Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics
Guitarist for the band Magnolia Collective
I’m an applied mathematician, working in the field of fluid dynamics. The methods we use are a combination of theory, computation and experiments. With collaborators in marine sciences, we use our joint fluids lab in Chapman Hall to conduct experiments on, for example, understanding the formation of oil plumes in oil spills. I’ve also been the chair of mathematics for over four years now, and that’s been a really wonderful and challenging experience.
My mom started my brother and me studying classical piano at age 5. We’d go to our piano recitals in our baseball uniforms. Dad was our coach, but mom would make sure we went to those recitals before we played any baseball. And we loved it. I continued studying piano through the second year of college, but somewhere in high school I got interested in rock ’n’ roll, and I begged my parents for a guitar. I finally got one at about 14 or 15 years old and taught myself to play. There’s a natural connection between the math and the music — I don’t really understand it, but it’s in the wiring somehow.
We had a band in college that was called The Pneurotics. I had to decide between going with my band in college to LA or going to graduate school. It was a tough decision, but I decided to go to grad school at Princeton. I kept the music going by attending open-mic nights in New York or Philly.
When I moved to Chapel Hill, I started going out and putting groups together. We reactivated The Pneurotics as a trio with my wife, Mimi, a few years after I moved to Chapel Hill. Mimi is a bassist and a singer and really talented. She is a critical part of Magnolia Collective, our current group, which is a five-piece band that I would describe as a blend of alternative rock with Americana. We formed initially as a group of friends from different bands, and eventually our talented lead singer, Daniel Snyder, and I started writing songs together. We released a CD, An Old Darkness Falls, last October. Daniel and Mimi do the vocals, although I sing one song on the new record, “Tie Me to the Mast.” We also did a run of vinyl, and you can put so much on that. I am so happy to see the resurgence in vinyl. We’re now mixing a new six-song EP that’s already been recorded. We recorded the music at Chapel Hill’s Bunker Sound Studios, and that will probably be released sometime this coming spring.
We played a bunch of festivals this year, and just opened for the Shelters at the Local 506 a few weeks ago. We are on a great label called the Potluck Foundation which is a consortium of many Triangle bands. Everybody tries to help each other out. The music scene in the Triangle is a really tightknit, wonderful community with a lot of talented people, a lot of good music. The sum of the collective is greater than each individual component; that applies equally well to our band and the music community. We go to each other’s shows; we love each other’s music. There’s great positive morale there.
We play all over, although none of us really has the time to take a tour. We’re sort of weekend warriors. We all have jobs and kids and dogs and pets. It’s really rewarding, but the most difficult thing is the late shows. We mostly stick to playing weekend shows now. With The Pneurotics, we’d play until 2 a.m. in the morning in Raleigh, then have to pack up, and I’d have to teach at 9 a.m. the next morning.
We practice in our living room. We try to do it not too late so it doesn’t bother the neighbors or the kids doing their homework. We’re not making money on this stuff — we’re probably breaking even — but I just love making music. When I’m tired after work, I can just sit with the guitar and strum out a new song. It gets in my head; it pushes me. As it develops and you add all the other instruments, it’s really rewarding.
I have no regrets about going into mathematics. With my day job, I have a very interdisciplinary focus, and I believe the more you expose yourself to other ideas, the more your own creativity will develop. Carolina is such an awesome place for that. I love the fact I can get away with doing both the music and the math here. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Artists After Hours is an occasional feature in which we interview faculty, staff and students who pursue artistic avocations in areas not directly related to their day job and studies. Profiles are archived at our Carolina’s Human Heart website, celebratehumanities.unc.edu. Know someone we should feature? Send suggestions to email@example.com.