Strange Names: We understand short attention spans
Photo By Jesper Norgaard
Strange Names have slowly built momentum in the Twin Cities and beyond, and even placed seventh in our Picked To Click poll in 2012. The inventive electro-pop duo of Liam Benzvi and Francis Jimenez bonded over a shared love of music while sharing a dorm at the U of M. That creative partnership blossomed from raw but riveting bedroom recordings -- including the local radio sensation "Potential Wife" -- to the more polished 7-inch recently recorded at White Iris Studios in Los Angeles.
Joined in a live setting by Andre Borka and Fletcher Aleckson, the amiable twosome have several high-profile summer festival appearances planned, including a slot at our 10 Thousand Sounds Festival. Gimme Noise caught up with Liam and Francis over early evening drinks at the Butcher and the Boar outdoor patio. They spoke about their early days, and when we can expect their long-awaited full-length to finally be released.
Gimme Noise: Let's talk about your latest release -- the "Once An Ocean/Minor Times" 7-inch. What was the recording process like for those tracks, and how did you hook up with the White Iris folks?
Liam: We had recently got in touch with a lawyer in New York, and we were trying to get him to pitch our stuff for us -- because lawyers kind of function as agents as well in the music business. And he submitted us to White Iris, and they chose us to record a singles deal, because that's primarily what they do as a label. We were debating about recording in either L.A. or New York, and we ended up going to White Iris Studios in Echo Park in L.A. and recording there. We were totally just lucky to get involved with them, and we were really grateful to get the chance to work with them. Their facility was immaculate with absolutely amazing gear.
Were those a couple of new songs you wrote recently, or are they older numbers that you just hadn't recorded as of yet?
Francis: Actually the song "Minor Times" is new, and we were really itching to record that -- we needed the perfect version, because we hadn't really had a good recording of that yet. So that was really exciting to make a cool studio version of that one and have it sound really polished. "Once an Ocean" we recorded back in 2010 -- we made a bedroom recording of that, and we included that on our first EP, but we had to take it down for legal reasons. So it was really cool to finally get a polished version of that one, too -- at first it was just a cute little lo-fi song, but to have it fully realized was really cool.
You guys also recently shot a video for "Once An Ocean" -- how did that come together, and are you happy with how it ended up?
Liam: Yeah, we're super happy with how it turned out, but that was literally shot all in one day. We got in touch with our friend Charlie Gerszewski, and he took us to this abandoned floor of the Plymouth Building -- all he told me was "just show up in a suit." It really turned out great.
You guys met at the U of M -- did you bond immediately over your shared love of music?
Francis: We were in the same sort of crowd -- we knew each other, and had spoken and hung out and listened to music together, but it wasn't until we moved out of the University into our own apartments and started getting together that we started actually making music. We had to be taken out of the University context a little bit before that started to happen.
So, how long did it take until you all started writing and recording music together?
Liam: We were both in our own respective bands at that point, and we had been sharing bills in my basement and other DIY venues in Minneapolis. And we really wanted to collaborate on something, and Francis sent me the instrumental for "Luxury Child," actually. He was like, "This is pop music. People love it."
Francis: It was a complete joke.
Liam: But I heard it and didn't understand that it was a joke at all, and I thought, 'Oh, this is amazing.' And I went ahead and wrote the chorus for that track, and then we both realized that it was actually really good, and we both started to care about it.
Francis: We were still finishing both of our degrees, then we studied abroad and went to Europe, and didn't get back into it really hard until the fall of 2011, then started playing live in March of 2012.
Was that around the time that you released your debut, the 5 Songs EP?
Francis: Yeah, at that point we just had about 20 weird bedroom recordings and demos, and some of them were just half-finished, and we though-let's just put these five up there and pretend that we're a real band.
Your songs grew more dynamic, lush, and expansive on the Strange Names EP -- Do you attribute that to you growing more comfortable writing music together and more adventurous with your sound?
Francis: A little bit. At that point, I think we had better ideas of where we wanted to go sonically, where we wanted to take the lo-fi, washed out sound and make that our own sort of thing. And we had Chris Heidman, who's our manager/producer, give us access to his equipment and we thought, 'Well, let's see where we can go with this.'
You guys have relied exclusively on EP's and singles to release your music so far -- is that a reflection on how you perceive that music is being consumed these days?
Francis: We totally understand that people have short attention spans, and they want to get a few really good pop songs at a time, and that's really cool. But at the same time, we're really into full records, and we want to make an album really bad. We just love that idea of having one big cohesive work. But at the same time, if we make a song that's a single and we think it's awesome, we'll release it. We just really like having media out there for people to enjoy.
How are you approaching the full-length, then?
Liam: We've been writing a lot. And we have written a majority of the songs that will be on it. We're literally about to start recording it in about a week. And hopefully the studio vibe will help us work towards a cohesive piece of music. We're really excited to go from, like, A to Z, where we start at A and see how it carries us throughout the entire arc of the album.
Is the album going to feature songs from the EPs, or will they be all new songs entirely?
Francis: We're not exactly sure. We can't re-record "Minor Times" or "Once an Ocean," so those won't be on there -- unless its those recordings, but we're fine just moving past them and making some new songs. We are thinking of maybe rerecording some of the other songs from the EPs, but we're not sure. We've got a lot of material that we're throwing around.
Any time frame in place for the album?
Liam: Hopefully, we'll be done recording it by the fall. And then we'll start shopping it around so we don't have to self-release it. Although we could, it would just be a whole lot more work for us.
Are you excited to share a bill with the other bands playing the 10 Thousand Sounds Festival?
Liam: We're totally stoked to see the Walkmen, and all of the other bands on the bill, and to hear Free Energy DJ after. We're really excited to be a part of it.
See Also from 10 Thousand Sounds artists:
Greg Grease: I like to change people's minds
Free Energy's Paul Sprangers: I can look like an idiot and dance like a monkey
The Chalice: Collaborating in Minneapolis has helped us all out
Strange Names will perform at City Pages' 10 Thousand Sounds festival at 8th St. and Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday, June 22. The lineup includes the Walkmen, Free Energy, Greg Grease, Prissy Clerks, and hosts the Chalice. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $45 for VIP (not available day of show). GA tickets are AVAILABLE FOR HALF PRICE HERE.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.