slenderbodies, re-discovering child-like wonder and the sugar machine

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slenderbodies, re-discovering child-like wonder and the sugar machine

Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

It’s late in the day for slenderbodies, Benji in Austin and Max in San Diego, but defining their music is right where we start our chat.

slenderbodies is the dream-pop duo of Max and Benji. Combining indie, ambience, rock and more, their new single sdfg is out today where they begin to delve into folky, acoustic ideas as well.

“We were actually just talking about this,” begins Benji. “I think we started out calling ‘indie-pop’, and I think it’s now shifted to firmly ‘indie’.”

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“The reason I say that is because it gives us a lot of room to explore and grow, especially going into this new record. For us it feels like a massive journey, and many moments of exploration and something that’s been completely new.”

Max echoes this, explaining that with their new record people might just lump them under the ‘alternative’ space, acknowledging “… there’s little alt-rock moments that happen throughout the record, but generally if you wanna encompass all of our music, the ‘indie’ label would be perfect.”

We discuss for a moment the trope of dumping anything out of the norm under the ‘alternative’ umbrella. I turn to acknowledging how far they’ve gone down the indie rabbit hole. There’s a folky element to some of the previously released single “before”, there’s some acoustic elements, leaning more into the indie world than pop.

Benji agrees. “I think sometimes in the past we would get categorised as ‘synth-pop’ because of how the guitars are processed, or even on the last record there’s use of synth.” he states. “Especially as we take more of a firm stance into real, recorded instruments, y’know we tracked it all in Max’s house, playing the drums, bass, guitar ourselves, through amps, it feels nice to take it from a place where it could be construed as synth pop or dream pop, ‘cause I don’t know if that’s where we are anymore.”

Benji has naturally walked into my next question, and we begin to dive deeper into their songwriting and production process.

Slenderbodies like to set up a ‘haven’, a space where they can work comfortably together. In this case it was Max’s home studio, filled with mics, amps, instruments and pedals.

“For the Komorebi record, that was us going to a cabin in Mendocino, California, and for this record, we actually turned Max’s entire house into the recording space.” explains Benji.

Fittingly, as Max scrambles for better WiFi reception, we’re privy to a quick tour of the house that built slenderbodies’ new record the sugar machine. Max settles himself down in his studio space, picking up the conversation to discuss delineating writing and recording.

“I would say it definitely melds into one [process]. We took a month, spent it together, we’d wake up in the morning and have breakfast and just talk about ideas we’ve had and sit down and mess with chord ideas and just start recording things.”

“By the end of the day you’d have a few cool ideas, something to expand upon.”

“It does feel like bootcamp in a lot of ways,” he laughs. “Where you just buckle down and decide that this is what we’re gonna be doing and just follow our mental energy towards making music.”

We discuss for a moment the dynamic between this process, where you’re recording ideas as you write them, and more traditional recording where songs are mostly written before the band enters the studio.

“I will say, this was very chaotic in comparison to that. It was much more like Benji having a coffee and plugging his [Teenage Engineering] OP-1 into the pedalboard into the amp and I would come out and hear just some ambient thing and be like ‘Oh cool!’ and put mics in front of it and hit record.” explains Max.

Benji goes on to say “We had such a strong intentionality to set ourselves up for success and cater to the chaos and the stream of consciousness. We put a lot of time into making sure the tones were good before we started.”

“For the most part,” he explains, “it was that free-flowing, snowball of ideas for the month.”

slenderbodies understand, without a shadow of a doubt, that recording is the main event. Mixing can be great for shaping, refining and clarifying, but recording great sounds at the source is what their sound is built on.

For this process the guys decided on a few choice mics to remain consistent across the record while their tones, amps, pedals and sounds changed.

“If you don’t have great raw information, then it’s going to be hard to change it later.” explains Benji.

The guys fought against the placebo effect of nice, expensive gear, realising early on that their Manley Reference mic, coupled with massive price tag, wasn’t right for Max’s voice despite the prestige. slenderbodies opted for a handful of Soyuz microphones, both large and small diaphragm amongst others to achieve their sound.

Teenage Engineering OP-1

“The Soyuz mics,” begins Benji. “were the backbone.”

Max nods and agrees “Yep, yep.” he says, turning his camera to show me that they’re still in use in his control room at home. “For vocals it was the 017 FET, and then the piano was on the 013 FET, a pair. That was such a huge sound.”

“On the amps,” continues Max. “I think we were using the little beyerdynamic [M 160] ribbon mic, and that thing sound incredible.”

“And y’know, [Shure SM] 57s are always great, so we had a tonne of those on amps and drums and all over.”

Another piece that made the cut is the Teenage Engineering OP-1.

“I definitely think that a system that was created and used all over this record was the [Teenage Engineering] OP-1 into this massive pedalboard into two different amps running stereo.” says Max.

“Yeah,” begins Benji. “I’ve had [the OP-1] for a few years and I’ve really gotten to know it but this was a really fun exploration ‘cause we got to bring it out, we got to play with the sampler, I think the sampler on the OP-1 is one of the most intuitive and fun samplers to use in the world.”

Chase Bliss Habit

“So sometimes we’d just sit in it, like a sound bath, in case something weird happens.” continues Benji. “We had two Habits at the same time, by Chase Bliss, so there’s weird randomising effects that happen, and then we had multiple delays and reverbs, and we’d just me modulating parameters as the loop would play.”

Here the guys speak a bit more deeply to their ethos of re-discovering that child-like wonder of making music. Benji speaks to opening Splice for the first time, not knowing what to do and just making sounds, before you ‘get good’ in Benji’s words and understand what all the knobs and controls do, and you fall into habits, presets and lose the magic of using something for the first time. Ignorance can be bliss.

“In this scenario, we made a machine…” Benji trails off, Max grins. “A ‘sugar machine’,” Benji laughs, referring to the snaking signal path of the OP-1, pedals, Chase Bliss Habits and stereo amps.

“That was novel, and we didn’t know how it was gonna react, and that was a blast.”

slenderbodies “sunny eyes” is out today, keep up with the guys here. Singles “before” and “sunny eyes” are from slenderbodies’ forthcoming album the sugar machine.