When Madison McFerrin, Finnegan Bryan Singer, Charley Ruddell and Taylor Robinson completed sophomore year in early June, they headed southbound from Boston for the annual Bonnaroo Festival. It’s a standard summer adventure for many college students, but the four members of Cosmodrome had other reasons for their pilgrimage. They’re students at Berklee College of Music, which means the months of June, July and August are best spent performing for as many people as possible.
In a way, it’s a school assignment, and the young band is certainly earning high marks. At the Manchester, Tenn., gathering, they managed to check out sets by Tune-Yards, Little Dragon, The Roots, Ludacris and others.
“That was really crazy,” Robinson said as the band rolled down the highway, bound for a gig in Greensboro, S.C., adding, “I was amazed at how many different bands we were able to see.”
But the real reason the band drove all those miles was to strut their own funky stuff, and the big payoff for Cosmodrome came with a Sunday set on a vendor stage at the festival. Now the group is working its way home, a rigorous tour that will include its first-ever New Hampshire appearance on Thursday, June 28, at The Shaskeen.
Vocalist McFerrin fronts Cosmodrome, and she’s part of a long family music tradition. Her father Bobby is a 10-time Grammy winner best known for the 1988 hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” McFerrin’s grandfather Robert was the first black man to sing solo at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Her brothers Jevon and Taylor are also performers.
“Yeah, I pretty much knew when I was in kindergarten that I wanted to sing and haven’t given up since then,” she says with a laugh, then turns her attention toward the band — guitarist Singer, Ruddell playing bass and Robinson working the drum kit. “For most of us, music was something we decided we wanted to do from a very young age — all of us only applied to Berklee. We were set on a musical direction. It’s working out for us, I guess.”
The Cosmodrome sound is a heady blend of soul, funk and hip-hop.
“We all like the same type of music, but as individuals we all have our own taste and styles, so that helps make our sound,” McFerrin says, “We all have a pretty good idea of what we like and don’t like, for the most part. We all bring something different that adds to this melting pot.”
The group formed around the sultry “Miss Me in the Morning,” a McFerrin composition that’s part of a just-released EP. The self-titled disc also includes the gently percolating “Mental Incarceration” and the infectious throwdown “Grapevine,” which deftly mixes Madison’s singing and rapping.
The four members of Cosmodrome met freshman year but didn’t start playing together until later.
“We lucked out,” Ruddell says. “We were friends for a long time before we decided to form a band, and by the time we did there was a gelling factor.” The group spent several months gigging around Boston before heading into the studio early this year. “It all came out of being at Berklee and being around each other and playing music.”
The school’s role is vital.
“There are so many connections that you make with faculty and students that we had a pretty good buzz,” McFerrin says. “That has helped us throughout the Boston area because Berklee is the hub of music in the Boston area and in the country in general. If you make a good name for yourself in the Berklee community, if people believe in you, they are most willing and happy to get your name out.”
On the current tour, their college connections have helped get them gigs — and places to sleep afterward. “There are so many people at Berklee from so many places,” Robinson says. “For example, we were able to stay in Nashville for a couple more days with a friend from Berklee — otherwise we would not have been able to do that.”
Back in Boston, there’s a college professor who is surely smiling and noting the diligence and resourcefulness of this young band. This is, without a doubt, the Berklee way to spend summer vacation. When asked what they hope the future holds, band members answer in unison: “Playing more music,” they say, “in front of as many people as possible.”
That’s the correct answer. At this moment, Cosmodrome is passing the test with flying colors.