When I was in Pittsburgh going to Library School I had this great home teacher named Ben Keller. We became friends and visited back and forth in each other’s houses, doing things like helping with moves and making peanut butter sandwiches. We even got together and jammed a little bit, which we should have done more of. Since moving away, I found out that Ben and his brother Chris started a band called Argyll’s Revenge and had to repeat Alma 29:14 to myself several times. Their music is solid rock, ranging from tributes to fallen officers to catchy refrains that get you bouncing in the kitchen. Their sound won them the 2009 Battle of the Bands at Carnegie Mellon University and they have produced two recordings to date, one titled Train Chasers. They have a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Argylls-Revenge/61152629310?.
Ben graciously agreed to answer some interview questions, wherein he reveals the inner workings of the band, talks about upcoming releases, and reflects on outsiders’ perceptions of Pittsburgh.
First, your Facebook page says you formed in January 2008. Can you tell us a bit more about how the band came about? (Where did the name come from, or is that one of those unanswerable band name questions?)
A: The first time that any of us got together was in the fall of 2008. Colin (the drummer) and Ben (lead vocals and guitar) got together with a local guitarist Dave Thielet and played a bunch of covers at a Young Single Adult conference. At the time Chris (bassist) was on his mission and Ben was singing and playing the bass. It wasn’t until later that Colin joined a band called “A Man’s Business.” They needed a bassist so he got Chris to come by. After about 2 shows it was getting tough with the old band. Chris and Colin wanted to take it to the next level and felt Ben would be a good fit. At the last gig that A Man’s Business played they asked if anyone at the bar would like to get up and play with them. Before the show Colin and Chris had fixed it with Ben that he would volunteer and that would be his “audition.” Before Ben could raise his hand a guy at the bar volunteered first. We looked at Ben (who was wearing an argyle sweater) and said, “We’ll take the guy with the argyle sweater.” The guy at the bar turned around and started to come toward the stage. He too was wearing an argyle sweater. We then said, “The guy in the argyle sweater named Ben.” After the show we were joking about how the man in argyle was going to take revenge on us if we ever got big thinking, “that could have been me” (hence the name Argyle’s Revenge). Then we found out that Argyll Street was were the Beatles (one of our biggest influences) got famous playing at the London Palladium. That’s how it changed to Argyll instead of Argyle. It’s kind of a double meaning with the idea that we are the revenge of music that parallels the Beatles and that if we get that famous some guy in an argyle sweater might shoot us in New York.
How did each of you get started playing music? What were some of your earlier experiences in other bands, etc.?
Colin- Colin started playing piano at a young age. As soon as he heard his friend play wipeout on the drum set piano stopped and the drums ensued. Through high school he played in the marching band and went on to major in music at Carnegie Mellon. After his freshmen year he served a mission in Las Vegas west and then attended BYU for one year. After than year he reapplied at CMU and was accepted. Currently he has one year before he graduates with a degree in percussion performance.
Ben- Ben started out as a drummer in middle school. This was convenience more than anything since he found an old drum set sitting in the basement. A couple years later he found out that his grandparents had a guitar that they wouldn’t miss and from there it was Led Zepplin and Weezer covers nonstop. He never had formal lessons, but most every penny he got went to Guitar magazines and stacks of CD’s which he learned to play along to by ear.
Chris- Chris started out on an upright bass taking lessons and learning classical music when he was about 8. He complained about lugging around an upright for about two years before his parents broke down and traded $150 American dollars for an electric Washburn bass. And the rest is history.
What are some of your biggest musical influences?
A: Definitely the Beatles have to be mentioned first. Early on we copied a lot of the ideas that were found throughout their catalog (like every other band). From an early age there was a lot of borrowing our parents dusty old LP’s and hearing classic acts from the sixties and seventies; Stevie Wonder, Zepplin, Jethro Tull, etc., lots of different stuff. Current influences are equally diverse. After meeting with the producer Izzy Gold we were given the advice that if your music sounds like music that is on the radio then the chances of getting signed are greater. The people writing the checks in the business don’t really care about what it sounds like as long as the consumers listen to it. With that in mind we’ve tried to bend our sound to take a few notes from the current wave of blues/rock acts, Black Keys, Dispatch, etc.
How does your faith relate to your music?
A: To us faith relates to everything. It’s funny when you think about the fact that the prophets of old were artists as well (the stories they told in the Book of Mormon being evidence of that). In Mormon Chapter 1 verse 1 he states “And now I Mormon, make a record of the things which I have both seen and heard…” When we write the music that we produce is really just a record of the things that we have both seen and heard. We chose not to be a Christian Rock band because even though we are not of the world we still live in it; and we write what we see and hear. If you listen carefully or talk to us about the songs individually, you can definitely find religious and political themes that run through everything.
We also keep the standards of the church the best that we can: no gigs on Sunday, no explicit lyrics, and family first in terms of when and how long we practice (We once even cancelled our regularly scheduled practice time to give a priesthood blessing). It’s sometimes hard but we feel that the Lord will bless us if we put his standards above the industries. It’s also been an interesting missionary tool as most bands around here aren’t sure what to do with other rocker types who don’t drink or dabble in the normal rock and roll lifestyle.
Can you talk a bit about your creative process: who writes the songs and so on?
A: We all write the songs. We’ve never had one person bring in a complete song and just teach the others how it goes. Each one of us has something to add. We’ll show up to rehearsal and start to jam together and then take it from there. Often one of us has a riff or melody idea that we work on together to build into something worth performing. A lot of the time writing a song is as easy as starting with one note and giving it the time to develop into how we feel at the time.
What are some main themes that show up in your songs?
A: Politics, Girls, Religion. Is there anything else worth writing about?
How is the music scene in Pittsburgh? Are there many other LDS musicians around there?
A: There are lots of LDS folk around here with musical ability, but not many that our trying to make money with it in the local scene. The music scene here in general is actually pretty small. When Izzy Gold came to town he said, “This is the first time I have come to a small town to look for talent.” That was the first time that any of us thought that Pittsburgh was a small town. The only gigs to play are really bars and bowling alleys.
You’ve released an album called Train Chasers. Where can people get it?
A: We usually just sell CD’s at gigs but are in the process right now of releasing some new music. We haven’t branched out to selling online yet because we don’t want to take that step till we get a better quality recording. Still, we aren’t trying to hide anything so if someone wants a tune they can email us or hit us up on Facebook and we will accommodate.
What are your future plans for the band?
A: Getting rich and famous has been our number one goal from the start. And if that doesn’t pan out we are hoping to just keep making music and having fun with it. It is much cheaper than therapy.
Who are those people dancing in the kitchen in the “Mimi’s Coming” video?
A: We’ll tell the answer to that in the VH1 behind the music special. Till then you will just have to wait.