Top five Stanford alumni in the music industry

Jan. 16, 2015, 12:38 a.m.

In addition to CEOs, politicians and Nobel Prize winners, Stanford also has distinguished alumni in the music industry.


Pomplamoose at Stanford. Photo by Avi Bagla.
Pomplamoose at Stanford. Photo by Avi Bagla.

Despite the recent controversy over its profits as a touring indie pop duo — or rather, lack thereof — Pomplamoose, whose name comes from the French word for “grapefruit,” is an ode to the wonderfully quirky character of Stanford. Consisting of Jack Conte ’06 and Nataly Dawn ’09, it all began when Dawn first opened up for Conte at the CoHo, as they explained in a recent performance at Bing Concert Hall. They made a splash in the music world when their first song,”Hail Mary,” was featured on the front page of YouTube. Their unique music videos – which are designed to reflect transparency in the music-making process by showing all the instruments they use – and amiable, down-to-earth demeanors, compounded with their musical talent and eclectic instrumentation, make them an endearing couple to watch out for.

Jon Nakamatsu

Classical pianist Jon Nakamatu ’92 boasts an unlikely life story. Before becoming the first American since 1981 to receive the Gold Medal at the prestigious International Van Cliburn competition, he taught German at Saint Francis High School. Upon winning first prize in 1997, Nakamatsu became an instant rock star in the classical music world, despite never studying music, either at a conservatory or at Stanford. A flurry of performances followed, with Nakamatsu touring extensively throughout North and South America, as well as Europe. Recording with Harmonia Mundi USA, he has released 13 CDs and continues to maintain a busy performing schedule today, including a not-to-be-missed visit to Stanford in March. Nakamatsu received his BA in German Studies in 1991 and master’s degree in education in 1992 at Stanford, but in his heart he knew he belonged in the concert hall. “Music,” he said in a Web Concert Hall interview, “was my ultimate goal.”

Torry Castellano of The Donnas

Torry Castellano ’13 came to Stanford already having had a successful run in the music industry as the drummer for the all-female rock band The Donnas. Growing up in Palo Alto, Castellano met her bandmates in the Bay Area, and The Donnas got signed right out of high school. After several successful albums and tours, a shoulder injury forced Torry to retire from drumming. She decided to continue her studies and transferred from Santa Monica College to Stanford to study political science. As if being a rockstar were not enough, Torry graduated in 2013 and is now attending Harvard Law School.

Sameer Gadhia of Young the Giant

If Sameer Gadhia had not dropped out of Stanford to sell out tours and play festivals like Outside Lands and Sasquatch, he would have been in the Class of 2011. So although technically not an alumni, Sameer has definitely found success post-Stanford with radio hits like “Cough Syrup” and “My Body.” As lead singer of indie-rock band Young the Giant, Gadhia has played for fans all over the world. In an interview with The Daily a few years back, he explained how gratifying it is “[to] just be able to travel around the world and play shows to people [whom] we’ve never seen or met, who don’t even speak our language.”

Mikel Jollett of The Airborne Toxic Event

Before becoming lead singer of alternative rock band The Airborne Toxic Event, Mikel Jollett ’96 graduated from Stanford with a degree in psychology. Born out of a dark period in his life when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Jollett with an autoimmune disease, The Airborne Toxic Event was formed in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silverlake. Since their formation, the band has played several headlining tours, as well as Coachella and Lollapalooza. Hit records like “Sometime Around Midnight” and “Changing” showcase Jollett’s dramatic, narrative lyrical style.

We regret that in a previous version of the article we wrote that Jon Nakamatsu taught at Mountain View High School, which has been corrected to Saint Francis High School on January 17, 2015.

Contact Gabriela Groth at gngroth ‘at’ and Marisa Lin at mlin3 ‘at’

Gabriela Groth is the Arts & Life Photo Editor and Music Desk Editor for The Stanford Daily, and she enjoys reviewing and photographing live music events. She has covered Treasure Island Music Festival, Austin City Limits, FYF Fest, and BFD. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gabriela is a film lover, music enthusiast, and television aficionado. She is pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science. To contact her, please email gngroth “at”

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