Musicians with PhDs Who Might Surprise You


Academia and the music industry don’t seem like particularly compatible institutions. The former moves glacially slowly, the second feeds on an internet-stoked buzz cycle. Academics prize well-thought out hypotheses while musicians are all about, um, everything but that. But in spite of their differences, there are a whole host of musicians with higher degrees. Check out our list after the jump.

1. Brian May (Queen)

Aside from penning and singing some Queen classics — “Fat Bottomed Girls,” anyone? — Brian May also happens to be an astrophysicist. He began studying for his Ph.D. at the Imperial College in the 1970s, but only graduated (thanks to Queen’s interruptions) 2008, presenting a dissertation entitled A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud. Which, come to think of it, would also be an awesome album name.

2. David Macklovitch (Dave-1, of Chromeo)

Macklovitch — or Mr. 1, to you, buddy — in addition to making up one half of the awesome electro-dance duo Chromeo and being really, really ridiculously good-looking, taught Intermediate French at Barnard College while getting his Ph.D. in French Literature at Columbia. His dissertation topic, according to the university website: “Theorizing the Pleasure of Reading in Eighteenth Century France,” which “focuses on theoretical writings of the first half of the Eighteenth Century, in which reading for pleasure is conceived as an autonomous notion.” He’s got brains and the funk.

3. Drew Daniel (Matmos)

By night (and weekend) Daniel is part of the experimental electronic pair Matmos, but by day he’s an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, teaching English. Last April, he gave a lecture at UCLA’s Medieval Studies department on “How to De-Materialize Melancholy.” Awesome.

4. Greg Graffin (Bad Religion)

The co-founder of Bad Religion is also a professor who teaches life sciences courses at the University of California, Los Angeles (where he double majored in anthropology and geology ). In 2003, Graffin received his Ph.D. from Cornell in zoology. His dissertation was entitled Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist Worldview: Perspectives from Evolutionary Biology, and he just published a new book on science and religion

5. Gregg Michael Gillis (Girl Talk)

Gillis first began performing his laptop-mashups while studying biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University. He ended up focusing on tissue engineering, and was, for a while, working as an engineer during the day and a DJ sensation at night without his engineering colleagues realizing they had a mashup master in their midst.

6. Milo Aukerman (The Descendents)

Aukerman, aside from being the songwriter and lead singer of the Descendents, is a hot shot biochemist. (What did you expect from a band who named their album Milo Goes to College?). Aukerman got his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin — and his dedication to science is mostly responsible for the band’s touring and recording hiatuses. Aukerman specializes in genetics, and his papers look awesome, if largely incomprehensible to us non-biochemists.

7. Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine)

Morello, he of heavy guitar riffing and Audioslave fame, went to Harvard for a B.A. in political science. Both his parents are teachers, and Morello’s uncle was actually the first elected president of Kenya. After Rage and Audioslave disbanded, Morello returned to his academic roots, teaching history.

Who’d we miss?