Indie-pop Duo slenderbodies Makes Music For the ‘In-Between’ Moments

Courtesy of Nina Leeslenderbodies performed at Lollapalooza's American Eagle stage Sunday, Aug. 4.

University friends Max Vehuni and Benji Cormack lived in opposite parts of California when they wrote and debuted their first album as slenderbodies, their up-and-coming, indie-pop project. 

Reminiscent of Glass Animals and alt-J, slenderbodies draws inspiration from a multitude of artists spanning Fleetwood Mac, Sade and Radiohead. The two sing, write, produce and mix their own tracks, and their breakout-song-turned-hit “anemone” has since garnered more than 30 million streams on Spotify. 

Following tours with Mura Masa, Passion Pit and Milky Chance, the indie group’s newest album, “Komorebi,” is set to drop Sept. 20 through Avant Garden Records. 

slenderbodies took the American Eagle stage at Lollapalooza Sunday, Aug. 4 to perform for an intimate audience who swayed and sang along to the soulful, falsetto sounds. Prior to their Lollapalooza debut, Vehuni and Cormack met up with The Phoenix prior to their 1:50 p.m. set to discuss music inspirations, the inception of slenderbodies and what it’s like to make music with a long-time friend. 

Emma Suslki: Is this your first time in Chicago?

Benji Cormack: No, it’s our fourth? I think fourth [time].

ES: The first time at Lolla?

BC: Yeah, we’ve only been to the park when it was actually a park and not all done for this.

Emily Rosca: When the grass was still green.

BC: When it was still green, exactly. But yeah, this is really cool. We’ve been to some other C3 [Presents] festivals but this is honestly one of the most lowkey ones from what we’ve seen so far. Just for us, [Austin City Limits] was really crazy, but I think from the way everything was laid out with everyone going through the central zone it was kind of chaotic, but in a fun way. 

ER: I think Lolla is one of the more chaotic ones. The way it’s set up, it’s almost a mile long and by the time you get from one end to another, you watch so much in one day. What are you most excited for about Lolla?

Max Vehuni: Tenacious D was really fun to see. 

BC: Yeah we saw them [Saturday]. I’ve been a Jack Black fan since I was, like, seven, so that was really cool to see him. … I think it’s a huge honor to play this festival. We’ve been thinking about it for a long time, like this is for us on the same tier as playing Coachella. It’s really special to be out here. 

ES: I know you said Tenacious D was cool to see but who are some other artists you guys are looking forward to seeing?

BC: We caught a little bit of Madeon. Outside of that, Pink Sweat$ was amazing. He just shredded a drum solo at the end and that was really cool to see. 

ER: Yeah I think this year has a lot of up-and-coming artists, which is great.

BC: Which I love because that means it’s just going to inflate the festival circuit with those acts for the next few years. Our boys in ilo ilo play today so I’m going to try to catch them.

ES: You guys did a remix of one of their songs. How did you go about that?

BC: We’ve been friends with their team for a minute so when they were starting to put out music their team hit us up and were like, “We have this new artist,” so we did a session with them and wrote a song. They ended up putting us up for a remix as well. It’s like a keep-it-all-in-the-family type of thing. 

ER: Who are some of your music inspirations? You guys remind me a ton of Glass Animals, that same kind of wavy sound.

MV: I do love Glass Animals, I love alt-J. Those are some of the artists that we do get compared to in some ways, and I love Radiohead. That’s probably been one of our biggest inspirations.

BC: I think mutually, Radiohead would be the biggest, where we could both put our hand on that rock and be like, “This is what drives it.”

ES: Is there a particular era of music that really inspires you guys or is it more so artists?

BC: I think it’s more so artists. Like [Max] grew up on Sade and I grew up on a lot of Fleetwood Mac, so it’s different genres and different time periods coming together and coalescing. 

ER: What do you guys want your listeners to feel when they’re hearing your music?

MV: I think it’s all about listening to music and making you fall into a specific type of mood. The specific mood that I always say [that’s ours] is anytime music. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to listen to this when I’m sad … or when I’m working.” I want to listen to this any time and it’s going to work for my emotions and let me mellow out in this ambient space of emotions.

BC: We try to create a world. We try to make it accessible wherever the person is at in their life or their experience.

ER: Then is there an ideal way you’d want people to listen to your music?

MV: I would say listening to our music in nature is a really good way to do it. If you can be out in a forest or on a beach, or something like that and be able to disconnect and listen to the music, that’s a really good way to do it. 

ES: If you guys could work with one other artist, who would it be?

Both: Radiohead. Or Jai Paul. 

ER: Do you guys want to tell us a little bit about your inception and why you decided to create this duo?

BC: Yeah, so we’ve been friends for, like, six years. We’ve been making music independently before we started the project. We met in college and so we just kept up, and we had really similar interests and drives and musical tendencies. Max hit me up with “gray” and “sublime” and was like, “Do you like this?” And I was like, “Yeah,” and sent him back some songs. It kind of formed serendipitously. It’s like someone asking you to go camping, in a way. … And we just kept going with that.

ES: We read that you made your first album in a month. Was that hard?

MV: No, and I think that was the easiest record for us to put together because it came together so quickly. The first eight songs we wrote and produced were the first eight songs that ended up on the record. There was no guesswork or back and forth because there were no boundaries at that time. We were just creating this sound. … It was the first time we had done it so it was just kind of endless opportunity to explore the sound and explore song-writing perspectives under that song element. It was really easy to come together and we were writing songs every day. Even not being in the same place — [Benji] lived in northern California and I lived in southern California at the time, so we were just sending projects back and forth. Even with that, it came together in a month.

ER: Do you feel like there are boundaries now?

BC: I think there’s more of a framework. “sotto voce” established what we wanted to create and where we wanted to go, and now there’s more of a roadmap. When we’re embarking on a new project or a new EP within slenderbodies, we’re a lot more directive on where we want to wander. With “sotto voce,” it was very much wandering through that landscape and trying to find landmarks. 

ER: What did you guys envision when you formed the duo?

MV: The interesting thing is when we first started this project, we didn’t really have an intention of being a live act. That actually developed. We played our first live show close to two years after the project was started. We were a studio band that really wanted to record and produce music. … It shifted into something that doubled as a live act as well as a studio act. That was an interesting twist for us, but I think it’s for the better and it’s been helping shape the music in a different way.

ER: What do you guys look for in artists you collaborate with?

BC: Typically we keep it mostly in-house between Max and I, but we have been trying to branch out. I think something that’s important to us, and something that we get along well with, is song-writing first, rather than necessarily just going for an eight-bar loop. We still produce that way, but I think we’re really drawn to working with people who are song-writers. That’s what makes us passionate. We’ve started to produce other people’s stuff a lot more now so that makes us excited when a person is an amazing lyricist as well as a vocalist, or just has a really great ear for arrangement. 

ES: Since you guys are a two-person act, you have to work with each other and make compromises. What are the easiest and hardest parts of that?

MV: I don’t know if you can say they’re the hardest parts, but I think there are a set of boundaries that were started when we started the project that was everyone has veto power to just be like, “We’re not going to use that.” Both of us have to be in agreement with a specific song or a specific choice in the project for it to come to fruition. 

BC: And on the flipside of that, I think it’s giving each other space to see an idea through, especially with fine-tuning things. I definitely fall into this. It’s easy to criticize something as it comes together, but that’s before you see the whole picture. There’s not a hard part of it because I think we’ve really taken it upon ourselves to get better at communication as well as getting better at being musicians. That’s a passion of ours, being able to talk and have a nice heart-to-heart frequently and figure it out, whatever it is. 

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slenderbodies will return to Chicago Oct. 6 to play a show at Subterranean (2011 W. North Ave.), and tickets can be purchased for $15. slenderbodies is available to listen on streaming platforms. 

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