to changing nearly every time they perform, but if you have attended any Grinnell College student music event, you probably recognize their faces. This southern rock, folk and blues-influenced band, made up of lead singer/writer and guitarist Nick Parker `23, bass player Will Sweek `23, lead guitarist Henry Gold `25, guitarist Dylan Laurianti `23 and drummer Kenny Atlas `23, is a prolific presence in the Grinnell music scene, having developed and performed a wide array of sets for many different shows.

In the past, the band has gone by Soi Disantra, The KGBeeGees and Feral Kenny, and they said that they are looking to continue experimenting with their stage name.

“One we were kicking around yesterday was Catastrophysicist,” Parker said. “One other name we came up with was The Rolling Stones,” he continued with a wry smirk.

The name that has stuck the most, probably due to how apt and unique it is, is Soi Disantra. This made-up word is a modification of the French phrase “soi-disant,” which in English is used to mean that something is “self-proclaimed” or “so-called.” The band borrowed the adjusted phrase from one of their biggest influences, underground country-rock band Silver Jews, who coined the phrase in their 1998 track “Send in the Clouds.”

The name Soi Disantra reveals a lot about the band’s ethos. It gives a nod to the group’s stylistic influences while simultaneously reflecting their attitude — they are first and foremost friends who enjoy making music together. As Atlas said, “I kind of just enjoy hanging out in Freesound.” In this way, they have become a “so-called” band for the community’s enjoyment.

Accordingly, the genesis of Soi Disantra did not come from aspirations of success — rather, they were friends who realized that they had similar tastes in music. Sweek said, “Kenny and I bonded pretty early on over a mutual affection for [The Red Hot Chili Peppers.]” Despite their shared affinity, Soi Disantra’s music style is fairly far off from The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ funk-rock fusion.

Aside from Silver Jews, the band has many other influences. “We’ve got a little bit of John Craigie, Joe Henry, something that sounds to me a little bit like John Hiatt. Definitely Jason Isbell,” Sweek said.

Reflecting on their sound, Gold said, “I think it usually starts off pretty folky, but then we just all have electric instruments, so it just turns into something more akin to southern rock.”

For their repertoire, the group is evenly split between playing covers and original songs. Their originals are mostly written by Parker, who will often bring a “song skeleton” of sorts, consisting of just lyrics, chords and a melody, into Freesound, where the band will work to arrange it into a fuller, more complex piece.

This is when the group gives these songs their eclectic, southern-rock- style twist.

“Henry might add a slide, we’ll play weird basslines and I [will] try to write songs of weird chord progressions,” Parker said. “I think that lends itself to not being country’s very up and down, straight and simple [sound].”

Parker added, “We don’t have many slow and boring songs. I’ve been trying to write less slow and boring because I don’t think that’s what we want to play.”

Soi Disantra expressed their gratitude for the way they have been received by the Grinnell community and student music scene. “I think we’re maybe just starting to get to a point where we’re carving out a little space, but we’re still very much getting there,” said Gold. “I wish there were more bands. I want to see a vibrant music community here.”

When asked if they had any last words, the band recommended an album. It was “The Whole of the Moon: The Music of Mike Scott and The Waterboys.” Give it a spin, and perhaps it will make something about the group click.

“And oh! If it’s not too much to end on,” said Sweek, “we’re kind of never not looking for a fiddle player.” If you play the fiddle and are interested in joining the group, do not hesitate to reach out.

Keep your eyes and ears open: this band of many names does not plan on stopping their raucous performances at Grinnell College student music events anytime soon.