These engineers rock
find time for music between classes and labs
by Sara Peters
When Fabled begins their first song, it's immediately clear
that this is not a typical acoustic show. Yes, they sit on
stools, and lead singer Matt Nickoloff '04 is wearing
those "sensitive artist" spectacles and a beaded
necklace, but other than that, there is no resemblance to
a Joni Mitchell concert.
First of all, it's loud, and every action of the gents on
stage says they're hungry for more volume. Matt's vocals were
deceptively gentle at the beginning, rising to scratching
defiance at the end of many a song.
members of Fabled are, clockwise from bottom left, Tim
Skerpon '03, Aaron Ellerbee '04, Dan Siegfried '05,
and Matt Nickoloff '04.
by Frank Wojciechowski
Tim Skerpon '03 plays his guitar with such ferocity
that one fears he'll bloody his knuckles on the whirring strings.
Luckily Tim's nimble fingers and pick work evade the dangers,
creating growling chords one measure, delicate, traipsing
melodies the next.
Slumped casually upstage in the dimmest halo of light, is
bassist-slash-Princeton-running-back Aaron Ellerbee
'04, thrumming his bass with the pungency of a funk musician
rather than a folk star.
Dan Siegfried '05 might have fit in at a hippie drum
circle while playing the conga, but once he was behind his
drumset, that image vanished. A jazz flavor in his flams and
rolls, a volume all rock-and-roll, and a zealous head bopping
conjured images of Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police.
Fabled, who only did an acoustic show as a novel change to
their highly electric norm, is definitely a rock band. But
dropping them in a subgroup is tricky. Their set list is a
gumbo, with a dash of jangly, folksy guitar, a dab of jazz
percussion, and a bit of everything else found in their deep
The group of Princeton student musicians creating this category-evasive
music is Tim, a chemical engineer, on lead guitar; Aaron,
a mechanical and aerospace engineer, on bass; Matt, an English
major, as lead singer; and Dan, a Woodrow Wilson School major,
Fabled is unique in that the band is definitely a unit without
a definitive leader, although their personalities are quite
"Tim and I are in charge of strategic planning,"
The guitarist and the drummer book gigs, deal with media,
and set the course for Fabled's future. They share a charismatic
self-confidence, but while Tim is a picture of cool, potential
energy, Dan is definitely kinetic. Dan is the charming jokester
making eyes at audience members, but Tim is the ladies' favorite
at shows accepting their swooning cries calmly.
"Matt tends to keep us in check musically," Tim
The atypical lead singer is on the shy side, but he is assertive
with his band mates, giving his creative input and infusing
their music with a larger social consciousness.
Aaron is the newbie and is reminded of it more often than
he'd probably like. He spends much of his time doing the bulk
of the heavy lifting, and shrugging off Dan's persistent barrage
of jibes with a characteristic unflappability. Still, they
see themselves as a cohesive unit.
"It's much more like a group than some bands,"
Matt said. "I don't think there would ever be a major
dispute between us."
Many of Fabled's early songs were written by Tim, but now
they're collaborating on all new music. As songwriters, the
band members look to expert lyricists such as Bob Dylan, U2,
Counting Crows, and The Who.
Ellerbee '04 and Tim Skerpon '03 are the two engineering
majors in the band Fabled.
"I write most of my songs, about..." said Tim,
"Girls," offered Dan.
"Well, I write songs about myself dealing with girls,
rather than the girls themselves," Tim said. "I
feel like most of our music isn't about the surface issue.
It's about what's beneath."
The band's lyrics are full of questions. In "Cloud of
Witnesses" they speak of "the 'what's next' place
we're in." Indeed, the majority of their songs transport
listeners to that "what's next place" at the brink
of change, or in the wake of change, where decisions must
be made in the midst of drowning confusion. The emotion of
the songs travels within this range, from shock to rage. The
music often rises in crescendo with the increasing panicked
anger of the lyrics. Matt's pained tenor is the perfect match
to this musical journey, deftly expressing the range from
meek plea to snarling demand.
It seems that Fabled's music is a stew made by four cooks,
who each tossed in his favorite musical ingredients. The band
(particularly Dan) had a hard time identifying their influences,
since there are few bands they share an avid zeal for, aside
from Counting Crows.
"My influences would be more of a classic rock, 60s
and 70s stuff that my mom shoved down my throat. And thank
God she did," Dan said. "But then I'm also a die-hard
reggae fan. And jazz. And John Bonham [of Led Zeppelin] is
At small moments throughout their repertoire Dan's eclectic
tastes can be detected, particularly his love of Bonham evinced
by the heavy snare in songs like "Eleven."
"I'm more of a modern rock guy," said Aaron, who
played trombone for many years before taking on bass. "I
have a hip-hop influence, too. I'm a member of diSiac [a campus
dance company], and I'm always listening for new music for
my choreography." Aaron's hip-hop influences creep up
in his twangy thrumming from time to time.
"I'm also really into Brazilian music," Dan added.
"That's my thing now."
"Individual songs are our influence, more than any particular
band is," said Tim, explaining that Fabled covers a wide
variety of songs from Rage Against the Machine to The Jackson
5 to Phish.
"Oh Phish! That's what I forgot," Dan said. "I
love the whole jam band thing."
Tim explains that his own musical sensibilities are peculiar.
Although he was schooled in musical theory and has played
flute for 12 years, he has taught himself all he knows about
guitar. In fact, he often plays his guitar like a flute, skipping
from note to note with a winsome randomness that lulls a listener
into a reverie, like at the beginning of "Opposite of
All the band members find that listening to music is a necessity,
but performing is even more fulfilling because of the challenge
and the feeling of connecting with an audience.
"If you're performing, you're playing for someone else,"
Matt said. "I look at the concert in general as a sharing.
A mutual exchange. I think by losing yourselves in the audience,
and they losing themselves in you, you almost form a relationship
They describe a variety of thoughts they experience onstage.
"When I'm up there, I'm really just listening to Matt,
Tim, and Dan play," Aaron said. "I'm sitting there,
trying to keep the foundation going, letting them be free
to breathe. I'm actually in awe a lot of times. The sounds
and the harmonies that they create are really beautiful."
"I can listen to our music," Tim said. "And
that's something I'm proud of."
These ambitious musicians are also dedicated students and
campus leaders. Tim just retired from his position as president
of Tower Club. Aaron has football and the dance team. Matt
is very active in arranging events within the English department,
is the incoming president o f Tower Club, and a member of
the Glee Club and the Katzenjammers. Their ambition is applied
to all their endeavors, musical and otherwise.
"We're all Princeton kids, which is great, because it
means we all have the motivation to succeed," Dan said.
"We all have that drive."
Aaron, Matt, and Dan have returned to campus to continue
their Princeton education this fall. Tim is putting his chemical
engineering degree to work at Merck Inc., and coming down
to rehearse with the band as often as possible.
Though Aaron and Tim are rarely encouraged to bring their
instruments to lab, they both say that engineering is an instrument
in the music of their souls.
"I've always loved making things and seeing how things
work," said Aaron, whose sister Audrey Ellerbee
'01 majored in EE. "I used to take things apart all the
time. I remember taking apart my Walkman® to see how it
worked. I like engineering because I like the feeling that
there is a real purpose, a real, tangible need to fulfill."
"Engineering is something that I can always feel productive
at," Tim said." It's tough sometimes, but it's not
like philosophy or religion, where there is always another
question to every answer. I can always get someplace. That
gives me a sense of security."
To hear some Fabled tracks and learn more, go to www.fabled.cjb.net.
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