We caught up with the duo right before they took the stage at Brooklyn's Rough Trade
Slenderbodies, who finally released their debut album, komorebi, last month after numerous EPs, are deep into their North American tour, and there is no denying that they're tired.
slenderbodies - "senses" (Live) | Vevo DSCVR www.youtube.com
"I don't really know where I am, I don't really know what day it is, but it's in a fun way," Benji Cormack told me before their show on Saturday. "Other tours, it's just been pure exhaustion, but this is, like, a loopy kind of exhaustion where I'm also energized."
Slenderbodies is still a fairly new band to emerge onto the neo-dream pop landscape, which is easy to forget judging by the duo's refined musical sensibilities. They emerged in 2016 with fabulist, an intriguing EP that integrated alternative rock with pop and psychedelia. The EP spawned the song "anemone," still the duo's biggest hit, and they have since remained unabashedly devoted to their sound and creative identity. It's rare for such a young band to know themselves so well. "We didn't set out to be unique," Benji previously told me. "We set out to just make music that was authentic... and that's how we arrived at where we're at now."
"Komorebi" is a Japanese word that has no direct translation. Roughly, it's a word used to describe the way light moves as it shines through the trees. The guys witnessed an "inspiring" example of "komorebi" while they were driving up to Mendocino for a show. "We'd known the word," said Benji, "but seeing that was almost a religious experience and became very indicative of what was to come." Nature is the seasoning that brings out the band's flavors. Neither of them have gone more than a week without stepping into a forest, even while on the road, and their music wouldn't be what it was if they didn't take the time to recuse themselves from the bustling metropolitan world. Fittingly, Komorebi is seemingly the pinnacle of Slenderbodies up to this point. It contains all the charisma and silky textures of the band's numerous EPs, while at times exploring the restrictions of their sound. "I'm super happy with the record just because we were disgustingly diligent with it," Max said. On "Hearth," in particular, the duo swaps out improvised guitar loops and ghostly vocals while rain patters in the background. It's a raw moment indicative of their unique chemistry as a band. "It's like the cabin in the woods that you come to," Benji added.
While this is by no means the duo's most grueling tour, everything feels different this time around. Saturday's show at Brooklyn's Rough Trade, along with most of their current tour, was completely sold out, but they are strangely calmer than they've ever been. "I'm probably gonna play some super smash bros," said Benji. "It helps us to not think about it too hard," Max added. "My mantra is trying to turn the pre-show nerves into a high," Benji said. "I wanna hit the pre-show blunt of excitement, then go right out and play the show. If we fixate on it, we'll burn it down to the roach before we get on stage."
As I got ready to go, the two friends loomed over a take-out container full of baked ziti. "What is that?" Max asked the room. "I think it's baked ziti," Benji replied. Max seemed confused. "Baked ziti? It's a type of pasta where you pretty much slap a sh*t-ton of cheese on there and bake it." They stood in calm silence, and I slipped out as they pondered the nature of the dish.
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"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.
11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.
"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.
Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."
Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com
"We really just focus on how the songs flow and feel; there's a mood."
With the pop sensibility of Glass Animals and the rhythmic guitar work of John Mayer, Slenderbodies have organically carved out their own niche in today's mass-produced pop landscape.
Full of exuberance and swagger, Max Vehuni and Benji Cormack are like a drop of cream in a cup of black coffee. Their music swirls gracefully, slowly consuming listeners, with the end result being something prodigious and exclusively theirs. Even the name was chosen for the smooth, sensory details it conveys: "Slender is like soft and kind of calm," Benji told me, "and 'bodies' is because our music has body to it. It's impactful."
"I feel like we've become better musicians in terms of being guitarists," Max said of the group's evolving sound. "Everything is based on our influences, on what we do, and on our daily lives. Based on the way that our lives taught us to change, the music has changed accordingly." The soft-spoken group started slowly building their sound in college, with Benji garnering his ear for Electronic production from his father. "He did a lot of solo composition work with electronic music, like using sequencers when those were just becoming popular," he said. "My friends also had this big ranch, so part of my upbringing was basically jamming out on guitars [out there] all the time."
Courtesy of Big Hassle / slenderbodies
Slenderbodies first caught everyone's attention with 2017's "anemone," a vertiginous track laced with ghostly vocals and wobbly production that was as vivacious as it was contemplative. The track racked up over 20 million streams and the band amassed a die-hard following in the process. "There are always tangible goals of like 'release this' and 'achieve this,' but the stuff that carries us through the day-to-day is just growing as people and musicians," Benji said of fame. "We really just focus on how the songs flow and feel; there's a mood."
Soraya, the duo's latest EP, is a masterful work, with Billboard calling it the group's "most daring project to date." The two college pals were grateful for the compliment. "I think this is one of the first projects that we did entirely together," Max said. "We were in the same place and we were able to really put our heads together and it just became a more cohesive piece of music." The five-song EP represented an amalgamation of all the strong women in Max and Benji's life and served as an ode to their powerful impact on the group. "This baroness, she always seems to know best, I bet she's my common sense," Max sings in a glistening falsetto on "King." "[King] was like a clash between the two of us just bouncing back and forth off each other," Benji said of the track. "We started with the guitars in the songwriting first, and once we had gotten that down that back and forth energy just really continued." Comparatively, these ideas of feminine empowerment drive "Queen" as well: "I'll be in the corner drawing pictures of myself, trying to be somebody else...I'll be in the corner till you show me all my wealth." Benji added, "After thinking about these attributes of people who had uplifted us and driven us to be who we are today, we aggregated those lessons and all those personality attributes and set out to write songs about that kind of person."
Energy is the defining factor behind Slenderbodies, but where this vitality originates is hard to pinpoint. While the guys were willing to break down the origin of their name, they remained coy surrounding certain details of its definition. "It's a big secret," they said. Yet with these secrets comes uncompromised originality and shows that as much as Slenderbodies gives to its listeners, the music is meant for Benji and Max at the end of the day. "We didn't set out to be unique," Benji said. "We set out to just make music that was authentic... and that's how we arrived at where we're at now."
Mackenzie Cummings-Grady is a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area, Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.
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