By Dan Hyman
July 16, 2018 at 09:15 AM EDT
Alan Lear

Some bands consist of a bossy shot-caller and anonymous backing players. Not the Internet. “We don’t have that dog-eat-dog mentality between each other like some groups do,” says Matt Martians (né Martin), the musician and producer who, at 29, is the wise head of the L.A.-based soul and R&B five-piece crew. “It’s just natural. We talk all the time. We move in a unit. It’s not too hard.”

The Internet’s confounding-when-Googled name references the medium by which its original members met, but Martians says they’re practically family now. In many ways, they create as a single entity. This cohesiveness explains why they titled their fourth album Hive Mind (out July 20), and how their effortlessly funky brand of R&B often feels like one long, free-flowing groove. Sydney “Syd” Bennett, the group’s hazily subdued singer, says recording for the band’s latest album was executed “as naturally as possible. “Like, ‘Who has a drum loop they’ve made? Pull it out, let’s put some chords over it and go from there!’”

Since the release of the Internet’s Grammy-nominated breakthrough album, 2015’s Ego Death, nearly every member has put out a solo project. But the quintet of twentysomethings still found time to promote one another’s work, as they did on their 2017 tour The Internet Presents The Internet, taking turns to showcase their respective solo material with the entire band playing backup. “That’s why we excel,” adds Steve Lacy, the youngest member at 20, who was still in high school when he was recruited and has since become one of hip-hop’s most in-demand producers (Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole). “We can actually be together in a band and still have that freedom to go do whatever we want.”

Syd says it was Martians who pushed Lacy to pursue a solo career. “And next thing you know, Matt was talking about making a solo record of his own,” she says. It inspired her to give it a try as well. “I was like, ‘Well then me too!’”

Adds Martians, “We want to change the idea of what a band is and let everybody spread their wings. If you let people have freedom to express, they never resent being in the band. That’s what works.”

Renell Medrano

Syd and Martians have previous experience navigating the group dynamic. Both were original members of the L.A. rap collective Odd Future, an uber-talented crew that spawned names like Tyler, the Creator; Frank Ocean; and Earl Sweatshirt. Neither expresses explicit dissatisfaction with their Odd Future experience, but one senses that, when the pair formed the Internet in 2011, they aspired to a more democratic endeavor. “We’ve been in situations before where people weren’t very fair and where our voices weren’t heard,” Martians explains. “So me and Syd try to go out of our way to really take care of everybody. We try to be really aware of everybody having a say in every move we make.”

Since their inception, the Internet have only further embraced the all-for-one sensibility, adding bassist Patrick Paige II and drummer Christopher Smith to the mix, as well as Lacy, who joined around the recording of Ego Death. After meeting former Internet member Jameel Bruner in high school jazz band, the then 14-year-old started hanging around the studio. Soon, Martians asked Lacy to help him flesh out songs he’d been working on. “I was just the new kid,” Lacy recalls. “It was my first time making music so I was just recording what I heard in my head at the time.” The young talent so impressed Martians that Lacy quickly became an official member and ended up receiving an executive-producing credit on Ego Death. Since then, the pair has only grown closer. Martians describes Lacy as “like the little brother I never had.”

The last album, the band collectively agrees, laid the foundation for them to throw caution to the wind this time around. “We realized that was the one we had to really hit out the park,” Martians says. For Hive Mind, the vibe was looser. Where Ego Death was brash and boisterous, their latest LP simmers with a decidedly slinky and seductive feel. Their music has always pointed to their love of classic soul and R&B, but Martians says they’ve never courted the retro tag. Rather, in the current pop-music landscape, where the trap-music sound has become omnipresent on the radio, Martians believes it’s never been more important to stand out. “You put a timestamp on your music when you use things that are very trendy,” he says. “So I’m definitely gonna use no trap drums.” The members stay on top of what’s currently making waves in music, “but we also understand we got our own sound. It’s just naturally what we exude.” Writing and recording sessions resembled casual group hangs with each band member batting around ideas. “We just have a balance,” says Lacy, of the Internet’s innate creative chemistry.

Adds Martians: “We’re just way more confident now.”

For the Internet, that conviction has led to higher-profile work, both in and outside the music business. Recently, Lacy and Syd attended Paris Fashion Week, where Lacy walked the runway in Virgil Abloh’s much-hyped debut show for Louis Vuitton. “I was grateful to be a part of that history,” Lacy says. He never modeled before, “but apparently I was a natural,” he adds with a laugh. But Syd admits she’s already itching to reunite with the full band on tour later this year. “We’re homies, so it’s almost like a vacation,” she says. “Except we have to wake up early.”

Matt Jelonek/WireImage