Interview: THEY. Are Not Here to be Pigeonholed

The duo talk their upcoming Australian tour with 6lack, working with Timbaland and pioneering the Grunge-R&B sound.


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THEY. are a duo with no limits. Their sound may be cemented in the alt-R&B realm alongside acts like PARTYNEXTDOOR, but they explore elements of grunge, pop, trap and EDM. Forming in L.A, Denver-born singer Drew Love and Washington-born producer Dante Jones came together to express themselves away from their behind the scenes roles for other artists. Their shared affinity for genre-fusing lead to their debut album Nu Religion: Hyena receiving critical acclaim, an opening slot for Bryson Tiller, and collaborations with the likes of Zhu and Skrillex.

In anticipation for their Australian tour with 6lack and Boogie, Drew and Dante to talk about the inspirations that helped craft their sound, and their aspirations to expand their empire around the world. 

You're about to tour Australia with 6lack, but it was only a few years ago that you were on your first tour ever with Bryson Tiller. How have your perspectives changed since?

Dante: I think we’ve just been exposed to so many different places now, you know? We were fortunate enough to do all of America and Europe with Bryson, followed by our own headline tours after. We’ve garnered a lot of perspective over the years – especially overseas. Just seeing the different types of people and hearing the different types of music. We mix a lot of genres in our music as well, and sometimes people overseas are quicker to gravitate to it then people back home.

How did music become a passion for both of you growing up?

Drew: Dante and I come from eclectic musical backgrounds. My parents, for example, would listen to a lot of Motown and funk when I was growing up, and my brother was into more mainstream stuff, but he was 6 years older than me. My first CD was Hanson's Middle Of Nowhere, and then I moved on to all of the pop stuff like Britney Spears. But when I hit my teens I started to learn how to love R&B, and it really hasn't left. R&B and hip-hop really fueled my life for music. I would sing around the house and my parents would always tell me to shut up [laughs]. But it a became thing where I wanted to keep doing it. Because from Jagged Edged to Jodeci, I had such a love for R&B artists who would step out onto the stage and sing their heart out. And when I moved out to L.A, I met Dante, and we both shared that same varied music taste, with not only R&B but genres like grunge as well.

While you do explore many different sounds throughout your music, R&B seems to always be at the core. R&B is also a genre that has seemed to stand the test of time in an ever-changing musical landscape. What do you think makes it so timeless?

Drew: You know, it's funny, I was in a club the other day, and the one thing I noticed is that the music that resonates the most is late 90s, early 2000s R&B. All the classic songs from back in those days really keeps the crowd moving, and everybody wanted to vibe out. I don't know what it is about "Return of the Mack", but no matter what venue or party it is, everybody loves that song. I think the thing with R&B music and even black music as a whole is that there's always something raw that resonates. Not saying that other genres like rock don't do that, but I think R&B transcends race and background and talks about things everybody's feeling. 

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Another genre you seem to inherit a lot of inspiration from is grunge music. What made you guys gravitate towards this style, and who are some grunge icons that stand out as inspirations to you?

Dante: Both Drew and I grew up as rock fans. He was more into pop-punk, and I was into grunge and indie rock. Of course, I had a big emo phase as well with bands like Taking Back Sunday. But I don't think there's anything conscious about it. I think I just have never really grasped the concept of a genre, I just hear music for music. I also come from a producing background, so when I think that a song needs an element I add that element despite what genre it is. If it needs guitar, we put in guitar. If it needs R&B harmonies, we put in R&B harmonies. Of course, people are going to have different perspectives on things, but it just takes trying new sounds out; that's something that we've always done.

Drew: We came into this game 2-3 years ago, and Dante and I think we were one of the first to mix grunge and R&B together. Since then a lot of newer artists have kind of hopped on that wave and ran off with it. Not to say that they're stealing or that we created this sound, but I think we were one of the first to do it. I think we were a little ahead of our time in that regard, but I love to see the blend of grunge and R&B is sustaining itself. You see acts like Juice World and Lil Uzi Vert kind of implement that into their sound. I'm glad that this sound is still going.

The term ‘genre' in itself can be a damning thing. You guys may not adhere to one, but on the first impression, someone may categorize you in the ‘alt R&B' with the likes of Majid Jordan and PARTYNEXTDOOR. Do you ever feel as if the concept of genre limits you?

Drew: Sometimes. I mean it can, but it really depends on the approach you take to it. Nowadays, we’re in the age of playlists, where genre is a heavy thing that drives them. In that case, a group like us can be limited in the sense that our music has no rules. One song could be aggressive and upbeat rapping, the next could be a slow jam or a grunge song. 

Dante: To piggyback off that, we’re talking about genres like grunge. But I don’t think Kurt Cobain ever tried to make grunge. Genre is not really about the artist, and we’re really not thinking about genre when we’re in the studio. We just do us, and let it fall where it falls.

one of most important things we've learned is to be honest with ourselves and more realistic and relatable throughout our lyrics.

You both come from backgrounds of writing and producing for major acts - Did the freedom of being THEY. – owning your own brand, being the face of your brand and being able to pursue any sound you want almost feel like a breath of fresh air? Or was it nerve-wracking?

Dante: Definitely both [laughs]. There was always a struggle for me as a producer to get artists to buy into my vision. So I think the creation of THEY. was our outlet to do whatever we wanted. Now at the same time, I think being an artist is a whole different game too. There's some many different aspects of it that you have to prepare yourself [for]. And we hold ourselves to high standards as well. When it comes to every aspect, whether it be touring or imager or anything else, there's a lot of work that goes into making it right. So, of course, it's going to be a little nerve-wracking at times, but it's all a part of the bigger vision.

With major label acts, there seems to be specific formulas and techniques used to create hits, and I know you guys have worked with your fair share of them. Is there anything you learned from those songwriting and production days that you implement in THEY.?

Drew: I think it helped us put in our 10,000 hours of when it comes to writing and making songs. When you're working in that community, there's so much output and you have to do things over and over again. I think it gives us a different perspective; as we're always revising and we're always trying to get the best out of ourselves. But I think we learned more of what not to do. At the end of the day, it's your music, and I've seen so many artists come and go because they didn't have an identity. Fortunately for us, that's something we've always had. We've always known what we've wanted to do, and everybody else will just have to follow suit.

Dante: We definitely learned a lot in our time coming up for sure. We're learning stuff every day.


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