Spud Mack: The soundtrack of Tessa Wood’s college experience

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Tessa Wood is a 21-year-old music major with a communications studies minor and is in her last year at Rowan. She began her college career uncertain, first declaring herself undecided, and switching majors a few times, but now with her music degree in sight, and her band Spud Mack taking off. She has found her true calling. Growing up in Clinton, New Jersey, with a dad who loves music, she was encouraged to pursue it from an early age and exposed to a wide variety of music.

“My dad has been in a band since high school. He’s a great singer and a phenomenal songwriter. He has a collection of 4,000 vinyl records, I heard doo-wop, blues, early rock-n-roll,” Wood said. “I grew up singing with my dad, it nurtured my love for music.”

Now, Wood is not only a singer-songwriter, but a multi-instrumentalist as well. Her primary instrument through most of grade school was violin, and in her teens, she started lessons for vocals and guitar.

“Violin taught me how to read music, understand music theory, and gave me an appreciation for classical music, which I still love,” Wood said.

She used that foundation to teach herself to play bass guitar and some mandolin. She can also play the jaw harp. Her first experience performing live was at recitals hosted by her vocal coach.

“I think my first performance in front of people was seventh grade…I sang ‘Lay Me Down’ by Sam Smith. It was nerve-wracking but it was a lot of fun and I was proud of myself,” Wood said.

Wood’s band, Spud Mack, was established in October of 2021, born out of a chance meeting.

“We all were together at a show- ’Stage Dive’- a venue that’s no longer there. Brad was there, and Hunter was there, and I heard [Brad] say, ‘I want to be in a band’, and I said, ‘I’ll be in your band,’” Wood explained.

Brad McKenzie is the band’s bassist and Hunter St Pierre is the band’s lyricist/vocalist. The trio later welcomed drummer Alex Siegel and lead guitarist Ethan Garcia to the group.

Spud Mack can be found on Spotify and seen live around campus as well as in some local venues. They’ve also participated in Rowan’s Battle of the Bands, which they won just a few weeks ago. Their next show is on March 30 at The Matte House.

“It either starts with me playing chords on the guitar and figuring out a melody for it, or lyrics I’ll usually just sing nonsense,” Wood said. “It’s a great way to get vowel sounds.”

Wood’s writing process differs between her solo work and the band.

“We’ve written songs so many different ways. Usually, it starts with Brad or Ethan playing a riff,” Wood said. “Being in a band has taught me so much…. about cooperating with different musicians….we all come from different backgrounds with such a wide range of tastes. We butt heads, but we come together to make things we love and hope others will love too.”

One of her and McKenzie’s strongest influences has been King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, a notoriously eccentric, genre-blending Australian band.

“We have a lot of different genres for Spud Mack,” she said. “It shows different sides of us, different strengths… King Gizzard has been a big influence in that way.”

With graduation on the horizon, Wood is starting to plan for the next phase of her life. Wood and her bandmates have found themselves asking, “How often are we going to be able to do this after we graduate? But we try not to think about it.”

She is also interested in photography and hopes to obtain an apprenticeship with a nearby studio.

“I don’t know how or where, but I’ll be making music for the rest of my life,” Wood said.

Wood has words for aspiring creatives.

“Just try to put yourself out there. I was nervous walking up to Brad, but I’m so glad I did. Be true to yourself, don’t try to fit in a mold, and find people that support you… I wouldn’t be who or where I am today without my dad,” she said.

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