Now in tour mode, OKC emo quartet Ben Quad is having a breakout year thanks to a game-changing debut album
In the beginning there was the riff.
Originally formed through a Craigslist ad in 2018 in order to play Norman Music Fest, Ben Quad opened for Macseal and Origami Angel in 2019, but then (sing along if you know the words) the 2020 pandemic happened and concerts not headlined by The Chainsmokers and Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David “D-Sol” Solomon pretty much weren’t a thing for awhile.
While touring wasn’t an option, Ben Quad — Sam Wegrzynski (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Edgar Viveros (lead guitar), Henry Shields (backing vocals/bass), and Isaac Young (drums) — was able to refine its creative approach and put together enough songs for a proper debut.
“With how our writing process was going pre-quarantine, splits were really all we could do,” said Wegrzynski. “We could only focus on a couple of songs at a time. … [During the pandemic] we decided we really need to focus on the writing. … We ended up realizing, ‘OK we could do a whole album. We don’t need to just do a couple of songs at a time.’”
To date, all Ben Quad songs have started life the same way.
“Edgar is just a guitar whiz,” Wegrzynski said. “We can kind of just count on him to come up with, like, a fun noodle, like, a sick riff, and then from there we come up with the structure of the song.”
Development in the post-noodle phase, however, began to evolve during quarantine.
“Previously, the way we would write was very separate,” Wegrzynski said. “Each person would kind of write their own thing and come together… but when it came to content and lyrics and the structure of the songs [on the debut], it was way more of a group project and way more of everybody kind of pitching in. … The lyrics are from everybody’s perspective. We basically picked those themes, and even if the lyrics didn’t necessarily match up specifically with each other, they matched up with the overall theme that we were trying to portray. I think it was just a lot more fun. It was a lot more efficient.”
“Efficient” is a good description of the album, which moves through seven songs in just over 23 minutes.
“There was a point where we were deciding is this a long EP or a short album?” Viveros said. “The way streaming and TikTok have shaped the way we listen to music now, I think short albums are in right now.”
Wegrzynski added that “short things in general” seem to be the trend.
“I always feel so bad seeing people with these great 12-to-15 song albums, and you can literally see the numbers dropping off as the album goes on,” Wegrzynski said. “We realized the current consumer of music has a very short attention span, so we might as well just rip a solid seven songs that we know that they’ll go through as opposed to giving them too much.”
Ultimately, the band decided to consider I’m Scared That’s All There Is a full album, and — between soundbites from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and King of the Hill — it plumbs more musical emotional depth than countless releases twice its length.
Lead single “We’re Gonna Be Here for a While” opens “I got this tightness pushing on my throat / And I’ve got these feelings that I can’t let go / I’m causing all this friction that I can’t undo / I’m not ready to see this through.”
Album closer “Joan of Hill” muses “And god knows that we’d be happy / If we didn’t owe landlords our money / God knows that I’d be happy / If I could just wake up from having / Bad dreams, take comfort in familiar sounds / That means first place on your way to the ground / If you need me, you can find me at the self-checkout / If you lose me, I was already on my way out” before repeating the album title like a mantra.
“With the themes and writing style on the album, I think that it’s like an encapsulation of quarantine life and how we were feeling at the time,” Wegrzynski said.
Musically, Viveros said he draws inspiration from “twinkly emo bands,” such as Algernon Cadwallader, Marietta and Modern Baseball. Wegrzynski and Shields are more inspired by pop punk, and Young has a jazz background.
“The unique aspects of it, I think, came by almost accident, really,” Viveros said. “Combining all that stuff really made for something that was, like, down-the-middle emo, but also it had all this flair and stuff that you don’t normally see in our genre.”
CJ Cochran from Tulsa’s Outline in Color produced the album.
“We would basically go up for a weekend, and record a song a weekend at a time,” Wegrzynski said. “On that drive back from Tulsa on Sunday, [Cochran] would have a relatively well-mixed-already version of the songs, and we would listen to them on the way back. I remember thinking like, ‘OK. This works.’ These songs are stuff that I would listen to, you know, and that’s probably the whole thing. You make music you listen to or you would like to listen to.”
With the confidence gained from this release, Ben Quad plans to explore new territory on future releases.
“Going into the next studio session, we actually know what we’re doing,” Viveros said. “We know how to collaborate with each other now, so I think I think that’s just going to lead to crazier ideas.”
The band is currently writing more music to satiate their out of state fan base as touring picks up, but detailed discussions of what’s next are limited by nondisclosure agreements.
(Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before Ben Quad announced “Blood for the Blood God” was officially playable on Rock Band 4)
“I don’t even think Oklahoma is in the top five of our listeners cities,” Wegrzynski said. “It’s all like Chicago, New York and Texas. So I think really what we’re trying to do is just keep our name in people’s mouths at this point. Although we love the local scene and everything, we kind of have this momentum that we want to keep going. … We’ve got some really cool opportunities with some other emo bands that have been in this genre for a while. We had to sign some NDAs on some fun stuff that’s gonna happen in the future as well, so more on that once all that’s cleared up. … The shows out of state we had were nuts. The amount of people singing along and crowd surfing in basements was crazy, so we really want to keep putting stuff out for those people that we don’t get to see.”
Ben Quad, in other words, doesn’t actually sound all that scared that’s all there is.
Ben Quad hops on tour with fellow Okies Cliffdiver for a short run through Austin, Dallas, and Oklahoma City this weekend. The band is also releasing a new single called “You’re Part of It” this coming Wednesday, November 9.
Jeremy Martin writes about music and other stuff in OKC. He's also the less funny half of comedy duo The Martin Duprass and the proud father of two delightful baby turtles (pictured).