“It’s too loud.”
“You’re bothering the neighbors.”
“No one can even understand you.”
Mad King, a band no stranger to phrases like these, mainly covers classic rock songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.”
The three-member band of students use their musical talents as an escape from reality and provide a space for other students to do the same. While a lot of musicians give up, Mad King’s members won’t let anything stand in the way of chasing their dream— not even their academics.
Donovan Higgins picked up guitar in elementary school but didn’t have a passion for it again until high school. Higgins said the name Mad King came to him through its common use in history to describe characteristics of corrupt rulers and world leaders.
The band’s classic rock sound with hints of grunge paved the way for the fitting name, especially since Higgins said the band can sometimes create chaos at shows.
Parker Jobling, a first-year at Western Washington University, has been beating on drums since he was 10 years old.
“[In high school], they wouldn’t let me in the marching band because I can’t read music,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why do I need to read music to play the snare drum?’”
Vincent Arellano is the band’s most recent re-addition; he was part of the band before Higgins and Jobling moved to Bellingham. Now, Arellano is graduating high school next month and will be returning to the group. His fellow bandmates are ready to welcome him back with open arms. The issue of distance will no longer be a problem with the members all living in the same house next year.
Arellano started taking the bass seriously in high school and has been singing since he can remember, completing the band’s melody.
About a year and a half ago, the three were able to turn their love of music into a hobby, cultivating instrumental skills, writing songs and learning from other bands. They say before they release any original songs, they want to develop more musicality.
First-year Jessica Brown heard the band for the first time during their debut at End Fest on the Fairhaven Lawn in May.
“I love their music because they play rock hits that I grew up listening to. … [It’s] high energy, yet brings a good balance,” she said.
Brown finds time to see various bands perform on top of managing her schoolwork. Mostly students themselves, the members of Mad King know what it’s like to balance art and academics.
“In college, playing in a band is pretty difficult. It’s a big time commitment,” Jobling said. “But I think if you like doing it enough, it’s not really a big deal.”
“Weird, I think, is the way I would describe it,” said Arellano.
Lee Anne Frahn is Western’s undergraduate music advisor and program coordinator, helping students who choose to take on extracurriculars with strategies to combat stress.
If the additional workload causes academics to take the back burner, Frahn suggests relying on support systems to help students prioritize.
“While there may be an initial adjustment period as students learn to balance their commitments, many are able to find success in managing their responsibilities,” she said in an email.
Even with Higgins’ full work schedule and long commute, the band finds time to practice often in the studio — otherwise known as the master bedroom of their house.
Jobling moved off campus in December 2022 so he could have his drum kit with him while enrolled.
“I wanted to play at full volume and I couldn’t really do that in a dorm,” he said.
With stars in their eyes and studio recording on their minds, Mad King devotes hours to practicing and collaborating with other bands.
All three musicians agreed, playing is their favorite part of being in a band, whether that’s in practices, in a studio or on a stage.
“I love being on stage,” Higgins said. “You feel alive and all that.”
The band still struggles from time to time with things like creating setlists for shows, but due to their dedication to mastering their craft, they have seen significant improvement.
Brown thinks their efforts have paid off after seeing them perform live. She said their energy was engaging and their stage presence shows their passion and love for music.
Even when faced with competing priorities, the band recommended anyone with a dream of performing music to pursue it.
“Music is such a good way to have fun, it’s such an escape from tough parts of reality,” Jobling said. “I would just go for it, I mean there’s people that say they want to and then they don’t, so why not try?”
Frahn is a huge advocate for students having a creative outlet. She said students who pursue music tend to gain important lifelong skills such as teamwork, greater attention to detail and the ability to build an extremely connected community.
“It’s great to get out there, that’s the best way to learn,” Higgins said. “Just put yourself out there. Take a risk.”
Mad King will be using the summer to focus on their songwriting capabilities to prepare for the next season of shows.
Deven Meddaugh (she/her) is a sophomore and is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is an RA in the Edens-Higginson community and in her free time you can catch her hanging out with friends and family, playing Just Dance, re-watching her favorite movies/TV shows or writing.