A student’s journey from Wheaton to Vegas and back
By Melissa Schill
Junior Ben Waldee did not start making music in order to become famous. He and his two childhood friends, Jordan Rys and Noah DeVore, began playing together in their hometown of Erie, Pa. during high school. Although they began recording covers of songs by their favorite artists, like Why Don’t We, PRETTYMUCH, and Post Malone and “just messing around,” they soon progressed to writing and recording their own music. During sophomore year of high school, they decided to give their group a name and make the band official.
When asked to describe Three Guest’s music, Waldee laughed and answered, “I wouldn’t. That used to be my clever answer.” He then compared their music to Blackbear, a singer/songwriter whose wrote Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” a song from 2012 that hit the Billboard Top 100. Rys described Three Guest’s music as alternative R&B with some elements of pop for the sake of larger audience appeal.
The band’s name, Three Guests, alludes to the Christian idea of being strangers or “guests” on earth. Rys and DeVore created the name without Waldee’s input and at first he thought “it was kind of corny, but it has a good meaning.”
Waldee borrowed words from American rock band Relient K to say, “We weren’t a Christian band. We saw ourselves as a band of Christians.” In high school, they kept all of their lyrics clean and added some biblical references to their songs.
Three Guests’ rise in popularity was certainly not instantaneous. Their first gig was at a piano recital and their second was at that same piano recital a year later. However, things began moving more rapidly when DeVore decided to make that fateful Google search: “how to get famous.” One of the results was a link to the startup social media company, TuneGO, that later gave them their big break. According to their website, TuneGO “simplifies the business of music for artist, collaborators and industry pros” by giving “step-by-step guidance on an end-to-end music technology platform.”
As a new company, TuneGO was looking for a success story to prove that their model worked. After Three Guests became popular on their platform, the band contacted TuneGO and were flown out to California to meet company executives. “They loved all of us because they were kind of a bunch of big kids,” Waldee said. TuneGO gave Three Guests a contract in 2016 and began promoting them.
The band’s most popular song, “Marilyn,” has over two million streams on Spotify, and its music video on YouTube has accumulated 310,000 views since its release in May of 2017. YouTube vlogger Erika Costell, who has 4.6 million subscribers, featured it in one of her videos, which led to even more views for the band.
When the band first signed with TuneGO, high school graduation was just around the corner for Waldee. He was faced with the decision between pursuing music with his band full-time or going to college. Rys, who Waldee describes as “very ambitious,” wanted to move to Vegas with the band and pursue music. However, DeVore still had a year of high school left, making the idea of moving to Vegas together impossible.
“All of us parents were able to quell that flame a little bit,” Waldee’s mother, Candace Waldee, said. “We said, if this is still a really big thing for you a year from now and you want to leave Wheaton and go to Vegas, then you can do it with our blessing,” Ben’s mother, Candace Waldee, said.
Following his freshman year of college, Waldee took a gap year and moved to Vegas with the band.
“My husband and I were kind of stressed out because in our hearts we felt like this was not a good idea,” Candace said. “The music business is pretty fickle. It was an exercise in faith. As a mom and a Jesus follower, [Proverbs 19:21] was what I needed to hear: that it was going to be okay because God’s plans for Ben were going to prevail in the long run and I just needed to trust God would bring that to fruition.”
On first arriving in Vegas, Waldee, Rys and DeVore went through several experiences that shaped them as friends and as bandmates. Rys reminisced on one of his favorite memories: a hike at Red Rock gone wrong. The group decided to climb the tallest rock they could find, but at one point during the climb, DeVore got stuck. “He couldn’t go up or down, and we all started freaking out and maybe crying a little bit,” Rys said. Although the others eventually got him out, they decided to never try the hike again. “That’s one of my favorite moments that really just bonded us: a life or death situation,” Rys said.
In 2017, Three Guests was invited to attend the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. The lineup featured mostly country bands, including Eric Church and Sam Hunt. However, because Waldee does not like country music, the band decided not to go, a decision that might have saved their lives. A mass shooting occurred at that music festival, resulting in 59 deaths and over 500 injured. “I hold on to my hate of country music because it saved my life,” Waldee said.
Vegas was not all that Waldee expected it to be. “We didn’t do a whole bunch, which was disappointing,” Waldee said. The band members all worked outside part time jobs and attended occasional meetings with TuneGO. Their main project was working on a tour, scheduled for the summer of 2017, where they would play at colleges across the country. Most of the work they did in Vegas consisted of choreography and logistics for the tour. In February, however, the tour was canceled. Waldee was the reason. Because he intended on returning to college in the fall, Rys and DeVore decided they did not want to spend any more money on the tour.
“We all knew Ben was struggling a little bit and it was hard for us to remain positive because whatever decision he made would affect our lives dramatically,” Rys said. “When he finally did make the decision to leave, it was hard. It was hard for him, it was hard for us and it was hard to figure out what to do next.” After the tour was canceled, Waldee decided to leave Las Vegas early and move back home. “The situation was stressful and there was a lot of tension between us. There was a bunch of drama … it just kind of got more and more sucky,” Waldee said. Most of the tension, he said, had to do with “dumb stuff like money and rent and jobs.”
Rys and DeVore were both very committed to the idea of making a life and career off of Three Guests. “Ben had other passions that were just as strong as music whereas Noah and I don’t,” Rys said. “This is it. There is no greater passion, this is all we’ve got, this is all we want.” Rys and DeVore have carried on the legacy of Three Guests. Both are still living in LA, where they collaborate with rising artists and producers to release new tracks every month.
Waldee was unimpressed with the music industry and what it would take to make it, especially when it came to social media marketing. “I hated it with my whole heart,” Waldee said. “It’s so pander-y and it made our fans 12 year old girls, which I hated.” The band was active on just about every social media platform they could get their hands on. Although they made money off of paid promotions and partnerships on some social media platforms, Waldee was uncomfortable with online marketing.
Waldee also missed the college environment he had left behind. “He really loves to learn; he’s the most curious of my kids,” Candace said. Senior Jordan Myroth, Waldee’s girlfriend of two years, said, “He has always loved school; he’s so smart, so I knew he’d miss school.”
Although the bandmates separated on poor terms, they have since reconciled. Waldee explained, “Noah and I don’t talk as much just because we’re more different. But Jordan and I are like two sides of the same coin.” Waldee and Rys have continued writing music together and sell their songs to artists.
“I think the relationship is much stronger now,” Rys said. “Before it was a business relationship as well as a friendship. It didn’t really work well that way; our personalities didn’t mesh when it came to that.”
As an individual artist, Waldee’s passion for songwriting started long before Three Guests. Around sixth grade, he wrote a poem and posted it on Facebook. When his mom ran across it, she thought it was plagiarized until Waldee proved to her that he had written it. His love for writing grew more after he tore his ACL during his sophomore year of high school. With nothing to do but sit during recovery, Waldee picked up the guitar and wrote “at least a hundred songs.”
Waldee’s friends say he’s always been a natural when it comes to music. “I had the pleasure of being on his floor freshman year,” senior Charles Schlabach said. “We had many experiences such as freestyle rapping where we were all blown away by Ben’s ability to come up with lyrics on the spot. He had this one song about a love story between a human and an alien and he played it on the uke. It was a little quirky.”
Though Waldee intends to keep writing songs for fun and to sell, he no longer intends to enter the music industry. “After seeing what the career actually is, I’m not interested at all,” Waldee said. He is currently studying biology in hopes of becoming a doctor.
His year spent in Vegas was not a waste, however. Above all, it was a growing experience. “It matured me tenfold,” Waldee said.
“He just grew up. He realized the value of work, and he realized what it was like to have to make a living, and he realized that it was hard. He came back with this intense focus,” Candace said. “I’m so thankful for how God used that experience to shape him into the godly young man he is now.”