Strange Names| Summer Set Music and Camping Festival| Friday, August 15
This September, the self-described "next-wave funk" men of Strange Names will officially relocate from Minneapolis to New York, where they will finish recording their upcoming full-length to be released on the independent Brooklyn-based record label Frenchkiss Records. By joining the label, started in 1999 by Les Savy Fav bassist Syd Butler, Strange Names find themselves in the company of an array of successful artists including the Hold Steady, Local Natives, and Passion Pit.
"It's been crazy," says Liam Benzvi, one half of the duo, who is originally from Brooklyn himself. He is quick to defend the importance of Minneapolis to the two, who have accomplished various local music rites of passage: they have been featured on City Pages' Picked to Click list, performed both at countless house shows and on the First Avenue main room stage several times, played ex-mayor R.T. Rybak's birthday party, and will be doing a set at this weekend's Summer Set festival at Somerset Amphitheater. "Just to squash this, though... I would always consider us a Minneapolis band. I don't really want to be a New York band, necessarily. There are so many New York bands."
The prospect of a new home and fresh start with Frenchkiss is also an appealing one to Benzvi's partner in crime Francis Jimenez, the other half of Strange Names, and a born and raised Minnesotan. "I'm kind of ready to go," he says. "I've been in Minneapolis for almost six years. It's time to make a move."
"Get out of your comfort zone!" Benzvi exclaims. "It'll inform everything -- the more risks you take." Jimenez grins. "I feel like we wanted to go to New York sooner," he says. "We just didn't want to move on a whim. We were waiting for there to be something to draw us out there, and then the Frenchkiss thing happened."
The upcoming album has been in the works for almost two years -- a long time, considering that the band has only been in existence for about four. It will be their first release since last year's single 7-inch on Iris Records, Minor Times / Once an Ocean.
Benzvi and Jimenez began exchanging songwriting ideas back after meeting in the freshman dorms at the University of Minnesota when they were still teenagers. "We had both been playing with other bands in college," Jimenez says. "We were talking to each other about starting a music project together. Finally one day instead of just hanging out and watching TV and listening to music, we started listening to each other's music and collaborating." It was the summer of 2010. The two studied abroad -- Benzvi in London, and Jimenez in Barcelona. When they returned to Minneapolis, they began recording and eventually releasing material, but didn't actually perform live until March of 2012, at the former 400 Bar.
Since then they have both graduated, Benzvi with a degree in acting and Jimenez with a degree in architecture. Still, music remains their main focus. "It never really occurred to me to stop until it was time to stop," Benzvi says. "I never really felt that way ever. I want to continue acting. I'll still do it. It's one of those things where if I don't do Strange Names, I will not be artistically satisfied or satiated in any way. I'll perish."
"I love design. That's something that moves me deeply," Jimenez says. "As far as my study in architecture, it's not like I want to go to grad school and be an architect. I'm glad I have this background in design, and I got a good conceptual background at the U. If I want to move into something like furniture design or interior design, which interests me, I can always jump into it. At the moment, though, the music seemed more important to me personally. I would put my career as a designer on hold and work in a restaurant as long as I can do my music."
Jimenez sees Strange Names' progression as a series of small steps, each giving validation to their efforts as performers while providing means of motivation and continuing to present new challenges and opportunities for growth. There have been many moments along the way that have re-enforced their creative drive and served as a positive affirmation to the time and work they've put into the project -- like being scouted and signed by Frenchkiss. These moments have also been aligned with many important lessons.
"When you're with other artists who are perhaps more successful than you are, or at a different level, you realize that they're not just these artists, they're your contemporaries," Jimenez says. "They're just regular people. When I was a teenager watching shows, seeing how the audience treats musicians like this thing and not just a person... I've realized that they are just a person, and they could be a great friend." As Strange Names, Jimenez and Benzvi have occasionally experienced being on the other side of this scenario.
"When we first started releasing music, the majority of our listeners were teen girls," Benzvi says. "That was a really funny market to have. At our last show, there was some review where someone said we were a boy band." He has been digging through a worn notebook, trying to find something that he wanted to share with Gimme Noise when asked about the most important lessons they'd learned along the way. Finally, he finds it.[page]
"I've been so completely obsessed with what you can control and what you can't control," he says. "You get so lost responding to others validation of your art and what you create and what you do. Learning to find the best way to remain sane during all of the criticism and being able to maintain your sphere of tranquility is what's most important - walking around with little mantras in your head." He begins reading us some of the mantras he has written down in the little notebook.
"You're always learning about who and what you want to be.
You can control where you want to be.
Why you want to be is just survival.
You can't control when you want to be, because that's time.
Where and why is always in your control."
The two have written a new song called "Where and Why," which they played for the first time live last Friday at First Avenue, inspired by Benzvi's interest in what things lie in and out of his control. Somewhat shyly, he explains that what he's just read to us is his personal effort to reconcile with the emotions behind the song.
Though only the two of them will be moving to Brooklyn, the self-marketed "songwriting duo" hope to continue performing with members of their live band when the time to tour arises. "They do have a big part in building the songs live," Jimenez says. "Our bassist, Daniel, is a visual artist," says Benzvi. "He was the lead singer of Phantom Vibrations. Our drummer Fletcher is also a visual artist and a musician who does a lot of interesting electronic stuff. He's putting a tape out soon. Even though we'll be in New York, we'll still maintain heavy local ties, and come back to do a release show."
To hear some of the material that will be included in their upcoming album, be sure to catch Strange Names at one of their last local performances for the time-being today at Summer Set in Wisconsin. They will be performing this afternoon at the Grove stage, after Danny Brown and Exmag.
Summer Set camping and music festival is today, Saturday and Sunday in Somerset, WI. 715 Spring St, Somerset, Wisconsin 54025. Purchase tickets here
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