In the back kitchen of Union South, two musicians commiserated about their work and chatted about music. Another musician joined the conversation, and a drunk game-day talk and friends’ connections brought yet another two musicians into the loop. These five UW students, now alumni, began to play music together and eventually formed their band The Gambol.
The band, consisting of Jack Ringhand (lead vocals/guitar), Neal Cragg (bass/vocals), Tony LaBrasca (guitar/banjo/harmonica), Ben Dederich (drums) and Anna Grassman (violin), generates double-meaning and infuses it into their music. The songs all have a rhythmically catchy tune, but when you listen closely, the lyrics reveal deep introspection that gives way to the creative process.
The Gambol’s genre is multidimensional as well. Their recently released self-titled LP is a mix of rock, blues, country and folk — or, as the band describes it, Americana. From playing gigs on the streets of Washington Avenue to Majestic Theatre and the Memorial Union Terrace, this band is bringing their fresh sound to the Midwest scene.
Their LP is sure to garner The Gambol a following, but their authentic sound isn’t the only reason to follow this band. The Gambol advocates for various social issues. Their creative process involves analyzing the challenges prevalent in today’s world and reflecting on how they can create meaningful change.
“There are songs about how we can reflect on our privilege as white males within the U.S. and what our role is to challenging our white privilege,” Ringhand said. “This is skewed in a much more mature writing style compared to our previous stuff.”
The lyrics aren’t the only evidence of maturation. The LP still features the light, fun-vibe songs found on the band’s first EP, but includes more edge and distorted, electric sounds.
The Gambol have little restrictions on their music. The band sits on the edge of a folk/rock and contemporary blues/rock world and they aren’t afraid to cross over.
Keeping the genre classification fluid allows The Gambol to open up their creative process. Once the lyrics are ready, the band rolls with it until they’ve found the perfect sound to match. Each member of the band has a specific music taste, which allows everyone to add something unique to the mix.
“We enjoy playing with different ratios of different genres,” Ringhand said. “You can play with more rock but still have a roots feel.”
The Gambol have stuck to their roots by playing Madison venues, which was a dream come true for these alumni, having gone to shows at these venues during their own college careers. The band is soaking up a lot more memorable experiences with their album release, including a short-circuit tour in Wisconsin and Iowa.
The band hopes these upcoming shows will create momentum and eventually allow for a large-scale tour. But something like this will require a lot of time and commitment. The band remains independent and all members are employed. But The Gambol reminds current University of Wisconsin musicians that inconveniences shouldn’t stop them from following their goals.
“Don’t think that having a full time job is a barrier to living your dream,” Cragg said.
The Gambol formed right here on campus, just like any band can. They recommend musicians form connections, play together and check out open mic nights. Madison is full of creative individuals, so budding musicians should take notice and network while they can.
“Use the campus context to your advantage,” Ringhand said. “This is a unique point in life, that there are so many people in a concentrated area — people with a lot of talent.”