Harlem Shakes Interview | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Harlem Shakes

Listen Closely

Aug 20, 2009 Issue #26 Spring 2009 - Bat For Lashes Photography by Aubrey Edwards Bookmark and Share

Harlem Shakes singer Lexy Benaim says that while working on the band's full-length debut, Technicolor Health, he and the rest of the Brooklyn-based quintet would often laugh about the level of self-scrutinizing. "It wasn't like we came in there punk-rock style and banged it out," says Benaim. "We pay a lot of attention to detail." Often joking that the band's multifaceted compositions could only be fully appreciated by "stoners," he says, "[It's for] the kids that have big headphones on, in their dorm room...those people that really dig into the details of your music. You just love that—when people notice hidden harmony or little things that are super subtle like that."

Such nuanced contributions have not gone unnoticed by the band's growing base of listeners, who were first introduced to the group in 2007 via the self-released EP, Burning Birthdays. Creating the kind of AM pop that is frenetic in construction and cohesive in execution, Benaim—together with guitarist Todd Goldstein, bassist Jose Soegaard, keyboardist Kendrick Strauch, and drummer Brent Katz—utilized a range of worldly percussion, harmonized vocal choruses, and slightly off-kilter garage melodies that quickly found praise among tastemakers.

In a short matter of time, the boys of Harlem Shakes quickly took on a relentless touring schedule, playing with the likes of Vampire Weekend, Beirut, The Fiery Furnaces, and Arctic Monkeys. "We toured a shitload," says Benaim. "[We were] with Deerhoof, Tapes 'n Tapes, and a million other people. We just toured a ton behind the EP because people kept on wanting us to tour. And it was fun. It teaches you how to be a professional musician."

Eventually signing with Gigantic Music, Benaim and the band began working on Technicolor Health in the label's on-site studio. With producer Chris Zane (Les Savy Fav, The Walkmen, Passion Pit, White Rabbits) at the helm, and a range of guest collaborators including Stuart Bogie (TV on the Radio), Kelly Pratt (Arcade Fire), and Jon Natchez (Beirut), the Shakes came away with 10 tracks featuring inspired drum machine beats, Latin percussion, fuzzy guitar riffs, and doo-wop vocals, all supported by a rooted folk backbone. That's in addition to the album's smartly selected use of brass horns, handclaps, and synthesizers.

While such difficult-to-dissect elements lend themselves to some natural Phil Spector comparisons, Benaim says the band's bigger influences lie more closely in the instrumental breakdowns of Santana and the melodic compositions of Randy Newman. "We didn't want to sound like any retro throwback thing," explains Benaim. "The songs are about what it's like to be around now...I wanted to do it differently. This record, while it's very detailed, it's not so much washed in that wall of sound. I wanted my lyrics to be more audible. I wanted things to just be clearer and mellower. The wall of sound thing is very chaotic, and I just didn't want that vibe."

Whatever new subtle facets or components listeners may take from Technicolor Health's repeated headphone analysis, Benaim admits he's just satisfied having a record that's worth putting the band's name on. "You just have to like your album," he says. "That's the one thing you can ask being in the music industry, that you make an album that you like. Once you get that, then it's anybody's bet."



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September 7th 2009

they’re incredible live