Biagio and the Argonauts: Bellingham’s Boss
In an age where Apple stores outnumber auto factories and when the Motor City has lost most of its horsepower, those nostalgic for a hard day’s work can take comfort in the fact that there are still musicians making music about a hard day’s work.
Enter Biagio & the Argonauts, a band that has bounced around the Bellingham bar scene for three years before finally putting out their debut album, Nothing Here You Wouldn’t Want, in April. Full of “indie-folk-pop-songwriter-gypsy-jams,” in the words of band member Rabia Magnusson, the album focuses on relatable, everyday struggles.
“For this record, I wanted to cover a wide variety of topics,” said Biagio Biondolillo, the band’s namesake and soft-spoken lead singer/songwriter. “I didn’t want all the songs to be relationship based. Some are based on internal struggle, and a quest for self-improvement.”
Labor of Love
While comparisons to Bob Dylan and Elliot Smith are obvious on the band’s new record, what’s not so obvious is some of the band members’ musical backgrounds. Magnusson took classical piano lessons as a child and now teaches them as well as playing keys with Baltic Cousins, and Biondolillo was in a high school punk band, a far cry from the soft vocals and acoustic guitars on the album.
After moving to Bellingham from the San Francisco Bay area in 2003, Biondolillo began playing with a band called All Creatures of Good Heart, as well as working on some solo material. While working on his solo album, Alone On This Here and Now, he recruited cellist Anna Arvin to help him with a few songs on the record. They pulled in Kat Bula, a violinist and friend of Arvin’s, and from there Biagio and the Argonauts was born. With the addition of Magnusson, the band began playing shows around town. The release of the band’s first album is a culmination of careful coordination and tip-toeing around band member schedules, all of whom have jobs and other side projects.
“Recording the album took around two years to wrap it up because everyone’s schedules were so different. It’s quite an undertaking at least, depending on how you go about it,” Biagio says. “I just tried to keep everybody going. We always had other things going on.”
In terms of recording, Biondolillo worked closely with Paul Turpin of Clickpop Records to record a tight, polished album that would still maintain the folky, “live show” sound Biondolillo says he strives for. They isolated each instrument, and then played every song to a special click track designed by Turpin. Turpin mapped out where each track sped up and slowed down, while simultaneously creating a map to track changes in tempo. That way, other people could easily play along later.
“Normal click tracks that don’t move around, they flatten out the emotion of a song. It’s particularly noticeable with music like Biagio’s that is flowing and expressive – it’s more like classical music,” Turpin said. “So once I programmed a complex click track that moved around during the song — we would record to that – it was the best of both worlds.”
Biondolillo said the entire process was done for the sake of recording clarity and complete control of every instrument on each track.
“I prefer to play live – it’s what feels the most natural — but the challenge is when you try to isolate the different instruments and then stack everything and put it together like that,” Biondolillo said.
Working Class Hero
Biondolillo himself is no stranger to hardwork, however. He speaks softly yet confidently, sometimes gesturing with his hands, which have been blackened by auto grease. Biondolillo said much of the inspiration for the album came from his work as an auto mechanic.
“I grew up always working,” he said “I’ve been a mechanic for almost a decade now and I’ve always worked with my hands and worked hard for a living. I don’t feel like I’ve ever had an easy job.”
As for now, the band eventually wants to plan a West Coast summer tour, and continues to play shows. With Anna having moved to Port Angeles and Kat leaving the band a few months ago, Biondolillo will be performing solo on June 1 at the Fire Hall Café in Lynden.
“I think Biagio’s songwriting provides solace when our day-to-day experiences leave us feeling mechanized and unfulfilled,” Magnusson said. “But you know, that’s the sort of thing we all have to figure out for ourselves.”
For more information, follow Biagio and the Argonauts on Facebook.