After graduation, some Penn Staters have an itch to return to Happy Valley, but the majority of them return as visitors.
But Matt Blank, Class of 2004, will be performing this summer at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts with his band Slackwater News.
Slackwater News is a five-man band based out of Lancaster County with the Penn State graduate as its drummer.
Blank embraced his true passion for music while studying advertising at Penn State. Music had always been his “secret love,” he said, but he never pursued it in high school.
“[College] opened up the world [of music] to me,” Blank said.
He said he began playing the drums between his junior and senior year and has only improved his skills with the drums over the years.
Once he returned to his hometown of Millersville, Blank searched for a local band to join.
Responding to a “drummer wanted” advertisement on Craigslist , he got in touch Dan Zdilla , singer and guitarist. The ad had sparked his interest with the similar taste in music like Bob Dylan and The Beatles .
Blank met with Zdilla and the rest of the band to audition. Blank said the band “flowed together pretty naturally,” and in March 2008, Slackwater News was born.
The band members list The Beatles, Dr. Dog , Bob Dylan and The Black Keys as its major influences over the years.
Slackwater News finds its roots in Lancaster, and the band holds a deep connection to the area, even with its unique name.
Slackwater News was a nickname for the gossip in Lancaster County that would travel along the shoreline of the Conestoga River as it was whispered from person to person, Blank said. The band felt the name fit well with the influence Lancaster has on it.
“Lancaster is interesting,” Matt Johnson , the band’s guitarist, said. “There’s no pressure to perform to a certain identity, which is an advantage for a band like us who can’t really be pigeon-held into one genre.”
Blank describes the band’s unique sound as “psychedelic pop indie,” which is perfect for the “all over the map” music scene in Lancaster.
When it comes to the lyrics, Zdilla, the main songwriter, said the band is not trying to tell a story, but rather capture an emotion.
“For me, personally, sometimes I’ll get one good idea that has a nice sentiment to it and write a song around that idea,” Zdilla said.
Johnson, who also wrote some of the band’s songs, defined Zdilla’s tracks as “very idiosyncratic” and confessed that he, himself, has trouble with being direct in his lyrics and would rather take a more “ironic, self-deprecating” route.
“I like to take a serious subject and give it an ironic treatment,” Johnson said.
Out of its studio-released tracks, “The Duke” is one song that stuck out as a personal favorite for all three musicians, but Zdilla said he is looking forward to what the band has for the future.
“We are working on a new record that I am really excited about,” Zdilla said.
Slackwater News is pushing toward releasing its first full-studio album by the end of 2013 and is continuing to “keep pushing the momentum forward,” Blank said.
The band already has two EPs released to the public that can be found on the band’s website. The first EP, named “All You Creatures,” came out in October 2009 and the second, “Graveyard Mates,” was recently released in October 2012.
Besides Arts Fest, Slackwater News has a number of shows set up for the upcoming months throughout central Pennsylvania. The dates and locations of the performances are available on the band’s website.
When the band does make its debut in State College, people should expect the unexpected, Johnson said.
Its performance will be “fun, lively and a little bit different,” Zdilla added.
For Blank, returning to his alma mater to play his music is something very exciting and special for him.
“I’ve watched music be performed all over Penn State’s [campus],” Blank said. “It’ll be cool to be playing my own music there too.”