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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New Album ‘Sketches of Youth’ by UMB Student Allister Quilon

The University of Massachusetts Boston is known for the diversity of its students – and that’s not just confined to national diversity, but also refers to the individual students as being well rounded too. Students like Allister Quilon embrace that diversity, that UMass is so proud of, and are able to accomplish more by means of embracing all of their talents. Allister is an English major student who has used skills he polished in the classroom to write songs and now has an album called ‘Sketches of Youth’ to show for it.

The album dropped on Spotify on September 17 in its entirety. It’s a mix of soul with tones of indie rock, but the real highlight is in the clear effort that went into the lyrics – finding songs with lyrics that actually mean something these days is hard to come by. Quilon attributes this capacity for storytelling to some of the professors at UMass Boston and at the Honors College. Quilon made a point to note specifically influential professors like Louise Penner and Avak Hasratian and recognized their contributions to his education beyond the classroom: “The work we did taught me how to imbue things systematically from art into a larger social context.” He found that he was asking himself more questions like, “How does the industry of music view art and how do artists create within that language?” Having a command of the English language is just as important as musical talent.

Allister takes his knowledge of language and tells a story in ‘Sketches of Youth.’ “My album is supposed to be about what happens when someone glamorizes a specific type of beauty or love and entrenches themselves in it. It might be crazy, but it’s about the dynamics of an interracial relationship and what kind of issues arise when becoming vulnerable with someone that doesn’t have the same life experience.” It is easier said than done to try to write about separate but intertwined experiences of two people; even more difficult is the album’s acknowledgement of the recent concerns of race in society and, subsequently, the relationships that make that society. Hopefully there comes a point where these issues won’t be so difficult to bring into discourse, but for now, it has to start somewhere.

Allister Quilon noted that he uses various platforms to record the lyrics to his song: pen and paper or digital formats. “I think you think differently with pen and paper… for inspiration I’ll write a piece over and over and over again trying to get at the thought.” This methodology embraces both formats of writing in an attempt to see what results when two opposing modes of thinking meet on paper or screen.

For Quilon, taking those words from page or screen to the public began with the Slam Society. The Slam Society is UMass Boston’s club that hosts regular meetings to practice spoken word poetry and occasionally facilitates competitions, or ‘slams.’ Quilon talks about the influence the club has had on his songwriting and performance abilities: “Slam Society for me has been a platform to learn how words work together and how sentences form and how to deconstruct them – or put them back together with new meaning.”

Some of what college is all about is learning the content in the confines of the classroom, but some of the concepts and skills are meant to be applied in the real world. One of the lessons that comes from school is working with deadlines that effectively only affect the individual student as to whether they complete an assignment or not. In reality, there is a network of people that depend on an individual; Allister learned this when he produced his album: “I learned just how important deadlines are when working with other people. It doesn’t matter what you make if you don’t get it in on time and respect someone else’s boundaries.” The fact is that it is hard work to translate creative output into something recognizable and structured. It’s even harder to do it alone, and alternatively, Quilon stresses the importance of the connections he has made in order to get his album produced.

Allister Quilon proves that it is not impossible to break into the professional music scene. He’s made sure to utilize all of the opportunities that he’s come across, which helps, but it has been more involved than that. Quilon describes not only the skills he has acquired, but the friends he has made along the way to help him to get to the point of producing an album. It began with an internship at a studio in Boston where he met the producer who would end up helping him make ‘Sketches of Youth’ become what it is now. Quilon recorded a song about the Boston Marathon called ‘Stand Up’ which was only the beginning. The most important result of the song was not in its creation, but the friendship that followed with producer and CEO of Moon Rock Sound, John Phillip Henshaw; Henshaw would go on to executively produce ‘Sketches of Youth.’

Allister Quilon is still attending school and sometimes even graces the JFK train station crowds with an impromptu performance. In a more official capacity, he has put on a few shows to promote the new album. If that all weren’t enough, he has even started his own songwriting and publishing company, called ZAMMStar, with fellow UMB student, Matthew Hughs. The concept behind ZAMMStar is to write up songs, which comes easy to Quilon and his friends, and to approach local artists to feature the tracks on their upcoming releases – or as Allister likes to say, “It’s like Motown.” Quilon voiced that his ultimate goal is to “…foster a self-sustaining community of artists, not just musicians, where we can help each other out, talk about business.” This reflects the culmination of the various talents involved in Allister’s endeavors, but also reflects his opportunities at UMass Boston.