Not every student can say that he can run a four minute and 20 second mile, has performed at the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin and will be receiving a degree in Electrical Engineering after four years at Tufts. Yet senior Brian McLaughlin somehow found a way to do it all. As an engineering student, varsity cross country runner and the lead singer-songwriter of The Rare Occasions, McLaughlin seamlessly – and successfully – integrated his wide-ranging interests into his Tufts career.
As a freshman, McLaughlin found it challenging to balance all his commitments, but credited his track coach for advising him to continue working hard, while avoiding “burning out.” Though many of McLaughlin’s interests initially seem very different, he explained that there are more connections than one may assume.
“Electrical engineering connects to music,” he said. “Lots of people who like music – if they’re engineers – tend to be more interested in electrical engineering because it’s all about signals and systems … So if you tend to think in terms of audio and signals … it’s a similar way of thinking.”
McLaughlin’s involvement in the Tufts music scene took off during his sophomore year, when he, along with rising junior guitarist Peter Stone and two students from Berklee College of Music – drummer Luke Imbusch and bassist Jeremy Cohen – founded The Rare Occasions. While attending Barrington High School in Providence, R.I, both McLaughlin and Imbusch played together in a band called The Valar; their partnership continued into college with the formation of The Rare Occasions, which released its latest EP, “Feelers,” on May 6.
Along with SXSW, the band has performed at several clubs in New England and various Tufts events, such as Spring Fling and AppleJam productions. McLaughlin described his role as a band member.
“I sing, I write most of the music … [and play] guitar, keyboard and ukulele … But I’m mostly just the singer and songwriter,” he said. “There was actually a pretty great music scene at my high school, which helped a lot in terms of pushing myself as a musician.”
McLaughlin said he has received support for his music from avid fans, as well as from his cross country teammates, who have been an integral part of his Tufts experience.
“Being on a team in college was a good way to introduce myself to college life, because from the start I sort of had a family,” he said. “Every day, I … know that I can sit at this table [in the dining hall] with these people and have a good conversation. Just that stability itself was good to have freshman year and all four years.”
In addition to his successful music group, McLaughlin also boasts an impressive cross country record. He was also the men’s cross country team’s second-place runner at the NESCAC and Regional Championship in 2011, where he earned All-Region honors.
“As a high school runner, I was pretty competitive,” he said. “My coach sort of was a driving factor in high school. He told me to work up to my full potential, and so I raced a lot.”
For the past two summers, McLaughlin has worked at Kurzweil Music Systems, a company that makes electronic instruments. He said he hopes to pursue a career in music and electronics before potentially attending graduate school, and also sees The Rare Occasions as part of his future plans. Imbusch’s plans to move to Los Angeles next month have inspired McLaughlin and his fellow bandmates to contemplate relocating the entire band to southern California, where McLaughlin would be able to work in a vibrant tech hub while the band explores the music industry. However, the group will wait until 2015 when their younger bandmates, Moore and Cohen, have graduated to make the move. Until then, McLaughlin hopes to work as an electrical engineer in the Boston area.