More than chill vibes and wavy melodies, the music of alternative/indie group slenderbodies tells complex stories and addresses social issues in beautifully stylized way. On day two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, we sat down with the duo, Ben Barsochinni and Max Vehini, to discuss their journey to becoming slenderbodies and their musical artistry.
Q: Where did you two meet and how did you get into music together?
Max: We met and UC Santa Cruz, and I was studying computer science and he [Ben] was doing psych.
Q: How did you find out that you both had a knack for music?
Ben: The way UC Santa Cruz does it is they separate you into ten colleges. So, the first week is all about getting to know who you’re rooming with. So, there was kind of like a big meet and greet party on the quad and we walked up to each other because we had a mutual friend and I was like, “Hey, what do you like to do?,” and Max was like, “Music,” and I was like, “Me too.” It kinda spiraled from there.
Q: Why was there a three year gap between meeting each other and producing music together?
Max: After two years, I actually left Santa Cruz and I went back down to L.A. to do trade school for audio engineering. During that time, I was kind of working on a ton of audio stuff. He was working on a ton of music stuff. At one point, I made a few songs and I sent them to him and asked him what he thought about them … He was super stoked about it and we just started sending songs back and forth and within a month the first EP [Sotto Voce] was done. It was super quick, super organic.
Q: How did you develop your aesthetic of falsetto and ethereal guitar?
Ben: We had two constraints: We were going to do crazy stuff with guitars and manipulate guitars, and we are only going to use falsetto vocals. That was the constraint for the EP. We just went off of that. “Sotto Voce” is still one of our favorite things that we’ve put out because it was a creative escape in a sense.
Max: Because of that, it was so locked into one sound. We have to only use guitars and we have to only do falsetto vocals and it allows you to get so creative.
Q: Where did you get the name slenderbodies?
Ben: We were kind of just bouncing around ideas that fit the aesthetic and different word combinations … You know when you hear something and it just feels right? It was the same thing with the [album] artwork. We found a friend’s art and she had made this amazing piece.
Max: It was like right before we were going to put out the EP and we didn’t have any artwork for it and I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw that my friend had made a painting, and I was like, “This is dope.”
Ben: I think we’ve attributed a lot of meaning to it retroactively.
Q: What was the message you were promoting through “Sotto Voce?”
Max: Sotto voce specifically means to speak softly with emphasis. So, it follows then that you can say something really softly, but it can be really impactful to someone else. That was kind of the aesthetic with everything. There is a softness to it, but the lyrics are very meaningful and deep.
Q: Why do you feel it’s important to maintain such a unique musical identity?
Max: I’ve always been most blown away by artists that can create an album that you can just live with and live on and read so deeply into, versus somebody that puts out a single and is like, “listen to this new single.” All my favorite musical pieces have been albums.
Ben: We want to make music that we’re excited about. Like if we weren’t us and we were finding our music, we would want to be like, “Wow, this band has a whole story line behind everything and the album is so enthralling and I want to find every little secret they put in there.”
Max: Lyricism is so much easier to come by whenever you’re writing about something that you really care about. If you know the story that you’ve created, the lyrics are going to come together much easier … You already know what you’re trying to say, you just need to say it in the most concise and beautiful way.
Q: What are some albums and artists that have inspired you?
Max: “In Rainbows” by Radiohead is an amazing amazing album. “So Long Forever” by Palace is an absolutely amazing album. I’ve been listening a lot to “Bambi” by Hippo Campus.
Ben: The album that inspired me to start making music was “American Idiot” by Green Day, which is a full concept.
Q: What is your favorite part of your upcoming EP, “Soraya?”
Max: There’s like a pair of songs that go together that those two are my favorites. It’s funny, I always end up liking the pairs of song … Currently on our roster my favorite stuff that we have out is “opal ocean” and “opal ocean pt. ii.” That duo resonates with me so much.
Ben: When it comes out, you’ll know. They are very related by title. It’s very clear.
Q: “Soraya” is inspired by the women in your life and expressing gratitude for them. Why was this an important message that you wanted to communicate through Soraya?
Ben: I think we have both had very strong women in our lives. I was raised by a single mother. His mom has been a really important factor in his life. As agents of change, I have just been fortunate to have many female friends and partners who’ve pushed me to be something more. It’s about paying respect to them and also exploring what’s hard about that relationship and what’s been amazing about it and how does it affect our creativity and who we are.
Max: Also, just with the ever-changing role of the women in today’s society, which is amazing in the way that that’s been changing and developing. It’s about being able to pay homage to that. We used to be at such a place with humanity with a dichotomy of man versus women, and now we are closing that gap, which is awesome to say the least.
Q: Do consider “Soraya” a political statement?
Max: It’s an everything statement. For example, with “the one” that we put out, the main line that gets repeated over and over is “You could be the one to can take my breath away.” But, the funny thing is “the one” doesn’t talk about one person, it’s talking about any one person or thing that will take your breath away at any one given moment.
Ben: The title of the EP is “Soraya,” so essentially what we did is we thought about all the people who are important to us in our lives, all the women who are important, and we tried to put it into one person who is personified as Soraya.
Max: Soraya is a persian name that means jewel. So, just something that’s special to you or something that’s valuable to you.
Q: What was it like to perform at ACL?
Ben: It was a blast. It was a lot of fun.
Max: Lots of really great people, great energy. It’s hot. You get sweaty, but it’s a good time.
Ben: It was just unreal. It’s really surreal to be here. We were back here for South by Southwest and I’ve watched this festival online in years past. So, it’s crazy that I can send my uncle or my family members the link to watch me.
Q: As artists who started as students, what advice do you have for students aspiring to be musical artists?
Max: Put out music. I’ve met so many people who are afraid to put out stuff because they don’t think it’s good enough, and you know, it probably isn’t. That’s the harsh reality. But, you’re only going to get better by putting out stuff and gauging the reaction. Obviously, it’s not about writing for others, it’s about writing for yourself, but put out stuff that you feel really passionate about and see how they react.
Ben: Just release stuff. That’s how we started.