Hidden in fame: How ‘The Move’ made it to FrostFest

June 25, 2024, 10:29 p.m.

“Hit it one time!” Six different instruments play, albeit their notes all slightly off-sync. Everyone burst into laughter. “Oh boy, let’s do that again!”

The band members take a moment to recollect themselves but it’s clear that they’re eager to start their set. 

“What’s the move?” lead singer Jackson McCormick ’27 announces to the rehearsal room in the Burbank basement. “Hit it one time!” The room is teeming with energy when, from the corner of our eyes, alto saxophonist Quinn Simmons ’27 flicks his hands and says, “Go for it.” 

The piano swells, the drum drives into a pulsing rhythm, and the bass thrums into a steady beat. And suddenly, these six disparate instruments move from discordant noise into a crooning song.

Five members of "The Move" sit in a rehearsal room with instruments, practicing for their opening set at Frost Fest.
‘The Move’ practices for FrostFest in a rehearsal room. (Photo: ADAM GOLOMB/The Stanford Daily)

They play the song the way they play all their music: with a jazzy, soulful twist. Although they just got started at the beginning of this year, they’ve already made their mark on campus, winning Battle of the Bands in early April, which earned them a coveted opening act spot for this year’s FrostFest, the annual music and arts festival in Frost Amphitheater.

As soon as we recognize the tune — “Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean — we can’t help but rock our heads back and forth. And after we look around, we realize that all seven people in the room are instinctually, almost automatically, doing the same. It’s fitting. Of course, the members of a band known as “The Move” would be compelled into action upon hearing their music.

“Jackson, I genuinely thought it was going to be the end of our friendship when you said you wanted to name the band ‘Italic’,” Quinn says.

It’s 11:58 p.m. on a Thursday, two days before their opening performance at FrostFest, and every member of The Move is crowded together into a tiny music room at Rains Apartments. The room is, in fact, so intimate that all of the musicians are arranged into a tight circle, facing one another, while I sit on the carpeted floor in the center. My head swivels furiously as I aim to keep up with their conversation. 

“I was trying to make an inside joke because of how many of us are in the Italic program,” Jackson says. “But then I thought about it, and what would we yell before our sets? ‘What’s Italic?’ I mean, what would the crowd even repeat back then?”

“Bold or underline,” pianist Haohan Wu ’27 quips, and the room explodes.

Suddenly, everyone is in on the joke. Words like “Helvetica,” “Strikethrough” and “Center Align” are thrown out and with each new addition, their laughter ratchets up in intensity. There’s a familiarity to their banter, a certain rhythm that punches its way through the conversation, and we can’t help but think about how attuned all the members of The Move are to one another, both off and on stage.

Just as soon as their conversation begins, however, it ends, and there’s a split second of silence before they announce that they’re ready to run the medley again — a mix of “Super Rich Kids” and “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John arranged by the entire band in a collaborative process. The Move has a tendency of doing this: playing around in the noise until showtime, at which point everyone snaps into attention.

In their previous rehearsal, which took place on the Sunday before FrostFest, the band spent most of their time perfecting the synchronized beats that lead into the introduction of “Super Rich Kids” and so, when bassist Archish Arun ’26 says, “Fuck it, I think we got it,” we know exactly what he’s referring to.

Jackson begins with his signature, “Hit it one time,” and in response, Quinn stomps his leg dramatically to usher everyone into their first beat. All eyes are on him. And just like Archish predicted, they get it on their first try. 

The air is bustling with music.

What makes The Move so fascinating to watch is their effervescence. If you hadn’t known beforehand that they had spent hours upon hours crafting their own arrangements and week-after-week performing sets at places at CoHo or Spade Rave, you would assume that they are discovering music for the first time. Not because their playing is amateurish (in fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth), but because there’s an earnestness to their performance.

As Haohan’s hands whip across the keys, his shoulders do a slight shimmy. As guitarist Ryota Sato ’27 plucks against the strings with a calm confidence, he leans forward, bouncing on his right knee. Halfway through their set, Archish motions upward with his hands and though we don’t understand what this signal means, tenor saxist Ethan Htun ’27 certainly does, and they both laugh with each other as the piece continues on. 

Though The Move takes music seriously — as evidenced by the rapid-fire, feedback-driven conversations about inversions and accented beats and pitchy notes that catapult across the room after every set — they are never ones to take themselves too seriously.

This becomes exponentially clear when they begin an impromptu performance of “BBL Drizzy,” an original song of theirs that was created as a joke in response to the Drake and Kendrick Lamar feud. All it takes is Jackson riffing on a few of the introductory notes for drummer Johnathan “Johnny” Martinez ’27 to take the cue and soon, everyone has jumped in. 

Haohan confides in us when they’re done. “That’s just what we do. We’ll start randomly playing a song that we don’t need to practice.”

The song that does need practicing, however, is none other than their mix of the “Pokemon” theme song and Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.” When asked about the type of music that The Move performs, Quinn says, “This band definitely transcends time in terms of sound.” 

And though the rest of the band lightly teases Quinn for his phrasing (Archish says, “Damn, we ‘transcend time.’ Did you get that in the recording?), we can see where he’s coming from.

According to Ethan, The Move is not confined to any particular genre. Its members are more concerned with creating music that they love and as a result, they draw inspiration from a variety of different wells, whether it be jazz or classic funk. If anything, much of their original music is influenced by Jackson’s unique vocal timbre, which oscillates between a soulful smoothness and a raspy edge. Although the songwriting process tends to start off with one of the members working with Jackson in a one-on-one session, by the end of revisions, the song inevitably ends up sounding like the culmination of everyone’s work, Ryota says.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t flairs of individuality; each person brings their own strengths to the table and the band, as a whole, is eager to learn from one another.

It’s already past 1 a.m. when Archish suggests an edit to their arrangement: “What if, right before we transition into ‘Locked Out of Heaven,’ we repeat that main ‘Pokemon’ theme?”

And rather than express admonishment, everyone is eager to experiment. As they discuss semantics, you can hear snippets of the Pokemon theme song repeated over and over again, like a dynamic, nostalgia-infused echo. Even Johnny, who isn’t playing directly on his drum kit, is using his sticks to beat the rhythms against his knees.

Their third run-through begins with roaring aplomb, but you can tell that everyone is anxiously awaiting to see whether this new idea will play out as they want. As they approach their edited section, Johnny is looking at Haohan who is looking at Archish who is looking at Ryota who nods in response. We are spectators to this invisible language that they all appear to be fluent in.

Once it’s realized they both successfully integrated the Pokemon theme into the transition and it sounds good, there is a flurry of motion, a frenetic energy that manifests itself in a series of elated screams and open-mouthed laughter that is so dynamic it sounds like music itself.

Even after all these months playing together, The Move is still able to surprise themselves.

The rehearsal ends shortly and though we expect everyone to immediately pack up, Archish, Ethan, Haohan and Ryota stay back and start improvising but, much to our surprise, not on their own instruments. 

For the next thirty minutes, they play around, switching instruments and in turn, personas. By the end, Ryota’s on bass, Archish’s on drums, Ethan’s on piano and Haohan’s on guitar. At first, we assume everything they’re playing is some sort of rehearsed repertoire but when we ask, Ethan tells us, “This is just a common chord progression.”

In other words, it’s music built on the moment. Perhaps more accurately, it’s music for the sake of music. Though we’re there in the room, for all intents and purposes, we’re not. The members of The Move are performing for no specific audience besides themselves and for no specific purpose besides their love of the art.

It’s two in the morning when someone finally says, “Okay, let’s get out of here before we get a noise complaint.”

On the morning of FrostFest, the band ends their last rehearsal by testing out their slingshot. When The Move won Battle of the Bands, they threw t-shirts out into the crowd. Now, aiming to reach a stadium audience, the band invested in a slingshot. They catapult their t-shirts across Arguello Field, with half of them manning the slingshot and the other half catching.

They initially can’t get much distance with the slingshot. “Maybe throwing the shirts works best,” Ethan suggests.

“Then why’d we buy a fucking slingshot!” Jackson jokes. The band is determined to achieve the spectacle. After a few more throws, they finally get some air and distance — and quickly turn it into a game of “Three Flags Down.”

Quinn looks at us: “We’re ready now.”

The band spends the next two hours getting lunch, and we meet them at Frost Amphitheater at 2 p.m. When we get to the back entrance, go through the security check and get our press passes, the seriousness and legitimacy of the event hits us. 

We walk into their green room; Haohan is doing a computer science problem set, Ryota is playing poker on his phone. 

The conversation quickly turns to Pokemon. Johnny starts listing off different Pokemon moves as the rest of them declare which Pokemon hat they’re wearing since their introductory song is the Pokemon theme song.

Quinn and Haohan discuss how to play their songs for soundcheck. “I heard when you were doing the wah wah wah, you added the chicka chicka,” Quinn observes.

“Yeah, but it was more like bwah chicka bwah bwah,” Haohan responds. We’re captivated as they essentially speak their own language. It’s endearing to hear them practice their music through conversation.

Jackson chimes in later on the same topic: “A real musician knows how to translate their instruments into bwahs bwahs and womp womps.” 

Ethan begins playing on an unplugged and thus mute keyboard. The band wants to turn it into a game of who can guess the song. Ethan ponders for a moment on which song he wants to play, before smiling and begins silently playing something.

Everyone is huddling around, eyebrows furrowed, when Ryota guesses “‘Autumn Leaves?’” The rest of the band bursts into excitement, cheering Ryota on, although he claims he didn’t even really recognize the song, but “knew it was swing by the way Ethan counted in,” and just had to figure out which song, he says. 

After one of the Frost backstage technicians tell the band their soundcheck will be soon, the bright idea of playing Among Us pops into their mind. Once the name is mentioned, The Move frantically reach for their phones, even inviting us to play. Even with their looming performance, the band knows how to have their fun.

The game is ultimately short-lived when the technician returns and says soundcheck is now. 

Quinn objects: “You’re telling me I have to stop playing Among Us?” We laugh with the band as they go onto the stage for their soundcheck an hour before doors open. We closely observe as they begin to own the stage.

When the drum’s bass begins to project on the mega-speakers, the rest of the band marvels as every thump Johnny plays rings around Frost Amphitheater. Johnny himself smiles widely, as if the realization that this is real has finally hit.

Our attention turns to the saxophonists Quinn and Ethan, who play together like twins wordlessly communicating with each other. Their motion is in sync, cocking their heads back in parallel and cracking the same smile at the other after they’re done playing.

In between breaths you can hear Quinn tell Ethan, “That was good!” And when one has a solo, the other will dance and clap for them. 

Saxophonists Quinn Simmons '27 and Ethan Htun '27 speak to each other on the stage of Frost Amphitheater, both holding saxophones.
Saxophonists Quinn Simmons ’27 and Ethan Htun ’27 speak to each other during their sound check for FrostFest. (Photo: ADAM GOLOMB/The Stanford Daily)

When the band finishes their soundcheck, a Burbank residential assistant, who is part of the Stanford Concert Network and helped organize FrostFest, cheers and claps in an otherwise empty Frost. Jackson and Haohan chuckle lightly. 

Just half an hour later, they are back on stage, this time in front of an audience of several hundred. We watch The Move begin their set. When they’re about to perform their “Super Rich Kids” and “Bennie and the Jets” medley, we are transported to the first time we heard them rehearsing it, messing up the beats and struggling to join in together.

We hold our breaths as Jackson sings, “Hit it one time!” All hit on cue. “Hit it two times!” Two notes perfectly in sync. The anxious moment sits still: “Hit it five times?” Five beats, in rhythm, as the song transitions to “Super Rich Kids.” We look at each other and smile as the crowd behind us cheers as they, too, get the joy of recognizing the song.

Charlotte Cao is a writer for The Daily. Contact them at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.Adam Golomb '27 writes for Arts & Life. He loves kayaking, hummus, and being in the Sun.

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