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‘The Willard Building’ Brings Home-Grown Music To Campus

When coming to Penn State, many students consider what clubs they want to join or classes they want to dive into. For students Eugene Ryoo and Ryan Keating, their goal was to make music.

Of course, that was no easy task. When they were freshmen, bringing music to campus was a dream. To them, it was tough to think of it as a reality. Starting their band, “The Willard Building,” has opened up more music and performance opportunities than they anticipated.

In 2018, Ryoo and Keating met at a party while both were entirely new to Penn State. The two were introduced to each other because of their love for music which meant the pair was destined to collaborate. Rightfully so, the two instrumentalists sparked the idea of a band when Ryoo spontaneously texted Keating at a party. Keating said his first reaction was to laugh and not entirely believe Ryoo’s thought process.

“He started off by sending me music recommendations. Then said, ‘We should start a band,’” Keating said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, OK. Why not?’” 

Ryoo was dedicated to starting a band after seeing another local band, Queen Blue, play during his high school years. Keating said he didn’t take the idea too seriously until they played together for the first time. 

“The first couple of times we played, I remember it being fun,” Keating said. “We just played covers and it gave us the music kick we were looking for…We clicked.”

As the two friends started playing music and inviting others to try out the band, the West halls dorm rooms suddenly became too small. Keating and Ryoo migrated over to the Willard Building classrooms to store their equipment. When it was time to apply for one of their first performances, they needed a name. That is where The Willard Building originated. 

The band never had one definitive moment where they knew this was the right thing to do. But after the pandemic, The Willard Building was reminded of how important playing together was.

The two-person band started off playing Indie-based covers, which is what the guys still stick to in their sets. They also started sending their original demos to one another, determining if that was something they wanted to incorporate in their gigs. 

As time went on, Keating and Ryoo took a music technology class together at Penn State. That class “spiraled” them into where they are today.

Now, the band is made up of four members total. For a while, they rotated through a few instrumentalists to find the perfect rhythm. Ryoo is the singer and guitarist, with Keating as their second guitarist. Grant Cheung is not located in State College but serves as the dedicated drummer of the band. Bassist Andrew Gustafson is the fourth and final member of the band.

Gustafson is known for working in music production and also playing music with Keating since middle school. Gustafson brought all of the recording equipment from Bucks County to State College. From there, the four-person band started recording their music and are in the works of an EP.

“There are recordings out there,” Ryoo said. “There are recordings in the universe, but they’re not yet released. The EP is coming along.”

Keating said the band is full of perfectionists who want to be happy with what they put out. He also stated their goal is to release something, look back at it, and be proud of what they put out.

What comes with recording is performing and getting a feel for their audience. The first official gig The Willard Building picked up was during the pandemic. Over Zoom, they were able to perform for an online SPA audience. Because this was their introductory performance as a band, it didn’t go so hot.

“It was pretty terrible,” Keating said. “We had to go after a really good band, so that was nice for us.”

From that experience forward, The Willard Building has taken any chance it can get to perform live, big or small. Between house performances to benefit shows, each gig brings the group closer to its crowds.

“It is fun playing the songs we cover because the crowd gets into them,” Keating said. “We do some crowd interaction…Everyone will freak out and sing along.”

Now that performing is back in-person, they do not take any show for granted. Staying in a band throughout the pandemic put the group’s members through tough times, and it even had them wondering if they had the right chemistry. Keating said it’s only right to keep making memories.

To The Willard Building, other local bands, like Canary and Queen Blue, had an impact and influence on where they are at today. To keep up to date on properly supporting local music creators, some members are in the Audio Engineering Society, where they learn about music hardware.

Within AES, Keating and Ryoo work in partnership with Penn State’s student-run radio station, Lion 90.7 FM, to host live music sessions and invite bands to perform. “Live on the Lion” provides an environment to perform live and on-air while recording professional videos for the band’s resume.

“We have done two [sessions] so far, where we get some local, Penn State bands in,” Ryoo said. “They sit down, play some songs, get interviewed, and have a nice, polished video of their band with professional audio.”

If you are interested in joining AES, the club is open to anyone willing to learn about audio hardware. The Willard Building is available for bookings and other inquiries here.

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About the Author

Larkin Richards

Larkin is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. The only words that leave her mouth are "yinz" and "dippy eggs." Luckily, her writing has much more substance than that. As a Steelers and Pirates fan, sports can become a hot debate. Share your thoughts on dogs (specifically Boston Terriers) with her at: [email protected]

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