Friday night, dudes. What’s up? Bencoolen is coming to town and you should care. Why? Because they are fun. That’s why. Cafe Nola will be the place and 9:30 p.m. will be the time. We recently spoke with Paul Gregg, who plays some guitars and offers up some vocals for the band, to talk about what it’s like to be “Maximalist” rock, the group’s relationship with Greek life, their recent shift in musical direction, and, of course, what we can expect from their show this Friday at Nola. Funk. Rock. Roll.
Your website lists you guys as “Maximalist rock from Washington DC.” I sort of like that categorization because – and please correct me if I’m wrong – but that appears to be in contrast to the more in vogue “minimalist” approach to songwriting that’s typically lauded in today’s landscape. So, first, to you guys, what is “maximalist” rock, and secondly, did you have the notion of minimalist rock in your mind when you came up with that description?
I see maximalist rock as trying to be musically over the top while being self-aware of it. So in everything we do, we try to make everything big. That means fast guitar runs and big sax solos, but it also means a big changes in dynamics and things like that. It’s interesting because the term actually came from an interview we did with a student publication called The Rival. Garrett, the guy writing the piece, came up with the term and used it in the article, and we thought it fit so well. So even though we did not come up with it, I do take inspiration from a lot of the minimalist rock, a la the XX and Foals, and I think that – combined with inspiration from some more over the top funk and jam acts that we like – add up to the “maximalist” thing.
I went back and perused your YouTube videos before “Spotlight” and noticed that you guys had a more straight-forward rock direction before (with a song, like, say, “Change Of Plans”). What made you want to get a little funky and a little more soulful in your writing?
The songwriting definitely has changed in the past year, and a lot of that has to do with changes in lineup. From our original EP to our latest single, we have changed in the drum, sax and bass departments. Ted and I do most of the songwriting, but the musical interests of Jack, Will, and Ben undeniably have influenced the direction we go. As a young band it’s hard to know which direction you will end up going, but with this lineup, we’re really into this funk and soul oriented rock music that we have been making more recently. Expect even more of that to come!
You’ve played with a pretty impressive list of artists. Do you have a favorite through the months/years? Any shared bills that stand above the rest that you could tell us about?
It wasn’t the biggest stage we played on, but a big standout for me was opening for Marcus King in Charlottesville. For one thing, he is an absolute beast on the guitar, and his voice just oozes soul. So much talent in one body. For another, it was our first higher profile show in an out of town market. It’s one thing to be able to support a bigger band coming through your hometown, but playing a great show with a killer headliner in a more unfamiliar market makes you feel like you’re doing something right.
You guys play a lot of colleges, it seems, and you even have a “Greek Life” page devoted to as much on your website. How did you get involved so heavily in fraternities and do you have a favorite college campus at which you guys have played? If so, what makes it your favorite?
A couple guys at James Madison University started a website/app, BeatGig, while they were juniors to connect artists with Greek Organizations. At the time, we were mostly playing local shows, with a few forays out of town to empty bars. We were referred by a friend of ours to this app, and we realized how good of an opportunity it could be to get in front of real crowds when we go out of town. On top of that, the gigs paid well. When you’re bleeding money on the road, it can be stressful and can kill some of your motivation, so having a consistent source really took some pressure off of us. As for a favorite campus, I would say a tossup between Clemson and Davidson. Playing around the corner from the future national champions right after a big game was great, but the people at Davidson were there to listen to some music and were so supportive.
What’s your perception of the local music scene in Washington D.C. currently?
D.C. has had a really great DIY music scene for a while now. Venues like the Void in College Park and the late Above the Bayou in D.C. have seen some great bands come through early in their careers. And bands like Paperhaus have popped up from this scene and made a name for themselves. That scene has been tight knit and supportive within itself, and they have some loyal fans. D.C. doesn’t have a big music scene overall, but there are some good bands and some great people.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
Recently, my biggest inspiration has been My Morning Jacket. Everything from the lyricism to the songwriting to the musicianship really speaks to me. I’ve also been delving deeper into the funk and soul scene for some inspiration – everything from Allen Stone to Mingo Fishtrap to Snarky Puppy. Lyrically, I take a lot of inspiration from some mellow indie rock, especially Bon Iver and Neutral Milk Hotel.
Can you give us names of some bands we need to check out that we maybe haven’t seen yet? Who are you listening to the most these days?
I could go on and on for days about some of the small bands that I like. There’s a great new band from Arizona called The Gentle Hits that is putting out some beautiful music. Besides that, there is some amazing soul music coming out of Sweden. A guy called Tingsek, who produced Allen Stone’s last album, recently put out a great album, and a band called Manganas Garden (they broke up a while ago and reformed as Ruby Empress) put out an album with some solid neo-funk tunes.
With “Spotlight” out, what does 2017 look like for you guys? Is a full-length in the near future?
We will definitely be hitting the studio soon. I don’t think it will be to record a full-length, but we do want to consistently be releasing music, whether that’s a single here and there throughout the year or a couple EPs. We’ll see how it ends up working out!
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
This is a tough one! I’m gonna go with “Time” by Pink Floyd.
And, of course, what can we expect from your show at Cafe Nola?
We’ve been working on some new material since our last show before the New Year. Café Nola will be one of the first places to see it! Definitely expect some searing guitar solos.