[Song: “In the Test Chamber”]
Jeffrey Deiss 00:28
Hey everyone. Welcome to the first installment of a hopefully new series in The Badger Herald podcast, where I interview bands and artists in Madison’s local music scene. I’m happy to say we’re starting off with one of the most popular emo bands in Madison right now — “Excuse me, Who Are You?” They’re currently sitting at 3,000 listeners on Spotify. Their song “In the Test Chamber” has over 20,000 listens. And they put on a killer live show. So thank you guys so much for coming. And I’ll let you guys introduce yourselves.
Kyle Kinney 01:02
You make us sound good.
Oh, yeah, I’m hyping you up. So tell me, tell me and the audience a little bit about yourself. So where you’re from and what your role is in the band.
Stu Benjamin 01:12
Yeah, I’m Stu. I’m the guitarist. I’m from right here in Madison, Wisconsin. Born — no, I wasn’t born here. But raised.
Yeah, I’m, I’m Kyle. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri. I do vocals in “Excuse Me, Who Are You?” and my other band Endswell. As far as role from me, it’s using my mouth. And I also help write some of our guitar stuff.
Awesome. So I mean, I guess the first thing I want to ask is, how did “Excuse Me, Who Are You?” start? Yeah, just give me, if one of you wants to start, give me a little history of that, how the band got together.
Yeah, so I used to be in a band called “Meat Jelly” that was around for like four or so years. COVID wasn’t too kind to us. We kind of broke up around that time. And when we broke up, the drummer from Meat Jelly stuck around with me, [his name is] Jamie, him and I kept kind of continuing what Meat Jelly was kind of getting into, moving away from the post-hardcore stuff that we had originally done into the kind of Midwest emo stuff. And we asked, we had our buddy Hayden, who I was living with at the time join, Hayden Johnson joined on bass. And we played a lot of shows where it was just instrumentals. And then finally we convinced Kyle to join the band.
You didn’t convince me you auditioned me!
Well, yeah, but you were my you were my first you were our first choice for vocals, even though we had never heard you sing before.
Which is crazy.
But yeah, Kyle ended up joining the band. In probably like summer 2021?
Yeah, yeah. Yep.
Maybe a little bit earlier. Yeah, that’s, that’s how we got — oh and then Jamie, our drummer left the band. And we moved Hayden, our bass player, to drums. That’s his main instrument. And he was ready to quit the band actually. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise. Hayden moved to drums. And then we brought in my friend Jackson Perchborn on bass who had played bass for Meat Jelly previously.
Got it. Okay. Yeah, it’s kind of like Meat Jelly from the ashes.
How did Kyle — how did you guys meet each other? How did the suggestion that he sings even start?
So like, we’ve all been friends for …
Like since high school.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know you too well, but we met actually [when] Kyle trained me at my very first job in 10th grade pushing carts at The Woodman’s on the West Side.
Yeah, yeah. So like we we’ve always…
That was my first job, too, actually.
Really? That was …
Oh, terrible job.
Yeah. And I guess from my side like we’ve all been friends I used to jam with Jackson before anyone, who’s now our bass player. And I was playing in a screamo project with Jamie who was in Meat Jelly at that time and I was also playing on another project “Redacted” and yeah, it’s just interesting because I got asked to play and it was kind of like all of these bands that were a thing at one point a lot coming from Meat Jelly in a way.
Well, Kyle was helping Meat Jelly with recording too. Yeah. And so we were hanging out a lot. Yeah. And yeah, I was like, I know, I guarantee you Kyle can scream. And yeah, we were, we were right.
I did one cover and they were like, you’re in. That’s pretty how it went.
We can get to the whole … I want to talk about the screaming later too, because it’s very impressive. So we can touch on that later. But I guess the question I have is, regarding the sound you guys have kind of developed it’s kind of like the Midwest emo kind of genre. You guys plan? I know, you said Meat Jelly was more of a post hardcore band. How did you guys gravitate towards that sound and like develop or decide to play music like that?
Yeah, around the time Meat Jelly started, actually, I got into Midwest emo. And it was actually like, five years ago, like a couple of weeks ago, I saw Stars Hollow, which is a band from Iowa.
You’re literally wearing the Stars shirt right now.
I’m wearing the Stars Hollow shirt. I saw them in a basement when I was in college in Stevens Point. And I was like, Holy shit, this is the music that … wow, this is really good. I really want to do this kind of stuff. And after seeing that show, I didn’t immediately get into the whole Midwest emo thing, but it kind of gradually took hold after a while, because with Meat Jelly I mean, Jamie and I have been playing music together since seventh grade. And you know, that all started out playing a bunch of old blues covers and those blues covers got like, heavier after a little while. And then there was kind of like a Midwest emo math rock influence that came in and then our singer Carson was big into like, hardcore stuff. It kind of was like always kind of gravitating towards the Midwest emo stuff, but it wasn’t until like, over COVID I really got into learning how to play that stuff. Yeah, I think that’s that’s just … I mean, yeah, Stars Hollow was a big influence on like, just going in that direction, I think.
Yeah. Awesome. I was actually listening to William Bonney on the bus here. So that’s pretty funny. You guys sound a little like them.
Yeah, like unbeknownst to me, I had been listening to like Midwest emo type music since I was in high school. I just didn’t really know the phrase or anything. Like bands like, say, William Bonney or the Reptilian or Old Gray and I’ve always really liked screamo music and I was playing, you know, all I was really writing was like guitar stuff for my screamo band and it wasn’t too crazy for me to just like make the jump into doing something like this, I guess.
They’re from my hometown, South Bend, Indiana.
Oh really? Oh, wow. I didn’t even know that.
So [are] a bunch of Midwest emo bands: Merchant Ships, Midwest Pen Pals.
They’re all like the same members, too, right?
Yeah, my other band covers Druglord.
What’s your other band?
We did play with you, I remember that now. We played the Rigby with you.
Oh, we did?
Yes. I was thinking that!
Oh yeah, that was like the five band bill with “Mission Trip.”
That’s so funny. I did not know that at all. I did not remember that.
Yeah, I was the guitar in that band.
Got it. Okay, okay. I had — that makes a lot of sense.
Um, yeah. Speaking of that, you talked about, like, the whole guitar sound — it definitely is a very deliberate thing you have to learn because the whole Midwest emo you know, tappy stuff and alternate tunings. I play guitar too. So the stuff you need to practice like it’s not — you don’t just come up with that out of nowhere. As a guitar player, who are some of like, the bands or guitarists you kind of like look up to directly?
Yeah, I mean, I grew up and still do like, look up to a lot of like, old blues guitarists like Muddy Waters and Magic Sam, Eric Clapton, even though he’s a bit of a dick. You know and I feel like the old blues stuff has some kind of connection to the Midwest emo stuff. Because I’ve always thought like Midwest emo has this kind of like, country, bluegrassy twang to it, some stuff. But I mean definitely like getting into Stars Hollow and then you know, Tiny Voices. Definitely because, Meat Jelly had played with Tiny Voices like a long time ago. And when they put out their two single their Airports and Reaper two years ago?
Had to have been two years something like that. Yeah, when they put that out that was like, I was like, wow, this is like really good and I think learning I mean, I’ve, you know, kind of gotten into the whole like tapping and twinkly stuff through learning like some Stars Hollow songs and like, you know, Mom Jeans or like that kind of stuff. I think like, you know, nowadays like, there’s a lot of influence from like just bands in the scene right here. Some bands like By the End of Summer, Stars Hollow, Midwest pen pals, I don’t know, Kyle, you say something.
Yeah, maybe as a vocalist, do you have any specific people you kind of took influence from?
You know, I grew up listening to stuff like Touche Amore. And, you know, I guess, as Stu said, like, a lot of influence for me, too, is just from like, people nearby, like people I personally know and, you know, feeding off of each other and learning stuff from them. Like, the vocalist from my other band, Maxwell, I live with him, [he] teaches me so much. He’s probably one of the best at doing the kind of thing that I do. And also, Ben from Tiny Voices, their vocalist, you know, same kind of deal where, you know, incredibly classically trained and stuff, which I’m not whatsoever and just learning stuff from them and seeing how they do what they do has been incredibly inspiring to me.
Awesome. Um, I just want to ask a quick question that I want us to talk about the music you guys have released? Is your name a reference to the movie Perfect Blue? Yeah, if I saw that on — I looked up your name and Perfect Blue showed up. And I’ve seen the movie. I love that movie. And I looked on Reddit and you guys said it was.
Yeah, that was … So when Jamie and I were in ninth grade, we met a good friend of ours, Dexter. And Jamie came over to my house for a sleepover one night, a Dexter brought Perfect Blue on DVD. And I was, I wasn’t really into anime at all.
Neither am I to be honest.
Yeah. But he was like, you know, we were in high school. And he was like, “oh, man, let’s smoke a joint and watch this really weird movie!” And I was like, “okay,” and I just remember like, watching it and, from what I remember the first time watching it, I remember like, I don’t understand this at all. This is not a good movie. And then I watched it years later. And I was like, wow, this is a really good movie and that like you know, repeating “Excuse me, who are you?” over and over again really stuck out.
Awesome. Yeah. Next I want to talk about the EP you guys released this year, “About That Beer I Owed Ya.” I’ve listened to it a couple times. I love it. What was the writing and recording process like for that album?
And that’s a big question.
It was hell! It was not good!
Let’s start with the writing maybe: who writes the songs?
Okay, that was Jamie. Jamie and I, we had that whole EP almost completely written, Jamie and I, before anyone else joined the band. We had like the music. So I wrote “… In the Test Chamber” and “Chicken Cock” and Jamie wrote “Urine Luck” and “They’re Waiting For You Gordon.” And I remember, you know, “Chicken Cock” and “Test Chamber” I wrote around the same time. I wrote “Chicken Cock” after learning how to play “Tadpole” by Stars Hollow because it’s in the same tune. Yeah. And “Test Chamber,” I remember I was like, trying to write something that sounded like Mom Jeans, that sounded like Edward 40Hands. And that’s how I wrote that intro riff. And that was like, my first time ever, like messing around with an open tuning except for playing like blues stuff. So you know … I mean, they were written mainly during COVID and there was a lot of drinking going on. So like, the process doesn’t exactly — I don’t exactly remember how it went down. But yeah.
Yeah, I mean, we pretty much just like practiced it together. And there weren’t a lot of like changes once I joined to like the structure, it was pretty much just like, these are the songs we need vocals. And, you know, obviously did that but the recording process in itself was a nightmare.
Yeah, we recorded everything ourselves. At Home DIY.
Which wasn’t the nightmare part.
Can I ask about the nightmare part? What was the nightmare part?
Well, the nightmare part was … the way that we recorded it was … no one was ever in the same room. The drums, Jamie was doing drums, somewhere like that, it was hard for him to get to that place. So like, when we needed drums, like fixing drums, it just took a long time. I mean, we had everything ready to go. And I mean, after adding lyrics to everything, we had everything ready to go in like February of 2021, it took us over a year.
I will say from personal experience, me and my friend have a little band back home, but it’s just like, he’s the drummer and I play guitar and sing. The recording process is evil. Like it sounds so bad, we can’t even do it. We mic up the drums ourselves in his garage.
I mean, I’m glad that we did it the way we did. And you know, I think like, as a band starting out and not having any money to go into a studio, it’s definitely the way to go.
It sounds well produced too, like if you told me it was a professional studio, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Yeah, Alan …
Alan plays drums in my band Endswell. Alan Morrison just, you know, we handed him a pile of shit stems and somehow made it sound pretty good. So, not that it sounded that bad. But you know.
Well, we also had — the first run of “ Test Chamber,” we had our buddy Liam David produced that for us. Liam plays guitar in Shoobie and also, I believe, produces and engineers for Shoobie as well. And that was also really good. We realized after that one that we needed to redo the guitar completely. So that, yeah, it was a process unfortunately. But you know.
“They’re Waiting for you Gordon” and “Test Chamber” were finished probably last year, this time, even earlier, those songs in its entirety. So almost a year ago, from before they were like released on an EP, I guess “Test Chamber” was released earlier. Yeah. But yeah, it was just really spaced out.
This might be me being uncultured. So like, I just didn’t know what the reference was. But what’s the significance of the vocals? I know it’s a thing in Midwest Emo albums, you got to put some vocal samples from movies and stuff.
Oh, I thought you were talking about me!
Yeah, that’s from Half Life. The Half Life series.
Oh, got it, okay.
I’m a huge Half Life fan. That’s like one of those things. It’s one of those games series that I play through the whole series at least once a year. Well there’s two? Well, there’s four or five actually, yeah, cuz there’s Half Life, Half Life 2 and then Half Life 2, Episode 1 and Episode 2. And then, Half Life Alyx.
I know they make the joke that like, “When’s Half Life 3 coming out?”
Oh, yeah. Yeah, probably never.
I had never even played or touched Half Life. And Stu is adamant, same with Perfect Blue after I watched Perfect Blue like what, probably this summer for the first time? If not a little bit — maybe before? I don’t know.
Last year? Yeah. Whatever. Anyway, yeah. Um, yeah. Half Life. Has always, like, that’s one of those games, very nostalgic for me. Also, like over COVID, I played a lot of Half Life with my buddy Carson. Carson Bell, who used to be … he was the singer for Meat Jelly. And I think you know that that series is very meme-worthy. But it’s, I don’t know, I always thought it was a really like, significant storyline. Yeah, you know, for a video game.
Stu’s die hard about Half Life. Like he was like, okay, Kyle, you got to play this game. We’re gonna sit down and finish it all in one night. One night! And I got … we were sitting at my kitchen table, all of us just playing it together and we get like six hours in and I was like, I can’t do it.
I should have let them play on their own because me playing through, I’ve played it so many times. I’m just trying to go as you know, fast as I can. But when I chose those samples, I mean, I knew when we had everything done, I knew that intro sample … I knew I wanted that in there. And I kind of went from there and like you recorded is what he’s talking about. Yeah, for on there waiting for you regarding that opening sample. I knew I wanted that in there. And from there I went through Half Life 2 and Half Life One and just, I was like, “There’s got to be some other cool stuff I can put in here,” the one on “Test Chamber” where he says “they’re waiting for you, Gordon in the test chamber.” I was like, Yeah, that should probably go in there. The other ones were kind of just me, just kind of scrolling through. I had both of the games downloaded on my computer and I opened up the soundbite files, like the voiceover files and just scrolling through and — because there’s some good stuff in there, man.
Yeah, Stu used to send them to me and I’d be like, “that sounds really good!”
Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, it really was a result of me kind of just randomly placing them. But, but the thing is — after I had randomly placed them, I realized that there’s kind of like a cohesive narrative going on there.
We named the EP “About that Beer I Owed Ya” prior to even putting the sample in “Chicken Cock.”
So naturally, it just kind of you know …
Well that’s the best way to do art, is you do it and then you come up with the reason why. Then you come up with a narrative.
That’s a good way to put it. So next, moving away from the Half Life, I just want to talk about your shows a little bit. I’ve seen you guys perform in WSUM and I see you on Instagram too. What is the favorite show you guys ever played either because of the venue, the crowd, the experience, like what was it like and why?
The lighthouse in Milwaukee Diet Lite’s basement. It was packed. It was a really good time. And then yeah, during like the climax of “Test Chamber …”
The last 30 seconds of our set!
A pipe burst right next to me and I got, all my stuff got completely soaked in water. I was gonna keep going. But it was not good.
And there’s a video of it! It’s on Instagram. Yeah.
Yeah, that was really cool. And memorable.
Everyone had to leave. “Bug Moment,” the last band couldn’t play. Yeah. Like at first I didn’t really think it was that bad because I didn’t know and you could just hear me in the video going “play the fucking song!”
I think also, our Halloween show last year was a lot of fun at the church up the street. That was a huge show. I think we had about like, almost 200 people there.
Playing at the annex was good.
We did a show at the annex that was really fun.
There was probably 200 people there, we had the like light … what would you call them? That screen?
Oh, the big LED screens like they have at like, you know, like basketball games. We had perfect like, cuts of Perfect Blue playing in the background.
That’s dope. Yeah. So are you guys playing? (And I don’t even know if I’m gonna include this in the actual interview, but just for my own knowledge). Are you guys gonna play for Arthur’s birthday at Nottingham Cooperative?
All right. Awesome. Yeah, well, I’m also playing there.
Yeah, that’s gonna be a fun show. I haven’t played at Nottingham Co-Op in so long. Meat Jelly used to play there all the time.
And then they shut down because of Covid.
We played some really, really good shows there.
We played two weeks ago. And yeah, one, it was like pitch black. There was a lot of people there. They had like the chandeliers on the ceiling. It’s cool. It’s a cool place.
I’ve never even been so it’ll probably be my first time being there.
It’s nice. It’s not dirty. Like some …
Yeah, it’s like a mansion type palace thing.
It’s cool. Nottingham is like the nicest coop that I’ve been to in Madison, I’ve been to some dirty coops.
Got it. All right. Last question I have is about new music. So you guys have been working on any new songs, a new project at any time in the near or distant future?
We have project two pretty much completely written. And we are currently working on some songs that we’re going to do a split with Endswell. We’re also working on songs for our third project. So you got a lot.
Okay, so you got a second, a split and the third you’re working on?
Is there … I don’t know you guys don’t have to give anything away. Is there any like … I don’t know change in sound or direction you guys are trying to go for or?
Kyle’s been writing a lot more. So it definitely sounds different.
I don’t even, well, it’s really not that far out from like what we were currently doing. The next release, I wrote a lot of the guitar stuff on. And Stu and I are working together on other stuff right now. But yeah …
We’re finally getting to the point where it’s becoming, writing is becoming a collaborative effort instead of just like, one of us writes a song. And, you know, I think this next project is going to mainly be like, stuff that Kyle … It’s all stuff that Kyle’s written and I’ve put a little bit of input on, but moving past that, you know, we’re slowly but surely getting to the point where writing is the both of us.
But recording for that next release is gonna happen real soon.
Awesome. All right, well, um, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you guys so much for coming to do this. This is my first episode interviewing bands. I think we started off strong.
And yeah, stay tuned to the Badger Herald podcast and make sure to check out “About That Beer I Owed Ya.”