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First Person

When Particles Collide’s Sasha Alcott: One rocking chemistry teacher

With a new album launching, the singer/guitarist weighs being a Phillips Exeter Academy teacher by day and frontwoman for a rock duo by night.

Sasha Alcott

Photograph by Murray Carpenter

Sasha Alcott

I’m a chemistry teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. It’s a boarding school, so I advise students, I coach, I work in the dormitories. But I have the summer off. And I have a week around Thanksgiving, two weeks over the winter holidays, and two weeks in March. So, all told, 15 weeks out of the year that I can really dedicate to music, and that’s not bad.

March was awesome. My husband, Chris [Viner], who plays drums, and I played 13 shows in 12 days. [In Canton, Ohio,] people were just letting go. They were tossing each other up in the air and pumping fists and screaming the lyrics at me, and I thought, “This is the moment where it no longer belongs to me; this is for you guys, this is your night.” And that’s the beauty. We’ll be on the road for 10 weeks this summer to support the album. We’ll go to the West Coast and back.

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I think what makes a really great teacher also makes a really good frontperson, in that it’s not really all about them, it’s all about the other people in the room. A great teacher — through magic and skill and experience — knows how to engage the students so that the process of trying to grapple with and understand new ideas and concepts belongs to the students, so they own it. A lot of teachers are very funny and flamboyant and people like them, but they are not as invested as the great teacher who gets you hooked on poetry.

And similarly there are lots of frontpeople who sing amazingly well and are very flamboyant or they have sort of stage tricks. But I think the ones who often have a very long career, it’s because the listener feels personally vested in the music, the performance, that persona. You can’t just put on a good show.  

(Interview has been edited and condensed.)

HEAR MORE When Particles Collide will release its album Photoelectric on Tuesday and play the Davis Square Theatre in Somerville on Friday. whenparticlescollide.com

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