Songs Inspired By UConn: The story behind the UConn-inspired student album

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Thanks to the IDEA grant, Elizabeth He, an eigth-semester molecular and cell biology major, and Andre Mastrandrea, an eigth-semester music composition major, are working together to produce an album inspired by locations on UConn campus. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth He

The IDEA grant, one of the University of Connecticut’s research grants for driven students, funds a wealth of projects every year. One student designed and built a garden meant for children to learn. Another group of students documented their trip to Yosemite National Park. The creativity of projects inspired Elizabeth He, an eighth-semester molecular and cell biology major, to propose creating a music album.  

“Dorm Room POP!” is the name of the upcoming album, produced through a collaboration with He and Andre Mastrandrea, an eighth-semester music composition major. The eight-track album is inspired by a plethora of locations on campus, from the Dairy Bar to Horsebarn Hill. 

Because it is both He and Mastrandrea’s last years at the university, the students wanted to make something that would remind them of their time at UConn. The album is a swan song to UConn, and they made sure that they poured their hearts and souls into the composition. 

“We just start[ed] with a list,” Mastrandrea, whose artist name is Ambroggio, said. “Gampel, Homer, Student Union. Those are the easy go-to’s, but you kind of need them there. And from there, we also wrote down thoughts, feelings, adjectives and stories that we would describe at each location,”  

Mastrandea’s favorite UConn place is Avery Point because of its beauty and family history. He’s favorite UConn place is the Whitney benches. 

The two, who met through the student-run record label UConn Entertainment Group, composed playlists of their favorite songs. When listening to them, they would take inspiration from melodies and chord progressions from those songs.  

“I was trying to write a chorus, and I literally texted Andre. I was like: ‘What toppings do you put on your ice cream? Strawberry? Yeah, strawberries, fudge, rainbow sprinkles.’ And literally, [those were] just like the building blocks. Once [Andre] sent that to me, I was just able to write. And so, it’s like, ‘My head in the clouds… Marshmallow daydream’,” He said about the songwriting for the album. 

The creativity derives from Mastrandrea’s music production skills and He’s vocals and songwriting. The two have experience on both sides of the equation.  

Mastrandrea’s background comes from experimenting with GarageBand in high school before moving on to buy professional equipment for music composition. He learned how to play the cello and has produced some of his friends’ albums. Mastrandrea cited Tame Impala, Nirvana and Trippie Redd as some of the artists he listens to and is influenced by.  

He, on the other hand, takes her inspiration from artists like Clairo, who she started listening to in fall of 2019. Clairo was one of the people who popularized bedroom pop, a genre of music known for its warm and amateur aesthetic, derived from the simple atmosphere of a bedroom.  

The album’s mix of genres represents the diversity of the creators’ musical influences. Mastreandau talked about his folksy songwriting style and He’s pop sensibilities and gave insight into his musical thought process. 

“You know what just screams basketball games? horns. We didn’t know where to start. We were just gonna start with horns. And i was like, ‘it’d be awesome if we made a rap track that then gets super punky.’ But I also wanted it to be upbeat.”

Andre Mastrandrea, eighth-semester music composition major

Additional plans for the album include an accompanying music video for each song. He and Mastrandrea are also developing a fair use doctrine for their album so that UConn students can freely use it in their own works.  

An album release party will take place at the Student Union Theater on March 28 at 7 p.m. 

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