NYU artist finds success in student duo

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The effortless harmonies of Jack + Eliza, an up-and-coming band made up of Gallatin sophomore Jack Staffen and Columbia University student Eliza Callahan, show that the duo is all about simplicity — simplicity that has managed to connect with people and shake things up beyond the limits of New York City. The duo’s first EP, “No Wonders,” was released on Sept. 23 and can be found in local record stores Other Music and Rough Trade, as well as at Amoeba in California.

After working with Chris Zane, producer of music by Passion Pit, Holy Ghost and the Walkmen, the band has evolved its sound past lo-fi singer-songwriter ballads into a beachy ’60s sound with clear-cut vocals.

“I think we’re both really proud of the EP and happy with the way it turned out,” Staffen said. “What we wanted was a classic Beatles sound, something very simple that spoke to what we were actually doing. [Sane] maintained that simplicity but also brought his highly polished sound … We couldn’t have asked for anything else.”

The band draws their influence from ’60s psychedelia and artists with a classic rock sound.

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“We’re really inspired by The Beatles, The Kinks, Motown, the Velvet Underground … as well as new stuff like Grizzly Bear, Father John Misty, Tame Impala … the list goes on,” Callahan said.

Jack + Eliza played their first show since the EP’s release at Baby’s All Right on Oct. 1.

“Baby’s All Right is probably my favorite venue in the city,” Staffen said. “I’ve seen plenty of bands at Baby’s All Right and I feel like that’s where the hype is right now, so just playing there in itself is very nerve-wracking and I feel very honored to have played there.”

But the duo’s success did not come easily. It was only after several years of knowing each other through friends at their rival high schools in Brooklyn that Staffen and Callahan began to experiment making music together. 

“We met through mutual friends way back when we were, like, nine,” Staffen said. “[In high school] I was in a band, and our drummer quit. Eliza was kind of a drummer — she knew a little bit about drums and we were like, ‘Be our drummer.’”

While both Staffen and Callahan had separate music projects going on — Callahan even won the International John Lennon Songwriting Award at just 15 years old — the duo decided that the music they made together was something they could see a future in.

“We were too shy at first,” Staffen said. “Finally, we were in the same room, we wrote a song and showed it around at some showcase … Our friends really liked it and told us to continue writing. And the rest is history.”

Although their EP just came out, Staffen and Callahan are already discussing future releases.

“We’re going to be promoting the EP for a little bit, but we have like 50 songs right now that need a home,” Staffen said. “So, we’ll probably end up recording more in the near future, but as of now we’re going to be performing songs from the EP and playing a ton of CMJ shows.”

Staffen offers advice for other students looking to enter such a daunting industry.

“Take yourself seriously,” Staffen said. “Just leap and hope for the best, give people all that you have to offer. You can’t be insecure, you have to go for it.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 6 print edition. Email Hannah Treasure at [email protected]

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