Interview: Calloway Circus

Interview by Sean Gardner

Photo by Ryan T. Phillips

Shortly before this outrageous pandemic broke out, I got the chance to have pretty cool conversation with Ben McGuiness, songwriter and vocalist of the Alternative Rock duo, Calloway Circus. We talked about their debut album Entropy, making music videos and the importance of being kind to ourselves. Check it out below!

For those who may not have heard of you guys, why don't you tell us a little bit about the band and the new album you guys just put out?

So, we are a two-piece band called Calloway Circus from St. Lewis Missouri, and we just put out a record called entropy. We are calling it our debut album, even though we put out music locally before this, but this is our first big platform release.

Well congratulations! I listened to the album the other day, and I think it has a very unique sound. It seems like you guys draw from a lot of different influences, I noticed some pop punk vibes on there as well as some hip hop as well. So, what are some of the artists that inspired you guys during the writing and recording process of this record?

Specifically, for this album, I feel like I really got back into post hardcore. The band that is most inspiring to me right now, creatively is Bring Me The Horizon.

Yeah, I can definitely tell now that you mention it.

Yeah, I mean I just think they’re so cool, and everything they do is so unique and different every time. The band I listen to the most though, will always be The Killers. They are always gonna be a part of my writing, I think. Obviously, there's also some influences from artists like Twenty One Pilots and Grandson on there.

Going back to what you said before, about the albums you had released prior to this one, as a local band, how has the sound of the band changed since then?

Well the band started when I was fifteen or sixteen years old, when I uploaded thirteen songs that I had written, but I wouldn't even have called that an album, that was just me trying to figure out how to write music. The next one we did, we recorded in an actual studio and everything, but that one we were a lot less mature and it ended up sounding like just a collection of our influences. We didn't really sound like a band.

So, at what point in the course of the band, did you guys decide to recall that old music and start to rebrand?

There was actually a different drummer originally. When he left and Tyler joined, there was this shift in tone for the band. So, when we put entropy out we realized that it was this totally different thing. When we saw it starting to gain traction outside of St. Luis, we decided that we could totally capitalize on that and more people could hear it. So, we just took down everything we put out before that, back in November. We decided to do that because we just felt like that didn’t really represent who we are now or where we are trying to go.

Was that difficult at all for you guys? Was it like you were starting from scratch?

Not really no, we had the support of our fans. So that was pretty cool.

Overall, what's changed for the band since then, and what's stayed the same?

Honestly, the only thing that's the same, is that we are still a duo. That's the only thing that's stayed. I think the fact that we are constantly changing is one of the coolest things about our band. The music is always evolving, and the live shows are always evolving. We've gotten heavier as well as poppier. It feels like everything is just going towards the next level.

How do you find playing live is, as a two-piece band that has a heavily electronic based sound?

We used to get a lot of crap back in the day because we played with tracks and there was only two of us up here. But for some of the heavier songs it does get pretty difficult, because I have to play these guitar parts as well as put on the show. So, there's definitely challenges with playing as a two piece, but we love it. I mean, if we get offered a show, all I gotta do is text Tyler and be like “Hey dude, you busy?” It's great in the studio too, Tyler lets me do my thing, and if he has a problem with something he’ll bring it up. But I think it’s helpful to have less input there, than we would if we were a four piece of something.

So, with an album like this where every song has a different vibe almost, what's the recording process like? How does the feel of each song come into place?

So, I usually think that I know best right away, and I quickly find out that I'm wrong. But I think each song evolves in the studio and eventually ends up with the vibe that it is. But there are certain songs that I knew from the jump I wanted it a certain way. “Kind to Myself”, the last song on the album, that one I was pretty adamant about it being the way it is. There were a couple songs like that, but there also were some that I had no idea what they would end up like, but I just hoped I would like them in the end.

Do you find that affects the end product? Do you feel like the songs that evolve in the studio, come out any different than the songs you knew were gonna be a certain way from the get-go?

Yeah, I think I sometimes end up liking the songs that are more of a struggle. Like the song “Mess”. I hated that song for so long, and now it's one of my favorites to play. I think that struggle in making it makes you appreciate the art of it a little bit more.

Shifting gears a little bit here, I want to hear a bit about the music videos you guys made for this album. They all look awesome by the way. Which of them was the most fun to make?

Kind to myself for sure. I grew up skateboarding, it was my first passion before music. It was something I was actually gonna pursue until music came in and basically ruined everything haha. So that one was very cool for me. I wanted to use skateboarding as a metaphor for self-care, and the fact that we got to use that space, which is a legit space in st louis that I grew up skating in was awesome. Everything just came together so perfectly for that video and the day we filmed was just a very positive day.

What’s your favorite part about making music videos for your songs, especially like that one where you get to draw from childhood passions?

I think it's really awesome overall, it feels like I'm adding another layer to these songs I've written. And the fact that our manager also directs our videos is really cool, we always get to bounce ideas off each other. So, these videos have been in the works like forever, so it’s cool to have them all out now. I like that it adds a whole new layer, it makes you really think about the song and every shot. You have to think like “okay why do I wanna show this here?”.

With “Kind to Myself” especially, as well as the whole record, I noticed the theme of mental health, and being better to ourselves. What are some ways that you feel like we can do that?

For me, it was finding a passion, or in this case re-igniting a passion. Music is obviously my passion but it's also my job so it can sometimes feel forced or get tiring. So, for me, it was getting back into skateboarding. That's something that can just be an escape and a freedom from everything I do in my normal life. And I think there's something like that for everybody. Everybody has their little thing. That's a really important thing that I neglected for a long time. Another thing is just the way we talk to ourselves. Our internal monologue is really detrimental if its negative and that’s something we have to keep in mind. There's a lot of ways we can be kind to ourselves, but the most important thing is to think better about ourselves.

Absolutely. Is there anything else you’d like to add on the topic of mental health, that you may not have been able to get across lyrically?

Oh yeah. This album was deeply inspired by trauma. It came from a very dark place. It was so cathartic for me, the whole process of recording the album was just amazing. It helped me a lot. I think for people that either just have a mental illness, like me, or have been through something traumatic, the album can absolutely be an anthem.

Thank you so much for your time and your input on mental health and music!

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