Conduction Band walking down Goodwin Road

For one night a year they were stars

By Dan Petrella

From Physics Illinois News 2005 Number 2
Department of Physics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For several years at Physical Revue, the annual Physics talent show held each December, a group of graduate students who called themselves The Conduction Band stole the show.

Tony Bonetti and Dylan Smith started the band after playing together in another short-lived group. Bonetti joined the earlier group, in which Smith played bass, when it got a new singer and some of the other members quit. The group didn't last much longer.

Smith and Bonetti decided to put a group together for the Physical Revue in 1997. "Tony and I hadn't played out for a while and we were itching to do that," Smith said.

The group's line-up for the first year included Smith on bass and backing vocals, Bonetti on drums and backing vocals, Dan Sheehy on guitar and backing vocals, and Bill Neils on lead vocals.

"They asked me if I wanted to sing. I told them to keep looking. If they couldn't find anyone else, I would step in," said Neils, who began singing in a church choir and sang in choirs throughout high school and college.

The band, whose name comes from the energy band theory of solids, took popular songs and rewrote the lyrics to relate to physics. Their songs included "Seminar Daze" (based on "Purple Haze"/Jimi Hendrix), "Stayin' Alive" ("Stayin' Alive"/The Bee Gees), and "Take Qual an' Fail" ("Jump, Jive, an' Wail"/Louis Prima).

"We tried to choose songs that both the grad students and the faculty would appreciate," said Smith. They tried to select a mixture of old and new songs and ones that would appeal to a wide audience, like songs by The Beatles and the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

"We would hear a song and think of funny physics lyrics for the chorus," Neils said. "Then we'd sit around and listen to each others' ideas. If we could come up with lyrics for the entire song, it was a go." Neils noted that they wrote a physics version of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" but it was never performed because some group members thought it was too racy.

The group was pleased with the response it received from the first performance. "The audience reaction was great," Neils said. Brian Wiemeyer, who joined the group on trumpet, keyboards and backing vocals the second year, recalled being in the audience for the band's first performance. "The first year, when I was actually in the audience, it was electric," he said.

Sheehy left the group after the first year and Yung Tae Kim took over on guitar and backing vocals.

The group's members agree that the second year was the peak of Conduction Band's career. "The second year, we already had a little cult following, and the reaction was even greater," Wiemeyer said. "People remembered us from the previous year and sort of went nuts," said Neils. He said that performing the second year was one of his fondest memories of his time in the band.

Within a few weeks of that performance, the group even recorded an album called Goodwin Road in the basement of a band member's house in Urbana. "We sold about 50 copies of it and actually autographed a couple," Wiemeyer said.

Smith said the third year's performance "wasn't quite as magical." The members were busy with working on their theses and didn't have as much time to devote to the group, Neils said. "Honestly, the third year, it went down a bit," said Wiemeyer. "A group similar to ours went on before we did, and stole our thunder a little!"

As members began graduating and leaving the university, the group disbanded.

Smith is still at the university as a postdoctoral research associate for the Materials Research Laboratory. Until this summer, he was playing in a hard rock and funk group called Rodeo Girl Collective that played mostly cover songs at local bars like the Iron Post. Currently his two-year-old daughter keeps him too busy to play in a band.

Bonetti is a research scientist in the Low Temperature Science and Quantum Sensors Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Neils is designing cryogenic instruments for Quantum Design in San Diego, California.

Wiemeyer is a research scientist at Technology Service Corporation in Los Angeles and worked as an extra on the made-for-TV movie "18 Wheels of Justice."

In addition to his position as an assistant professor at Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, Kim is also the founder, president, and CEO of Palindrome Skateboards.

Sheehy is a research associate in the physics department at University of Colorado at Boulder.

Although they have been apart for several years now, the members still have fond memories of their time in the group. Wiemeyer recalled a time when a first-year graduate student approached him in the hallway as though he were some kind of celebrity. Neils' fondest memory is the time they spent hanging out at Smith and Bonetti's house, nicked named "the Dog Pound," writing song lyrics and making fun of each other.

About the possibility of a reunion, Smith said that he wouldn't want to necessarily go on stage but getting back together to play would be fun. "That's Tae's dream, I'm sure," he said.