St. Olaf College | News

Rockin’ and philosophizin’

St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Philosophy Mike Fuerstein (center, on drums) performs with the other members of The Counterfactuals. The band recently released its second album.

By day, Mike Fuerstein is an associate professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College. By night, he lays down a beat like nobody’s business.

Fuerstein plays drums in a band named, appropriately enough to anyone who dabbles in philosophy, The CounterfactualsHe is joined in the band by three more professors, all of whom teach at neighboring Carleton College.

The band recently released its second album, eponymously titled The Counterfactuals.

Daniel Groll, the band’s vocalist, and Jason Decker, the guitarist, also teach philosophy. Thus, one would be forgiven in assuming the fourth and final member of the band also happened to be a philosophy professor, to complete a very philosophical quartet. Yet one would be wrong in making that assumption — in fact, they would be counterfactually thinking. Andy Flory, the bassist, teaches music at Carleton.

Mike Fuerstein, a saxophone-playing philosopher, signed up to play drums for The Counterfactuals shortly after joining the St. Olaf faculty in 2010.

Fuerstein did not follow the typical path to becoming a professor of philosophy. He completed a dual-degree program in philosophy and saxophone performance from Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music.

After years on the New York City jazz scene, playing and teaching the saxophone, while also completing a Ph.D. at Columbia University, he joined the St. Olaf faculty.

Upon arriving in Northfield, he came to find out about a band named The Counterfactuals that was in need of a drummer. So, of course, the saxophone-playing philosopher signed up to play drums.

The band released its debut album, Minimally Decent People, in 2013. The album garnered critical acclaim, leading Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current to label it “must-hear music.”

A string of tour dates all across Minnesota, in addition to profiles and reviews in a raft of publications, including the Star Tribune, cemented the band’s position among the finest of the burgeoning Northfield music scene.

On the back of the first album, the band had every reason to take a break and return to their “normal” lives. However, its members were still committed to practicing as much as they could — culminating in the band’s new album.

If the band’s first album represented a bubbling to the surface, their recently released second album is an explosion of artistry and musicality. The band will play an album release show on Saturday, June 25, at Icehouse in Minneapolis. The show will feature Joey Ryan and the Inks as their special guest.

The eponymous album title is normally reserved for an group’s first album. Fuerstein admits that the decision to self-title the band’s second album was a “recognition that we were trying to be a little quirky and a fruitless bout of toying with other titles.”

Nonetheless, there is no evidence of a lack of ideas when it comes to the important business: the music. An eclectic range of sounds pervades onto each of the nine songs on the album — no surprise, given the eclectic methods of making music that the band employed.

“We’ve used stairwells to get echoes, recorded in offices to get more of a dry sound,” Fuerstein says.

Evidently, the band is as resourceful as it is talented.