Biology department members create an experiment of note—a band called Fever Dream

Published: Nov 9, 2023

Fever dream, a band, practices in a lecture hall
Band members (l-r): Biochemistry doctoral student Winny Sun on keyboards and contributing vocals; Jeff Leips; Steve Caruso ’94, Ph.D. ’02, on drums; Michelle Moyer, M.S. ’22, on vocals and percussion; and Ryan Bacon ’23, on lead guitar. Not pictured, Anthony Rosenthal ’20 on bass and harmonica. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Before you let your imagination run wild, we’re going to go ahead and temper whatever expectations you may have upon hearing the phrase “biology band.” Nobody is banging on a centrifuge in lieu of drums. Test tubes aren’t lined up as a makeshift xylophone. The final rock flourish is not a shattering of beakers. In fact, when the band members of Fever Dream get together, they leave biology in the lab and concentrate on what matters—the music. 

“We are incredibly lucky to be able to do important research on the topics that we are interested in while at the same time being able to share our knowledge through teaching and mentoring students,” says Jeff Leips, professor of biological sciences.

“But our department also definitely embodies the motto of ‘work hard, play hard.’” 

a man plays a teal guitar and another man plays the drums
Leips on the guitar and fellow biological sciences faculty member Steve Caruso on the drums. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

“I’ve been involved with music my whole life and was actively looking for opportunities just like this, so it came at a perfect time,” said Michelle Moyer, M.S. ’22, a current biological sciences doctoral candidate. “I’m blown away by how much the idea has developed into a true passion project for all of us.”

The concept of a departmental band started simply enough. In his capacity as chair of the biology department “Fun Committee,” Leips asked around at his lab to see if anyone played an instrument and would be willing to play during their end-of-year departmental party. Leips joined the UMBC community in 2001 and this annual event has become one of his favorite traditions. The same year that Leips came to UMBC, he bought his first guitar.

Meet the band

Over the years, Leips has continued to gather a new musical cohort every few semesters with minimal practices and a one-time-only performance. While the revolving door of students each year allowed for new and exciting instruments to add to their sound, retention and growth were issues.

Last spring, Leips put out a call to see who would be interested in standing up a more permanent band, and soon his guitar and ukulele were joined by vocals, percussion, keys, and more.

Fever Dream is currently made up of biological sciences faculty member, Steve Caruso ’94, Ph.D. ’02, biology, on drums; Michelle Moyer, M.S. ’22 and a current biology doctoral candidate, on vocals and percussion; Ph.D. student Anthony Rosenthal ’20, biochemistry and molecular biology, on bass and harmonica; biochemistry doctoral candidate Winny Sun on keyboards and contributing vocals; Ryan Bacon ’23, biology doctoral candidate, on lead guitar; and Jeff Leips on guitar and vocals.

Fever Dream, the band of biology department members, practices in a lecture hall
Left to right: Sun, Leips, Caruso, Rosenthal, Moyer, and Bacon. Photo courtesy of Chase Andre.

“I know Dr. Leips has previously labeled me as lead guitar, but I feel that might overpromise on my skill set! But it’s been a lot of fun,” says Ryan Bacon ’23, biology doctoral candidate, of his involvement.

While the group may have come together as a hodgepodge, their dedication was clear from the outset. “Anthony said he was just learning guitar, so I suggested that he learn bass. He borrowed the bass from our drummer and started playing and actually got pretty good, pretty fast,” said Leips.

In addition to jumping in feet first to learn how to actually play the instruments, the members of Fever Dream have also put in the time—upping their practice schedule to two nights a week, three hours per session—to make their ultimate goal of playing a show a reality. 

The group works together to choose songs they think will speak to their skillset, with classics like “Piano Man” (with the added bonus of highlighting Rosenthal’s harmonica skills) and hits from Tom Petty and The Doors. But the students also become the teachers, introducing Leips to music he’s never heard of from bands like alt-J. The band is looking forward to showcasing their sound at a few biology department gatherings this semester and they’re kicking around the idea of potentially branching out to local venues.

It was all a (fever) dream

picture of a brown dog sleeping
Leips’ dog, Chiku, dreaming in front of the sound system. Photo courtesy of Leips.

And to answer your burning question—why the name Fever Dream? It’s both a bittersweet tribute to a dedicated fan and an explanation of their musical selections, which are “all over the place,” says Leips. When Leips first got his PA system, his dog Chiku would stand listening at the door. “If I made a mistake, she would look at me like she knew,” muses Leips.

After sharing a photo of Chiku visibly dreaming in front of the PA system, Leips’ pup became the band’s unofficial mascot. And when she sadly died, the group decided to make it permanent, inking her on their band shirts and settling into their official name. 

Ultimately, the group is just glad to have found each other and have an outlet for their passion.

“When Jeff invited me to join a low-stakes, fun-oriented band, it seemed like a great idea,” said Caruso, who studies phage biology. “I’ve learned that while I really like playing the drums, I love playing with other people. Making music with people is just a wonderful kind of thing that people need to do to understand.”

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