Sunday, November 30, 2014

Five Questions with Bencoolen

     When I look back at my four years of high school, I think of matches from my time on the bowling team, shifts working at my local library, and skipped track practices. Though I loved participating in (most of) those activities, I am grateful that my extracurricular activities today have branched off into different directions.
      The one activity I do miss, however, is my time on the Maroon & Gray, my high school newspaper. I spent all four years learning about, producing, or otherwise participating in our monthly issues. Even with all the additional hours I spent outside of class reporting, editing pages, and planning ahead for upcoming issues, I loved my time on the paper and it definitely helped that I had a great teacher and advisor to guide me through the process.
     I still sometimes miss writing stories about cool things happening around the school and town or interesting students and teachers, and I think a big benefit of starting this blog has been that it's allowed me to sort of get back to that. So when I attended George Washington University's annual Fall Fest and got to see local band Bencoolen perform, I knew I wanted to cover them for the blog. 
      The band of GW students is comprised of guitarist and lead vocalist Paul Gregg, guitarist Teddy Scott, bassist Eric Burke, drummer Kevin Mathieu, and alto saxophone player Ian Braker. Here's what the guys of Bencoolen had to say about Fall Fest, the creation of the band, and that wicked name:
{Bencoolen performing at Fall Fest. Pictured left to right: Eric Burke, Ian Braker, Kevin Mathieu, Paul Gregg, Teddy Scott}

1.Where does the name Bencoolen come from?

Paul: I used to live in Singapore, so while we were trying to come up with band names I tried to think of something that had to do with Singapore and Bencoolen came out. It's a street in an area in Singapore that has some cool spots and a lot of culture, and it's the mall where I bought my first guitar.

Eric: During the time trying to figure out a band name, Paul was suggesting lame/too serious names. Ted and I combatted that by suggesting ridiculous names where we combined words together. They were all nonsensical, but in reaction to that Paul suggested Bencoolen (somewhat two words combined) and it was dear to him from growing up in Singapore and buying his first guitar on Bencoolen Street. It ended up rolling off the tongue nicely.

2. How was the band formed?

Teddy: During freshman year in Fall 2011, I attended open jam sessions and wrote songs looking high and low for bandmates. Ian Braker was actually my roommate so I wrote a ballad with a big solo section for him to fill up. In preparation for recording, I met up with him in a small practice room and he literally blew my mind. He was in from day one. 

By the end of sophomore year I had started jamming with Paul after a mutual friend brought him out to see my old band play in Spring of 2013. The two of us were playing covers and swapping originals in a basement for a few friends and were able to impress behind his wide-ranging tenor. 

Eric slipped into the picture right at the beginning of junior year in the Fall of 2013. I had only jammed with him one time a couple years earlier and it was terrible. But sometimes you just need to try again. His jokes, brutal honesty, ridiculous facial hair, and love of rock music allowed him to fall into his rightful place. 

Kevin came in late Spring 2013 after our old drummer quit due to “creative differences.” We had four drummers sign up to audition for us. He was number 3. He came in with so much confidence, bare feet, and with such an obvious intention to grow with us that we didn’t even audition the last man. 

Kevin: I auditioned for the band last spring when the original drummer - Steve - moved on. He and I take drum lessons from the same teacher and I happened to walk in for my lesson as Steve was leaving, to which he suggested I check out his band because they needed a new drummer. Total coincidence!
{Paul (left) and Kevin (right) giving it their all at Fall Fest}

3. Where do you find most of your inspiration?

Kevin: I started playing drums because I found a passion in rock music, specifically some really down and dirty hardcore, metal. I always try to sneak some metal rudiments in here and there (e.g. last 30 seconds of "On The Rocks") just to add a personal touch to a genre which otherwise utilizes percussion as  a backdrop for vocals.

Eric: I take most of my style from Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, but try to incorporate a reggae and indie pop styles as well. My favorite band is the Arctic Monkeys.

Paul: Me and Ted both have a few artists/bands that I really look to when I song write, and they are very different.  He's really into blues rock and jam band stuff, but I look to a bunch of indie and alt rock bands, like Foals, Brand New, Motion City Soundtrack, and Los Campesinos, bands that skirt the line between indie rock and something heavier than that.

Teddy: Other artists and my DL4 pedal. My list of inspiring artists are always changing, but right now Rebelution, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, the Revivalists, and The Tallest Man on Earth move me. From reggae rhythms, to bluesy fills, jam band vibes, and clever folky lyrics, this list covers my interests. 

My DL4 pedal is a loop station and an echo pedal. With it I can compose everyone’s part but Kevin’s as I invent and songwrite. It only records for 14 seconds which is a blessing and a curse. It allows me to lay down chords or a riffing part and layer on top of it to hear how the band can work together. Most rock songs come down to a riff that is less than 14 seconds so it keeps me focused, but also limits writing all parts of a song at once. 
{Teddy Scott killing it on stage during the band's Fall Fest performance}

4. Can you tell me about each of your personal experiences performing at Fall Fest?

Kevin: Fall Fest was a great time for me, it was the first time most of my friends were able to come see Bencoolen play, the stage and crew were amazing, and the crowd was really energetic! I have also never had so many technical issues with my drum kit as during that performance, making the moment difficult to savor. I know for sure that when I'm long gone from GW and off doing normal-person-living-a-normal-life stuff, I'll look back on the performance as the highlight of my college experience.

Teddy: The energy was unreal. Seeing thousands of people dancing to our songs was powerful. But don’t count out the greatness of playing in kinda gross nightclubs where I can literally touch the audience in the front row. We sweat together, rock together, and white-boy dance together.

I hope Fall Fest was just a big step. It helped us gain notoriety around Foggy Bottom and helped us learn to interact with such a large crowd, but until we can back on such a stage over and over again ... I’m not satisfied and I doubt the rest of the band is either. 

5. What are your goals for the band?

Teddy: To be rock stars. But breaking it down, my goal is to ride this band as far as I can. I dream of making a career as a musician. I spend so much time on both the music and business side of the band. I think Paul and I will work together as long as we share the same hometown and can continue writing together. Obviously we will have as much of the band as we can have with us as do so. Kevin is young and will still be in D.C. next year in school, but Ian is gone, and Eric might follow him. We are planning on auditioning replacements as soon as next semester, but they can’t have the spots until the other guys leave for good.

It’s not ideal, but a hard reality. You can’t feasibly make it as a professional musician without a little luck. When we’re young we can tour, spend money, and try to get noticed. Then we can make it. That’s why we go out there at every single show and work to blow every individual away. He or she might just be the right person. But more than that, it creates an energy for everyone in the room that culminates in an atmosphere only we can create as Bencoolen. That atmosphere is the reason we can fill bars and clubs every night we play, why people want to write about us, and why we’re breaking down the expected label of just being a “college” band. We’re serious about this. We are good at this. It’s not just a side project.

The band's favorite songs to perform include the new song "New Dude" and "Hold On" from their album, but you can check more of their music out here and here

Do you have any more questions for the band? Let us know in the comments below!
-- V

All photos courtesy of Kayla Williams Photography.