From Knauss Fellowship to center stage: One Knauss Alum’s unique career move from the fellowship to a successful music career
Knauss Fellowship alumni use the experiences they gain during the fellowship to pursue a variety of careers, from NOAA Chief of Staff to professors or U.S. Senate committee staff. But as a musician in the successful band Animal Collective, 2004 fellow Brian Weitz may have the most out-of-the-box “where are they now” story.
Weitz didn’t expect to pursue a music career following his time working as a Legislative Fellow for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, on the Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
“I thought I would stay on the Hill, or focus on environmental and marine policy. Maybe get a law degree,” said Weitz. He hoped to follow in the footsteps of his mentors, Margaret Spring and Amy Fraenkel, who both had a law degree and were senior counsel on the committee
One last time playing with the band...
Brian Weitz performing live. His stage name is Geologist, which comes from a friend who was mistaken about his studies and because he wears a headlamp on stage to see the electronics.
Photo: Kevin Card
So how exactly did a Knauss alumnus with a Master of Public Administration degree in Environmental Policy end up with a successful 15-year long (and still counting) music career?
Weitz spent a lot of his free time playing with Animal Collective—a group he helped start back when he was in high school—and even toured with them during the summer recess of Congress. Near the end of the fellowship, he decided to finish a record the band had been working on as his final goodbye.
“But the record did well, and then I decided to do one last tour, and during every ‘last thing,’ another opportunity would roll in,” said Weitz “and before I knew it, it was 2006, and I was still playing with the band.”
Using Knauss experiences to inspire fans and get paid
Though he continued working as a musician, Weitz has stayed connected to the world of marine policy. He completed a couple of short internships in the field and even brought his passion for the marine environment into Animal Collective’s work. The band offsets their carbon footprint from tour-related travel by funding seagrass planting through SeaGrass Grow, and they encourage their fans to do the same.
The skills he learned during his Knauss Fellowship have also helped his music career with Animal Collective in surprising ways.
“I worked on the Coast Guard bill, and I had to know it in-and-out, and really understand the ‘legalese’” said Weitz. Learning how to decipher legal writing has helped him work on contracts for himself and the band. “I can read a contract and explain that I understand why they wrote the contract a certain way, but that it won’t work for us and here is why.”
Current Knauss Fellow Stacey Weinstock went to an Animal Collective show recently, and was surprised to find out that Weitz was a past fellow.
Since he was on an authorizing committee, Weitz also uses the skills he learned to budget tours. He knows the rationale behind the budget and can help ensure enough profit for the group that they can make a living.
Weitz’s career as a musician has been fulfilling, but he still reflects on his experience in the Knauss Fellowship fondly. “It was one of the better years of my life. It was the only professional year and it was a good one,” said Weitz “I loved the experience and kept thinking music would end. I recommend it to anyone.”
For more information about the Knauss Fellowship visit seagrant.noaa.gov/knauss
To learn more about what working in a Legislative Knauss fellowship position, read blog posts from 2019 fellows Michelle Chow and Omanjana Goswami.