Hatch Benedict saw the future, and it was grim. Then he stopped looking.
That’s something of an oversimplification, but it goes some way toward summing up the evolution of Benedict’s band, Sex With Strangers, thematically speaking.
The project’s first three full-length albums—The Modern Seduction (2008), The Tokyo Steel (2009), and Frontier Justice (2011)—told dystopian tales tailored for voracious readers of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, or at least for anyone who ever enjoyed a Terminator movie.
Benedict realized, however, that this particular well of inspiration was starting to run dry.
Interviewed in the glorious May sunshine on the patio of Six Acres in Gastown, the gregarious, bearded frontman tells the Straight, “There’s only so much you can talk about robots. I was stretching it by the end there: ‘And then that same robot would come back, and he would meet his girl…’ No. It was like, ‘We’ve got to change this up.’ ”
And so the era of “robot rock” came to an end with Behaviours. But with every end comes a new beginning, and that 2012 album—which Benedict calls “the first real band record”—marked a shift not just in lyrical motifs, but also in Sex With Strangers’ modus operandi. Benedict and bassist Mike Gentile were no longer calling all the shots.
“Early on, it was predominantly Mike and myself, and especially being an electronic type of thing, we were looking for other people to join the band, but really just to layer on some certain things,” the singer recalls. “For the last two records we’ve really opened it up and said, really pushing people, like, ‘Bring songs to the table. Bring ideas.’ And then, if everyone’s comfortable with that, everyone else will kind of take that and spin it a different way.”
This collaborative process has paid off in the form of You Know Something We Don’t?, Sex With Strangers’ latest, and unquestionably best, LP. Each member of the ensemble is given ample opportunity to shine: drummer Dan Walker’s powerhouse percussion is the first sound heard on the opening cut, “Hostages”, singer-keyboardist Alexis Young takes the lead on numbers like the power-pop gem “22” and the ambient space ballad “Burned”, and guitarist Cory Price? Well, he’s everywhere. Sex With Strangers was once largely synth-centred, but the future-sex funk of “Slaves to the Night” and the full-metal-jacket groove of “Wasted Glory” are jacked up on lethal doses of Price’s precise playing. The guitarist’s work is one of the defining sounds of You Know Something We Don’t?, a fact that Benedict is quick to acknowledge.
“I would say this is very much Cory’s record,” the singer agrees. “He was just coming up with loads of ideas, and he and I were just jelling really well in terms of putting some arrangements together really quickly, and I think very early on it became obvious: ‘Okay, this is going to turn into quite a guitar-oriented record here.’ This is kind of the record we’ve always wanted to make. If you ask us what our influences are—at least the males—a lot of them will tell you that it’s ’90s postrock, postpunk, anything on Touch & Go Records. But none of our albums remotely sound like that—and not that this does, either, but we’re starting to draw a little bit more on the rock.”
As for Young, the 2013 grad of Capilano University’s illustration and design program brings more to the table than just her considerable musical abilities.
“The graphic design has gotten a lot better, and the average age of the band has dropped significantly, which is crucial,” notes Benedict, who requests that the Straight refrain from publishing his age, although he laughs as he says this.
The singer is justifiably proud of his bandmates, noting that he and Gentile have been more than happy to surrender some of their creative control over Sex With Strangers.
“Our guiding principles as a band are really two things,” Benedict asserts. “Whatever we do, it’s got to be moving in an upward trajectory. It doesn’t have to be like rocketship-to-the-moon type of stuff, but to always feel like we’re getting better. But the most important thing for us is, it’s got to be about new experiences and stuff like that. For us, with these new people that are really talented, to just kind of be shoving them aside and saying, ‘No, no, we’ll handle the songwriting duty, you just play what we tell you’ just didn’t make sense.”
And so Sex With Strangers continues on its evolutionary path, becoming palpably more human with each step.
The cyborg days are in the past, although to hear Benedict’s take on the band’s current sound, it sounds as if a robotic bounty hunter from the future could easily make a cameo appearance.
“It’s very driving,” he says. “It feels like action-adventure music. Someone was asking me how I would describe it. I was like, ‘I don’t know, it just feels like an action-adventure movie.’ ”
Sex With Strangers celebrates the release of its new album with a free show at the Fox Cabaret next Thursday (May 29).