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Monday, June 17, 2024
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What are our professors listening to?

From Taylor Swift to death metal, UB professors gravitate to a wide variety of music

<p>Aaron Estes, seen here in his Bell Hall office, listened to Röyksopp as an undergraduate.&nbsp;</p>

Aaron Estes, seen here in his Bell Hall office, listened to Röyksopp as an undergraduate. 

The social media trend of stopping strangers to ask what they’re listening to has offered us a glimpse into our peers’ music taste. But what are educators on our campuses listening to? What music did they listen to when they were an undergraduate? 

The Spectrum talked to five professors about what they jam to throughout their day. 

  • Shawn J. Donahue, Political Science
  • Aaron Estes, Aerospace Engineering
  • Kenneth Joseph, Computer Science
  • Vincent Lynch, Biology
  • Daniel Sage, Mathematics

What was the most memorable song, album or artist from your undergraduate years?

Donahue: Oh, I think you can tell who I’m a fan of. 

shawn donahue.jpg

Shawn Donahue is known around campus for his obsession with Taylor Swift.

Estes: I was getting into — have you heard of Röyksopp? Röyksopp is from some Western European — Norway or something. But they do this kind of, chill electronic music, but it still has some energy to it as well. 

Joseph: I would say “Love Story” by Taylor Swift, I think, came out around the time. There was a lot of singing along to that. And later on, Miley’s “Party in the USA.” During undergrad, those are the two I remember most frequently blasting. There was one from football games, that like ohhh oh oh oh oh. Seven Nation’s Anthem, something like that.

Lynch: Dave Matthews Band, but I also really liked Fiona Apple.

Sage: Peter Gabriel. 

Do you have a particular memory associated with it?

Estes: I first heard Röyksopp on a GEICO commercial. GEICO commercials have the caveman they make fun of. When I was an undergrad, I was still buying CDs, and they had a music shop on campus. I was going to Arizona State University. I remember going to that cool music shop and getting a Röyksopp album.

Joseph: The first two, yes, at social gatherings. 

kenneth joseph.jpg

Kenneth Joseph, seen here in his Davis Hall office, says his music taste was expanded by Vampire Weekend. 

Lynch: I remember listening to it. I didn’t even have it in my dorm. I didn’t even have a CD player. So I listened to it on my computer using the computer speakers, that was when the computer was this big and it sat in a tower. So we’re never having to turn on my computer to listen to music.

Sage: So when I went to college, I had almost no exposure to popular music and I had a roommate who turned me onto all sorts of stuff. I listened to all Peter Gabriel. I’m not sure I have specific memories associated with it, more like a soundtrack to the first couple years.

Do you have a feel-good, hype song?

Donahue: “Blank Space.”

Estes: If I’m working out and I want to work hard, I’ll listen to death metal, but that’s kind of aggressive — like I need to lift this heavy weight. It’s almost embarrassing to name some of these bands that I listen to but I’ll listen to Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse, Defeated Sanity. They’re heavy, but they have a good beat, so that it’s not totally chaotic. You feel like there’s structure to it. But if it’s like, I’m feeling good and we’re driving out to dinner somewhere, I listen to a lot of Khruangbin. I really like their song “Evan Finds The Third Room.” That would be my hype Khruangbin.

Joseph: A genre that I listen to when I’m exercising or want to feel good: like any 2000s hip-hop or rap. I would say The Game, some of that earlier Drake stuff. But again, I was told today that Drake and Kendrick have a thing, and now I’m not supposed to — I’m learning. But that era of Jay-Z and Outkast, I think those are two really good people.

Lynch: The best Fiona Apple song on “Tidal” probably is “Criminal.” “Sleep to Dream” is really good. These two people slowly build and build. 

Do you listen to anything on your way to work? What’s playing?

Donahue: I usually listen to Taylor Swift. 

Estes: I tend to listen to a lot of the same songs again and again. When I find a new song I really like, I’ll listen to it a lot. I’ve been listening to “Tough Love.” This is something I’ll sing along to as well. It’s similar to Sufjan in that it’s more laid-back, folk, influenced some good harmonies

Lynch: If it’s just me, it’s probably podcasts. I listen to a lot of history podcasts because I find it very tough to read if I can keep my attention. But it’s easy to look into because it’s telling a story. I like the “Revolutions” podcast a lot. It’s about different social political revolutions, mostly in the West. If my kid is in the car, we’re probably listening to “Doggyland.” “Doggyland” is awesome. It’s Snoop Dogg. He has two kids albums, and they’re really fun. 

What’s a piece of music that has shifted or expanded your music taste?

Donahue: Probably the “Tortured Poets Department” because it’s a little bit different.

Estes: So I grew up in Arizona, and there’s a lot of fantastic Mexican music. I listened to that growing up but I’ve gone away from it and recently come back. My brother tipped me onto Eslabon Armado. It expanded the things I like. 

Joseph: So when I went to undergrad, I became friends with folks who were and still are music people. I think the album that came out in the timeframe was “Vampire Weekend.” We listened to that album a couple times, and I was like, “Oh there’s stuff beyond rap and hip-hop that I’m willing to listen to, and pop.”

Lynch: I don’t listen to folk music, but I really like Pete Seeger and through Pete Seeger, I started listening to folk bluegrass.

Do you listen to music when you’re researching, writing or grading? If so, what?

Estes: So that’s all video game soundtracks. I’ll find playlists on YouTube, like — oh my god — I’ve been listening to this so much, so it’s from “Lord of the Rings Online.” But it’s ambient, kind of from a tavern in the game. So there’s somebody playing on some guitar but through fire crackling and some ambient discussion. It’s a lot of “Zelda” music. I’ll pick something from “Breath of the Wild” or a specific area and they have 30 minute videos of Gerudo Town at night. The music kind of melds into the background, but it becomes a part of the atmosphere while you’re working and I feel more creative or feel nostalgic.

Lynch: Usually not grading because I don’t want to make a mistake. A lot of the times when I’m actually doing research, I like to listen to music really loud. It can vary but lately it’s been this band, Sleep Token, this metal-y rock band.

Sage: Well, if it’s research, it’s usually classical because thinking is more intrusive. When I grade, I have a The Cure greatest hits CD. 

What music do you like to sing-along to or belt even?

Donahue: I really can do it to “All Too Well,” the 10 minute.

Estes: I listen to a lot of Sufjan Stevens and I like to sing that stuff too. One of my favorite songs by Sufjan — he does these Christmas albums. When I’m driving my car, I like to sing along with this [“That Was the Worst Christmas Ever”], and there’s lots of harmonies so sometimes I’ll do one of the harmonies. 

Lynch: Well, just today in the car when I was dropping my kid off at daycare, we were singing “Loveshack” by the B-52’s, quite loudly.

Sage: Probably “Games Without Frontiers.”

If you’re throwing a gathering for family or friends, what’s playing in the background?

Donahue: If some of my friends, then probably Taylor Swift. Some of my family would probably be like, “I don’t want to hear that.”

Estes: Honestly, probably it’s more of a lowkey, funky groove. It’s Khruangbin, sometimes Kiefer. I think he’s a pianist, but then he makes it more like lo-fi, like mellow beats.

Joseph: If it’s with the kids, I would say you’d probably hear a lot of Miss Rachel and hopefully no “Baby Shark.” If I was having a social gathering without the kids, I would think like background music like alternative type stuff.

Lynch: Usually my wife would be in charge of that. Her musical tastes are really good. It might be something like Bajofondo, quietly in the background.

Sage: Well, if it’s the family, it’s classical music because that’s what they like. If it’s friends, usually, 80s music of various sorts. I didn’t pay attention to it growing up but my wife certainly did. If it’s a party, then like Daft Punk, Tame Impala, stuff like that, more of the modern stuff.

What are you listening to right now?

Donahue: Taylor. Taylor. 

Lynch: The Nirvana “Unplugged” album.

Sage: Last night, I listened to an album called “Kaleidoscope World” by the Kills. It’s a New Zealand band. When I’m in the car or something, I plan to indoctrinate [my 5-year-old] into classical music.

Tenzin Wodhean is an arts editor and can be reached at 



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