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Carrboro band explores the intersection of science and music

Will Vizuete, 44, and Connor LaMontagne, 25, are the bassist and drummer for The Unsustainables, a band brought together by their mutual love for the environment and the traditional sounds of the Jaimaican ’Ska’ genre. Vizuete is an Associate professor in the Environmental Science and Engineering department at the Gillings School of Public Health, while LaMontagne works in the same department as a PhD student. The band is composed of environmental scientists, engineers and even one EPA employee. According to LaMontagne, Ska is the predecessor of reggae. “It’s a cool mix,” LaMontagne said. “We’ll be playing just a regular reggae tune and then Trent will call out dub style and we’ll [make] what he describes as a ‘subtractive art’. It’s not about making a bunch of noise, it’s more about what you sounds you remove and sort of tastefully messing with the arrangement.” Vizuete agrees that the band’s mutual love for this era of music makes the group so amazing. “What’s really hip about it is that we’re all writing new songs,” Vizuete said. “It’s something new and contemporary, because [we’re] writing about stuff in [our] own life, but it’s within this kind of era of sound that we love. And that’s the fun part, trying to recreate that sound.” The Unsustainables create this sound through the use of drums, bass, guitar, trumpet, trombone, saxophone and conga. They are in the process of trying out a new piano player, according to Vizuete, which would bring the total number of members from seven to eight people. “Just being able to play has really been keeping our sanity,” Vizuete said.

Environmental science and the love of music have brought together the members of Carborro-based The Unsustainables, a band formed last year that shares their love for ska, rocksteady and reggae.

The band features two members of the UNC community. Associate professor William Vizuete and fourth-year graduate student Connor LaMontagne met through a jazz band created by members of the Gillings School of Global Public Health's Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering. 

Vizuete, who plays bass for The Unsustainables, said after picking up a bass guitar five years ago with his father, he discovered a group of other people in the same neighborhood playing music and met The Unsustainables guitar player Nuno Gomes. 

“In some way, I guess we found each other, right,” Vizuete said. “Nuno and I have this real love for this sound of Jamaican music. Nuno does radio DJs with me, too. And we said, ‘Hey, you know what, let's do something a little more serious.’”

Gomes said that before the band started to expand, it was just Vizuete and himself with their shared love of Jamaican music. 

“We wanted to find something that we could kind of focus on and kind of narrow the field a little bit so that we can kind of learn,” Gomes said. “And so we were working with each other to kind of learn the genre on our own.”

Vizuete had invited LaMontagne to play with the band after playing together in the environmental science engineering group. They discovered they both were interested in reggae-styled music. 

“I only know so much about Jamaican music, so I didn’t feel super prepared,” LaMontagne said. “I was like, you know what, I'm gonna do a lot of listening and do a lot of learning about it. And after a bunch of practices with them, I eventually got the hang of it. And it's been really awesome to play with them. It’s a beautiful musical tradition, and I like being a part of that.”

LaMontagne said throughout his listening and playing with Jamaican and ska music, he’s realized that both styles have inspired so many other genres that he is interested in, such as electronic music.

“It just really just interesting to hear about that stuff,” LaMontagne said. “I feel like it influenced my understanding of music and rhythm, and how to make music interesting and how to make rhythm pop.”

Most of the other band members are associated with environmental-related work, which is how Vizuete came up with the name The Unsustainables.

“We decided if we come up with a better one, then we’ll change it and it never really got to that,” LaMontagne said. “I think we like it, something about being environment-loving people like naming it the opposite.”

While professionally Vizuete researches the formation of aerosols and their connection to human health and climate, his creative outlet is with the band. 

“In that way, we're kind of tongue in cheek in the kind of the name that we are, but also we play anywhere, everywhere, right?” Vizuete said.

He said they try to be as helpful as they can to their community in Carrboro. As a part of the Carborro community, the band recently played for early voting lines, as well as other community events like Halloween inside their neighborhood. 

“I think what a lot of people need right now is just kind of some chill Jamaican music, and I think we can do that,” Vizuete said.

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