Courtesy of Sofia Egol

March 27, 2024

PROFILE | Paragon

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I was in Atlantic City for a weekend with Kyle Wolf ’25. It was there, in the Bally’s hotel somewhere above the casinos, that I asked if he wanted to make some music. We both brought MIDI keyboards when we met at his car before the trip, pointing at each other like that Spider-Man meme. 

Courtesy of Sofia Egol

He hadn’t made afrobeats before, but I was curious about his limits. We listened to Tyla’s “Water” for reference, and Kyle replicated the drums. I envied that he could do it without any serious effort — it was just a matter of listening to the first 30 seconds of the song and tapping the pattern on the piano. But he couldn’t let the song contain him; he let go of the reference and it became some sort of jazz fusion. I watched him make three more songs that are still in the vault. 

The Kyle Matthews Band

That story happens to sound a lot like one that Kyle told me about meeting Matthew Baum ’25, who would become the other founding member of Paragon. In the fall of last year, Matt had seen Kyle play drums for After Six, the reigning champions of Big Red Icon’s Battle of the Bands. He recalls: “When I saw After Six, I didn’t even know what the band was. But when Kyle played, I heard something that I thought was special. I watched him the entire time.” He went straight to After Six’s Instagram to find Kyle. 

Kyle rejected Matt’s follow request. “I didn’t know he went to Cornell,” Kyle says. “I thought he was just some random music guy.” But he still followed him: “The music was good,” he admits. It took a couple of weeks for Kyle to notice that Matt had sent him a message asking to play together. He agreed, and it was in the Hans Bethe House music room that they realized what they could accomplish. 

Joseph Reyes / Sun Contributor

“When I was playing with him,” Matt says of Kyle, “there was this weird thing in the air: the way that his kick drum hit in sync with my guitar. It pumped the air in an insane way in the room. You could just feel it.” 

Kyle remembers this moment: “We came in, I set up the drum set, and he started the opening riff. The great thing about working with Matt is that he has all of these great ideas and a lot of my job is just trying to make something workable. A lot of the fun was, he would have an idea in mind but didn’t know how to say it in drum terms so I would have to translate his ideas. Our first session together, we made like two songs. There was an immediate musical connection there.” 

Matt feels the same way: “Stylistically, there were certain ideologies that I learned to let go. You have to be willing to try anything when you’re making something. You could think in your head, ‘Oh this isn’t going to work,’ but then you just change things one small way. If you shut ideas down before they’re finished, then you’re missing opportunities. Like, ‘What if we tried reggae? What if we tried to make this a metal breakdown?’ Other ideas emerge.” 

Kyle recounts that Matt had asked him, after Thanksgiving break, if he had heard of the Battle of the Bands. “I said, ‘Yeah, I won it last year.’” They agreed to enter the competition together, despite Kyle already being set to play drums again for After Six. He planned to play for both groups, but didn’t think much of what they called the Kyle Matthews Band. They lacked a vocalist and bassist. “We were good, but we weren’t a band at that point.” 

The First Attempt

Kyle was surprised that their two-man group was given a spot at the Battle of the Bands. One problem: Kyle broke his collarbone skiing over February break. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, how am I supposed to perform?’” The new plan was to sit out of that year’s After Six performance but continue the Kyle Matthews band on keys. They enlisted two postdocs to play drums and bass: Shuming Zhang and Ben Grodner, respectively. To complete the puzzle, Matt invited a vocalist, Amara Lin, to fly in from San Francisco for the Battle of the Bands performance. 

Rehearsal was difficult for Kyle. “It was an unusual experience,” he says, “because I was used to playing drums and now I was in a more supporting role on the keyboard.” Further, they had to rehearse without Amara while she was based on the west coast. “Retrospectively, it was tough, but we knew that Big Red Icon at Bailey Hall was the real show — we wanted to show off who we were.” They knew it would be difficult to find an audience with only two undergrads in the band. 

Kyle suggested the name Paragon, meaning a bastion of excellence. It took Matt some time to warm up to the name. They played as a group of five for the Battle of the Bands and took third place that year. That won them a gig at Slope Fest, which was the band’s main ambition at the time. 

Paragon, As We Know It

Kyle’s promotion for Paragon had strained his relationship with After Six. They parted ways at the end of the summer, and Kyle found himself musically stranded. He had been with After Six for two years, and they won the Battle of the Bands both of those times. Paragon, which now had his full attention, was largely untested and still in its infancy. He and Matt were now the only remaining members on campus. 

When they booked an o-week gig on a Catherine Street porch, Kyle and Matt expected to borrow equipment from the Bethe House that they used before. They discovered that half of it wasn’t there.

“We ended up scrambling,” Kyle says. “We ended up using my electric drum kit to do a sort of karaoke performance.” That oversight would go on to redefine Paragon as a karaoke band for Greek Life. It was at Chi Psi that they met Sofia Egol ’26, and later, Lucas Mitchell ’27.

“I don’t really know how I ended up in this band,” Sofia says. “But I’m so happy that I did.” A friend at Chi Psi had asked her if she would be interested in singing for Paragon at a gig. “I just started texting with them and we met for the first time at Chi Psi. It kind of just started and we started doing those gigs a few times.”

Matt remembers being hesitant. He says, “Kyle and I are pretty protective of our music and playing with other people. We were apprehensive and I wasn’t expecting to find a musical connection like that.” 

Sofia felt it too: “They were so talented, and so creative, and fun, and I could tell that they were like that from the get-go. I was excited for the opportunity to do that again if it arose and I guess they felt the same way.”

Courtesy of Sofia Egol

While Kyle and I were in Atlantic City, Paragon had a performance booked again at Chi Psi. To replace Kyle, a fraternity member recommended a different drummer and a bassist named Lucas. “It might actually do more harm than good,” Matt thought. But then Lucas played. Déjà vu: “Ok, we found a bassist.”

Courtesy of Sofia Egol

At this point, Kyle had already enlisted bassist Genu Lee ‘24 and guitarist Ben Lorence ‘24, his brothers in the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Kyle became convinced that Genu needn’t be redundant — he would still be a valuable member as an acoustic guitarist, switching off with Ben on rhythm guitar. They also had help from Francis Bahk ‘25, who Matt overheard playing piano in the Bethe practice room: “He was doing the most insane piece I had ever heard in my life. I was just watching outside and my jaw was dropped.” Matt went, at first, to kick Francis out for practice. They ended up playing together, and at a later date, Matt would ask him to join the band. Together, these seven undergrads make up Paragon as we know it today. 

Joseph Reyes / Sun Contributor

The Battle of the Bands

Paragon had about a month to prepare as a full group. The rehearsal was hectic: Kyle says, “Matt and I have always worked in small groups. Last year, there were four people besides Amara at the end. This time it was seven people and we were all starting from scratch. It was kind of a lot, we felt the pressure a little bit.” 

They rehearsed in Kappa Sigma’s colloquially named “rave room.” That room happens to be only a few doors down from my own — for a month, I would have to study through the aggressive rock music blasting out of their amps. For their final rehearsal, one day before the final performance, I asked to sit in. 

The first thing that went wrong: “Don’t mind the mask,” Sofia told me. “I have the flu.” She had been feeling under the weather for about a week leading up to the event. They didn’t think anything of it, at first, but soon realized that she would still be sick on the day of the competition. 

Courtesy of Sofia Egol

But they were committed to making the best of the situation. Sofia stood from a distance while they played, taking frequent breaks to preserve her voice. There was a hurriedness to their process that didn’t appear to come from nerves — they seemed more interested in efficiency. Kyle and Matt would argue, occasionally, over which songs needed more of their time. They communicated through music, playing parts of the songs to each other that clearly needed to be refined. At one point, Kyle walked over to the keyboard to suggest vocal ideas — he would play the chords and ask Sofia to try different vocal runs. It was crunch time, but they were focused on getting it right. 

Courtesy of Sofia Egol

It was like Matt said: There was something in the air, something about the way that Kyle’s drums filled the space. We all felt it, and they all played to emphasize his hits. This is the air that overtook Bailey Hall the following night. 

I asked what Kyle remembers of playing on stage. He said, “Performing is one of those things where you just get lost and zone out, almost. I try to take in the moment and appreciate that I’m on stage. You practice so hard for just like 25 minutes. You have to make it count.” 

You could see him come in and out of consciousness: back and forth between blank expression and absolute glee. He kicks off the set with “Sweeparoni,” a Paragon original, in that state of bliss. But you can see, and hear, him get into the zone — as with the rest of the band. 

There’s no flash. It’s a barebones set, with the minimum that they need to make music. An electric drum kit sits awkwardly beside the acoustic one; Kyle insists that “Sweeparoni” requires it. When Sofia enters for their cover of “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, she introduces the band concisely: “We’re Paragon. Let’s get loud.”

Joseph Reyes / Sun Contributor

Matt’s solo on “You Oughta Know” floods the room with anticipation. He plays with a meticulous, but still lively, precision. You instantly recognize the dynamic: Kyle’s drums appear to bounce off of him. They play together as if in conversation. Matt does it again in the band’s Wild West interlude, a showcase of technical ability and dedicated practice. 

Joseph Reyes / Sun Contributor

After “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, they take another intermission for Sofia to introduce the band over a cover of the Mii theme song, hinting at a current of humor that emerges occasionally throughout the set in quips like, “Alright, we’re gonna f*ck some sh*t up right now.” It’s in their final cover, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, that Francis and Ben prove essential to Paragon’s depth of sound. 

They end the set with an original, “Harm,” a track seemingly built around the personality of Matt’s guitar. It sees Lucas and Genu find their pocket amidst the aggression of his riffs. And Sofia belts in the exact way that Kyle defines Paragon’s sound: “pop, with a kind of rock element.” Her voice evokes Paragon’s identity. 

Joseph Reyes / Sun Contributor

“We walked off and I said, ‘Jolly good show,’” Matt recounts. “Like Pops from Regular Show. Because that’s what it was, a good show.” Paragon is built, foremost, on a foundation of musical enthusiasm and mutual awe for each other’s talent. The Battle of the Bands has always been their way of sharing their potential, in its most authentic form, with new audiences. They had little to say about how they thought they did in the competition. All that’s important to them, I think, is what Sophia tells me: “We rocked it.”

Eric Han is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].