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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student


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‘An act of sporadic inspiration:’ Making music as The BDR Project

The week-long Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency culminated in a concert performance by the Knox Jazz Ensemble, the Cherry St. Combo, and headliners the Miguel Zenón Quarter on Friday, Dec. 13, 2023 at the Orpheum Theatre. Courtesy Steve Davis/Knox College.

For some musicians, the pandemic was an opportunity to focus and create. One such musician was junior Brandon Roberts.

Roberts started releasing music under the name ‘The BDR Project’ in mid-2020.

His style of music can be hard to pin down.

“It sort of sounds like if you put all of Peach Pit through an acoustic guitar,” Roberts said. “It almost sounds like if The Front Bottoms wrote more poems.”

Music has been a part of Roberts’ life for years. In middle and high school, he performed in concert and jazz bands. Halfway through high school, he began songwriting.

It wasn’t until early in the quarantine of 2020 that Roberts had the time and energy to write songs. That was during his last semester of high school and the summer before starting college.

He released The BDR Project’s first EP, “Crash and Burn,” in June of that year. His five-song EP, and the other singles he has released, are available on most music platforms. Roberts considers himself more of a jazz musician and music theorist than a singer/songwriter.

“That’s kind of why I love theory, is that you get to the end of it and realize that it’s all—there’s no floor. You dig down and you dig down and there’s no floor. And so then you can just, once you’re at the bottom you can explore: how do I break every single rule in a way that’s interesting and creative and beautiful?” Roberts said.

Since those early days of the pandemic, Roberts has released two more songs. He hopes to release more. But he said his writing process can be slow-going.

“It is an act of sporadic inspiration, it is spontaneous and not systematic. I will write a song in an hour and not write again for six months,” Roberts said.

His most recent release was a single, “The Bees”, in 2022. It’s more stripped down than his earlier work, and takes lyrics from a poem written by his girlfriend, junior Marli Messner. Like all of his songs, it is deeply personal..

“I find my music really hard to perform. In part because it is, sort of, overly earnest and a little overly exposing, you know even though I am writing about sometimes other people, sometimes myself, I feel like there is a part of it that is—I’ve left too much out, there’s too much on the table now that you can just grab and access whenever you want and I don’t get to control how you do that,” Roberts said.

Roberts has performed as The BDR Project a number of times. In late February, he opened for the band Terror Pigeon when they visited Knox.

“I don’t write the songs to record them, I record them because I already have them and might as well. I really write to perform, and I write to perform live in front of at least a couple people. And that is a deeply deeply joyful experience for me. I can get it no other way,” Roberts said.

Outside of The BDR project, Roberts does a lot on the Knox campus. He is double majoring in History and Secondary Education. He’s heavily involved in the music department, both as a performer and a tutor. He plays guitar every Thursday at the Galesburg Community Art Center for the Cherry Street Combo, and he plays bass for the Knox College Jazz Ensemble.

Roberts hopes to do music for as long as he can. And like the subject of his song Parachute, who knows where he will end up.

I think he’s somewhere deep in the Rockies, hitched a ride on his way out the Valley, where we starting the search if it’s up to you?

I know he’s out there somewhere, it’s only a matter of time. I will go anywhere the truth will take me, I guess I’ve lost my mind.


Winner Honorable Mention Feature Illinois College Press Association 2024

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