Artist Spotlight:

Kristi Ruff

For as long as he can remember, Liam O’Brien has been interested in music. According to his parents, he used to ask people to change the radio station in the car to something more suited to his young tastes. The junior composition major began writing music in third grade, and he started composition lessons at the University of Milwaukee when he was 12. His sixth-grade accomplishment was a medieval-themed orchestra piece that his teacher encouraged him to submit, saying, “other kids want to know that you’re their age and composing.” So, he applied to various orchestras to have the piece played in their children’s concerts. Reflecting back on this experience, Liam laughs: “It’s just really funny.”
O’Brien came to Lawrence to study composition after visiting several other conservatory-type colleges that, omitting names, he found slightly “stuffy.”
“I felt like if I came here, I could make my education whatever I wanted it to be. For the most part, I was right,” he said. You can check out O’Brien’s music in the sound design for the upcoming show “The Pillowman,” at performances by his band, The Sturdy Beggars, or even at the New Music symposium coming up in March.
Besides enjoying his extensive influencers including Brian Eno, Pink Floyd and the Beatles, O’Brien also likes folk music. To O’Brien, folk music “is the root of all music.” During first term after he found books of old folk tunes in the library, he would just sit on the porch and play with various people.
In a short plug for The Sturdy Beggars, O’Brien mentions their newest album, “The Saint,” which he can only describe as “another experiment.” The band is a hugely collaborative effort: “I set the feel and the tonal structure, but they really contribute the sound.”
O’Brien comes up with words and melody, and then takes it to the band – Jake Crowe, Ben DeCorsey, Collin McCanna and Wilmer Chan – who “riff[s] off of” and “freestyle[s]” over it.
McCanna, the drummer of the group, even makes up the beats himself as they go along.
True to the definition of a “sturdy beggar,” an able-bodied young person who chooses to roam the countryside rather than work and is shunned by most, declared an outlaw by the king and left to fend for one’s own, O’Brien doesn’t have “real plans” for when he graduates. Rather, he’ll be trying his best “not to be homeless,” though he doesn’t like the idea of a steady job, either. Lawrence’s minstrel can only confirm that he “will be making music in some form or another.”The Sturdy Beggars offer their album for free download on their Web site: