Degrees of Freedom
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Degrees of Freedom

Band Folk Rock


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This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music



Perched on a wicker stool, eyes closed and head bent toward the microphone in front of him, Kevin Snider strums a 12-string acoustic guitar and sings a hopeless tale about man in love with an alcoholic: ". . . and she looks at me, wonders why I’ve not left yet. She’s got somewhere she wants to be. Don’t do it. Don’t go that way. Done so well until now. . ."

Tom Johnson steps ups to the microphone to add some harmony as Snider’s rich chords, accompanied by Fred Weber’s lead electric guitar, pick up intensity leading into the refrain: "Don’t you want to settle yourself down? Get a house or have some kids around. Don’t you want a life with me? And the thing is I say, I’ll always love you Angeline."

The song, "Broken Bottle" is on Special Endeavor, a 10-track CD that soon will be released by Snider and his band, Degrees of Freedom.

This night, the band’s stage is in Snider’s living room. The dining room table is pushed back against the far wall; a rocking horse and a painting resting on an easel are moved aside to make room for equipment and the musicians.

The song ends. Johnson, an associate professor of psychology at ISU and the group’s piano player, asks to go back to the final verse.

"I want to work on that last part," he says. They run through it a few times, experimenting with tempo and harmony, before moving to "C’mon," an emotional song Snider wrote after watching a news report about a six-year-old child who shot a playmate with a handgun. During a break in the rehearsal, Snider, assistant vice president for institutional research and assessment in the office of Planning and Budgets, talks about the experience of recording a CD.

"This is a dream for me. Making music is such a basic, important part of my life," says Snider, who wrote nine of the songs on Special Endeavor. Johnson penned the sixth track, "Long Promise."

Snider, who often composes songs on a small, travel-size guitar when he’s on the road for work, finds his motivation from a number of places. "Anonymity" is a fun look at how small town living can be restrictive.

"Quiet Time" addresses the need everyone has to be alone and collect his or her thoughts. Snider set this song in the morning because of a day when he got up early to finish some work. At the end of the recorded song the singer’s solitude is interrupted by the harried voices of Snider’s wife Sarah and his two young sons scrambling to get ready for the day after having overslept. Such shouts as "Mom, where are my socks," or "I can’t find my toothbrush" accurately reflect the morning chaos many busy families go through daily.

There’s also a few songs dealing with love, as in the title track "Special Endeavor," loosely based on Snider’s relationship with his wife, or love lost as in Johnson’s "Long Promise."

Johnson wrote "Long Promise" in 1978. He was inspired by the imagery of the landscape during a Michigan ski trip he took in high school. He met a girl, and the two of them skied together for a couple of days. The last day, they were supposed to meet up, and the girl never showed.

That meeting that never happened is reflected in the lyrics: "Our last goodbye wasn’t supposed to be our last. One last look. If I’d known I would have cried."

"I took some poetic license," Johnson says of using the teen-age experience as a starting point to develop the song later.

The road to the recording studio for Degrees of Freedom began more than five years ago when Snider started playing in a weekly jam session with several ISU faculty members including Doug Hermann, professor of psychology; John Allen, associate professor of chemistry; and Peter Wright, then professor of technology. The group met in a renovated garage and played a mesh of old, "and poorly imitated," rock-and-roll tunes on two old crate amplifiers.

"At first, the point was less about making music and more about socializing," says Snider, who contributed original tunes and ad libbed lyrics.

When Jack Renshaw, a fellow ISU administrator at the time, joined the group about a year after it formed, he suggested Snider start writing the words down to his songs.

Musicians came and went, but over time Johnson and Weber consistently joined the core group of Snider and Wright. Twenty written songs later, Snider felt the sound of the current trio should be captured on recording. The group’s music is built around the full, rich sound of Snider’s 12-string guitar. Johnson and Weber, both experienced musicians who’ve performed professionally, add some great piano bridges and guitar licks, respectively, to the group’s repertoire. Their ideas on arrangements and various sounds help create the unique sound.

Johnson and Weber agreed to help Snider by focusing on his compositions for the CD, and they spent a few weeks practicing in a basement, "complete with exposed wiring and cold cement floors." Since fall, they have been spending several nights a month in the recording studio laying down tracks from Johnson and Weber, as well as from ISU Information Technology employees Al Banfield and John Ford on percussion and bass guitar respectively.

Ford, a microcomputer/network consultant for user services, and Banfield, supervisor of classroom/campus services, are both accomplished musicians who agreed to lend their talents to the CD. The mixing is being done in Banfield’s recording studio.

Snider is producing the CD, working on the mixing with Banfield and Johnson and making decisions on the final cuts.

Degrees of Freedom has come a long way from practicing in garages and basements, Snider acknowledges. It’s required a big commitment, including some sacrifice by their families.

"We all have day jobs. We all work on music when and where we can. We do it because making music is a part of us, part of all our souls. We made this CD because we felt the songs were at a point that we wanted to share them with people other than ourselves," Snider says. "Besides, the basement was getting cold and damp."
- Campus Connections


Special Endeavor


Feeling a bit camera shy


Original songs with interesting perspectives about life and an odd mix of styles are what set us apart from other bands. Lead songwriter and vocalist Kevin Snider lists Neil Young, the Beatles, America, Elton John, Loggins & Messina, and Cat Stevens as his major influences. His songs are written for the guitar and, while frequently equated to these artists, his approach to life and voice are a little different. Take “Bottle Breaks Again” which is a song about a man in love with an alcoholic or “Cybergirl,” which is a song about a girl sadly trying to find love on the internet. One of the cuts offered here, “Quiet Time,” sounds kind of like Taylor and kind of like Cat Stevens, but is uniquely Kevin, particularly the ending. Another song, Prints on the Window, displays his talent at lyrics as he sings about a friend who recently lost a spouse.

The band's soft "Tayloresque" sound is interspersed with other songs that are driven by synthesizers and keyboards. These songs reflect the other songwriter of the group, Tom Johnson, whose influences include Phil Collins, Moody Blues, Genesis, and Styx. The cut, “Long Promise,” written by Tom, is a perfect example of how the band moves from one sound to another, turning to keyboards and synthesizers for inspiration and drive.

Tom Ramey's most recent experience before Degrees of Freedom was as part of a classical guitar group. Although he loves playing bass, the band has tried to give his guitar skills more play. "Old Cafe" is one where Tom switches the bass for a classical guitar giving the song a rather unique feel.

Bill Foraker’s experience as a jazz drummer adds another dimension to this group and livens up the percussion with a slightly different sound than might be found in standard rock and roll.

Degrees of Freedom brings together a folk singer-songwriter, a 70s/80s style pianist, a classical guitar bass player, and a jazz drummer. The sound and perspectives are a little different but the songs will still sound like old friends because they are about things that happen to all of us.