Watching the visual for “Into Me,” you wouldn’t be mistaken for assuming it was a catchy new advertisement for some new Glossier facemask. As Liam Benzvi, Francis Jimenez, Fletcher Aleckson — the trio behind the queer pop band Strange Names — move around the set, their faces shine with an unmistakable sheen that any beauty blogger would kill for.
This is no makeup advertisement though and that sheen? “That could be interpreted as being covered in inner body fluid,” Liam explains with a laugh as we discuss the video. Dreamt up as a game show casually set inside a girl’s body with DIY props and outfits that look 1960s casual chic, the frontman Liam sings about being “ordinarily extraordinary” and croons about the kind of mixed signals anyone with a crush in the digital age can attest to.
The single and accompanying visual from the Brooklyn-based group’s sophomore album Data is the kind of sonic escapism that feels like a life raft in the Trumpian era of America — something they’re all-too-aware of. “For a while, with this record, we wanted to remedy to perils and ills of the world with an escapist record,” Liam noted of the new record, which began to take shape in the months before the election.
In that aftermath, the trio took on a different approach to their upbeat music in an industry that quickly took on a political edge. “We decided to look at it as if we’re extraterrestrials and not even of this planet,” Francis explained. From the imagery down to the album title itself — taking on the role of aliens collecting data on human behavior — Strange Names has successfully created upbeat pop to slide into when our News app notifications get a bit too real.
We caught up with the transplants from Minneapolis ahead of the exclusive premiere of “Into Me” to talk queer empowerment, vengeful grandmas, and game show weather reports on anxiety.
OUT: How did you come up with the concept for the video?
Liam Benzvi: The song is about interpersonal relationships but that’s not really a fascinating video so we went the very literal route of being inside the human body — being into you. We made all the props for the video and we’re glossy; that could be interpreted as being covered in inner bodily fluid.
Francis Jimenez: We didn’t have an overarching concept or much of a shot list. We just went in and said, okay we’re going to be inside of this person. Here’s a bunch of props. We’ll see what we come up with.
Did you come up with the makeup looks yourself?
Liam: We knew we wanted it to be glossy but we got my friend Marcelo Gutierrez to do the makeup for the video. I had scored some stuff for him before and we wanted to collaborate on something. I knew he could do the wet look very well.
How would you describe the vibe of the video in one sentence?
Francis: Sick. Oh wait, that’s one word.
Fletcher Aleckson: It’s like a game show.
Liam: It’s a game show weather report on anxiety.
Liam Benzvi by Ryan Duffin.
The song is about being into someone, of course. When you’re personally into someone, how do you let them know?
Liam: I’m pretty wishy-washy. I default to the aggressor until three days in and then I feel more powerful.
Francis: I have no idea how to approach people usually unless people approach me. I have no tools to flirt and I think that’s why I write music instead because you have to make art about it. (Laughs)
Fletcher: I have no idea. I usually default to assuming people don’t like me until they prove me wrong.
That’s usually my approach, too. Would you consider yourselves “ordinarily extraordinary?”
Liam: Yeah! I feel like I heard that in a Liz Phair song and I took it to heart. Everyone is ordinarily extraordinary.
You started the band in Minneapolis at college and live in New York now. What’s been the biggest difference for you since moving into the city?
Francis: The culture. You’ve got to completely change your personality to adapt to east coast culture. In Minnesota, there are mean people but you can actually get a lot of help from a stranger for free because you seem like you’re in need. In New York, of course, it’s not like that. We help each other out and watch each other’s backs, but you can’t help eight million people. If people are asking for directions, you’re just like… check your smartphone.
Liam: I like how tired I am in New York because then when I get to relax, it’s more rewarding.
What do you do to relax?
Liam: Last night I soaked my feet. Literally.
Okay, that’s very grandma of you. What else do you do?
Liam: I read young adult fiction. My cousin just wrote a book that’s sort of a Gossip Girl type of book set in a high school. I’m supporting her by reading it right now and it’s actually a nice escape.
Francis Ximénez by Ryan Duffin.
When you google “strange names,” it brings up weird baby names like Abner and Aero. What are a few strange names you’d give yourself or a future baby?
Fletcher: My youngest sister’s name is Inga, which is kind of weird, but if she was a boy, her name would’ve been Bix. I’m holding on to that one so I can use it in the future.
Liam: I’m obsessed with the names of women who were born in the 1920s or 1910s, like Beulah, Esther, or Marlys.
Francis: Sybil. My grandma Norma once told me that if I didn’t name my daughter after her, she would come back from hell and haunt me.
You’re obligated to do that now. Speaking of hell, I think it’s safe to say America is going there right now. As a queer band, has the political climate impacted your music?
Liam: I feel that the queer narrative right now is really empowered — at least in New York. We live in a bubble here but I feel that it’s really exciting right now. The way people treat each other is different and everyone’s vocabulary is elevated. People are rising to an occasion and showing respect for one another and that cultivates a community that I feel very safe in.
Making music in general feels very irrelevant unless it’s political so that’s really hard to deal with. For a while, with this record, we wanted to remedy to perils and ills of the world with an escapist record. You look at us and we’re goofy and making pop music and doing stuff to bring you joy but it’s harder to navigate that right now.
Francis: We started working on the album before the election and we had no reason to assume that Trump was going to win. After it happened, we really saw the culture class in America so deeply divided. We had made a pop record like our last album and suddenly we were feeling all these emotions and the world was so ridiculous — we didn’t know how to digest our own music. We decided to look at it as if we’re extraterrestrials and not even of this planet and everything is ridiculous and we explored that route with our imagery and video concepts.
Fletcher Aleckson by Ryan Duffin.
Fletcher: It’s difficult because we all have a side we want to be on but it’s hard when you feel like you’re being forced to take one side or the other. It makes a lot of artistic sense to sit as an observer and soak it all in.
Do you think your next record will be more political?
Francis: Potentially. I feel that we’re going to do a 180, but I also feel like I said this last time. We’re yearning to do something very different and I don’t know what it is yet, but you’ll see.
Photography by Ryan Duffin.