Q&A with The Bengsons
Married musicians talk about meeting at a music rehearsal, teaching internationally, and being excited to see what The Gem City has to offer.
By: Alex Bieler
Thanks to the Mercyhurst Institute of Arts & Culture, we'll be welcoming a new couple to our neighborhood. Married Americana-influenced rock duo The Bengsons began a residency Monday, Sept. 30 at MIAC, where for two weeks, they'll bring their experience teaching internationally to The Flagship city in a series of workshops, ending their stay with a capstone performance Friday, Oct. 11 at the Erie Art Museum. I had a chance to chat with Shaun and Abigail over the phone, with the couple taking turns answering questions about teaching, inspiration, and how excited they are to join the neighborhood.
Alex Bieler: Did you two start playing music together before or after you were married?
Shaun Bengson: It happened at the exact same minute, basically. We met in New York City playing in another band and we decided that we wanted to form our own band. At that rehearsal after the rest of the band members went home, it turned out that that was the first moment that Abigail and I had ever been alone. About three weeks later, we got married. It was right away, like sparks flying and an explosion – that kind of thing. Our first rehearsal ended up being our first date, and here we are six years later.
Alex: So you'd say that rehearsals are a pretty good way for people to meet?
Shaun: [Laughs] Yeah, absolutely. I'd highly recommend it.
Alex: How did you two get started teaching internationally?
Shaun: It's what we've loved to do our whole lives. When we met, as well as doing music, we were also teaching. I was a New York City teaching fellow at a special education school and Abigail was doing some preschool music classes as well as musical theater. When we got together, we discovered we enjoyed teaching together as well.
Alex: What are you going to be teaching during your residency in Erie?
Shaun: We're going to be teaching a variety of subjects. We're going to be doing a bunch of workshops for kids, which will be tailored to the age groups. They'll be working on learning music and instrument skills, a couple of them will be learning songwriting. We're working with a couple of theater groups. I guess it's a little bit hokey, but we really believe in social change through art. Art is an incredible bridge, and we like to teach skills to use art as a connection between communities, so when we're in Mexico, we often go with a group of English speakers to teach skills for people to interact through music.
Alex: Are you the type of artist that actively seeks out new music or do you not pay much attention to what's out there?
Shaun: We love listening [to new stuff]. I'd love to hear as much as I can while we're in Erie. We're excited that we're going to play with Zack Orr, who I can't wait to hear. I'm looking forward to hearing Howard Fishman when he comes through.
Alex: Are you currently working on new material?
Shaun: We are! Right at this minute we've got a whole batch of new songs in the works and we're in the first steps of recording a new album. We're hoping to premier a number of them in Erie. They're just coming together now, so I'm excited to try them.
Alex: Excellent. Would Abigail like to answer a few questions? I'd feel bad to completely shut her out of this.
Shaun: Absolutely! Here she is. [Passes the phone over to Abigail]
Abigail Benson: Hello?
Alex: Well, hello there. How are you doing?
Abigail: Good, how about you?
Alex: I can't complain much. I just wanted ask you a couple of questions so that this Q&A wasn't too Shaun-heavy.
Abigail: I like it when it's Shaun-heavy. [Laughs] Shaun's great!
Alex: He is pretty cool. So, when you two are playing live, what's the atmosphere of the show like?
Abigail: It depends on where we're playing, but people often dance at our shows and sing along. Our music is really emotional, and we really work hard to create an atmosphere of inclusion. We want it to feel like a party and a good time and that everybody's invited and that they can be their weird selves – whatever that is.
Alex: When you write your music, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Abigail: Shaun and I pretty much always collaborate on music, and the process can happen in a lot of different ways. It depends on the song itself. This may sound cheesy, but it feels like when you meet a new friend you can't have too many expectations about what the first few conversations are going to be like and see how things unfold. The question we always ask ourselves whenever we're writing is: "How does it feel?"
Alex: How excited are you about coming to Erie for the residency?
Abigail: I'm really excited. I think Jaime Grady is amazing. Shaun and I are artists and actors, and we go all over the world, so we're definitely a different kind of group to bring to Erie. I'm humbled and honored that he's chosen us. There are a lot of incredible groups playing really beautiful work already in Erie and it's exciting.
For more information on The Bengson's residency and how to purchase tickets for their Oct. 11 show, visit mica.mercyhurst.edu or call the box office at 824.3000.
Alex Bieler can be contacted at aBieler@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Catch20Q.