Giant Steps

BendreTheGiant adds neo-soul flavor to Eugene’s music scene

Bendrethegiant. Photo by Delos Erickson.

Bendre’s speaking voice is strikingly similar to his singing voice — too conversational to reach Isaac Hayes’ levels of sensuality, but a soulful, luxe baritone nonetheless. Bendre’s Eugene-based project, BendreTheGiant’s new EP, Get Well Soon, is out June 6 on streaming platforms. The band celebrates the release June 9 at John Henry’s. 

Get Well Soon blends neo-soul and jazz-fusion with Bendre’s downtempo vocal style. With arrangements from Bendre’s musical collaborator, Delos Erickson, the songs feature saxophone, Steely Dan keyboards, deep, throbbing bass lines and tasteful, groove-oriented percussion. 

Bendre, who identifies by that stage name, grew up in Gresham near Portland and graduated high school in Redmond, Oregon, where he made beats and tinkered with songwriting. Afterward, he moved to Seattle to pursue music, but Bendre says he became overwhelmed by the lack of community in the much larger city. He worked full-time while there and didn’t do much creatively. “That ended up being too big of a move,” Bendre recalls.

Bendre’s high school friend, Erickson, recently urged Bendre to join him in Eugene, and when he did, BendreTheGiant —  which over the years has been what Bendre called his solo work released online — became a band. Among other members, Nate Hansen of The Graduating Class, formerly of Eugene, now based in Portland, plays drums in the group. 

“Je’Mapelle Ben,” off the new EP, has an urban sensibility geared toward a late night-out comedown rather than a party atmosphere, alternative R ‘n’ B music for fans of bands like Cigarettes After Sex, but also avant-garde soul singers like Sudan Archives and Janelle Monae. 

Bendre says he typically supplies Erickson with words, melodies and framework for a song. Erickson and bassist Eli Hansen then illuminate his ideas, adding horns and other jazz flourishes. “You’ll Be O.K.” is a melancholy break-up soul music weeper, with Layla Ramos, from Eugene indie rock band Notes App, on backing vocals, adding the he-said-she-said feel of The Postal Service. 

“MSN U,” meanwhile, conveys a similar sense of loss, propelled by tropicália-inspired hand drums and saxophone accompaniment while Bendre’s voice pushes into its upper registers. Electro-pop pops up again in the smooth, house music-influenced “I Probably Shouldn’t Be Here,’ the EP’s most accessible offering. 

“Working on Bendre’s music has been a highlight of my musical career,” Erickson says in an email. “From orchestrating his charts into the band to writing out the music for it, parting things out, gigging with it, getting feedback from recordings, and editing if necessary, we’ve made a great piece of art and some fun music.” 

Now, backed by a band after producing beats and instrumentals most of life on his own, Bendre is adjusting to his role as a lead singer. “I never really had a voice as far as lyrics,” Bendre says, “but I always wanted to sing. I’ve always sung my whole life. When we were in the development of the project, I was kind of more bashful,” he adds, but now he pushes himself to the forefront of the music.

Bendre says audiences like BendreTheGiant’s horns and often dance. Meanwhile, he says the jazz influences and thoughtful compositions appeal to jazz fans at the University of Oregon Music school and the community. BendreTheGiant played June 5 at the Jazz Station. 

With the EP now out, BendreTheGiant has already started working on the follow-up, Bendre says. The band intends to perform in Eugene as much as possible, build an audience in the Pacific Northwest, and book festival appearances next summer. “The plan: keep on expanding,” Bendre says. 

BendreTheGiant plays with Portland’s Foamboy and My Favorite Boxer 9 pm Sunday, June 9, at John Henry’s; $12 advance, $15 door, 21-plus.