In the summer of 2015, one of the world’s biggest pop stars, Taylor Swift, was in the midst of her popular “1989 World Tour.” At each stop, she brought out a surprise celebrity or two to perform with her, and her July performance at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, was no exception. Before inviting that evening’s special guest onstage, Swift exclaimed to the audience: “There is this one song in particular, that, the first time I heard it I just sat up and went, ‘I have to buy it! I have to have it. I have to play it on repeat. I have to know every single word to this song. I have to jump around in my bedroom to this song.”

The opening notes of “Shut Up and Dance” then filled the packed stadium and the band Walk the Moon emerged from backstage. Lead singer Nicholas “Nick” Petricca ’09 linked arms with Swift, and wearing matching green sequined jackets, they led 60,000 fans in a giant sing-along dance party:

A backless dress and some beat up sneaks
My discotheque Juliet teenage dream
I felt it in my chest as she looked at me
I knew we were bound to be together

Swift wasn’t the only person obsessing over “Shut Up and Dance,” the lead single of Walk the Moon’s second major label album, “Talking Is Hard.” The song peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that year and has sold more than 3 million copies in the U.S. alone. Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran even proclaimed “Shut Up and Dance” the song of the summer of 2015.

It was official: After half a decade of relentless touring, recording, false starts and line-up changes, Walk the Moon (stylized WALK THE MOON by the band), whose origins can be traced back to Kenyon’s residence halls and performance spaces, had finally landed.

We rattle this town, we rattle this scene

Petricca grew up in Cincinnati, in a home where music was ever-present in the background of his daily life.

“My parents were both avid music fans,” he said in a phone interview over the summer, while on a break from recording the band’s latest album. “There was always music on in the house while we were eating dinner and we would go to concerts together. I took piano lessons and played in concert and jazz bands growing up.” Writing his own music didn’t become a primary passion, however, until Petricca’s senior year of high school, as he was preparing to start college at Kenyon.

The moment he set foot on campus for a tour, Petricca recalled, “I immediately felt at home in that fairytale college way. (Choosing Kenyon) was kind of a no-brainer after that.”

As a first-year, he started a rock band, The Expert, for which he played keyboards and sang vocals alongside Jeremy Sher ’09 on violin, Thomas Lewis ’09 on bass, Cooper Fleishman ’09 on drums and Nick Lerangis ’09 on guitar and vocals. Before long, his passion for music exploded. “I like to say that music just ate me. It swallowed me whole,” he said. “I became obsessed with writing songs, playing gigs and making rock music.”

A music major, he thrived in his music theory classes with Professor of Music Ted Buehrer ’91, as well as in electives like “Jazz Theory and Arranging” and “Intro to Music Technology.” Studying with Buehrer, he said, was “an important part of my music expansion and growth.”

Buehrer remembers first meeting Petricca when he was a prospective student visiting Kenyon, and they chatted about Petricca’s burgeoning interest in writing pop songs. As a student, Petricca was “smart, inquisitive and hard-working, but also caring and kind,” Buehrer recalled, noting that “along the way, (Petricca) wrote some memorable music for class projects.”

Every year for one of his music theory classes, Buehrer asks students to create a final composition about Kenyon, and one option is to write in a pop song style. “I still share Nick’s song, ‘We Are Like Kokosing,’ with my current students as a model of what a strong project could look and sound like,” he said. Several years ago, Buehrer rearranged an instrumental piece titled “Naiweh,” which Petricca had created as a student in his music technology class, and performed it with the Kenyon Jazz Ensemble.

“Suddenly, my music mind and heart just completely broke open and expanded. There was a vast universe of music that I had never listened to before, and I began to change quickly.”

Nick Petricca '09, on gaining an informal pop and rock education at Kenyon

Outside of the classroom, a parallel music education began to take shape for Petricca over late-night listening and jam sessions. He realized that in spite of his parents’ best intentions, his formative pop and rock education contained some glaring gaps.

“My girlfriend at the time and my new friends began introducing me to all these acts that I’d never heard of or dug into before,” he explained. “I’d never really listened to the Beatles, for instance. I had never heard of the Talking Heads or Tears for Fears, and I had never listened to David Bowie. Suddenly, my music mind and heart just completely broke open and expanded. There was a vast universe of music that I had never listened to before, and I began to change quickly.”

Petricca and The Expert performed in battle of the bands events at the Horn Gallery and booked performances wherever they could — from the campus cošffee shop, Middle Ground, to parties in the basement of Old Kenyon. “Kenyon kids are, if anything, brilliant and strange,” he said, laughing. “It was a breeding ground for creativity.”

Petricca also honed his vocal chops as a member of the Chasers and remembers fondly his early performances with the a cappella group in Rosse Hall. During the summer after his first year at Kenyon, in 2006, Petricca formed a second band, Wicked in the Mix, with a few friends from Cincinnati and Kenyon classmate Adam Reifsnyder ’08.

“We got to know each other through the Chasers and quickly realized that our families lived within 10 minutes of each other in Cincinnati,” Reifsnyder said of his friendship with Petricca. They hung out over the summer of 2006 and Petricca asked Reifsnyder, a guitarist, if he’d like to play bass for Wicked in the Mix. “Sure, I’ll try it out,” Reifsnyder told Petricca. “Which is how a lot of bands get bassists,” Reifsnyder said with a laugh.

Over the next two years, Wicked in the Mix and The Expert melded into a hybrid band of Kenyon students and musicians from Cincinnati. But the band’s lineup kept shifting until, at one point, only Petricca and Reifsnyder remained as members. Eventually, they brought on a new drummer, Adrian Galvin ’12, and vocalist/guitarist Lerangis (Petricca’s senior year roommate and a former member of The Expert).

One day, “Nick (Petricca) walked into our room and asked, ‘Do you want to be our guitar player?’ He made me audition for it,” Lerangis recalled, with a chuckle. “We were still Kenyon kids but I auditioned for the band and then joined.”

With new members and a fresh focus, the group decided it was time to rebrand the band. “We had gotten mixed feedback to the name Wicked in the Mix and it didn’t really mean a whole lot to us, but we liked abbreviating our name as ‘WM,’” Reifsnyder explained, “so it was in the back of our minds that it would be really cool if we could keep (those initials).”

The band’s influences included the Police, whose song, “Walking on the Moon,” they loved, and Michael Jackson, whose signature dance move was the “moonwalk.” So they adopted a new name, Walk the Moon, as an homage to these musical icons.

Helpless to the bass and the fading light

On campus, Walk the Moon’s star began to rise.

“The band Walk the Moon took off in 2008 when it was chosen to represent the United States at London’s City Showcase,” noted a 2009 Bulletin story. Walk the Moon also performed at Summer Sendoff that year as an opening act for national hip-hop duo Clipse.

“Kenyon was a little crucible for all our big dreams. It was a platform for us to explore and make mistakes without any real negative repercussions,” Galvin said of the early days of the band.

Life post-Kenyon, however, proved more challenging as Petricca, Reifsnyder and Lerangis moved to Cincinnati together with the goal of making music professionally (as the youngest member, Galvin played with the band during breaks from school). After “many months of intense rehearsing and gigging” with the band, Lerangis, who had been working odd jobs and living with Petricca’s and Reifsnyder’s parents, decided to leave the group to pursue other career options in his hometown of New York City. Soon after, Reifsnyder and Galvin also left to chase other jobs and dreams. (See “Where Are They Now?” sidebar.)

Suddenly, Petricca was the only remaining member of Walk the Moon, but he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. Music had been the one constant in his life, and he needed it more than ever during that first year out of college.

“In the six months that followed graduation, I would say I was very depressed. I went from being in this sort of paradise of having all of these incredible friends within arm’s reach, to the abyss of adulthood, or whatever (adulthood) is supposed to mean,” Petricca said.

Jumping into that abyss with the other Walk the Moon band members had helped lessen the blow, but it was still a difficult time.

“We had a lot of fun, but we were living in my parents’ house and writing songs all day, every day, and booking gigs around the Midwest and New York, and wherever we could,” he explained. “Those were the days when we were playing bars for no one — for the other bands. It required a lot of perseverance and trust in one another.”

At the same time, Petricca’s father, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years earlier, started showing more serious symptoms.

“The other guys in the band at the time — the Kenyon guys, before they decided that they needed to go and do other things and had other goals to accomplish — they had, like, an intervention for me,” Petricca said. “They were like, ‘Dude, you don’t seem well and you’re being a dick in rehearsal. And this is the time when you’ve got to step up and be the man in your family because your dad is sick. We love you and support you, and you’ve got to step into your dad’s shoes right now.’”

For Petricca, it was his “moment of reckoning, where they could share that truth with me and that reality check of what was going on in my family. While I was happy that they decided to do other things, it was kind of like, ‘Well shit, I’m the only band member left.’”

He weighed his options: He could close the Walk the Moon chapter of his life and do something else — something unrelated to music. Or, he could keep going. “I faced the void. I faced what could have been failure and decided, ‘No, I’m going to book a bunch of gigs with no band and go figure it out,” he said.

Two years later, Walk the Moon had three new members, a hit single, “Anna Sun,” and a recording contract with RCA Records. “We were on our way,” Petricca said.

Midwest shooting star

Before the original members of Walk the Moon went their separate ways, they independently recorded and released an album, “i want! i want!”, in 2010, and it featured a song that Petricca, Lerangis, Reifsnyder and Galvin had written specifically about their college experiences, “Anna Sun” (see “The Making of ‘Anna Sun’” sidebar, below). It became a sleeper hit on alternative radio stations in 2011.

Although none of the band members knew Anna Sun, an associate professor of sociology and Asian studies at Kenyon, very well, they thought her melodic name made for a catchy hook. Radio listeners agreed.

Screen falling off the door, door hanging off the hinges
My feet are still sore, my back is on the fringes
We were up against the wall on the west mezzanine
We rattle this town, we rattle this scene
O, Anna Sun
O, Anna Sun

Sun, who will never forget the first time she heard the song on the radio — during a lunch meeting at a restaurant in Chicago — has a theory about why the musicians chose her name for the song: because it goes well with Walk the Moon, both in sound and in meaning (sun/moon). Whatever the reason, she counts herself a fan.

“I do think the song is on its way to becoming a true classic, if it hasn’t already arrived at classic status,” she said. “I am honored to be associated with it, if only accidentally.”

The success of “Anna Sun” helped the newest iteration of Walk the Moon (Petricca, Kevin Ray, Sean Waugaman and Eli Maiman) land a contract with RCA Records in 2012, and the song became the first single off their 2012 self-titled major label debut, peaking at number 10 on the Billboard Alternative chart.

Introducing a performance of the song by Walk the Moon on his late-night show, music lover Jimmy Fallon declared that the band was “poised for a breakout.”

In December 2014, after years of nonstop touring, Walk the Moon released its second album through RCA, “Talking is Hard.” The first single, party anthem “Shut Up and Dance,” was an instant hit.

Ironically, the inspiration for the tune was a bad case of writer’s block.

“‘Shut Up and Dance’ is based on a true story,” Petricca told in an interview. “We hit a roadblock writing the song that would become ‘Shut Up and Dance’; we didn’t have the chorus. We went out to blow off some steam at this awesome dance club and there was a girl there with a backless dress and beat-up red Chucks who actually told me to shut up and dance with her.”

While writing that song, and others since, Petricca said he has experienced “whoa moments,” as in “whoa, this could be a frickin’ smash!’” But those moments, he acknowledged, can be risky.

“As soon as you recognize a song for having that potential, you have to be careful because then you can become really precious, like, ‘Now we have to write it like it’s going to be a smash,’” he said. “If you become too aware, you can mess it up.”

As Walk the Moon’s catchy, danceable hooks and beats made their way around the globe, fans started emulating the band’s distinctive look, which originated during the filming of the video for “Anna Sun.” In the video, Petricca wears his dark hair long and has stripes of paint decorating his cheeks. As he moves through the dark halls of the Mockbee building in Cincinnati’s brewery district, an ’80s-themed dance party erupts. When the dancers then emerge into woods nearby, their faces are all smeared with bright paint.

“The heart of Walk the Moon was born out of this love of being young forever,” Petricca said of the face paint motif, which was inspired by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. “At the time, we were playing in these bars and venues for teenagers. You’ve got to cut your teeth in front of whoever is at this bar at midnight, or whoever is at this outdoor mall. You’ve got to prove yourself. The face paint was kind of a way to get people out of their heads and invite them to be a kid, regardless of their age.”

Petricca’s personal style has evolved alongside his spiritual and life practice, he explained. Lately, his platinum blond (and sometimes rainbow-streaked) hair falls in a cross between a mohawk and a mullet, and his clothing choices range from plain white v-necks and skinny jeans to animal print onesie leotards with faux fur jackets. He even posed as a model for gender-neutral clothing brand Radimo.

“I’ve identified more and more with a sense of being a warrior,” he said. And he tries to look the part.

Growing up is a heavy leaf to turn

In April 2016, at the height of Walk the Moon’s fame, Petricca and his bandmates surprised their fans, and the media, when they announced that they were canceling their “Work This Body” tour and stepping away from the spotlight for a while. A note posted on their website read:

We are deeply sorry to say that, due to a serious illness in Nick’s family, we must cancel this summer’s Work This Body Tour. For many years now, Nick’s dad has been suffering from Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, it’s reached a point where he needs to come home and focus on his family for awhile. … With a heavy heart we send our gratitude out to our team, our industry friends, and most importantly our fans for their understanding and support. Through this time, it continues to be our dream and our mission to take the darkness in our lives and mold it into light + color. The only way out is through. <+>


Petricca returned to Cincinnati (he had been living in California) to spend time with his family. During this time, friends, former Walk the Moon bandmates and members of the Kenyon community reconnected with Petricca and offered support.

“I had a chance to visit with Nick last summer while I was in Cincinnati for an extended stay, and he was home, having canceled the Walk the Moon summer tour so that he could spend some quality time with his dad,” Buehrer said. “Celebrity may have come upon him, but he was the same person he was as an undergraduate: still interested in writing catchy and creative music; grateful for the education he received at Kenyon that forced him to analyze and to think critically about his music; still the caring and down-to-earth person I remembered.”

Joseph Petricca died on Feb. 4 at age 63. Through his social media feeds that day, Petricca dedicated a song he had recently produced for musician Wyclef Jean, “Holding on the Edge,” to “my beautiful dad, Big Joe.”

As long as it takes, we're coming awake

Over the spring, Walk the Moon holed up in a studio in Los Angeles to write and record a new album, “What If Nothing,”which has a November release date. From the get-go, Petricca said, the whole process felt different from creating the band’s previous albums.

“We were coming into this writing process after almost five years straight of being on the road,” he said. “We were exhausted and needed a huge break. My dad was passing away and it was a bit of a dark time. Coming out of that and alchemizing all of that energy, fatigue, sadness and confusion into the music was very transformative, and it transformed our sound as well.”

He added, “I don’t think we’ll ever not have that sort of ecstatic spirit in Walk the Moon’s music, but there’s a lot more depth and darkness, and some more experimental moments happening in this record.”

The band is also getting its feet wet with touring, again, by playing at Mamby on the Beach, in Chicago, and a few other festivals over the summer and fall.

“When we’re in the studio, we’re in there for like 11 hours a day and not seeing the sun. You become this creature of the laboratory, somewhere in-between the mad scientist and the subject,” Petricca said, with a laugh. “There are these two very different processes that are equally important, the writing and recording and the performing.”

“We can’t step into the old shoes,” he added. “We have to step into new ones and become something bigger and better.”

The Making of Anna Sun

As told to the Bulletin by Nick Petricca '09 

“Anna Sun” is definitely a song that continues to feel relevant. The lyrics of the song contain so many images — so many very specific details about my college experience. The mood and the message of the song, if I had to summarize them, are about the beauty and the perseverance of going on after things end. Everything is temporal. Everything is impermanent. But there are still joys to be had, memories to be made and a lot of meaning.

I remember being in the basement by myself, just writing. This is actually a month or so after graduating from Kenyon, and I’m in my basement at home in Cincinnati, sitting in the dark on a gray day. Or maybe it was a bright day and I chose to be in the dark. And I’m just writing down these images from a stream of consciousness.

My ex-girlfriend — I dated the same girl all through college — she had sent me a text saying she had visited Kenyon for the first time since graduation, and that it was really strange. The text said something about setting off fireworks in one of the quads, and that it felt like a ghost town.

That felt so real and true to me. I was just reading this text and crying. So I started writing these lyrics about the ghost town and where I used to park my car, and the mezzanine of one of those old beautiful buildings on campus where we used to make out. All of these flashes of images were coming to me, and they became the verse and the bridge. It didn’t really become “Anna Sun” until basically the whole song was written — there was a little musical connector between the verse and the chorus that had this beautiful rising melody, and we really didn’t know what to do with it. We were joking about Kenyon and Nick Lerangis just started singing Anna Sun’s name, and we were like, “Oh my god, it’s so perfect!”

She’s a wonderful professor and such a bright, shining person on campus, as is her husband, Professor Yang Xiao, who I had for philosophy. It’s not so much that the song is about Anna Sun, but she just has this beautiful name that seemed to represent the bright people who were there, and the wisp of inspiration that could be anywhere, at any time, on campus.

(Performing the song live) just feels awesome. It doesn’t feel weird at all. Maybe it should. Dissecting it now, it feels like it shouldn’t (still) make sense, but that’s just the way songs work. You write something that is real for a moment, and then as soon as it is written and that moment has passed, it’s not necessarily even who you are anymore. You are growing and changing and evolving every minute, every second. But because it was real for that one moment, it’s real forever. You get this little snapshot of who a person was just for that one split second, and if it’s real enough, people will feel something and recognize something of themselves in it.

Where Are They Now?

We caught up with the original members of Walk the Moon and asked what they’ve been up to since leaving the band.


Location: New York City

What he's been up to: “I’m now married to an old friend of mine, my high school prom date. We reconnected when Walk The Moon asked me to open for them in 2011 on a show in NYC,” Lerangis reported. “I put together a band (mostly Kenyon friends: Cooper Fleishman ’09, Will Dagger ’10, Kate Hamilton ’09), with myself as the lead vocalist, and opened for Walk the Moon at an amazing show. Jennie, my wife, was in the crowd and we decided to hang out again sometime. Walk the Moon was back in town a few months later, during their rise to stardom, and Nick Petricca gave me a guestlist spot and a plus-one. I invited Jennie and we went to see Walk the Moon, where they sang “Jenny’s Got a Body,” and Nick announced, totally straight-faced, to the crowd that it was about Jennie and pointed her out in the crowd. She got a big round of applause and we stayed out till about 6 a.m. That was our first real date. We’ve been married almost a year.”

Current music projects: Americana-infused rock band, Evening Darling, was formed in 2015 by Lerangis (guitars, vocals) Erica Lane (vocals), Dan Burke (drums) and Dave Letchinger (keyboard), after the musicians spent three years together playing in another group, the Hunting Party. Evening Darling’s self-titled album was released in April, and the group recently toured with Rubyfruit (Kate Hamilton ’09 and Jenny Posnak ’12). Lerangis also has a musical side project with Ryan Batie ’09, under the moniker Cannon & deVaron. They’ve been working together long distance for years, with Batie based in Seattle.

Watch videos featuring Evening Darling.


Location: New York City

What he's been up to: After Kenyon, his band at the time, Poor Remy (Galvin, Kenny Polyak ’12 and Andrew D’Amico ’12) moved to Brooklyn, New York, to try and make a pursuit out of it. In 2012, he teamed up with his former dance professor, Kora Radella, and Matty Davis ’12 to form Boomerang, a dance company that is still going strong. In addition, Galvin is a certified yoga instructor.

Current music project: Galvin’s latest musical endeavor is an electropop solo project, Yoke Lore, and he released his first EP, “Far Shore,” in June, through B3SCI Records. Billboard exclusively premiered the EP’s first single, “World Wings,” and the Village Voice published an article about Yoke Lore, titled “Prepare to Find Religion With Yoke Lore at Baby’s All Right.” “I am interested in how various ideas, traditions, relationships are held together. … My songs are really personal, but I remember (Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies) Royal Rhodes teaching me that the more personal you get, the more universal the message becomes,” Galvin said. “Of course he was talking about death in the 12th century. I’m just applying the idea to pop music.”

Watch the video for Yoke Lore's "Goodpain."


Location: Cleveland

What he's been up to: Post-Walk the Moon, Reifsnyder moved to Cleveland to pursue a career in marketing and web development. He currently works as a digital marketing manager at Brandmuscle, a marketing software and services company, and is an active musician in the Cleveland area.

Current music project: On Halloween in 2011, Reifsnyder and friend Brendan O’Malley launched Honeybucket, which, according to their website, is a “high-energy, whiskey-drinkin’ newgrass trio” that has amassed a loyal following over the years. “I play acoustic guitar and sing, Brendan plays mandolin and sings, and we have upright bass and lots of three-part harmony,” Reifsnyder said. “We don’t tour a lot, but we’ve seen a lot of success in Cleveland and that was a goal of ours. ... We are all doing it as a second career, and that’s been a really good fit for me.”

Watch videos featuring Honeybucket.

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