Unit One: Finding the ‘Altered State’ Boston College-based rock band Unit One releases its debut album 'Altered State.'

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auntering through the lockered walls of Carney Hall, the members of Unit One spitball jokes back and forth, exuding an ease and comfort with one another that can only come after two and a half years of learning to be in sync—on the stage and off. Their relaxed disposition is hardly indicative of all of the papers put off until the last second, hours of potential Netflix bingeing lost, and days dedicated to the corridors of Carney that accompanied their journey while producing and releasing an album.

Prominent guitar notes, groovy basslines, and punctuated drum hits come together in perfect synchrony to open “Came Around,” the first track of Altered State. Released on Feb. 1, the debut album marks a major milestone for Unit One, the Boston College-based alternative rock band that has become a staple at Music Guild events since its formation in the fall semester of 2016. The 11-track album is a culmination of two and a half years of long practice nights, constant reworking of tracks, and live performances around Boston.

The foundation for what is now Unit One was laid when vocalist and guitarist Rachel Moon, MCAS ’19, and drummer Josh Mentzer, MCAS ’19, bumped shoulders as devoted members of Music Guild during their freshman year. At the time, both musicians played in Book Ends, an indie band that has since dissolved. After casually playing some of Moon’s original material together for awhile, bassist Nick Sucre, MCAS ’19, joined the duo to form Unit One at the beginning of their sophomore year. Unit One publically played together for the first time at the Winter Band Showcase that year, a performance that was just the first of many more to come.

“For me, [the name] is something that is really indicative of the most important parts of music—getting to share it with people, getting to help people as much as we can,” Mentzer said.

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aving formed because of their involvement in Music Guild, Unit One also rooted its name in its involvement with the student organization. The band’s name is a reference to the children’s mental health ward—unit one—of the Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Brighton. Every other Friday, the members of Unit One play music for the patients at Franciscan Children’s with other devoted members of Music Guild. While other names—We Could Be Astronauts and Rachel and the Moons to name a few—were floated, the band ultimately settled on Unit One because of its sentimental value. The band found Unit One to be a fitting name because it believed the experiences it shared with the patients embodies the greater purpose of the band:

“For me, [the name] is something that is really indicative of the most important parts of music—getting to share it with people, getting to help people as much as we can,” Mentzer said.

“The High” was the first original track the band ever fleshed out together. The four-and-a-half minute track takes on an easy, breathy character as Moon’s airy guitar riffs collide with Mentzer’s relaxed beat, but Mentzer was hardly relaxed the first time he ever heard the song.

“We were at an open mic and Rachel was like, ‘Hey I wrote this song—do you want to play it with me?’” Mentzer said. “So the first time I ever heard the first track for the album was on stage playing it.”

As the band progressed through its tenure on the BC band scene, however, practice became an integral part of Unit One’s process.

“What sets us apart [from other BC bands] the most is that we work really hard,” Moon said.

Every Tuesday night, Unit One can be found perfecting its craft in the Carney practice room that has become the de-facto homebase for the musicians. Moon, Sucre, and Mentzer meet there weekly to rehearse as a band, but the artists often work toward mastering their individual instruments as well. Some of this practice occurs while playing with other bands—Moon is also the guitarist for Shady Lady, last year’s Battle of the Bands champion, and Sucre plays with Chris Dalla Riva, a band composed of BC students of past and present that plays gigs throughout Boston.

Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

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hile standing in the practice room that has served as the birthplace for many of the tracks on Altered State, Mentzer referenced the 2002 Brit flick Austin Powers in Goldmember, gaining a knowing laugh from his fellow members. Sucre effortlessly veered the conversation in another direction, cracking a joke about his imaginary “proverbial farm life” after mirroring the iconic American Gothic painting stance, his bass playing the role of the pitchfork.

Although joking comes easy when the amps are unplugged, the musicians approach their craft with a distinct seriousness, a quality that is reflected on the band’s debut album. Aside from fronting the band with her vocals and guitar, Moon has also served as the band’s primary songwriter throughout its existence. For Moon, lyrics are not epiphanies on the street and choruses are not made of words heard in a dream—the artist’s songwriting process is a very intentional one.

“You know how people will be like ‘Oh like I was walking down the street and the lyrics were in my head?’” Moon said. “That does not happen. I can’t say I have to force myself, but I have to sit down with a guitar and like be aware that that’s what I am trying to do.”

Skilled songwriting shines on many of the tracks on Altered State, but Moon comes across especially vulnerable on “Zzz,” a track that stories loss of control. Moon croons “Your words echo around my head / But I forget everything you said,” in one of the track’s verses before the mellow sound gives way to a chaotic outro.

Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

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oon can claim credit for the genuine lyricism and intricate guitar parts on Altered State, but Mentzer and Sucre flesh out the drums and bass respectively—each musician brings their own unique style to every song, creating an overall sound with a distinctive character. Just listening to the music each said they wished they wrote—Lucy Dacus’s ethereal indie “The Shell” for Moon, Blink-182’s punk Neighborhoods for Mentzer, and Black Sabaath’s foreboding “War Pigs” for Sucre—it becomes clear how distinct each musician’s style is. Bringing all of these eclectic elements together, Unit One produces a sound that is fresh and distinctive. Despite the cohesive monniker, Unit One is composed of three individual units that somehow mesh together on stage and when recording.

“My short one-liner way of describing it is if John Mayer was an Asian chick with a good band,” Mentzer said.

“John Mayer has a good band,” Moon quickly retorted.

Good band or not, the recording process can be quite daunting for any artist—long nights in the studio are expected. This was certainly the case for the three-piece band, especially because one piece was not on the same continent in the early stages of recording. Mentzer recorded all of his drum parts for the songs just before the start of 2018 and his impending study abroad in Venice, Italy. While Mentzer was abroad, Moon and Sucre would add to his recordings and edit the tracks before sending them back to him for a listen.

“At the end of the day, I’m just happy that we have something we can look back on [as] a testament to all the hard work we put in,” Sucre said.

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uckily for Unit One, recording Altered State was hardly its first time in the “studio,” or at least in the same Carney practice room with some added sound equipment. Unit One released a self-titled EP on March 9, 2017 and two singles—“Quarterlife” and “Good Day,” both of which appear on the album—in 2018. The final recording sessions for the album took place over winter break of 2018, a time during which Moon and Mentzer crashed on Sucre’s basement floor on South Street after contemplating sleeping in Carney to record.

“At the end of the day, I’m just happy that we have something we can look back on [as] a testament to all the hard work we put in,” Sucre said.

For Unit One, the long nights were well worth the effort. Although it’s a very “college band” album in terms of the way it was produced, Altered State comes across polished and smooth, especially on the building track “Pikachoo” or the bossa nova jazz beat of “Shake It.” Altered State is a boiling pot that effortlessly melds the musical knowledge and individual styles of each member. Although appearing to claim no particular united theme on first listen, the band’s debut album is an amalgamation of the most prominent genres of music—rock, jazz, indie, and more.

Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

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he album’s title encapsulates the depth of music embedded in Altered State: Moon got the idea for the album’s title while in Professor Martin Cohen’s Don Quixote seminar class. Professor Cohen tasked the students with defining what—film, art, literature—puts them in an altered state. For Moon, the answer was immediate: music.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

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