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Lawnparties student opener Q&A: Strawberry Milk is ready for their second gig

<h5>Members of Strawberry Milk</h5>
<h5>From left to right: Toussaint Jones '25, Chris Johnston '24, Cole Vandenberg '24, Harit Ragunathan '25, and Evan Chandran '24. Not pictured: Tanushree Banerjee '24.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Toussaint Jones</h6>
Members of Strawberry Milk
From left to right: Toussaint Jones '25, Chris Johnston '24, Cole Vandenberg '24, Harit Ragunathan '25, and Evan Chandran '24. Not pictured: Tanushree Banerjee '24.
Courtesy of Toussaint Jones

On April 19, newly formed rock band Strawberry Milk was announced as the student opener for Lawnparties Spring 2022. The band consists of Chris Johnston ’24 who sings and plays rhythm guitar, Harit Raghunathan ’25 who plays drums, Cole Vandenberg ’24 who plays guitar, Toussaint Jones ’25 who sings, plays bass, and writes songs, Evan Chandran ’24 who plays keyboard and sings, and Tanushree Banerjee ’24 who plays guitar. (Vandenberg is an Associate Puzzles Editor and Raghunathan is a Contributing Puzzles Constructor for The Daily Princetonian.)

The ‘Prince’ sat down with Johnston, Raghunathan, Vandenberg, Jones, and Chandran to talk about their band and their thoughts on being the Lawnparties opening act. Banerjee was not available to speak.

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This interview has been edited slightly for clarity and concision.

The Daily Princetonian: How did you guys form Strawberry Milk?

Chris Johnston: Last semester, I wanted some people to just jam with. I was hoping that we could maybe do more than jam eventually. I initially had met Harit, Cole, and Tanushree through PURE [Princeton University Rock Ensemble] auditions, and I just sent them an email. They were all down. And then, later, they brought Evan into the fold. 

Harit Ragunathan: I was having dinner with a friend, and Evan sat down, and I was like, “Oh, you play keys. We need a keyboardist.”

Evan Chandran: I was so down. 

Johnston: Toussaint over here, we picked him up this semester. Same sort of thing — I met him through PURE auditions, and he was probably one of the most talented musicians I’d ever heard.

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DP: How often do you get together to perform or rehearse?

Ragunathan: Initially, we just came together to just jam on Friday nights until 2 a.m. just because we were having fun! Then, we had this gig with Sympoh [an on-campus dance group], and we’re like, “Maybe we can do something with this”

Johnston: Usually we won’t find time to meet until a gig is impending, and then we’ll meet everyday.

Chandran: There are some times like Lawnparties and the Sympoh show where we have to be on a specific schedule, but it’s nice to be able to have something to do for fun. 

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DP: Where did the name “Strawberry Milk” come from?

Ragunathan: Initially we were “WuCox Breakfast.” The idea was that we wanted a name that just stays in your head when you think of it. 

Johnston: I feel like we were just under pressure to come up with a name because the DJ at the Sympoh show was like, “What are you all named?” And we still hadn’t really agreed on anything that we all loved. So we were just throwing things out there, and Strawberry Milk was the first thing that stuck.

DP: How would you describe your music?

Jones: We have one main original song that I wrote. In terms of stuff that we write, it’s driven a lot by the fact that I’m not a great guitarist, but we have insane guitarists in this group. So I’m like, “Hey, what do you guys want to play, so we can do some cool stuff?” We also have some interest in some mathy stuff. We’ve got a song on our setlist that starts in 11. So it’s cool. In terms of other stuff that we play, we play a lot of varied stuff.  

Johnston: At the end of the day we want to maintain our identity as a rock band. We don’t want to lose that. But we’re willing to experiment with genres along the way.

Vandenberg: We should mention our sixth member Tanushree here; she is an important part of the group.

DP: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Johnston: Dave Matthews band. I probably wouldn’t play the guitar if I had never heard Dave Matthews band, so their music is pretty much the impetus for like all of my music creation s.

Jones: Same thing for me. I’m not really a performer by trade. I’m like a composer, and I like to sit in my room and write notes down. I got into playing the bass because of Geddy Lee.

Chandran: I’d say Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. And like Cole, The Beatles as well.

Vandenberg: One of the nice things about having six people is that we all bring slightly different musical backgrounds and slightly different musical tastes.

Ragunathan: I listen to Chinese music mostly, but I’ve been able to discover all different facets of music that I would have otherwise never listened to. 

DP: How did you become the student opener?

Johnston: When we were performing for Sympoh, on one occasion we took the time there to get a professional-ish recording of us playing one of our better songs, so we submitted that for the Lawnparties audition. They ended up with the announcement that it was the other group. Two days ago, I got a call from Madi Linton, who is the Social Chair of USG and she was like, “Would you be interested in performing last minute?” And I was like, “Yeah of course!”

DP: How many performances do you have under your belt?

Vandenberg: One.

Ragunathan: Gotta start somewhere right?

DP: Is the Lawnparties your biggest gig so far?

Chandran: Indeed, yeah.

DP: Are you feeling excited or worried?

Jones: Excited.

Chandran: I think we had a pretty good rhythm throughout the last six months, so we’ve been sort of looking for the perfect avenue to start breaking out, so yeah we’re very excited — feeling ready.

Johnston: We’re just trying to meet as often as we can, run the songs, and just get as much repetition under our fingers as possible. But aside from that, I think, at least I know for me I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.

Chandran: After we got the news, we spent a lot of time figuring out our exact set list of songs. We agreed on the set list and happen to love the songs. We’ve been putting the touches on everything right now.

DP: Do you have social media or other accounts where people can follow your work?

Vandenberg: We don’t.

Jones: We will have an Instagram. Very soon.

Auhjanae McGee is a junior in the English department and a senior writer for The Prospect. McGee previously served as Head Prospect Editor at ‘the Prince.’ She can be reached at ajmcgee@princeton.edu, on Twitter at @auhj_marie, or on Instagram at @marionettes_jubalee.

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