4 September 2020

#AGURocks: The Intersection of Music and Science

Posted by Shane Hanlon

#AGURocks is a series of posts by musicians who create science-inspired music and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. The views and lyrics expressed in this post and song do not reflect those of Sharing Science and AGU. This week, Jackson Watkins.

Watkins w/ his band Yail. Credit: Ezykiel Vigil

My interest in making music began at some point in early high school. At the time, I worked in a warehouse that distributed industrial filters. Due to the amount of thoughtless busy work involved with that job, I had plenty of time to explore and listen to new music. At the time it was mostly underground punk, ska and emo, which all had subcultures promoting more active involvement in local music scenes. For that reason, I started getting into both running and attending shows in garages, basements, and other small venues around the Denver area where I grew up. I didn’t start making and recording music until college, where I met some friends who had similar interests to me. They pushed me to write songs with them in a band, which was something I had wanted to do forever, but had lacked the courage to create and perform in live settings. As I progressed through my microbiology degrees, both as an undergraduate and graduate student, I used music as a way to vent about broader institutional issues I saw in the sciences. While I retained a lot of faith in science as a methodology, I found that it largely avoided critique from the inside, and so I wanted to tell stories relating to the past and continuing issues that pervade science. In pre-COVID times, my newest band Yail would table zines and artwork at our shows related to science in an attempt to better connect those in underground art spaces to the science that is conducted in their communities. I believe that subversive art and political spaces have a unique ability to critique and rebuild certain apprehensible aspects of society (scientific or otherwise), and so an informed community is always beneficial for the continuing growth of science and its methods.

The song I uploaded is actually from an upcoming release of ours, so it’s not yet on the internet. We recorded it with a super good friend, Derek Branon, partially at the Band Cave in Denver and partially at his house in west Denver. I chose this song because it’s about the stress of being a graduate student, feeling out of place, and dreaming of a better world. It’s the prettiest song on the upcoming record, so that also motivated me to share it with you all.

– Jackson Watkins is a microbiology graduate student at Colorado State University studying respiratory illnesses, and mosquito vectors of infectious disease and a Voices for Science Advocate. 



It can only take, so many shapes

A jargon filled letter for a colloquial age

But I’m lost like you

I wrote the damn manuscript but that’s nothing new

The star was a pelican, anchovy be diligent

He’ll suffocate you as he strains through his beak

You’ll be lost like me

Sell yourself short or you’ll float out to sea

Tall tales

Built to fail

Swallow stones, where my teeth, should be

I guess, it’s much better than, passing out with less to eat