I’m staring up at the extension cords and string lights hanging from the ceiling of the basement of Traitor Joe’s, a “house show vessel” about ten blocks from Penn’s campus, as Michael Auble (C ‘21) and his band Away Game are getting tuned for their set. The basement is a glorified laundry room—a rug, mic stands, and amps at the bottom of the stairs form a makeshift stage, but in the back, next to guitar cases and the soundboard, a full washer and dryer sit in full view, paint peeling from the walls behind. As Away Game plays their first song, the whole space is filled with Auble's bass, guitar from bandmate Justin Roa, and Dom DiPietro on drums. The room is all sways and nodding from the few dozen people that crowd the basement, Away Game’s sound nearly shaking the whole house. As they finish their first song and tune up for the next, Auble steps up to the microphone and thanks Traitor Joe’s for having them play.
“This is our first gig in Philly,” Auble says. “But, you know, I actually went to school not far from here—I went to Penn.” He sighs, smirks, then says, “Can I get a 'Fuck Penn'?” And suddenly, Traitor Joe’s erupts in a loud, collective “Fuck Penn!” as blue and red lights from the small ceiling disco ball reflect on our faces.
The day after the show at Traitor Joe’s, Auble and I get on Zoom to chat. From his childhood bedroom, bunk beds in the background, high school medals hanging on the bedposts, his display slightly grainy, he tells me the story of his lifelong love affair with music and how in the months since graduating from Penn, he’s spent most of his time writing songs and playing basement house shows.
Away Game began as a high school cover band playing at talent shows, formerly called The Spins (Though they ran into a trademark issue with another band.). Their name comes from their marching band days and playing at away games, when they wouldn’t play a half time show, but would rather travel to play in the stands and “fuck around.” But after graduating, before the band started recording original songs, Auble, DiPietro, and Roa parted ways for college. In the absence of his bandmates, Auble started writing. Before there was Away Game, there was Michael Auble alone in his dorm room in Gregory College House.
“I was immersed in this Penn culture. And I was like, ‘What the fuck is this? I don’t get it. I don't agree with it,’” he says of his time at Penn. When he got to Penn, Auble realized he didn’t quite fit in, so he started recording original songs to cope with feelings of isolation. A few months into his first year, his small room was fully transformed into a makeshift recording studio. Michael Auble became a one–man production machine.
A self–proclaimed “terrible student,” Auble spent most of his first year at Penn recording in his room in Gregory, facing many noise complaints, notes slipped under his door asking him to shut up. He snuck into practice rooms on campus whenever he could and produced everything through voice memos, airdropped into Audacity, and from there, put together his tracks. He explains to me that walking down Locust felt miserable throughout his time at Penn. Gregory was the only place where he felt at home, a place he describes as “an oasis for Penn expatriates.” In 2018, during his first year, he released his first EP, titled Culture, an ode to the dissonance he felt within the culture of Penn’s campus, which he calls his “manifesto.” From there, his musical catharsis only mushroomed.
“All my songs are trying to explain something about myself. I feel historically, I've had trouble communicating,” he says. “Since I was a kid, there's always been this barrier to communicating some things, explaining myself and how I feel.” Auble describes his music as “self–deprecating emo pop,” but that discounts the meaning he weaves into all of his lyrical, melodic, and production choices; each and every song is careful and emotional, evoking a precise feeling for him.
“It’s like having 20–something kids,” he says when I ask him to pick a few of his favorite songs he’s written. Suddenly, he’s walking me through his entire discography.
“‘I'm All Gone’ is a peak Gregory dorm song,” Auble says. “I wrote that sitting on my bed staring up at the wall. I think someone had just slipped a note under my door telling me to be quiet,” he says. “What a Shame Mary Jane” is one giant allusion to The Beatles, one of Auble's central influences, named in reference to an unreleased Beatles demo of “What’s New Mary Jane.” “Helen” was written for his grandmother. He wrote “Graduated,” which samples from “Pomp and Circumstance,” at the end of his first year at Penn and the anniversary of his high school graduation. “Spring” is full of lyrical and melodic allusions. "The Time of the Season" by The Zombies references A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and of course, a direct melodic quote from Vivaldi’s “Spring.” He still wants to do songs for the rest of The Four Seasons.
His EP Vaguely Gray is somewhat of a joke—a response to critiques he got that his music was poorly produced. His reaction: Make it even weirder, rougher around the edges, deliberately making his sound coarsely produced. “It doesn’t sound professional. But that’s the whole point,” he says.
On “Fortunate Light” he plays what he calls a “dueling recorder.” Auble is thoughtful and sincere, yet cynical and jaded all at once, and his music is a direct reflection of that. He names a dozen other songs and tells me the stories behind them, each with a deep emotional connection, each articulating a very specific feeling that the songs try to evoke.
His latest release, an album of five songs including the titular “What to Do?”, is nothing but demonstrative of the eclectic care he puts into his music, with lyrics packed with double entendres, allusion, and absolute emotional reverence. “You don't need to go into a recording studio and waste thousands of dollars to put out a song that you like, and that communicates something,” he says.
Talking to Auble, it’s evident that he’s romantic to his core. But above all else, when you see him speak about his songs, he’s just enamored with music. He slips into his own rhythm of recounting his music with a cadence to his voice as he lists through each and every song he’s written and the meaning behind them. As he speaks, he’ll randomly break into song, humming a part of the melody or singing a few bars from a song, seemingly unaware that he’s slipping in and out of music and conversation. When he speaks about music, it becomes him. When Michael Auble makes a sound, plays a riff, utters a lyric, it consumes him.
These days, though, he still puts out original Michael Auble solo records. Auble prioritizes writing for Away Game. When the COVID–19 pandemic hit, Auble, DiPietro, and Roa, all stuck at home, were able to start working together, taking each of their independent music and coming together to create Away Game. In the summer of 2020, they put on a concert in Auble's parents' backyard. As pandemic restrictions have eased, Away Game has been running the house show circuit in South Jersey and is slowly branching into Philly, playing half–hour sets in basements like Traitor Joe’s. “You don't really know if you've, you know, secured a foothold in any field until after the fact,” he says. Away Game is still working on breaking into the scene.
For now, they make music when they can make the time. By day, Auble is a substitute teacher in South Jersey, recording songs and writing at all other hours. He’s living with his parents and playing as many shows as he can on the weekends with DiPietro and Roa. It was his disenchantment with Penn, the lack of collaboration, the cutthroat competition, and the sense that someone was always trying to “one–up” someone else that made him want to be a teacher.
But he’s grown disillusioned with that, too. “Music is like the light at the end of the tunnel every week,” he says. Education isn’t where Auble belongs; Auble belongs doing music, Auble exudes music, Auble is music. “The more shows we play, I feel more secure. So we just keep playing shows. And the future is the future. And especially in Philly, especially in Philly,” Auble says. As far as he’s concerned, the music is all that matters—keep playing, keep writing, keep making music.
Auble says that what he really wants to do for Away Game is write songs that people will dance to. “Cemetery,” written by Roa, is the main dance song they’ve recorded right now, but they have three yet–to–be released songs—all written by Auble—that they’re currently only playing live: “Check on Me,” “Cherry Coke,” and “Second Grade,” which Auble calls the “center” of the triad of the songs.
At the Traitor Joe’s show, halfway through “Second Grade,” Auble leans into the microphone and launches into a 20–second whistle solo, all of his breath traveling through his body into the microphone. Away Game is electric. Michael Auble is electric.