All photos by Jalil Bokhari
A few hours before they moved upstairs to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at Tattoo Queen West in Toronto, Syd [tha Kyd] Bennett and Matt Martians chilled out in a tiny room in the venue’s basement. Martians had just returned from braving a downpour to grab lunch, while Bennett discussed touring logistics with her manager. Days can blur together on the road and both were willing to take a breath and a moment to discuss inspirations.
Founded by Bennett and Martians—who met via MySpace in 2008—the six-member band released Purple Naked Ladies in 2011, sophomore album Feel Good in 2013, and, most recently, Ego Death, this past June. There have been lots of firsts for the band since its emergence. From adjusting to life in the spotlight to growing up and experiencing all of the highs and lows of personal relationships, today’s The Internet is all grown up.
Three years ago, The Internet went on their first tour. Their show in Toronto was at The Mod Club and they performed for a passionate, if modest-sized crowd. Journalists would ask them to pick a genre that fit the band, then lump them in with other Odd Future projects regardless of how they described themselves. Fast forward to this year’s Toronto date. This show was sold out like many others along the tour before the band heads to Europe for more performances. The crowd shouted along the material word-for-word and were captivated by Bennett's voice, smile, and presence. There is no longer any need to mention Odd Future or to talk about the band name getting confused with the Internet you're reading this piece on. The band has its sound and vibe and an ever-growing fanbase, and Ego Death showcases a maturity and depth that makes it one of the best albums of the year.
After that first show in Toronto three years ago, Bennett and Martians stayed late to take photos and talk with fans, and then stayed even later to satisfy a writer's request for a quote. Instead of the standard one-liner to fill in the blank for the review, the two launched into an impromptu 30-minute conversation, holding court on life, music and self-discovery.
They were on their first tour, had one album of material to perform from, and Bennett had just finished touring as Odd Future’s DJ during the group’s frenzied rise. It marked the first time she had stepped in front of the DJ booth and into the bright lights. She was more comfortable writing songs for other people and she’d just began to take singing seriously, but still didn’t feel fully confident in it.
This time around The Internet is so comfortable on stage they’ll break to interact with their audience and dance in between delivering the material the crowd showed up for. Bennett’s stage presence is warm and mesmerizing, and her communication with the audience leaves them charmed and wanting more. This is what she'd hoped for from the Ego Death setlist. After performing material from Purple Naked Ladies and Feel Good during the previous tours, Bennett knew she wanted the new album to have a different feel when it was being delivered on stage.
While their first two projects are enjoyably experimental, the difference between them and Ego Death is clear: The band used its first two projects to figure out their sound. Ego Death is the result of carving out that identity, and maturing, both artistically and personally. When PNL came out in 2011, Bennett was 19, Martians, 23.
“The confidence… it definitely changed the way I write,” Bennett said. “There’s a lot more confidence in the new album and a lot of that came from having the confidence to get up in front of a bunch of people and sing even when I don't feel like it. I think it carried over into Ego Death.”
The afternoon of their Toronto show, Bennett and Martians spoke about the evolution of their music, but also of learning how to handle the business side of things and no longer “being wide-eyed 19 year-olds.” Despite the publicity and press and increased wants and demands for their time, the two were every bit as patient as in that first interview three years ago, the joy of making a living by making music still fresh.
They agree that the attention they’re getting now has arrived at the right time and probably wouldn’t have happened without using their first two albums to figure out where they were going.
“You have to find the sound,” Martians said. “That’s one thing I realized when you study all the great musicians. You can’t be all over the place all the time. Be weird, but you have to have some sort of base that people can always depend on you to deliver.”
In a time where Instagram comments and Twitter mentions make it easier than ever to tell someone what you think of them, Bennett and Martians say they’re able to stay away from reading too much into reviews and outside opinions and keep their focus on the music they're creating. Still, the one thing they’re always open to is interacting with fans. Martians said he remembers being the one waiting in line, freaking out with his friends before a show began when there was the possibility that you’d just caught the first glimpse of an idol or musical hero backstage.
“I’ll get upset sometimes about certain things, certain things piss me off, but one thing that does not ever piss me off is fans,” Martians said. “I will always have time for fans. I will never ever, even if a fan is being extra-ed out, I will never get pissed off because I understand what it means to admire somebody that is doing something that you want to do. A lot of these people may not even want to be beat makers, but they want to create something that makes people feel. That’s what anybody wants to do in this world. You want to write an article that makes somebody feel something. You want to paint a picture that makes somebody feel.”
Their energy levels spike when talking about D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and N.E.R.D., and Martians’ voice gets louder. He starts speaking faster, while Bennett jumps out of her seat to re-enact Pharrell bobbing on stage during a past performance. Martians exclaims, “He had three flawless albums!” when asked to select a favorite D’Angelo song and both let out a slow breath before choosing the first favorite that comes to mind—"Left and Right" for Martians, "Me and Those Dreamin’ Eyes of Mine" for Bennett.
“I think that’s special when you have a sound, like, D’Angelo,” Martians said. “We waited for D’Angelo for 15 years and still he has a sound. He has a sound. That’s when you realize it’s not about a bunch of producers coming in. That’s what D’Angelo sounds like. Dude. If you heard Brown Sugar today, somebody who never heard it before, it would blow them away. Period.”
Martians reflects on memories of bringing DMX tapes to school. Not necessarily because he liked the music, but because everyone else liked it.
“N.E.R.D. was the first music I found that it was like I don't care if nobody likes it, I like it,” Martians said. “I always wanted to give people that feeling man.
We hear about certain people that we look up to [talking] about us,” he said. “To me, that’s all I ever wanted. When it comes to like my heroes or people that really admire I just like the fact that they know I exist. It’s weird thinking about it. I don't even need them to be like, ‘He’s the best.’ I just like knowing that they know I exist and that I do dope shit. That’s really all I ever cared about when it comes to that type of thing.”
Bennett says the band has learned not to take things personally on the business side. As for reviews, whether they are negative or positive press after a performance, Martians has conditioned himself to live in the moment and be focused on what’s next rather than reliving what just happened.
“It’s over so there’s nothing really you can change,” Martians said. “Nine times out of ten the whole thing can be dope, but as a band if we have one thing that’s off, it can mess the whole thing up for you.”
When Martians speaks, Bennett often nods in agreement. The two are so tight one will often start an answer and the other finishes it. Bennett’s spoken voice is soft, more so than usual because she’s nursing a sore throat. When she downplays her vocal talents, Martians shakes his head and delivers a drawn out, “bruuuuuh." When she downplays the attention she gets on tour, he’s quick to share a story about their first time touring with Odd Future.
“I remember when we were in Boston and we tried to run to the van and these like seven, eight girls just literally…woosh, [piled] on top of her in the middle of the street,” he said. “I’ll never forget that. Like, I’ll never forget it.”
Despite the teasing, it’s obvious their bond extends well beyond the music they’re creating.
“He’s helped me get through some of the hardest times of my life,” Bennett said.
When Martians is asked to describe his perfect day, he immediately decides to have one set in Los Angeles and another in Atlanta. In Atlanta, he's having a a quiet day in his house by himself. In LA, it’s being at Bennett’s house with her mother cooking and friends coming through to visit. What isn’t explicitly said is obvious: the two have become family within, but also beyond, The Internet.
“The thing about is us, we understand like, between us, as long as we stay strong as far as us, growing up with brothers and growing up with siblings you understand you have those people that'll love you regardless,” Martians said. “You have people that will love you unconditionally. That’s rare. A lot of people have family that don’t even love them. To me, like, with her, with everybody, I consider everybody in the band [to be] like really, really close to me.”
“A lot of people don't understand me and Syd are very tight,” Martians continued. “They don't understand we’re on the same mindset. I might be a little more extreme about it, but she’s just a little more quiet about it. If we keep this between us very strong we can, like, pretty much drive our own spaceship to wherever we want to go.”
That desired destination is a simple one.
“Healthy and financially stable, man,” Martians said. “That’s really all I care about. Fame is not a thing I really care about. I know [Syd] doesn’t care about that.”
In that interview three years ago, Bennett, expressed an appreciation for privacy while also admitting she’s never been good at pretending or hiding who she is.
“You can be who you are,” she said after that first show in Toronto. “And, to be honest, in high school I didn't even like myself that much but I told myself, ‘I'm going to aspire to be someone that I would admire from afar,’ you know? I just starting doing everything that I wanted to do that would make me like myself more and now I've got this, and I’m very happy.”
Shortly before hitting the stage in Toronto, the band stays loose backstage by reenacting a popular Vine of a guy trying to impress his girlfriend while playing pickup basketball.
“I always had this reoccurring dream of playing basketball in high school and I would be so happy being around a team,” Martians said. “It used to make me sad [when I woke up]. It was like a nightmare because I feel like I didn't cherish it when I was going through it. Being around people like my friends, playing together, roasting each other."
Bennett takes a quiet second to herself, looks into the mirror and notices the madness going on around her in the cramped room. She smiles at her bandmates.The Internet is ready for another sold-out crowd.
"I don't have those dreams anymore," Martians said, finishing the story. "Because I have my band.”
Holly MacKenzie is a writer living in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.