On a cold winter afternoon, I stopped into a staple structure of Burlington, the family house turned apartment building so common in the Old North End. Like many of those dilapidated structures, this one was home to an assortment of college aged individuals. However the sounds that emerged from the room to the right of the door assured me that inhabitants of this tenement were the singularly uncommon musical duo of Theo Klein and Trey Schibli, known to most by their stage name, argonaut&wasp.
As we settled into their in-home practice studio, a dimly lit room dominated by sound boards, synths, amps, and musical equipment, I asked the pair how they first met back in the fall of 2012. Klein gestured to Schibli to begin the tale, which is clearly one they’ve delivered many times.
“It’s a pretty funning story,” Schibli began. “We were living in a dorm at UVM called Marsh, it was pretty soon after we had moved in. I was going upstairs to see my friend who lived on the fourth floor and heard this outrageous music blasting from down the hall. As I got closer and closer, I see the door that the music is coming from is ajar, so I peer in, and I see it’s a completely dark room except for this light,” he points to a colorful wall mounted light above the window, “that’s changing colors and a dude in a sarong DJing at his desk. And that was this guy,” he said, gesturing to Klein.
That encounter prompted a collaboration that has since yielded impressive results. In August of 2013 they released their first single, “In the Drown,” to stellar reviews. They quickly went back to work, and on February 20 and 21 released the four track EP “Future Protocol,” celebrating with parties in New York City and Burlington respectively. They’ve produced professional music videos for the “In the Drown” and “Pistol Pump Funk” off the new EP with White Ridge Productions, and have videos for “Higher Ground” and “Crystal Stills” in the works with NYU undergrad film student David Janoff and freelance animator Abi Laurel respectively. They’ve played multiple live performances and DJ sets in Burlington, New York City, and elsewhere, and notably performed an opening set for rapper Waka Flocka Flame at Arts Riot last January.
Part of their success is due to great marketing, part to the genre bending sound they’ve created through thoughtful collaboration. They are most commonly described as incorporating elements of funk, indie, dance, and soul, although the product that melting pot yields is purely their own.
When asked what they each bring to the table, Klein casually responded, “Trey brings a lot more than I do,” a statement which was quickly refuted by his partner. In fact, it was Klein’s unique sound that restored Schibli’s faith in the ability of electronic music to serve as a compelling art form.
Schibli played guitar in a band in high school, and had begun to develop an interest in recording, producing, and digital production. However his taste for electronic music was close to being quenched before his encounter with the sarong clad sound wizard. “When I came to college I just got so turned off by [electronic music] because all I was hearing was dubstep, and then I met Theo…and he just had an amazing ear, and his taste in music and his way of thinking about electronic music completely changed my perspective on it.”
For his part, Klein spent three years of his high school career running T3 Entertainers, a DJ company. While he recently liquidated due to problems created by the distance between Burlington and New York, where he grew up, he says “it was really practical, because every time [argonaut&wasp] would play rooftop parties in New York we would borrow DJ equipment from the company.”
Those parties catered to their developing fan base in New York. Both Klein and Schibli grew up near the city, and their connections to the area have given them a foothold into the creative culture, as well as the support of what is known as the ++ Collective. “It’s a group of visual and music based artists created from a series of mutual friends that were trying to merge visual and musical arts. It’s basically a platform for collaboration,” Schibli said. Laurel, the artist currently working on the animated video for “Crystal Stills,” is a part of that collective.
As for their name, “During an English class…we had a lecture on the journalist/fiction writer Ambrose Bierce,” Schibli wrote in an email days after our interview. “One of his most famous works was the ‘Devils Dictionary,’ he took words and phrases and redefined them in his own terms, for example ‘Painting: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.’” Bierce wrote for numerous publications in San Francisco in the latter decades of the 19th century, namely The Argonaut and The Wasp. While Schibli professed fascination with Bierce’s mysterious disappearance, what seems closer to the heart of argonaut&wasp is that impulse to redefine the world according to one’s own terms. But while Bierce redefined language for satirical effect, Schibli and Klein redefine the genres that inform their music to create a sound that is unequivocally their own.
For more information about upcoming shows, the band, and to listen to their music, visit www.argonautandwasp.com.