Between horse-drawn carriages and classic miniature cars, Williamsburg is no stranger to eye-catching vehicles. Perhaps the most entertaining of these vehicles is a gray pickup truck that’s been known to tow live concerts around campus on particularly nice days. Noise Complaint, a student band co-founded by Ben Simon ’23, bangs on drums and projects vocals from the bed of the truck.
With just a small battery, speaker and amp, Noise Complaint brings music straight to students.
“We strap in the back and drive, we block and say hello to people,” Simon said. “It’s quite funny, obviously people are watching. It’s a very unusual sight.
Simon formed Noise Complaint in the fall of 2020 alongside drummer Chase Eck ’23, guitarist Sam Cornette ’23, bassist Jordan Hooker ’22, and vocalist and pianist Jackie Westbrook ’21. Simon plays the piano and also sings.
“A friend of mine, we had played together a few times, me and her singing, messing around on the computer,” Simon said. “She was friends with a few other kids who played a few other instruments and they wanted to start a band.”
Noise Complaint mainly plays covers in bars or for events such as trysts. One of Simon’s favorite shows came on the last day of class for the fall 2021 semester, where they were able to perform in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd.
“We’re not trying to be super fancy about it; we just like to play the classics and things that will make people dance and sing because that’s usually what we want people to do,” Simon said.
While Noise Complaint specializes in covers, Simon actively writes and produces his own music independently.
During his senior year of high school, Simon took a course covering the basics of music production. From there, he began experimenting with creating music on his laptop, which he then began uploading to SoundCloud. Simon now works with distributors to release his songs on platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify.
Inspired by artists Rex Orange County, Anderson .Paak, Surfaces and Tom Misch, Simon’s music encompasses a mix of pop, neo-soul and funk.
“I would never be pretentious enough to say it’s indie, it’s like pop music,” Simon said. “It’s just not well produced, so it sounds like independent music. But it’s also kinda cheesy, like the lyrics I write are kinda cheesy.
His talent in music production is evident in Simon’s most popular track, “Beside You”, which has over 12,600 streams on Spotify. The song combines catchy vocals, funky synths, and hot drum beats that keep listeners from singing along.
“Beside You” is one of four songs from his “Not Very Careless” EP. Simon has also released a number of singles, including collaborations with artists Sophia Rankin and Jacob Sigman.
Yet Simon is unable to make music as often as he would like. As a double major in public policy and accounting, he struggles to produce during academic semesters.
“Particularly during summers and breaks and all that, I will always have my laptop open,” Simon said. “You know, to make music, create new things or change old things and work towards a better song.”
For Simon, producing a song is an iterative process that can take up to a year. He starts with the instrumental track by finding a melody or a loop that he really likes. Next, Simon uses a mini keyboard to add another layer of keys. He continues to edit the instrumental, adding different instruments, playing with effects and mixing it until it’s time to add vocals.
“I usually record at Swem because they have really, really nice equipment, like, better looking than I could afford, and they have rooms that are treated for recording vocals,” Simon said.
Once the voices are recorded, Simon mixes them to improve their sound.
“So instrumental then vocal, then listen to it like a million times, and make little changes,” Simon said. “Listen to it in my car, on my headphones, on different headphones, on the phone speaker to try and hear it as a group of listeners will hear it.”
Simon hopes to release more of his music, possibly an album, this summer.
“It would be cool to release a full album – definitely an accomplishment because I realize I’m doing it less and less,” Simon said.
Eventually, Simon would also like to perform a show entirely of his own music. But he still sees music as an occasional activity in his spare time.
“I have no intention of quitting. Nor the aspirations to do great. I just like it as a hobby, and I like doing it when I want to and not when I don’t want to,” Simon said.
For Simon, music is above all a question of personal pleasure. He often posts preview videos and experiments with unique sounds on his Instagram.
Simon acknowledges that while one of his songs has gained traction, he mostly releases music for himself and his friends. But ultimately, he would like listeners to connect with his work.
“I know people have songs associated with random memories,” Simon said. “If my song were to be associated with someone in this way, good or bad, I would be happy.”