Tackling the new age of music with Strange Names

Strange Names are playing First Ave Friday.

by Blake Apgar

When Liam Benzvi and Francis Jimenez  met on the 12th floor of Middlebrook Hall their freshman year, they had no idea that five years later, they’d be playing the “un-augural” show for former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Jimenez and Benzvi are the brains behind Strange Names, and they’ve claimed their place as local indie-pop juggernauts. Their music expands past the realm of simple “bubblegum pop.” Listeners come for the catchy melodies and stay for the late ’70s disco/funk influences that give their sound extra spice — each listen reveals greater complexity.

“We always want to include something that is going to throw [listeners] off a little bit,” Jimenez said.

It was their turn to be thrown off upon the release of their first EP, when they garnered surprising praise from across the pond.

“For some weird reason, putting that on BandCamp that night somehow elicited some sort of blog response, but not in the U.S.,” Benzvi said.

With the help of a PR firm based in Berlin and London, Strange Names have been able to further expand their overseas fan base.

“We were strategically thinking it might make sense overseas and then have it translate back to the U.S.,” Benzvi said.

The band caught the attention of California-based White Iris Records, releasing a 7-inch single in 2013.

Jimenez and Benzvi spoke casually about their success so far. However, both men showed an eagerness for their upcoming self-released full-length album slated for spring 2014, “Common Attraction.”

“I’m really excited for it. It’s a really good pop record,” Benzvi said.

The album’s single “Ricochet” features yet another variation on Strange Names’ retro sound. The track starts with what sounds like the ’80s kicking you in the throat, and from there, “Ricochet” can almost certainly make any listener start bobbing their head. The key ingredient is something that was missing in their previous releases: cohesion.

 “We definitely have become a better songwriting team,” Jimenez said.

 The recording process for “Common Attraction” has taken Benzvi and Jimenez to multiple studios in Minneapolis, including the Terrarium. The band even recorded some of the vocals at an ad agency.

“They have all these vocal booths meant for people doing voiceovers for Kohl’s or Pampers, so we’re recording our album on the down low while other people are trying to actually do work, so it’s a funny environment,” Benzvi said.

All too often, bands with strong electronic elements get stuck just using laptops and backtracks on stage. Strange Names deviates from the norm by using a full band.

“We concentrated a lot on the live show in 2013, which we hadn’t really done before,” Jimenez said.

They sit neatly in a large group of musicians who refuse to sit neatly in anything — good news for listeners.


What: The Current’s 9th Birthday Party
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: First Avenue, 701 N. First Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $20 (SOLD OUT)
Age: 18+