By: Mara Kalinoski – Staff Writer
Head in the Sand is the newest offering of the Dayton music scene, an intriguing blend of jazz and hip hop by a duo of talented, long-time musicians. Senior Ian Mortensen plays drums, and freshman Will Harper plays piano and bass. Both members of the band provide vocals. The men met in the Dayton Jazz Ensemble where they instantly clicked and decided to form a group.
The men of Head in the Sand are high energy, fast-talking, constantly hopping from topic to topic. This sense of intensity translates neatly to their music, which is filled with a similar energy. Their music history knowledge seemed practically inexhaustible as they chatted about a variety of musicians that inspire them. Harper and Mortensen cited many artists from all different eras and genres, including Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Leon Russell, Freddie Mercury, the Black Keys and Clyde Stubblefield.
The guys talked about the importance of listening to albums as a whole, instead of just picking and choosing songs, especially with modern artists whose albums reflect a complex experience, like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar.
“It’s not a collection of stories, it’s a whole novel,” Mortensen said.
Unlike some other bands, there wasn’t really a deep and meaningful reason for their name, Head in the Sand.
“I saw an ostrich at the zoo and it put its head in the sand,” Harper shrugged.
Mortensen suggested that the name reflects the idea of willful ignorance, a theme they explore in their satirical party anthem, “In the Ghetto.”
They released their tune in March, right before St. Patrick’s Day, in order for students to be able to listen to a song that both celebrated UD and skewered the stereotypes surrounding college party culture. Students go wild for the song when it’s performed live, often joining in on yelling the chorus with the band.
“As a performer, there’s nothing that comes next to playing the music you enjoy and having people enjoy it as well,” Harper said. “Getting that validation and reinforcement, there’s nothing like it.”
“Especially when you play music that has room for improvisation,” Mortensen added. “Communication between musicians and seeing where it can go.”
The duo are passionate about the history and influence of music, especially as it still continues to bleed into the music we hear today. They believe that the way music influences every facet of life is limitless.
“John Lennon got a lot of crap because he talked about how the Beatles’ music was more popular than Jesus, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong, in that they had monumental influence on the entire world,” Harper said.
Mortensen also mentioned times outside of the oft-cited Civil Rights Era, such as the Civil War, when slaves sang spirituals and used codes to maintain their culture in the face of their torture. He spoke about present-day Black Lives Matter anthems, as well as international turmoil in the 90’s, when musicians easily bridged gaps between peoples where politicians consistently tried and failed.
“Music is a universal language,” Harper said. “If it feels good, it feels good. There’s this huge, deep-rooted science of tone and timbre and tempo that influence this, and usually people have no idea about that science, but they still understand it.”
“You know when music is good when it’s timeless,” Mortensen said. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s from 2002 or it’s classic oldies.”
The unique blend of jazz, hip hop, and rock makes their sound immediately interesting and attention-grabbing, even without taking into consideration the immense talent that both of the members possess. Jazz and hip hop are two strains of music that are rich tapestries, both in terms of history and sound. Harper and Mortensen can both sing and rap, and when writing their songs they make sure to include the best qualities from both of their influencing genres. The result is something fresh and new, while still maintaining the classic vibes of jazz and hip hop.
Head in the Sand has performed at Battle of the Bands, a Sustainability Club fundraiser and at various open mic nights in the student neighborhood. They are adept at connecting with their audiences, who find an irrepressible spirit in their music.
“The best relationships I’ve had with other people in my life have been because of music,” Mortensen said. Music is an instinctive, visceral outlet for passion, where people can connect whether they are performing, producing, writing, or simply listening and enjoying.
Head in the Sand is currently recording and will be releasing their upcoming demos around October of this year. You can find their music on Soundcloud. Their song “In The Ghetto” can be found on any music streaming platform.
Photo courtesy of Squared Away Blog.