Recently, I had the pleasure of photographing Strange Names after their latest show in New York – at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn – before sitting down with the band to discuss their experience touring with Azealia Banks, their inspirations, next wave, and their hopes for the future.
AMBY: It is so nice to sit down and meet with you all, and discuss some of the little but important details of Strange Names. Liam, you attended LaGuardia High School with the Harlem-born rapper Azealia Banks. Liam, do you remember what you quoted about Azealia at the start of your performance at the sold-out show at Irving Plaza in New York City on May 11th, 2015?
Liam: Azealia Banks has always been the baddest bitch of LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, and she still proceeds to be the baddest bitch in the real world.
AMBY: Where did the name Strange Names come from?
Francis: The name Strange Names was almost accidental, we were throwing around band names and “Strange Names” is what we thought fit best. Everyone is always messing up our names anyway, so it just worked.
AMBY: How did you all meet each other? Liam went to high school in NYC, but how did you all come together in Minneapolis, Minnesota?
Liam: Francis and I attended the University of Minnesota.
AMBY: What did you study and end up getting degrees in?
Fletcher: [chuckles] I got a degree in bad-assery.
AMBY and Strange Names: [laughs]
Liam: I studied acting!
Francis: I got a degree in Architecture…
Liam: Fletcher didn’t attend the University of Minnesota with us, but we were eventually connected to him when the band became a legitimate idea.
Francis: *Pauses* How were we originally connected to you?
Fletcher: The old bassist was a good friend of mine, and once that connection was made I became the drummer of the band.
Liam: During our later years of college at the University of Minnesota we started playing live shows, and by graduation the locals loved us. We started off as a recording band.
Francis: The music scene in Minnesota is very appreciative of anything coming out of Minnesota, so any idea of music that was not yet a reality can usually be made into a reality very quickly. The three most common genres to come out of Minnesota are bluegrass rock, folk music, and hip hop. The scene is a very appreciative and proud one
AMBY: What made you decide to go on tour with Azealia? Did she recommend it or you inferred?
Liam: Azealia had texted me two weeks prior to the start of the Broke With Expensive Taste tour and asked if we wanted to join her on tour. Of course we said yes, but we had to cancel a show first.
AMBY: Who are all of your biggest influences and inspirations when it comes to you music, and the lives you lead?
Liam: I devour music when I listen to it, and then I compartmentalize it. My favorites vocalists are Cyndi Lauper, Johnny Marr, The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, and Johnny Rotten. Rhythmically, I love Patrick Cowley, Indoor Life, and Talking Heads.
Francis: Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has always resided with me… from a compositional sound point. I love the idea of taking pop music and making it weird, which potentially turns people off.
AMBY: Where do you all reside now?
Liam: Brooklyn, New York. New York is definitely our part time home in the sense of the music industry.
Fletcher: New York wasn’t always on the radar for me, but to be based here makes a lot more sense. It is hard to live anywhere else now, although our next step is to live somewhere overseas.
Francis: We’re all itching to go on tour!
AMBY: Where would you like to perform?
Fletcher: [jokingly] The White House!
Francis: A festival could be really cool. We love bigger venues because the sound quality is better, but the smaller venues are really special because they’re intimate.
Fletcher: Festivals are really cool. Playing outside is always a treat. Anywhere outdoors would be awesome.
Liam: One day I want us to play at the Barbican in London, and at Primavera Sound in Barcelona.
AMBY: Where do you see yourselves in 10 years from now?
Francis and Liam: That’s a difficult question…because right now we are so happy with what is happening in the present. We definitely all want to be lifelong artists, maybe we’ll all stay together, but individually we’ll always keep making music.
AMBY: Why do you guys classify yourselves as ‘Next-Wave?’
Liam: We were sick and tired of explaining that pop needs something – new wave.
Francis: The formulation of pop music had more instruments back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so we definitely fit the pop from back then.
AMBY: Can you compare your sound to anyone else out there on the market right now?
Liam: I can’t really think of anyone whom we can compare to musically, but I really love Jagwar Ma, we would love to work with them.
AMBY: What shoes are you wearing right now? They say a lot about a person.
Liam: Haha, I’m wearing Doc Marten Creepers!
Fletcher: I’m wearing cute little black boots…
Francis: Vintage wingtips… are these suede? Wait no, they’re leather!
AMBY and Strange Names: [laughs]
AMBY: How do you decide what to wear when you perform?
Liam: Everyone has a unique sense of style. Usually we each play off of what the others are wearing, so our styles are cohesive but our personal style shines through.
AMBY: How did the electronic drum pads come into play in the song Return?
Liam: The idea birthed out of a brainstorm session with a producer named Andrew Maury. We pitched our tracks to multiple people, and Maury came back as the most enthusiastic contender and really wanted to work with him.
Fletcher: We always like performing with both electronic and acoustic instruments, but the samplers give a really interesting sound for the audience.
AMBY: Did you all know that you would end up in music?
Francis: I majored in Architecture and minored in Music at the University of Minnesota, and I wasn’t really interested in becoming an Architect. I was always into math and science, but I felt like I needed to be more “right brained.” Although Architecture will always be my fallback, I am much happier now that I am in a band. Being in a band is Rewarding with a capital ‘R.’
AMBY: What do you guys do in your free time? Sometimes as a listener it is interesting to hear about the personalities of the band members, but it can stay pretty anonymous!
Francis: [sarcastically] We really like to be mysterious. Along with being the guitarist and a vocalist of Strange Names, I work as a part-time ‘socialite,’ and I run a cooking show in the privacy of our Strange Names home. Most of the time I am speaking out loud, but the rest of the band isn’t really listening. Sometimes Fletcher will play sound effects off his phone…
[They all laugh and start making the noises that come from Fletcher’s phone]
Fletcher: Anonymity is really cool…but I have been doing music production on my own, and I work very closely with my friend who is a movie producer. Our day job is really considered being ‘funemployed.’ And we love it this way.
Liam: Fletcher is a gravedigger, skater, and if he was a horse, he would be a race horse.
Fletcher: (looking at his phone): Apparently they’re playing us at Hot Topic right now!
AMBY: Liam, do you still have a dream of becoming an actor?
Liam: Not really, because I still get to perform to the same degree, and right now I am in control of my own creativity, instead of being at the whim of another’s creativity. Being in this band is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.
AMBY: How do you think people have found your music?
Francis: There is, of course, SoundCloud, and we also have our new album Use Your Time Wisely on Spotify.
Fletcher: There is always a huge spike in followers for wherever we play…
Liam: Touring with Azealia, as the supporting artist provided us with the momentum we needed for the new album.
AMBY: What was it like watching the passionate fans at Baby’s All Right that came out to see you?
Liam: It was really cool to watch. We were definitely surprised by it. It is starting to feel like how we were appreciated back in Minneapolis. It definitely takes a long time to break into a scene but we felt very welcomed by the fans. ‘You don’t got to talk politics with them, you just got to dance with them.’
AMBY: How was the Baby’s All Right gig arranged with GypjaQ?
Liam: The gig was actually planned before we even knew we would support Azealia on her Broke With Expensive Taste tour! Jaq also attended LaGuardia High School with me. The timing worked out really well. That’s it for us on the Broke With Expensive Taste Tour, but we really enjoyed it because we even got to go and touristy stuff whilst on tour, like Niagara Falls. In our future endeavors as a band we want to perform abroad, and come back do a domestic tour!
AMBY: Generally, most of your music is about love. Why do you choose to write about mainly this?
Liam: Love is the most triggering…as cliché as it is, when you’re “wrecked,” you take from that.
Francis: Love is the conceptual medium…you can write the most optimistic things even when you are wrecked because you strive for a better future.
AMBY: Francis and Liam, you both write the songs together. What usually goes down in the process of brainstorming new music?
Liam: Francis usually gets a bucket and holds it under my face. One of us will write the song, and coincidentally we both might be going through the same thing emotionally.
Francis: While on tour, we’re even focusing on writing our second album.
Thank you Strange Names, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Morgan Zakarin | @subculturegyal