Student band Black Agnes records first professional album

Scott Murphy, News Editor

With the assistance of a $3,550 grant from the Mellon Foundation through Holy Cross’s Summer Research Program, senior Collin Garcia and his band Black Agnes were able to professionally record an EP (entitled Mason Jar of Home) with Emmy-nominated producer Brian Coombes at Rocking Horse Studios in Pittsfield, NH.

Based in the Portsmouth area, Black Agnes was originally formed in 2012 when high school friends Garcia (Guitars), Mike Dunbar (Singer/Songwriter/Keyboard) and Nico Zottos (Bass) asked mutual friend Brian Finnell (Drums) to round out their lineup.

Their name is derived from the nickname for Agnes Randolph, a renowned Scottish Countess due to her leadership of Dunbar Castle’s defense from a British attack in the 14th Century.

The past couple of years have allowed the members of Black Agnes to meld their instrumental backgrounds and musical influences into a unique style that the members feel is difficult to pinpoint on a specific genre.

Garcia explained that “We like a lot of different artists, and lately, I think we are becoming better at integrating those influences into an original sound.”

All of the members of Black Agnes echoed this sentiment, providing a long list of significant artists that includes The Beatles, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones and The Dave Matthews Band, among others.

Thus past summer saw Black Agnes take large strides in the progress of their career, as Dunbar decided to utilize his double major in English and Music at the College of the Holy Cross and propose an academic project for potential funding by the college.

“I proposed writing and professionally recording an EP album based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, specifically, his Four Quartets,” Dunbar Explained. “Each song borrows themes from one of the four Eliot poems.”

Dunbar continued by elaborating upon the academic aspect of the project, sharing that “Like Eliot, the album explores the timeless questions of ‘Where did we come from? Where are we now? Where are we going?’ These are questions we all face.”

The project was ultimately approved by Holy Cross, and the band began collecting their compositional endeavors in preparation for their time in the studio.

Garcia was thrilled by the opportunity, as he explained that “Professionally recorded albums are becoming increasingly difficult to fund with the slow decline of the record industry, so being able to receive funding in this way is not only pretty unique but was incredibly helpful for us.”

Black Agnes’ experience in the studio was something that the band found challenging but immensely rewarding, with a highlight being the opportunity to work with an experienced producer such as Coombes.

“Brian Coombes from Rocking Horse Studio, had a great deal to do with the end product” Zottos shared. “He really helped expand our sound with synthesizers, keyboards and other unique instruments and did a phenomenal job with making sure the listener gets a multi-layered listening experience all throughout the EP.”

Finnell elaborated on this experience by saying that “Each song has its own rhythm, style, and feel that is completely separate from the others. However, all the songs were crafted in such a way that they flow with one another from beginning to end.”

The recording process also included contributions from another Anselmian musician, as freshman Emily Garcia (sister of Collin) played the fiddle on Mason Jar of Home’s title track.

Dunbar made a point to mention that “She, too, is an astounding musician, and her fiddle playing really brings that song to life.

In regards to finished product, every member of the band expressed their pride with how Mason Jar of Home turned out.

“When I listen to it, I hear the hard work that we all put in, and every single positive comment I hear about the material makes it all worth-while,” Zottos shared. “It’s very exciting to have something like this out there for our fans…not just to share the music but also to share the whole story behind the creation of this EP.”

Dunbar hopes to follow this success with an even more ambitious project.

“I am in the process of applying for a second, larger grant,” Dunbar elaborated. “This one, a Fulbright, would send me to Norway for 10 months to craft new songs, which I would then come back and record with the band that summer.”

In the meantime, Black Agnes continues to tour in the New England Area, with plans of playing in as many locations as possible in order to spread awareness of their name and music.

Those interested in hearing Mason Jar of Home may stream the album on Spotify, purchase a digital copy from iTunes or a physical copy from any of the band members.