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What's Up Magazine

Bencoolen Demonstrates Dedication Beyond their Music

Jan 19, 2017 04:00PM ● By Nicole Gould

Jamie Fink Photography

by Robyn Bell

Bencoolen is not your average band. Praised for their dedication to a unique sound that pools together rock, reggae, jam, and funk to form a cohesive whole, Bencoolen proves to be a group of not only musicians, but performers.

Jack Bentsen, Paul Gregg, Teddy Scott, Will Lockery, and Ben Suarez perform with precision and enthusiasm showing their hard work and dedication to their passion.

“We’re also very diligent about practicing. We usually practice 2-3 times each week so when we perform we’re not worried about what’s coming next or how to transition, we already know that, so instead we’re focused on how we can make the part coming up the most fun for us and the crowd. –Will Lockery

And the work pays off. After some reorganizing, the band has recently released their single “In Color” with its debut video.

Bencoolen will be performing at the Tropicalia in Washington, D.C. Friday, January 27th, 8 p.m. Joining Bencoolen will be The Danbees and Tomato Dodgers. Tickets are $10 (21+) and $15 (18+). Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Nate Johnson with Germination Photography

The band has been consistently described as having a unique, one of kind sound that is a mixture of alternative rock and reggae. Was this the sound the band naturally had or did it evolve over time?

Ben: I think it’s a great description for the original sound of the band and original members, but we are all new within the last year and we still have some alternative rock, but its more blues and funk, with a more cohesive sound.

Jack: Yeah, I agree, things are clicking more. We have different goals and new directions, so we just sound a little bit more together.

Will: I think an added factor that changed the sound up a little bit is that Kevin, the old drummer, was more heavy metal influenced and I’m definitely more indie rock and maybe some funk rock influenced. Overall the band just has a different style.

You recently released your first video premiere for “Spotlight”. Why did you choose this particular song for your first video release? What process did you have to go through to produce this video?

J: I would say this song best represents our new direction and aim. For the video, we kind of slammed together a bunch of clips from our shows. We feel our live performance is what sets us apart from everyone else and the best way to show our music visually is with our performance clips.

B: The video and recording took place in Arlington Virginia at Inner Ear Studios with the legendary Don Zientara. Don worked with everyone from the harder rock scene. He also worked with O.A.R. a lot, as well as the Foo Fighters earlier stuff. When Dave Grohl did his documentary, he recorded with Don at that studio.

We knew we would get great quality and we did it old school style: analogue tapes, all in the same room, drums are only one take. The audio and the visual are supposed to reflect what it’s like to see us play live.

The name of the band is pretty interesting. How did it come about?

B: The name is from the shop where Paul got his first guitar in Singapore. He was over there because of his dad’s job and was one of the large numbers of the expatriate community over there. When everyone else joined in we decided to keep the name because we had already started the brand, it rolled off the tongue, and we just kind of liked it.

W: It’s a pretty unique name for sure. In fact, there are eight known different spellings: Ben cooling, Bencoolen, and Bencoolin, just to name a few. It’s actually always a challenge to figure out where we’re playing and when because it’s always misspelled and there’s that hesitance whether they meant us or not.

How did each of you individually get started with music? Was it something that developed over time or did you always knows this is what you wanted to do?

J: I started playing sax when I learned I couldn’t keep playing flute in the eighth grade. I was definitely more into classical, but eventually did jazz band in high school and then eventually played in college. That’s where I met these guys.

W: I actually started playing piano around six, then moved on to viola in high school, then moved on to drums around 10. I started as a classical musician and then got into funk and alternative rock. Recently, I’ve really developed drumming through Wilco, Dave Matthew’s drummer Carter Beauford, and especially through Lettuce’s Adam Deitch.

B: I actually picked up bass around 20. Back then I was doing some rapping and I liked to participate by free styling with buddies. I would do one or two songs with the local blues and rock bands, when they wanted to spice things up, and then jump down. I was always jealous of the people who could play the whole show and be up there the whole time, so I wanted to pick up an instrument. Someone had told me there were too many guitarists in the world, so I picked up bass.

Most of your reviewers are quick to comment on how high energy your band is when performing. Where does the energy come from and how do you recharge?

B: Right now, we’re really fortunate to be only playing weekends for the most part. That allows us to have enough recharge between shows, so that by Friday we’re always itching to be back on stage. It’s easy to do it when you love it I guess is the short answer.

W: We’re also very diligent about practicing. We usually practice 2–3 times each week, so when we perform we’re not worried about what’s coming next or how to transition, we already know that, so instead we’re focused on how we can make the part coming up the most fun for us and the crowd. The tightness we have together, and the amount we play together, makes it easy to focus on the energy instead of the actual playing.

J: It’s also a sort of a mini-vacation. Having the ability to travel and meet all these new people and the new experiences is what keeps us energized. Right now, we’re still pretty new so everything is this exciting adventure and nothing has become tedious or monotonous. It’s one fun event after the next.

Nate Johnson with Germination Photography

When it comes to writing each song, does everyone contribute or is there a particular member of the band who is the designated songwriter?

B: We don’t have a set formula. There’s two ways of going about writing. First of all, someone will come up with a melody line or such and we build around it, or second, someone brings a fully formed idea and if it naturally comes together it works. In that case we’ll keep experimenting until we feel like it’s ready.

J: When I first joined, I was the first transition member a year and a half ago and it was clear that Ted and Paul were the songwriters and the songs were changed a little more. Now more people step up, wanting to get their own stuff forward, and it allows us to feel out our original, unique styles and personalities. That’s what allows us to be a lot more flexible with our creative processes.

W: I think it also means a lot that we’re all really comfortable with each other. If someone brings an idea forward and someone else wants to change it a lot, we’re all open to that. It’s very helpful when we have an idea, that we can get four other opinions on it and trust those opinions.

I noticed on website that there are three songs available, “In Color”, “Hold On” and “Nothing Left to Hide”. Are these the only original songs Bencoolen has at the moment?

B: Those are the singles we push and have on Spotify and Itunes. We also have the original EP that has four songs and the “In Color” EP that has five songs, so I guess that makes nine. “Spotlight” is our tenth.

We’ve been writing a bunch of new material that we want to get out as soon as possible, but there are always different obstacles that take some time to overcome. The original EP and “In Color” both are recorded with original members, so “Spotlight” is the first song that has everyone currently in the band.

J: The one thing that’s stopping us is scheduling. In order for the material to be quality recording it takes 6–10 months to get everyone on the same page between the band, the producer, and a lot of other people who are involved. Our goal is to get new music out as fast as possible to show our repertoire has been increasing since the new members joined, but it still takes time.

W: What we’ve been writing is a lot different than what’s on Spotify and Itunes right now. Once that comes out, we will be able to show that we have changed a lot. We have a lot more songs that are jazz and funk oriented. Those new sounds have been really fun to work on.

You are all working on pretty challenging degrees. How often do you have to choose between school and music? How do you balance between the two?

All: We Don’t Sleep

J: It really is just taking it as it comes. That and not going to classes on Fridays probably helps a good amount. It really comes down to structuring time and not getting too nauseous while you’re riding in the car studying.

W: Practice is a nice study break and a way to relax. It serves as a nice tool to use while in school as a stress reliever and a way to get the anxious energy out. The long weekends can be a little rough especially during finals season, but there’s usually enough time in the car you can make due.

Outside of music, what do you guys enjoy doing in your free time, outside of school and music? That’s if you have any!

J: No free time. Our free time is getting ready for shows which is pretty alright for me, I’m not complaining. Traveling for the shows outside of D.C. take up more time, but when we play in D.C. every now and then we get a chunk of down time which is always appreciated.

W: I usually find free time during the week to do what I want to do. Weekends can be a lot, but I still love traveling.

Will why do you prefer to play barefoot? Have you always played this way?

W: I actually play in socks. If I play barefoot my feet get cold really fast. I used to play in my shoes but I found that by taking my shoes off, my feet are a lot more responsive. My shoes are usually loose and I slip around when I’m playing. I’m not as a part of my drum kit, as I can be with just socks on. Shoes mess me up.