Formed in 2016 by its two members, Ben Barsochinni and Aram “Max” Vehuni, slenderbodies is a musical and artistic project that came together in a particularly unusual way. Having met as college freshman at UC Santa Cruz, Ben and Max became friends and shared music throughout their time during school, but never worked on any projects together, instead staying active with music through their own bands and ventures.
Three years later, as Max was working on the initial tracks for a new record, he reached out to Ben to bounce some ideas around. Over the course of the next month, the two worked together to shape and refine the tracks, and despite a distance of more than 300 miles separating Ben in Half Moon Bay and Max in Los Angeles, the two successfully finished and released their debut EP, ‘Sotto Voce’, and slenderbodies was born.
For those who are familiar with Glass Animals and Radiation City, you’ll find that slenderbodies’ identity falls somewhere between the two. Their signature sound combines airy falsetto vocals with masterfully delicate guitar riffs, set over present percussion and driving electronic beats. Influenced heavily by nature, the duo are adept at creating songs that sound natural, in no small part due to their insistence that their music be created and recorded using real instruments, and then produced and mastered later digitally.
Press play below to listen to begin listening to ‘Sotto Voce’, and read my Q&A with slenderbodies to dive into more details about the project and its hallmarks. Below you’ll also find a photo gallery from their May show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, which Early Bird was privileged enough to shoot.
EB: How did you initially get the band off of its feet and onto the stage?
SB: Originally the projected started off not intended for the stage at all. We were having a blast just making music together in the studio (or through the internet). When the music grew to a point where playing live became a priority, we had to envision the songs in a new light to make them resonate on stage. Once we moved in together down in L.A., the live show opportunities came our way organically.
EB: Singing in falsetto for an entire show takes a ton of energy. Does it ever get exhausting?
SB: One of the biggest challenges with playing live was figuring out the placement of my (Max’s) voice. In the studio, it’s easy to sing soft and bring the vocals out without issue, but on stage we dealt with an onslaught of feedback, testing different mics, engineers, and more to find what best works. On top of that was me training my voice to be able to hold up for an hour long set, and learning how to push my falsetto to be loud enough to come through live. I would say the process has been “exhausting,” but on stage there’s always energy from the crowd and it’s hard to feel tired 🙂
EB: By choosing to sing in falsetto, what feelings were you aiming to evoke with the vocals on your tracks?
SB: Our first EP was called ‘Sotto Voce’, an italian phrase meaning “to speak softly but with emphasis.” The goal is to bring together impactful lyrics with subtle delivery to allow listeners an intriguing sense of dichotomy. The idea of impactful intimacy and focus on mood within each song is very important.
EB: can you describe to me what you were attempting to accomplish on The ‘fabulist’ EP vs. ‘fabulist: extended’? They both sound different, albeit still maintaining the slenderbodies signature sound.
SB: Fabulist is actually a concept album accompanied by a story we wrote (you can check it out here). All the songs in the first EP were written to fit this story and world that we’d imagined. ‘Extended’ is a collection of singular short stories that fit a similar sonic palette that we wanted to share with our fans.
EB: You’ve both mentioned Radiohead as a significant source of inspiration for slenderbodies, and Max, you’ve said ‘In Rainbows’ is your favorite album of all time. Was it Radiohead’s vision, or the sound they created on that album (and others), that was influential for you both?
Max: The captivating thing about Radiohead is the way they blend the organic with the electronic to form a seamless world. On top of that there is the unique style in which Thom Yorke sings which is one of my (Max’s) favorite things to pay attention to in music in general.
Benji: Radiohead seem to put so much of themselves into their music. There’s a timeless, genuine quality to every single song, giving each record an almost cinematic quality. There is a level of care that is put into the music that can be heard through the recordings, and we always strive to put that level of care into the sonic worlds we create. We want to immerse our listeners, to submerge them in the music. Hypnotic, out of body, trans-dimensional, vibey, whatever it is you call it, we want to make music that moves.
EB: What about your music would you highlight if you were trying to convince someone to listen to your music? In other words, what makes slenderbodies special and memorable, in your eyes as its creators? Why pursue this specific sound compared to other more mainstream flavors of rock, pop, or electronic music?
SB: We create the soundscapes using limited tools, binding ourselves just to guitars and voice for every melodic element. Beyond that, experiencing someone else’s truth or reality, surreal or not, is always something fascinating that we’d like to invite people to be a part of. Above all else, we want to be ourselves, and have the music be a mirror of our collective selves. We appreciate mainstream flavors of rock, pop and electronic, which is why there’s elements of it in what we do, but we want to stay inspired by pushing boundaries emotionally and musically as well.
EB: Your music almost seems to come across as something that shouldn’t just be heard, but felt. What do fans get in a slenderbodies concert that they might not grasp if they just listen to your music through headphones?
SB: Our music is crafted to feel. That being said, the music is crafted to feel on headphones or onstage. When we listen to music, we like having our own personal journey with an album or song. When we see an artist live, we want that same experience to be illustrated in a more vibrant or different way. That’s what we strive for live.
EB: does creating music with only organic instruments present any significant challenges in the creative process?
SB: We’ve stylistically created the music around our strengths, being guitarists and producers. Fully adapting to this way of making music frees us, and any challenges are growing experiences. We listen to our hearts, and pay special attention to other people in the world also breaking sonic walls.
EB: People say that music is cyclical just as fashion is. What is your take on the current state of what is considered “tasteful” and “pop-sensible” in the industry? Does it excite you, confuse you, frustrate you, etc?
SB: As producers for other artists when we don’t make music for Slenderbodies, we’re in the pop industry, so we’re not too mad at it. That said, we can see some exciting things on the horizon. Musicianship and left of center vocals (in both timbre and melody) are becoming increasingly valued and coveted in the pop world, and it’s really exciting to be working within this transition.
EB: What’s a musical style or trend that doesn’t currently exist that you’d like to see or would like to bring back?
SB: More funk! More jazz!
CHECK OUT EARLY BIRD’S FUNKIEST PLAYLIST, “FUNKY SHOWER PARTY”:
EB: Having released each of your EPs/albums independently, what sort of advantages has that offered the band compared to being underneath a major label?
SB: Freedom to experiment creatively has been huge, alongside self development. We’ve truly been able to develop the sound that we want, and I think that’s really special given the world that signed artists are in.
EB: What’s the weirdest source of inspiration for any of the songs you’ve created so far?
SB: Lately we’ve been heavily inspired by our morality and it’s been a great journey to reflect on that and capture it in song.
EB: For each of you – Name your dream concert lineup with four acts:
Benji // Max:
1. Foo Fighters // Radiohead
2. Radiohead // Rhye
3. Bon Iver // Rainbow Kitten Surprise
4. Local Natives // Radiation City
EB: What can fans expect from Slenderbodies for the rest of 2018?
SB: So many things! Keep an eye out for us on tour, at Austin City Limits and more! Also keep an even bigger eye out for our new album later this year.