Editor's Note: This is the third part in a series featuring local artists in the tri-campus community.
Thomas Weiss, known more commonly as Thom, sits under the 9th station of the cross, the one where Jesus fell for the third time, and plays the drums. He’s joined here in the Keenan-Stanford chapel — or the Stanford-Kennan chapel, depending on the result of a certain interhall football game — by Josh Morgenlander, who stands barefoot on the carpeted floor, his long black hair matching his all-black bass guitar. As a storm rages outside, soon to evolve into the the flash flood of Sept. 27, the two Notre Dame seniors and Stanford Hall residents play together, preparing for their band’s upcoming performance — a house show set to take place with three other student bands in an off-campus basement.
As they play, the third and final member of their band enters the chapel silently. Felix Rabito, a senior and Keenan Hall Resident Assistant, is barefoot as well, wearing gym shorts and sporting a thick beard. Josh and Thom continue to play together as Felix goes about unpacking and plugging in his electric guitar. Seamlessly, he joins the other two, adding hard guitar riffs to the mix and whispering the lyrics he’ll sing loudly later tonight. The three musicians rip through a practice round of their setlist, playing in unison, feeding off each other’s energy. They exchange almost no words, they know these songs and they know each other incredibly well. During their rehearsal of closing track “Spooky,” they pause to fine-tune the theatrics of their performance. Felix and Josh practice turning their backs to the imaginary crowd, raising their guitars in the air and falling to the ground as the song hits its peak. “Wow, that’s so sick,” exclaims Thom from behind his drum kit.
Tonight, the three seniors will play collectively under the name Felix Rabito, but they’re also searching for a new name. Right now, a name is the least of their worries — they’re focused on the music they plan to play at the house show. The songs on their setlist are a mix of new material, past favorites and one cover. The new songs — “Storm,” “Waves” and “Cure” — are slated for release later this year. Altogether, they’re a collection of pure rock songs — loud, energetic and undeniably good, it’s the type of music that makes you want to move. Even with only three instruments, the songs have a lot of noise, powered in part by Thom, whose skilled drumming gives them their edge.
Thom is a soft-spoken hard rocker. When not behind the drum kit, he’s calm and thoughtful, but when he picks up the sticks, he’s something else. His musical style and taste is grounded in the grunge and punk rock of the early 90s. In high school, he was a part of a Nirvana cover band, drawing inspiration from legendary drummer Dave Grohl. When he teamed up with Felix and Josh, he told them simply, “If it doesn’t rock, I don’t want to play it.” Since joining forces with them, he’s explored new genres like New Orleans jazz and swing music, and his influence on the band’s newest songs are clear.
After their rehearsal, Thom is off to a meeting with his advising professor for his thesis, which will cover “Freud and Jean Vanier and their conceptions of love.” When a band is comprised of three students heavily involved in academics, dorm life, social scenes and a slew of other things, it’s hard to keep everyone in the same place for very long. As Felix and Josh prepare their heavy amps and guitars for transportation, Felix talks candidly about the new music and his evolution as an artist.
When Felix Rabito arrived at Notre Dame he had already released some music on Spotify, specifically, the EP “Bread,” which he wrote and recorded throughout high school. “Anna Muse,” the lead track from the EP, took off after being placed on one of Spotify’s curated playlists and has over one million streams to date. So just as Felix was beginning a new stage in his life, adjusting to college and all of its challenges and finding a new musical sound, the songs which he had made in high school were beginning to define him.
For Felix, the first three years of college included challenges both personally and musically. His relationship with his music changed and the title of “musician” began to overtake his identity. He fought against feelings of isolation. The new songs the band plans to play tonight were created during this time, and for Felix, they represent an attempt to make as much noise as possible amidst the stress and craziness of college life.
But currently, Felix is incredibly optimistic about his music and his new mindset. “Nothing is perfect, nothing is permanent” became a new mantra, taken from the concept of wabi-sabi introduced to him during his RA training. Over the last summer, he spent time at home with his family rediscovering music’s ability to make him happy. “I learned that music is about being kinder to each other and being kinder to ourselves,” he says. He holds up his new favorite instrument, the Seagull Dulcimer, a four-string acoustic instrument and a gift from his father which inspired him to explore a new musical direction. “It only lets you play the happy notes,” he says before playing a song he’s been workshopping. He’s excited about the sonic opportunities open to him, and, in relation to the upcoming show, he’s excited to share in the power of music with his friends.
As Felix and Josh drive to their second rehearsal of the day, this one with fellow student band The Shifties, the rain comes down harder. Campus is packed with cars as visitors arrive for the next day’s football game against Virginia. In the car, Felix uses the AUX to play the audio from a concert video. In it, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin jumps from the stage and into a sea of people, running as they chase after him. The band continues to play “Fix You” as Martin runs, and together the audience sings the final lyrics to the song. For Felix, the video is a reminder of his love for Coldplay and days in middle school spent dreaming of performing a rock show like his favorite band.
Before beginning his second rehearsal, Josh Morgenlander stops at the bottom of the stairwell in the Baumer Hall basement. “I’m so excited to play tonight,” he says while putting in earplugs. “This whole day reminds me of RadioFest in 2018,” he adds, recalling the excitement and anticipation that comes with a day dedicated to rehearsing and performing, rushing from one place to another. Tonight, Josh will be a jack of all trades and a master of music. He’s playing guitar for The Shifties, and during his own set, he’ll take a turn as lead singer when the band performs their cover of Weezer’s “Pork and Beans.” It’s a song with a catchy melody and an anti-establishment message — Josh can’t wait to play it at the show.
For Josh and Thom, the drive over to the concert venue looks surprisingly similar to how you’d imagine a band traveling to their first rock concert in a while would look. Thom makes a request on the AUX and “When God Comes Back” by All Them Witches begins blaring through the car speakers. The song, one of Weiss’s new favorites, is pure rock, complete with powerful drums and a heavy guitar. It’s the type of song that would play as the world ended, and looking outside, it seems like that just might be the case. Lighting cuts through the sky, illuminating the South Bend night as thunder booms and rain pours and pours — the flash flood of Sept. 27 continued.
In the tiny basement of an off-campus house, the members of Notre Dame’s small music scene set up and socialize. Josh and Thom stand in the cramped mudroom with Daniel Griffin, vocalist, guitarist and trumpeter for the Basement Boxers, and Brian Gatter, saxophonist for The Almighty Loaf. They’ve recruited the two to play their brass instruments in “Cure” and they’re teaching them when to come in and what to play. It’s a last minute adjustment of which the band members have been dreaming, the type of spontaneous collaboration that only happens in the mudroom before a house show.
The basement fills with people as the Basement Boxers begin their set. Under the soft glow of the makeshift concert lighting — a string of Christmas lights, they play a great opening set, creating a positive collective energy in the growing crowd of students, musicians and parents of musicians who are in town for the football game. The Shifties take the stage, or rather, the area of the basement set aside for music playing. They’re a rag-tag outfit, led by senior Michael Donovan and featuring members of the Basement Boxers along with Josh and Thom, and their rendition of Car Seat Headrest’s “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” gets the crowd going (Editor's Note: Michael Donovan is the Scene Editor at The Observer).
By the time Felix, Josh and Thom pick up their instruments, the basement is packed. The atmosphere is one of restless anticipation as the audience, wet with a mixture of rainwater and sweat, awaits the band’s performance. From their opening riff, the band captivates and enthralls. All eyes are on them for the entire performance, comprised of a tight six songs. They play passionately, Felix and Josh sharing the lone mic duct-taped to its stand, and when the time comes, they nail the dramatic finish to “Spooky.” It feels both long and short, totaling 25 minutes or so of uninterrupted rock.
When their set is done, they become the audience. Josh and Thom join the mosh pit of raucous fellow students as The Almighty Loaf deliver high-octane rock ballads. The mosh pit is the perfect place for some of those overachieving, highly-stressed Notre Dame students in the crowd to lose themselves for one night. Felix stays close to the stage, basking in the collective effervescence of a rock concert in a basement. He delivers his final quote of the night over the blaring noise: “If you’re reading this, don’t let it stop.” That “it” is open to interpretation, but tonight, for Felix, that “it” is the power of music.
Outside the house, cars rush by, oblivious to the magic happening in that small basement. From the outside, you couldn’t really tell that the concert was happening, unless you came close to the house and crouched near the basement window. Then you’d be able to see the golden glow of the Christmas lights and hear the muffled sounds of rock rising up from the ground. Then, amongst the pools of rain and dirt — the products of that great storm, you just might be able to catch a glimpse of four flashes in the pan, four streaks of gold, shining together in the darkness.
Flashes in the Pan: Felix, Josh, Thom and the band with no name (yet)