Armchair Boogie

Newgrass or Jamgrass? an interview with Ben Majeska
by Teri Barr
October 2019

Armchair Boogie playing Live on King Street in Madison - photo by Tony Mueller Phine Art Photography

Armchair Boogie playing Live on King Street in Madison
photo by Tony Mueller Phine Art Photography

There’s something exciting about knowing you are listening to new music before it has been released. It happened while putting this Q & A together with Ben Majeska of Armchair Boogie. I asked Ben to describe the Armchair Boogie sound, which he called a mix of newgrass or jamgrass. “We like to rip it up with fast bluegrass and deep funk songs,” Ben says. So, when I played two new cuts from the band’s sophomore album, “What Does Time Care?” I was not disappointed! “American Spirit” sets a spirited scene, and is fast, fun, almost a jig with amazing banjo meant to get you moving. I loved it, and listened to it over and over. “That Lovin’” puts that earlier spirit on its side with clever lyrics, and a guitar/banjo groove throughout.

Just to hear these songs live is enough of a reason to attend the band’s release show on Friday, October 11, 2019 at High Noon Saloon in Madison. But to see Armchair Boogie live is the bonus—this group leaves everything on stage, and you will leave with a smile on your face.

Learn more about Armchair Boogie as Ben shares the background of the band, and why the goals seem very much within reach.

Maximum Ink: Who is in Armchair Boogie, and creates its unique sound?
Ben Majeska:
I’m the guitarist, Augie Dougherty is on banjo, Eli Frieders on electric bass, and Denzel Connor on drums. Augie and I are the lead vocals, Eli and Denzel often do backups. All of us like, and play a wide variety of music, and met while playing in different bands while at UW-Stevens Point in Central Wisconsin.

MI: So, I always love to ask, how did the four of you end up together in a band like Armchair Boogie?
BM:
Augie and Eli played in this alt-rock/indie rock band called The Hi-Matics, while I was playing in a funk rock band called The Rumble Roots. We would end up at the same house parties, cross paths on campus, all of that. Eventually Augie heard through the grapevine that I was a bluegrass lover. Augie played electric guitar in Hi-Matics, but at heart he’s a banjo playin’ boy. He asked me to jam, and we ended up on his front porch pickin’ acoustically for hours.

We decided to keep what was a side project at the time, and book a couple shows. For a year we would play out as a duo at house parties, battle of the bands, bars, and even supported Dead Horses. Then we decided we needed an extra kick to our sound. The Hi-Matics had disbanded around this time leaving Eli and Dan Waterman (our former drummer) free agents. We tried out our existing songs with the electric bass and drums backing us, and loved it right away. We finally had a bigger sound, more room for solos and improvisation, and a couple more goofballs to hang out with.

Our first official show was supporting Horseshoes & Hand Grenades at Central Waters Brewing in September of 2015. Ever since, we’ve rolled as a 4-piece. About two and a half years ago, Dan decided band life was not his calling. He gave us plenty of time to find a new drummer before moving into a production role for the band… he kicks ass for us behind the scenes. We thought of Denzel instantly, who we all knew in college as a great personality and killer drummer. Luckily he was immediately ready to fill the role and hit the road hard with us.

A huge part of being in a band is getting along with your bandmates… we spend more time offstage than onstage together. And with this group of fellas, we are certainly fortunate. Tons of fun on the road, and everyone really brings something to the table sonically.

MI: Armchair Boogie is spending a lot of time on the road, too. Why is it important for the band? 
BM:
I think touring is important depending on the long term goals of your band. For our band, we hope to gain national recognition which leads to bigger venues and festivals around the country… bigger platforms to share our music. So we like to hit the road for exposure, but also experience. Touring is sooo much fun. Don’t get me wrong, there are hard times on tour, but overall it’s an incredibly positive experience for us. It’s an adventure fueled by your passion, and shared with your best friends.

So, we’ll be doing more album release shows around the state and in Minnesota, then set up another national tour before the end of the year, too. Sky’s the limit, but a lot of our focus is already turning to 2020, which will be our biggest year yet. Everyone is excited by the current momentum.

MI: You seem really happy with where the band is right now, and where it may be headed?
BM:
Yes! It’s a dream come true. It’s a lot of hard work behind the scenes, because the band is a business, but it’s rewarding. I think I can speak for all of the guys when I say we are happy with where we are now, and excited for the future. So we’ll continue writing, playing, and working hard to keep this boogie train blowing up. We all want the band to be our main career, while also having the freedom to explore our other musical interests. One goal is to play Red Rocks in the next five years, another is to tour internationally. I find it all to be a very fulfilling lifestyle because we have so many incredibly unique experiences and opportunities—just because we love making music.

MI:  I heard something funny about souvenirs you have from your road trips?
BM:
We have an extensive rubber ducky collection in the van, and most fans and other bands know this about us. Therefore we are often gifted rubber duckies on the road, or we hand them out as souvenirs.

MI: Ok, everyone bring rubber ducks to the album release show! Honestly, the new music I’ve heard so far is terrific. You must be looking forward to getting it out there?
BM:
We are super pumped about this one because Madison is our new hometown (as of two years ago), and we’ve been seeing so much love. Tickets are flying, and we are looking at a sincere banger. Chicken Wire Empire (Milwaukee) and Barbaro (Minneapolis) will be kicking off the night, and both are a force to be reckoned with.

This show is incredibly special for us because we’ve really been grinding these past two years, and progressing in our status and sound. Releasing an album after a lot of growth is like a next chapter. I think we are on Chapter 3 if I had to say it, ha. So this show is essentially a milestone celebration in our hometown. And of course, we get to finally release our next album which we’ve worked so hard on over the past year.

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