Context, Creation, Come-Up: Portmanteau

In this week’s 3Cs, Kobe Thompson ’24 interviews Portmanteau; band members Lucas Bernstein ’25, Annika Ridky ’25, Alex Robin ’25, and Chris Tun ’25 talk about their musical influences and enduring friendship.

Context, Creation, Come-Up: Portmanteau
Student band Portmanteau performs all over campus, including in Marsh Arts House. Photo courtesy of Sandor Weiss ’25.

“[Portmanteau] is the foundation of our friendship”, muses Chris Tun ’25 in this week’s 3Cs. I sat down with Lucas Bernstein ’25, Annika Ridky ’25, Alex Robin ’25, and Tun to learn the Context of the friendship behind Portmanteau, the Creation of the band’s musical style, and what to look for on the Come Up as Portmanteau plans more music.

Before they were friends, the members of the band Portmanteau were four people with one common context: They came from families that encouraged their love for music.

Drummer Annika Ridky ’25 grew up in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in a musical household and “bounc[ing] around from instrument to instrument,” she said. “My dad played trumpet. My mom sang and played the piano her whole life, too. So yeah, my mom got me into singing.” She eventually settled on the drums just because they were “cool.” She cites fellow Pennsylvania icon “Philly Joe” Jones, a famous jazz drummer, as one of her key influences: “I started listening to a ton of jazz and [Jones] is one of the greats.” Aside from jazz’s influence on her drumming, Ridky was bashful about being a Swiftie as a child, admitting that Taylor Swift was an early and important influence to her songwriting.

Bassist Alex Robin ’25 echoed similar sentiments when discussing his upbringing. “My dad is a drummer; my mom plays piano,” he said. “So through my dad, I’ve always been interested in percussion and in rhythm, and that kind of sparked an early obsession with beatboxing.” Robin mainly played cello growing up, but switched focus to double bass upon entering high school. He was the bassist for a Dixieland jazz band that he enjoyed, but didn’t find his interest fully sated. The Albany musician says that his influences range from My Chemical Romance to Nirvana, and even says his greatest inspiration is The Beatles. “Seeing them get from ‘Please Please Me’ to ‘Abbey Road’ made me feel like I could start somewhere with more simplistic music and then get good at it.”

Singer Lucas Bernstein ’25 explained that their childhood was musically quite similar to their bandmates’. “Am I allowed to start the exact same way as the other two?” Bernstein joked. “My dad played the drums and was in bands in the ’80s and ’90s … my mom, also a big fan of music — she played the flute. I was just constantly exposed to music.” Bernstein also participated in School of Rock programs as a child. In high school, he formed a band named The Disestablishment in which he played guitar and sang. The band helped him develop as a singer and songwriter. The group Big Star was another influence that shaped the sound of the St. Louis rocker.

Guitarist Chris Tun ’25 grew up in Peachtree City, Georgia. His father played music at church and home, focusing on guitar, piano, and singing. Both of Tun’s parents found community within the church, specifically through music, which gave Tun access and exposure to music’s complexity. A lot of what Tun listened to growing up came from his older siblings. “I got a whole decade of music early on, just growing up and listening to what they were listening to,” he said. Tun moved on to his own interests, finding inspiration in lo-fi hip hop and electronic music. By high school he “started getting into music as a whole. Being passionate about it.” Tun’s musical journey was also motivated by indie rocker Mac DeMarco. A self-described “hopeless romantic,” Tun found a way to express himself through his music, though he feared public performance. It wasn’t until Portmanteau that he officially joined a band.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long. The tale of Portmanteau’s creation is better than fiction. It begins on the first day of Orientation Week in 2021. Robin and Tun were in the same orientation group, and Robin revealed during an icebreaker that he played bass and wanted to start a band. When it was Tun’s turn, he revealed that he played guitar and was also looking for the same thing. The two got in touch immediately after, and a few days later decided to meet up to discuss the band idea further.

On the very same day, Bernstein heard someone playing guitar in the common room of their dorm, but initially suppressed the urge to investigate. When they came back from dinner and the guitarist was still playing, he couldn’t help himself. “I was like, this is a sign I have to talk to him,” Bernstein said. Tun and Bernstein were playing guitar and sharing in their “music nerd-dom” when Robin arrived. “I didn’t know if the dream was realistic, this idea of starting a band in college,” Robin said. “I didn’t think it would come together so quickly.” After meeting Bernstein and Tun, Robin recalled, “I’m still learning how to talk to people and I find out these guys are really easy to talk to. [It was] a really quick bond. Then the quest started to find a drummer.”

Last but not least of the Portmanteau members, Ridky shared a first-year seminar with Tun. “Our first day of class, we’re going around introducing ourselves in a circle,” she recalled. “Your name and a fun fact. My fun fact was that I play the drums.” Tun didn’t immediately reach out, but rather sent a message that night to Ridky. “He was like, ‘Hey, yo, you play the drums?’” Tun explained his interest in forming a band and invited Ridky to jam, which she agreed to. The very next day she met with Tun and Bernstein and the rest was history. “I guess the motivation behind all of it is that, coming to college you want to do stuff you haven’t before,” Tun said. “That one thing was creating a band for me.”

Portmanteau solidified its lineup quite early on. Robin, they agreed, was the most skilled on bass. Tun was most experienced on guitar. While both Ridky and Bernstein had experience with drums, the former was more comfortable with percussion and the latter had more experience singing and playing guitar from his time in The Disestablishment. Their versatility occasionally comes to the forefront, as the two are prone to switch instruments so that Ridky can sing songs she wrote herself.

In an instant, it felt like everything was coming together. Portmanteau was becoming a band, and, just as quickly, a group of friends. The members were bonding, with one notable experience being a rather innocuous Wednesday dinner. Val’s usual mid-week meal of sirloin tips stood out as a “shared experience of enjoyment,” as Bernstein put it. Seemingly trivial, something like “Beef Tip Wednesdays” took on a deeper meaning to the band as something they could find a mutual love in.

The name of the band, “Portmanteau,” was a joke inspired by an initial effort to name themselves. “I want to preface this by saying at the time I didn’t know what a ‘portmanteau’ was,” Robin told me. “We spent a long time trying to come up with the name. We’re throwing all these ideas out and the general trend was we were coming up with two or three words and mushing them together to try and make something clever. At one point, Lucas goes, ‘Oh, these are all portmanteaus!’”

Portmanteau started with covers, as most bands do, performing for the first time at an open mic night in front of the Science Center. Robin remembers it as his first performance ever without stage fright. “We were so in sync, I remember sending my parents the videos.” That performance featured temporary member Dylan Schor ’25, who sang “Creep” and “Where Is My Mind?” for the group. Schor’s involvement in the group lessened as the band wanted to explore their own original music. As they grew as friends, the band was able to take bigger risks within their music. Their first original song they performed together was “My Bug,” at a WAMH show in the winter of 2022, which they had released the year before.

Portmanteau had a stellar run of performances, playing all manner of venues: student showcases, open mic nights, the Valcony, and another WAMH formal. Its big break, however, was likely opening for pop-rock band Laundry Day for the 2022 Amherst Prom. Each concert saw them further solidify their style.

Since then, the band’s performances have slowed down, as Ridky is heavily involved on campus in a jazz combo, ACEMS, and the Sabrinas. Robin is also in an acapella group, Route 9, which keeps him busy when he’s not practicing for track and field. Tun is a member of AAS, and is involved with Ghostlight and WAMH along with Bernstein.

Because of their busy schedules, it’s a miracle they find the time to practice or perform. Last summer, Bernstein was in New York without his guitar. Ridky was working in an ambulance. But they love what they do, and it drives them to make the time. Tun didn’t write much, but he was attending shows, and he remarked that they “influenced me a lot in performance.”

In between performances, all the members of Portmanteau put work in during their downtime. Over their first summer, Robin experimented with songwriting. He originally was unimpressed by his efforts, though his bandmates were very supportive. Robin conceded, “I’ll probably give it another go. I’ve been learning how to arrange already-existing songs and I can take something from there and apply it to something original.” All of Portmanteau explored songwriting, both in the context of the band and as individuals. Ridky has worked on output, Robin has worked on basslines, and Bernstein has explored “weirder” sounds that he doesn’t feel fit the sound of Portmanteau.

Portmanteau is planning even farther into the future. During the interview, the four artists shared ideas about future projects, like a “Portmanteau Show” performance they could produce, recording another one of their originals like “Stuck On You,” “Girl from the 50s,” or “Thru the Night,” and maybe even recording an entire EP. They all expressed their hopes for the band.

Ridky hopes to keep on playing and releasing music with the band until they all graduate. Robin wants to make the music work, and hopes to see the band performing more shows this upcoming semester. Bernstein made a call for “MORE-manteau” and is hopeful for the group’s future, adding that they “love these people.” Tun is confident that Portmanteau, as an idea, will never go away. “You know, it’s the foundation of our friendships with each other,” he said. “If our friendships go away, Portmanteau will go away. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

Portmanteau is a band. Portmanteau is a friendship. Robin testified to this: “We all came here wanting to start a band, but that’s not why we became friends.” Ridky added, “It became a friend group for all of us. We enjoy spending time with each other.” Tun went as far as to offer encouragement to the new first-year class: “If you are in the class of ’27 and are at all musically inclined, if you have any interest in starting a band, you should absolutely do it. The sooner you do it the sooner you can have an awesome experience you can carry throughout your entire life.”

Portmanteau wants to highlight the contributions of their friends, as well. They want to shout out Gabby Moore ’23, Peter Klisiwecz ’25 (whom they proclaim to be their biggest fan), Dylan Schor ’25, Andrew Rosin ’25, Senior Lecturer in Music and Director of Jazz Performance Bruce Diehl, Concert, Production, and Building Coordinator Edmund Keys, Sterling Kee ’23, Gabe Proia ’25, Ziji Zhou ’25, and their parents, because in Tun’s words, the band’s music is hereditary.