State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Mane Zatsko

A Song that’s “Ours to Own”

[TL;DR: Graduation feels, I know Tawa, his music is good, scroll down for review of “Ours to Own“]

At the end of a long journey, we usually reflect on the time it took us to get there and the big events that shaped us along the way. My own 5 years at Penn State, much like DJ Keegan Tawa’s, are ending soon, and though I won’t bore you with my personal anecdotes about meeting/working with him since we were both lowly, self-assured sophomores, I know I can’t separate my review from my experiences.

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[right to left] Zach Kramer, Keegan Tawa, Olivia Price, Myles Billard at Battle of the Bands

When thinking about this man’s collegiate music career, I reflect on the songs he released throughout his years here. Because of Songwriters Club and our close mutual friendship with his lyricist, Myles Billard (seen here acknowledging the crowd with a wave), I’ve often gotten sneak previews of Tawa’s music and Myles’ lyrics during their various stages of production, and I’ve even given feedback and suggestions at points. Inviting critique of one’s art is probably one of the most vulnerable things you can do as an artist, so I’ve never taken the privilege lightly. Beyond that, I consider myself very lucky to have had even a minor role to play in how Tawa’s music has been shaped these 4 or 5 years. Garnering support for him by spreading the word about his songs has been my passion because I truly believe in this guy’s music.
As artists, we inevitably read our songsScreen Shot 2015-04-28 at 3.58.03 PM like headings from the chapters of our lives, because so often it’s the work we were putting into our music between those papers and lab reports that was our real focus all along, the stress of school and homework seeming more like a minor distraction than our true reason for being here. Those songs aren’t made in a vacuum. What I mean is that we put every ounce of ourselves into our music, every bead of sweat, every drop of time, every direct/indirect – intended/unintended influence of those around us is written in the synths.


This final song from Keegan is the reflection on those chapters he and the people he’s lived and worked with have written together. “Ours to Own” draws on the words and major themes from nearly every previous song Keegan has put out here at Penn State. At no point does this song hide from what it really truly is: a goodbye.Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 11.15.16 AM

In his lyrics, Myles Billard has represented the sort of collective experience that is Penn State as a relationship to someone that we must say our farewells to. The metaphor is poignant without any of the easy corniness that usually gets tacked onto such themes.

Rather than a clingy montage of black and white images screaming angst and nostalgia, the lyrics sing like a mature parting of the ways. Zach Kramer croons smoothly as the opening chords strike, his always excellent vocals gracing our ears with the familiar titles of Keegan’s past songs as it pushes inexorably forward like the march of time itself.

And the harmonies? Damn. Just damn.

Without giving too much away about the song, to me it’s really about moving on, not necessarily being ready for that, and doing it anyway; after all, “time never waits for goodbyes.” It’s about leaving that relationship with Penn State knowing she’s prepared you for what the world is going to throw at you, and seeing those horizons knowing you’re heading for great things because of the past that brought you here. And we will carry every second spent in this town knowing “we’ll never walk alone,” knowing “I’m never on my own” because of it.

But like I said, I can’t separate my review from my experiences here. Maybe these words mean something else entirely to you.

The whole reason I started this review with all that touchy-feely crap about journeys and whatnot is really because the sonic journey Keegan and Myles have been taking us on since their first fateful collaboration has been leading them and us up to this moment, this song, that could not better represent all of our collective odysseys if the Nittany Lion came on the track to spit a verse himself. And of course I’m not limiting the experiences that this song encapsulates to Penn Staters alone, but as a soon-to-be-graduating student, I do declare this song to be ours. Sorry Keegan and Myles, but this is one jam whose possession is undeniable: it is Ours to Own.

Team Tawa Releases "Sunlight EP"

Keegan Tawa’s music seems largely inspired by the time of day/light vs. dark elements (see his Nightfall / Daybreak EP), and lucky for us it’s time for the introduction of a little sun to that mix with his latest “Sunlight EP.” Keegan has always accepted critique of his work during the writing process from close friends, but this time is different according to Keegan, as he claims this EP was developed with greater collaboration than in the past. “It is the culmination of all of my musical and artistic abilities, but more importantly, it is the first real, actual TEAM project I have built – the first one I can’t really claim sole ownership over. And that’s awesome.”

Lyrics and artistic vision were provided by his usual ghostwriter, Myles Billard, and the vocalists provided much of their own experience and ideas during development and recording. The lyrics truly inspire fantastic imagery and emotion, especially when paired with Tawa’s on-point production; they refuse to be overlooked on the EP’s biggest stand-outs, “Beautiful Motion” and “Sunrise In Blue (feat. Olivia Price).”

“Twilight,” the very edge of the end of day, opens this powerful EP with slow extended chords unfurling like smoke over the smooth glassy surface of undisturbed water. Zach Kramer croons over the track into the very powerful “Beautiful Motion,” which has a very distinctive and pounding chorus. Zach Kramer’s vocal talent is really evidenced here. The dynamics of all the songs are incredible, but “Beautiful Motion” is really grabbing and will have your head nodding. The vacuous pauses in the chorus setting the song apart feel as though the air has been sucked out of the room with every pounding synth and cry from Kramer.

From there we move into “Starlight,” sporting Beethoven-like arpeggios and a dreamlike, spacey quality that sends the listener’s mind drifting through pinpricks of light and sound, until night falls away that is, leading into the ominously titled “Sunrise In Blue (feat. Olivia Price).” Olivia’s more fleeting, ephemeral vocals  contrast nicely with Kramer’s clear, glassy tones and help power the EP’s stunning imagery. In every note, the listener hears this warmth like the sun’s rising, but it’s layered with this fantastic blueish overtone that haunts every aspect of the track. It’s inspiring and at the same time sobering. The closing song, “Sunlight,” marks the start of day and the end of the EP with reflective yet ominous piano playing out over warm strings; the sun has finished rising.

Overall, this EP shows a marked improvement in songwriting and collaboration for every person working with Team Tawa. It’s focused, elegant, well thought-out, and it finally has a place in your iTunes library.

Kaz & Olivia Price Bring You 'Strangers In The Night '

You fly down a dark highway late at night, contemplating the weight of your heavy 80s-style existence when you pop your cassette tape into the car stereo and a few muted notes start you off down a smokey musical landscape. This is what it’s like to listen to Penn State artist Kaz’s song ‘Strangers In The Night’ featuring Olivia Price.

Last year, Kaz released a collaboration track with fellow Penn Stater Olivia Price, and what collab it was. We were slow to pick it up, bringing the classic cliché of better-late-than-never to mind immediately, but that’s because this track is fire. It sounds like it could’ve easily been featured in the movie Drive, soundtracking a moody Ryan Gosling as he stares mystified into the eyes of a woman he’d give everything for. Damn Kaz.

Kaz and Olivia are very different artists to begin with. Though both are well armed with an arsenal of music theory and classical training, Kaz favors production and beat making, while Olivia swings more toward the singer/songwriter category.

Though singer/songwriters and producers are admittedly in (over)abundance at Penn State, these two manage to distinctly set themselves apart from the rest on Strangers In The Night, coming together to make a truly unique song.

To find out how this awesome track came to be, these two artists answered some questions we had, so if you haven’t already, hit play, and then read on to get some background on this beat!


How was working with another artist so far removed from your genre?

Doug: Very fun, more creative possibilities.  From a producer standpoint, I’m always thinking through different ways I can manipulate her voice to fit the song.  Like taking a note she holds out and fitting it to 16th notes and layering it over the synths, for example.

Olivia: You can definitely hear our own musical niches throughout the piece. It’s easy to pick out my more ethereal style in parts like the chorus, and then Doug’s experimental, percussion-driven style drives the song, like in the instrumental build at the end. Regardless of the fact that we each take a different approach to music, I think the lyrics and the melody do a great job of mutually conveying the story we had in mind.

What were you going for with the piece? 

Olivia: A unique flow. The song takes several different directions. When you isolate the different parts, they each sound like completely different songs, which I think is really really cool. That was almost a challenge in and of itself (piecing all the parts together,) but Doug did an amazing job of making the transitions flow seamlessly into one another

Who did what on the track? Did you guys each bring different parts of it to the table?

Doug: Olivia wrote all the vocal melodies and lyrics. I wrote all the other parts and produced the track.

Production influences on the track?

Doug: I’d probably say Mr. Little Jeans, Foxes, Phantogram, and Woodkid.

If you’re interested in more from Kaz, follow him on SoundCloud, and check out his website at Rumor has it they will be working together again soon, so keep your eyes out for more music from both of these great local artists!






Price Is Right On Team Tawa

I know we say this every time Keegan Tawa puts out new music, but it always seems to hold true as his talent grows: Keegan’s new song is his best yet.

Listen to it before you read another word of this review. … Are you listening yet? Yes? Ok good then you already get it. 

Tawa’s production plus the vocals of local artist Olivia Price are phenomenal together. Each new collaboration he does seems to add a new creative dimension to his sound.

The song itself is a melodic trip down memory lane with lyrics evoking that reflective mindset you get when life makes you walk alone for while. When their serious tone is conveyed through Olivia Price’s full voice over the jaunty chords in the build, you’re dying for that cathartic release of sound that the lyric-less chorus provides.

There is clear, inherent emotion in every aspect of the song. Even if you don’t catch the actual words in the lyrics, you still feel the impact of the vocals and melody in every note and syllable. The result of all this build and quality production? The singular, undeniable urge to jump out of your seat and dance the angst away.

Don’t bother resisting your headnodic urges while listening. You’ll just hurt yourself. Thanks for another fantastic tune Keegan.

Check out Olivia Price’s SoundCloud here



We live without clarity;

eyes believe what they’re shown.

We love without legacy;

leave behind seeds we’ve sewn.


If hearts could find,

If time could show,

two paths entwined

where would we go?


My hands hold you,

Emptiness grows.

In time too soon

We will walk alone.


Please, keep your mind at ease.

There’s no need to stay.

Sweet, let your love fly free.

We’ll be okay.


Wherever you may go,

My thoughts will wander.


Please let your heart know

New love grows stronger.

Collin Releases "Haden"

The newcomer Collin has already expressed his production prowess through his Pete Rockish song, “Goodbye“, but now he brings us a new tune to listen to.  Titled “Haden” Collin’s latest jam is an ode to Charlie Haden himself, famous for his bass playing in the jazz sphere.

This song is another chill, smooth jam, but the halting strings give it a little more flavor over the simple snare while the violins carry it to an ethereal realm. If you listen closely throughout, you’ll hear foreboding/triumphant snippets of Jon Stewart’s voice declaring that times are difficult but not hopeless from his 2010 speech at “The Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear”. The song itself sounds like a wishful summer daydream over fresh warm rain, and you’ll be sad it’s over by the time it’s drifted to a close. Looks like there’s plenty more to come from this up and comer.

New Producer Brings You "Goodbye"

It’s summer break, and that means newfound free time for many of us Penn Staters! By the looks of it some of us are putting that to great use and making tunes, and on that note we present you with someone brand new to the production scene.

Known simply by his DJ alias “Collin” (is it still an alias if it’s your real name…?), this rookie is starting strong with a jazzy Pete Rock-esque beat.  The perfect jam for those hot summer days when you just wanna kick it in the shade, that sexy sax sample makes you sit back and relax a minute. More tunes are to follow soon, and you can be sure SITR will keep you posted on this new producer!