Zack Levine can’t stop tapping. He drums his fingers on the table, on his glass of water, everywhere.
“I’m just like tapping constantly all day,” says the drummer for whysowhite, the student band performing at Dillo Day. “I used to get yelled at in class. My mom hates it. You can ask my friends, I’m just always like…” – he taps his fingers on his computer – “…on everything.”
Levine, a Weinberg senior from Montclair, N.J., will perform at Dillo Day for the second year in a row. Last year, he played with Mayfest Battle of the Bands winner Looney and the Tunes. He still remembers last year: the nervousness that students would be too busy pregaming to attend the early afternoon set, the frantic rush to get onstage after Regina Spektor’s sound check delayed them, the ultimate thrill of playing on a large stage for an even larger audience.
His only complaint?
“It’s a bummer that they make your backstage pass invalid after your set,” he says. “I don’t get to meet anyone. But that’s just a small thing that doesn’t really matter. It’s a huge thrill to play in front of so many other students on the best day of the year at Northwestern.”
This year, it’s whysowhite’s turn to move from bars to the large stage on the Lakefill. Levine says the band is practicing for hours every day in preparation for Dillo Day, which he views as a great opportunity for the band to continue to move up.
After playing Zeta Beta Tau’s Fence-In and Mayfest Battle of the Bands, Levine is confident in the band’s ability to get the crowd going at Dillo Day. He characterizes whysowhite’s music as danceable and fun, which will be the determining factors in the success of their performance on Saturday.
“On a day when people are going out already to dance and have fun, I think it’s going to be a serious combination between us and the audience, and the connection is going to be great,” he says.
The competition that won whysowhite the spot at Dillo Day is not a new one for Levine. During his time at Northwestern, he has competed in Mayfest and Dance Marathon Battle of the Bands, and won each twice with Looney and the Tunes and whysowhite. He also drummed in another band, The Main Men, which played in a couple of battles.
Other than the three student bands, Levine has played in a variety of musical groups, from a drum corps program called Drums of Thunder in fourth grade to Pinegrove, the band which he intends to continue with after graduation. Although he can play the trombone, guitar, bass and some piano, drums are Levine’s true passion.
“I just love the niche onstage in the band, being a person that is kind of in the back and laid-back but kind of in control,” he says. “I feel like my personality is kind of similar to that of a drum’s role in a band.”
He strongly believes in communication between band members and credits his best drum parts to long jam sessions and suggestions from others.
“When you can be having kind of a conversation musically with other musicians, that’s how you can come up with some of the best stuff,” Levine says. “I’m big into just jamming and then kind of fleshing things out.”
Although Levine feels a strong camaraderie both musically and personally with his current band members, he has decided to leave whysowhite after graduation to work with Pinegrove. This group, which consists of his younger brother, longtime friend Evan Hall and one of Hall’s friends, plays “melodic but experimental indie rock with some serious funk undertones,” he says.
Levine says he will record with whysowhite and play a couple more shows before leaving, but he and the rest of the band have started to look around for a new drummer.
“It’s obviously terrible because he’s so good,” says Bienen senior Chris Miller, whysowhite’s lead guitarist. “We have a few prospects but no one’s really come in to rehearse yet or actually clicked yet.”
Levine calls his difficult decision to leave whysowhite for Pinegrove “a nice problem to have” because he sees both groups going far. He chose Pinegrove partially because of personal ties. He will play with both his brother and Hall, who he has known and made music with since they were 8 years old.
“Through that time, just playing together so much and for so long, we developed a really strong connection – not deliberately, necessarily, but more through osmosis,” Hall says. “We’ve always been disappointed that our school breaks rarely lined up.”
Levine, a history major with minors in political science and music technology, knows there is a disparity between his decision to pursue music and academic life. In Philadelphia, he will look for a day job.
His broader back-up plan, however, is unrelated to all of his other interests. Levine, an avid sports fan, has a background in sports broadcasting and might pursue sports journalism later. For now, he’s a little embarrassed when his professors ask him about the future.
“Everyone’s like ‘Oh, I’m going to history grad school and I’m going to teach here or do this,’” he says. “And I’m like, ‘I’m in a band, making no money.’”
Levine enjoys his parents’ support – they even support his younger brother’s decision to play in Pinegrove during a gap year before college. Levine is looking forward to working with friends and pursuing his musical goals.
“It’s going to be a crazy lifestyle: working during the day, playing gigs at night, rehearsing late into the night,” he says. “I’m not going to be sleeping that much, not going to be making a lot of money. But that’s what I’ve always dreamed about so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Check out the Spring magazine, which comes out later this week, for a feature story on whysowhite.