With one of the most bizarre spectacles you would ever see on a seemingly otherwise normal concert stage, Come&Live! artists White Collar Sideshow were selected to go on the first Come&Live! tour, the Arrows Are Deadly Tour. On their stop in Kansas City, MO, JFH's Scott Fryberger got a chance to speak with the ringleader, Tyler Benton, about the music, his dreams, and a soon-coming project...
This interview took place in Summer, 2011.
Jesus freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): Alright, I wanna get the obligatory question out of the way. Why did you decide to call your band White Collar Sideshow (for those who haven't seen your live show, that is)?
Well, it was originally gonna be called Ex-Porno Junkie, *laughter* but obviously that's pretty...you know, I didn't know it was gonna be a show. I thought it was gonna be a merchandise company, which is kinda strange, but yeah. I was listening to a band called Embodyment, and in one of their songs, it has the lyrics "white collar sideshow," and as I was writing down all these dreams - the show is based on a lot of these dreams I had - as I was writing the dreams down, those lyrics started popping up in my head. So I wrote that down with the dreams, and I thought "Wow, what a cool name." And I thought maybe there's another definition for "sideshow" as sin, and "white collar" being how much money do we spend on our sins, and how much time and effort do we spend while we're struggling. It's just to say that everybody's in the same boat. We all struggle with different things and that's kinda the definition behind it.
JFH (Scott): So everything in your show is based on these dreams you had?
JFH (Scott): So obviously the dreams have come from God. How long has that been going on?
Tyler: Well, I started having those dreams back in 2005, and I woke up almost every night for three and a half years. And I'd wake up and write it down. My wife always jokes that when I was a porn addict, Satan always had my time, and after she called me out that God started taking over that time, because I'm ADD. *laughter* So I would wake up every night, and I remember the first night being a little scared to get out of bed, and it was just this weird feeling, going and finding a pen and paper and writing everything that was on my mind. And the next night, it happened again, and the next night...sometimes it was just a sentence or it was two pages, or whatever. But it was just this crazy, crazy thing, and after three years, it was like, "Dude, I think God's calling me to do something with this." So that's kinda how it all worked out.
JFH (Scott): So then you got the band together about, what, 2008 or 2009?
Tyler: Yeah, I think we recorded some stuff in like 2007. Phil, the pig guy, was the drum tech for another band that I played in. So he and I talked drums, and I had drums in my house, and we'd go back and forth on music. And I had a dream about a chick bass player, and my wife did not play an instrument. But she was a good business manager. She managed a huge music company. So she was gonna start doing the management part of the performance, and the booking part, and I didn't really know how to do it. But then I had the dream about a chick bass player, and she became that chick. So she learned to play the bass for the songs and the show, and she's awesome. She's the hardest working person I've ever met in my entire life.
JFH (Scott): When did you guys get hooked up with Come&Live?
Tyler: I think we've been involved with Come&Live! for about a year and a half, if I'm not mistaken. We sold everything that we owned. My wife and I lived the American dream for about four or five years: we had a four-bedroom house, three cars, I had a '66 Austin Healey in mint condition - like I said she managed a huge music company - we had a hot tub - we had everything you're "supposed" to have as an American. And after three years of dreaming, a missionary came to our church and posed the question: If your life was a bumper sticker, and you could sum up your entire being in one phrase, what would it be? I was out of town and my wife was leading worship that day, and she says "American dream." That's what I've been living all my life as a Christian. And so she calls me right before I get on a plane to come home and she says, "Hey, God told me to jump today." And I said "Yeah? Where'd He tell you to jump to?" And she said, "Well, He told me all those dreams were from Him, that I'm supposed to leave my job, we're supposed to sell everything that we own, and figure out how to take the performance on the road." And that's what we did. It took us a couple years to do it, and I think we rehearsed this show for a year before we even showed it to anybody. And all of our Christian friends thought we were crazy, and even now, we don't charge for our performances. It's been three years of living on the road and there's a lot of faith in that, and I love it. And I'm not saying that is for everybody else - it's our conviction, you know. And that's how it all kinda started. We lived in a 20-foot RV for the first two and a half years, and it was crowded, and we lived like gypsies. And I loved every minute of it.
JFH (Scott): So the other two members of the band, beside your wife and Phil - are they related to you?
Tyler: The young man in the gas mask is my son. The Leech is his name.
JFH (Scott): He was creeping me out earlier.
Tyler: Yeah he's a pretty creepy kid. *laughter* He started doing this when he was nine, so he was way cooler when he was a little kid. But yeah man, he's awesome. His name is Tristan, and he lives with his mom and stepdad in Arkansas, and he travels with us on local and regional shows and touring in the summer as well. And he's going into the eighth grade. Great kid. And then the keyboard player is Brandy, and she joined us in January. And she is married to Levi the Poet, who traveled with us last year. And they got married and moved into our RV, which is not a 20-foot RV anymore. It's grown a little bit. But both of them live with us, so it's Levi the Poet, his wife Brandy who plays keyboard for us, it's my son sometimes - or a sound guy or a merch guy - then it's Phil and myself and my wife, and then we have two little weenie dogs that live with us too. So it's a weird, crazy Partridge Family kinda thing. *laughter* But it's cool, you know. It's different.
JFH (Scott): What kinda bands have inspired the music, if any?
Tyler: Man, a lot of bands. Okay, I did not grow up a Christian. I've been a Christian since the year 2000. (Scott: Me too!) Oh yeah, nice little connection there! But yeah, I liked White Zombie/Rob Zombie, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica...I was into Korn. I loved Korn. And man, just a lot of that kind of music influenced what I'm doing now. When I first became a Christian, I didn't know what to listen to. Cause I kinda went to this Methodist church when I was younger, and so I thought "Man when you become a Christian, you listen to like hymns or something?" I didn't know that there was music out there like Showbread, for instance, who we're touring with right now. But you know, people have kinda paved the way to do the style of music that we do. Skillet was one of those bands. When I first became a Christian I got into Skillet; that's when Invincible first came out. And even some of the older bands like Jars of Clay. I was just trying to figure out where to fit in as a Christian with the influences of where I came from, to go "Wow, now what do I listen to?" Oh yeah, Living Sacrifice was probably one of my biggest influences, and Embodyment was a huge influence for me. So that's kinda where I'm at now. And now I listen to mostly 20s, 30s and 40s music, which is pretty interesting. But I'm a huge big band fan. We do a lot of festivals and a lot of touring, and I love bands like Sleeping Giant, and The Chariot is awesome...I still have a lot of heavy stuff that I like. I saw P.O.D. the other day, and they were fantastic. And Blindside...there's just a lot of things that you see and remember, especially when you travel a lot and you don't have time to listen to a lot of different things. I don't have a CD player, so it's either pop music sometimes, or...I rarely listen to country. But a lot of different things. I worked in a factory for seven years, so I know every classic rock song that's on the radio, so that was a lot of influence. Pink Floyd, man, and even David Bowie...just people that were doing it, and who were out there being different and artistic and not a cheap imitation of something else.
JFH (Scott): That's a very, very wide variety of artists. I think I have a respect for people whose taste in music isn't just "I like this kind of music and this kind of music only."
Tyler: Dude, I sound like my dad at most of the festivals. Every band sounds the same to me sometimes, and I'm trying to get past that mindset, and trying to realize that, you know what, some people are artistic in their own way. And just because they're doing what they're influenced by doesn't mean they aren't gonna grow either. And I had to go through that with my life too. And still, the music that we're working on for our next show is totally different than what we do now. I don't want people to have an expectation when they come see [us]. I want it to be something they have an experience with.
JFH (Scott): Now, I saw on the screen at the end something about The WitcHunt. Is that gonna be a new band and project, or the name of the new album, or what?
Tyler: It's the name of the new show. And the new album. It's White Collar Sideshow's The WitcHunt. And the premise behind that, when I first started writing it, it was loosely based on the seven deadly sins. And each song would be a different character in the film. So it's different from the film we have in our show now where it's more of a feature where everybody's connected and there's a reason why they go through what they go through. So each song is a different character, and it's based on "before you point your finger at someone else, what is it that takes the focus off of Christ in your life?" And there's a lot to that. There's a lot of dysfunction in the Church, and we have to start building unity with each other, and we have to start agreeing to disagree, and start inspiring and encouraging each other, challenging each other's thinking and holding each other accountable. But forgiveness is huge, man, and when we forgive people, all of a sudden you're connected. We have to start sharing our mistakes with each other and stop wearing masks. I think Paul hits that really hard...sharing the things that you struggle with so that you can get certain things off your chest. And so that's kinda where that performance is going. A lot of the music is based on the death of my brother. My brother died last October, and it hit me really, really hard. He was 27, had just gotten a Master's Degree and was on the road with us for a week, and he went back home and a couple months later was killed in a head-on car accident. And man, it just jacked my world up. I went into a place that I had never been into as a Christian. Not going back to drugs or anything, but just saying, "Dang God, You're a million miles away from me, and I know You're supposed to fill the void, but why can't I do it?" And my wife had constantly been saying "You have to choose Jesus." And I would say "I'm trying, but I just don't feel like it." And I basically gave up for a few months. And then a buddy of mine called me and said "Look dude, you travel around the country and tell people to be honest and have integrity and share their lives...you're a liar. You're sitting on your butt, you're a liar." And it really sparked me to start writing, and to get those emotions out, and to be able to use them as a story and let people know that they're not alone.
JFH (Scott): When do you plan to have that new stage show and album ready?
Tyler: We are booked until October, and my goal is to go home in November, record all the music, finish all the filming, and not do another performance until it's done. So I would love to have it ready for festival season, but I just don't wanna put a date on it, because I don't want there to be a lot of pressure to have it done by a certain time. I want it to be excellent, I want it to be passionate, I want people to see the work that goes into it. But on the same hand, I want people to walk out of there and go "My gosh, I need to figure out what it is in my life that I'm struggling with and get rid of it." And to have an experience, you know? And I don't want them having an expectation like "Their show is like this..." or "It's gonna be like this..." I want it to be a whole new experience. And I don't wanna rush it. I want it to be up to par.
JFH (Scott): Now, all the imagery and samples and everything you recorded and use in the show; is all that 100% from the dreams that God gave you?
Tyler: The videos, yes. The public domain videos just kinda worked. I had written out the film concept from the dreams, and so we started filming those concepts, and then went through some public domain stuff, and found that there was similar stuff from Frankenstein or whatever that worked with what we were doing. And we thought "Wow, how crazy is it that it's almost exact." And so we took a little bit of that and we kinda mixed and matched to make it, I don't know, more like a silent film. It just worked. It was hours and hours of work going through all the footage, and for some of the samples, it was hours and hours of looking through film and looking at the subtitles to see what they were saying and saying "Oh that's a good line." Or watching an old film and seeing that phrase pop up and saying "Wow, that would work perfect for something." And I literally had hundreds of pages of things, and I still have hundreds of them that we never used. It was a total God thing. And part of it was having all those dreams and saying, "Well maybe I should watch more of this stuff and try to figure out why I'm writing these things down" and then seeing it and thinking "Wow, I just dreamed about that." I've got hundreds and hundreds of phrases, and I don't even have enough music to go with all this stuff. So we picked and chose what might work, and honestly, when we recorded, we didn't know the show was gonna be like this. I figured we'd scare a few people, and then nobody would ask us back. *laughter*
JFH (Scott): You said earlier you were playing in another band. Have you played in a lot of other bands, or just the one?
Tyler: As a Christian, that was the only other band I played in. It was a band called Uttermost, and it was kinda like an Incubus sort of thing. I was playing with them for about five years, and I was having some of the dreams while I was playing with them, and it was a tough transition going, "I feel like God's calling me to do this, but now I feel like He's calling me to do this." And so that was tough, but on the same hand, you just know sometimes when God's calling you to step out. And before that, I played in a band called Bloodshot Eye, which was kinda like Iron Maiden. We did about three albums, and every song was about ten minutes long, and that was a great experience for me. It was right out of high school; I played with them for five years. I drummed everyday, and, man, even though I was really messed up back then, I probably wouldn't be as rehearsed of a drummer if it wasn't for those years, because I just drummed everyday. And I'm, in a sense, thankful for that. And, you know, you live and you learn. I went through all my lung surgeries during those years, and, you know, Bloodshot Eye is a pretty self-explanatory band name. *laughter* I also worked in a factory for seven years during that time, and so I would do drugs and then play with the band and then take truck driver pills to go to work. It was just this whole thing of "speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down." It was a strange part of my life. I started playing in bands when I was in eighth grade, and started playing drums in 1986. That's when I got my first drum set. I was 12, for any mathematicians. *laughter*
JFH (Scott): What are some of the biggest struggles for you guys as independent musicians?
Tyler: Well, I would say one of the hardest things is just finding people that really believe in what you do, from an industry perspective. For instance, when we play at festivals, we have a pretty big audience, and industry people see that, but they say "We don't know what to do with you, because you're more like a show than a band." And booking agents have it tough, because they don't know how to explain what we do. And we've been through a couple managers. Nobody believes in what you do as much as you do. You know that calling from God, and you know that God has given you that focus and direction to do that kind of ministry within your art. And sometimes it's not for other people to capture, but for us; it's going "How do we hit other avenues to reach people?" And I feel like a lot of what we do limits us to the Christian music world, where with The WitcHunt, I'm trying to go out and do tattoo conventions, horror movie conventions, film festivals, theaters...you know, I feel like I've limited myself to this music world, when really what we do is art. And why should it be just limited to this? Why can't it be for everybody? Why can't we meet people where they're at, and love them where they're at instead of waiting for them to come to us? Not that that's a big struggle, but it is one of the things that consumes my mind a lot: how do we do this without someone helping us and without the financial help and someone going "You know what, I believe in what you do. Here's $30,000, let's make this happen." And that can go a long way. So that's one aspect. Another aspect is that it's tough for my wife, because she is my wife, our manager, our tour manager, our advance person, our booking agent, our merch person; she does everything. I mean, she's a great multi-tasker; she's spread thin that way. But with different managers that have helped us, or with different people that have come up and said "I wanna help you, I believe in what you're doing," it's been hard because the first question my wife asks is "What can you do that I'm not already doing?" And no one can ever answer that question. And it's like "God, are You gonna bring someone to help?" But maybe part of our story is that God's called us to do it. It's not that I'm opposed to record companies or booking agents or managers. I just want someone that believes in what we do. I want a teammate. I want someone that is gonna pray for me and say "Hey, I believe in this so much. Let's work as a team. Let's help this grow. Let's go out and reach people." And that's just part of it. I pray for that person, and maybe that person is still my wife. So I guess that's one of my struggles. And it's always this: Are we in this for our success, or are we in this for God's success? And if you think of it that way, nothing is important. Other than going from place to place, knowing that that's your mission, whether there's one person or five hundred people; if you can reach one heart, then you're successful. And if it takes no one coming in to help us do that, great. We don't have to depend on people. You know, our faith is focusing on God, and pouring into our neighbor as we are being poured into, and we are actually the third part of that equation. And that's where I want my heart to be. And if someone believes in that that wants to help, wonderful. And if someone doesn't believe in that, or doesn't get it that way; I don't wanna be someone's gimmick. I want to be an instrument for God to use, and I want people to believe in that instrument. So I guess you could say it's a struggle and also a want. Maybe it's not a need, but it's something that's wanted. But it's just getting to the point where it's like, dude, how do you handle everything? That can consume your mind a lot I guess.
JFH (Scott): Alright, well that's all that I have for you. Is there anything you'd like to add for a closing statement?
Tyler: Yeah, [please visit] whitecollarsideshow.com. Also, comeandlive.com, you can download all of our music for free and all of our videos for free. There's thirty-five albums you can download on that website for free. And I wanna thank them for believing in what we do, and for really building a community of artists that have the same heart. And I love Chad [Johnson] man. Chad and I have a similar story. He's given up everything, and has this crazy mission that God has given him. And sometimes you just have to become the change that you want to see in the world, cause nobody's gonna do it for you. If you feel that burden, then you give 150% to what you feel like God's telling you to do. And don't give yourself a plan B. So that's where I'm at with my life right now.
White Collar Sideshow is available for free download through comeandlive.com!