Musical journal of a PhD student

Life as a young researcher, the hypnotic effect of a cleanroom, the Dutch weather, challenges, dreams. These are some of the themes of ‘PhD Life,’ the first album of Dr. Chillers. A TU/e band at heart that combines “a bit of everything” musically, but mostly rock, blues and a hint of pop.

photo Kevin Tatar

The subject turns to music during dinner. Someone picks up a guitar (Fabio) and someone else (Giulia) starts to sing. A bit of Queen, some Pink Floyd. “Then we thought: ‘We might have something here,’” says Fabio Paolucci, PhD student at the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “He stimulated me,” Giulia Digeronimo (who took her PhD in Applied Physics last October) says as she looks back on that evening.

That first musical click, over a year ago now, wetted their appetite and within a few weeks, bass player Javier Lanauze (postdoc at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the time) and keyboardist Giovanni Ghezzi (Bachelor’s student Electrical Engineering) joined in. Practically all of them had experience playing in other bands, including Javier.

Giulia: “One night, he told me he preferred to play in another band because they played their own music. I felt challenged and thought: ‘Surely, we can compete with other bands, why don’t we try that as well?’” A new shared challenge was born. Giulia: “I had several lyrics in mind, sometimes with a melody as well. Fabio and Giovani added chords to those melodies.”

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Video | Kevin Tatar

'Countdown' by Dr. Chillers

Video | Kevin Tatar

The only thing missing was a drummer. He too was found quickly within their own circle, but he didn’t join immediately. “I was a PhD candidate at the Department of Electrical Engineering and in the middle of writing my dissertation, the deadline was a month away,” Michele Chincoli says. “So I thought: ‘We’ll talk about it later.’ Giulia would send me some songs for me to listen to.”

Four years of every day struggling
But you are still not crumbling
Four years of never ending hope
But you are not sure if you can cope
The light at the end is not getting close
But you`ll follow it wherever it goes
(‘Countdown’ - Dr. Chillers)

When Michele joined the band, nine songs were finished. Including ‘Freaking Cold,’ a song about Eindhoven nightlife and the chilly rides back home on bicycle. And ‘Countdown,’ described by Giulia as a musical boost during a bad patch. “It’s about me working day and night to obtain my doctorate. When I hear it now, I’m immediately transported back to that state of mind.” They did need to add some “finishing touches” to the songs, Fabio says.

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Initially, the band performed mostly at The Hub, a center for expats located at Vestdijk, but they have now relocated to POPEI on Strijp-S because this pop center offers a more professional setting, according to Giulia. The musicians gather at least four times a week at POPEI to work on their material. “At first, we just didn’t have high-quality recording equipment,” Michele says, “nor did we have much experience with recording, editing and mixing music.” He draws a parallel between their way of working and athletes who watch video footage of themselves for hours on end to improve their performance. “Musicians do the same thing: play, record, listen and then try again.”

Take a break and chill

The result so far is “a garage band with a bit of everything,” says guitar player Fabio with a smile. But rock dominates, with a hint of eighties pop music and some blues here and there. Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Dire Straits, some Ray Charles: “I’m sure that all of them have influenced us to a certain extent, but they are a starting point, not an endpoint,” Giovanni says. The music mostly just came to them naturally. “We didn’t work according to a predetermined plan,” Fabio says.

The name of the band wasn’t the result of night long strategic brainstorm sessions either; it was inspired by Javier, who has left the band to return to America (the band is now rehearsing with his intended successor Sergio Soto), Fabio explains. “Javier really is the chillest person I know.” Giulia: “Let’s take a break and chill,” he would say.

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Nevertheless, the band really had to get to work, as far their studies, research and jobs allowed it. Their first single ‘Countdown’ has just been released, the complete album will soon be out as well. 

The initial responses from people within their own circle have been positive, says Michele. They are still somewhat uncertain of the sound quality, but not of the quality of the music itself, according to the band’s drummer Fabio: “Musical taste is a personal matter. I might like something, but you might hate it. This album is the best we can do right now.”

A cage of glasses
Filled with gasses
Hypnotic effect
Goodbye intellect, goodbye intellect
Hypnotic effect
Goodbye intellect, goodbye intellect
(‘Hypnotic Effect’ - Dr. Chillers)

The musical journal of a future engineer? Yes, that’s how you could describe ‘PhD Life,’ the band members respond when asked. “You can see how the lyrics evolve,” Giulia says, “and how the subject matters slowly change from life as a PhD student to life after that period.”

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They enjoy writing their own music and lyrics. Michele: “You have to memorize covers, but these songs come from within ourselves.” “These songs are the result of our own creativity, with which we experiment together,” Fabio adds. “A song of your own comes from the heart and the mind, the beat is in your blood.”

Dreaming of Rock Werchter

They didn’t have time for live performances yet. “Our first goal is to finish this album and to introduce people to us and our music, mostly through social media,” Michele says. But if they may dream aloud for just one moment? In that case, yes, a spot in the line-up of rock festival Rock Werchter would be nice, he and Fabio say with a smile. But, Fabio says emphatically: “We started playing for fun, and we still do so today.”

Craving for more of Dr. Chillers? You can follow the band on YouTube, InstagramFacebook and Spotify.

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