Dabbling in the task of shaping an assorted landscape within their own music, THEY. does a phenomenal job of maintaining a difficult-to-delineate aesthetic. While iTunes will insist that their genre is Hip-Hop/R&B, a swift double tap on any of their songs will dilute their introduction as something that cannot be summed up as simply. Every song off Nü Religion: Hyena has drawn wholeheartedly from this idea; “U-RITE” and “What You Want” kiss opposite ends of the genre spectrum yet coexist seamlessly in an album made up of diversity.
Drew Love and Dante Jones, the two pieces of THEY. self describe their work as “Grunge & Blues” – “Grunge&B” for short- and it resonates with the often moody, murky sound that their tracks are enveloped in. Even though “U-RITE” was essentially made to mob to, the sirens shouting in the background, and the rapid firing, acidic flow adds a certain belligerence and maniacal vibe to it that the duo effortlessly ride out throughout their repertoire of songs.
THEY. sat down with RESPECT. to discuss their fears, writer’s block, the musical and political landscapes, and bad habits.
RESPECT.: What are you guys afraid of?
Drew: I’m definitely afraid of being trapped in the middle of the ocean. I’ve had random nightmares about it. I swear.
Dante: I agree (laughs). On a music note, I’d definitely say not loving music anymore. I’ve been in this industry for a while so I’ve seen a few people just view it as a means to an end, and not as an art form or an expression. That’s definitely something that I’m afraid of. I don’t want to be corrupted by the music industry.
RESPECT.: And it’s very easy to change perspective based on a small selection of experiences in the industry. Part of the reason people lose that passion, or do view it as a means to an end, is because of that corruption, and because of all the things that get thrown in their faces.
Dante: I think that’s one of the things you have to prepare yourself for. The downs are as inevitable as the ups, you know?
RESPECT.: So on that, “Bad Habits” is hectic, yet there’s a certain endearment to it. Are you connected to your bad habits? Do you think bad habits make better art?
Drew: I would say to a certain extent that I’m connected to them, yeah. Coming out to L.A., it just hits you like a stack of bricks; all that money, all the women- they just force their way onto your lap. I think it can definitely affect your music depending on how you write about it. I think it honestly depends on how you approach it. Mumble rap is a thing because of how people choose to approach a description of their bad habits.
Dante: I kinda always viewed it as an internal conversation. I think there’s a certain kinda cockiness to “Bad Habits.” A brash kind. It’s kinda like a conflicted conversation going on inside the both of us, that I’m sure plenty of artists and people can relate to. It’s definitely how we felt being in the industry. Like, we know all this probably isn’t right, but we’re gonna partake in it regardless. It’s difficult.
RESPECT.: How would you feel about artists using their bad habits as a “crutch” in their art?
Drew: No, because then you’re weak minded, you know? And there definitely are some people coming into the game that you can tell, judging by how their career plays out, that some can’t handle it. It is, however, definitely extremely easy to slip, and even easier to stay down there.
Dante: Some people get chewed up by L.A., and by the industry, and get spit right back out.
RESPECT.: You guys are self described as being “Grunge & B,” but is a pure rock album something that’s ever been considered?
Drew: “Grunge & B” was coined by someone we did an interview with a while back and we totally fell in love with the idea of it. The rock influence is definitely there, but we take all these influences, from rock to R&B, and from wherever, and we channel these to make our project sound versatile, instead of working toward making a focused project.
Dante: I agree, I can’t say that a pure rock album would be something we’d try to do. I look back on the grunge era and the tech they were using at the time, whereas now we have so many instruments that it’d be limiting to try and emulate what they’re trying to do. We’re totally trying integrate some of those elements, but full on emulation wouldn’t be for us, I don’t think.
RESPECT.: Yeah, and even in your more clearly hip-hop inspired efforts, like “U-RITE,” there’s still that rock sonic that made a very permanent home in your style, I think. It’s very reminiscent of N.E.R.D.
Drew: Definitely. What we wanted to do with “U-RITE” is show people that we could very easily do the music that’s out right now, but still make it sound better.
Dante: I think the similarities with N.E.R.D. are there because they all started out as producers, and they all weren’t at all fazed by messing around with experimentation.
RESPECT.: “Punk” as a genre of rock was all about counter-authority; but this can exist in all genres. Do you think hip-hop has lost its connection to its counter-authority roots?
Drew: I wouldn’t say it necessarily lost its connection, because punk originated with that “fight the power” ideology, and hip-hop totally had that. And there’s still people out here nowadays who do it. I think the public and the listeners are drifting away from this and more toward “mumble rap” and all that. In “Say When” we spoke a lot about race and mass incarceration and what not. I think it’s all about the public and what they desire.
Dante: I feel the momentum behind that is starting to become a bigger issue; speaking on anything political in the mainstream is so uncommon, but think about the era we’re in. I think about where we are in society, and as people, and more music is gonna come out in the world and address all these issues. I actually think it’s an inevitability. With our current president and the ideologies fluttering around, there’s 100% gonna be a lot of musicians, and people in general, having plenty of things to say.
RESPECT.: I remember, very briefly, speaking with Macklemore and asking what he was afraid of, and his response was “not having anything to say anymore.”
Drew: I think Dante and I, from youth, have always had a lot to say, and we’ve always been loud, and been running our mouths. So I don’t think we’ll ever stop, or be afraid to say something a bit aggressive.
Dante: I could definitely empathize with where he’s coming from. And I think when you experience something along those lines you can take the opportunity to look inwards and reflect; you have to. And writer’s block and self doubt is where the most relatable things come from. Everyone has those things.
Drew: Exactly. Other people and listeners alike have no choice but to try and relate to it. There’s parts of all of us that are the same. So, all that deep emotion, all that “intense” stuff- all that is honest, genuine emotion that people, guaranteed, can relate to. That’s why we’re so happy to release our new album. Because we want to be the alternative to that same, shallow, surface level lyricism and sound. We wanna be trailblazers. Even if we do end up talking similar things, we talk about it in a different light. It’s okay not to talk about your ‘Rari and express yourself.
RESPECT.: So you think this change in hip-hop, the return of creativity and free expression, is an inevitability, happening soon?
Dante: I feel like every generation has felt this at one point. I could even think back to the “bling and Jiggy” era of rap, and they weren’t necessarily coming through with all that conscious stuff, but there’s always that one group, or that one album, that comes through and talks about something different with a different sound. You could talk about hair metal and rock becoming sensationalized and commercial, and then Nirvana came out and dropped Nevermind and totally undermined all the superficial stuff. Every single generation has that one album, or one artist. To say we’re those people is an uncertainty; but to say it’s going to happen is guaranteed.
RESPECT.: Have you ever felt creatively limited by yourselves?
Drew: I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped myself from putting too much- I think that’s where it all comes from. But I’ve definitely gotten in my own way. “Maybe I’m not doing this right,” “maybe people won’t like this,” etcetc. I give myself writer’s block a lot. It’s more about looking at things from a neutral perspective and getting out of my own head.
Dante: It’s fortunate that we have each other, ya know? If either hits the rut we’ll always be like “alright, what you got?” And Drew or I will always be like “yeah, here it is.”
RESPECT.: You guys spoke about being “free” in a previous interview, and being able to openly and unapologetically express yourselves. On that, a lot of your music is really grappling with this very dark, haunting sound. What’s drawing you to that?
Drew: I think whether people realize or not, people are all emotionally disturbed no matter what. So I think that’s what lowkey drives everyone toward that sound. I think it’s a good platform to be able to speak your mind and say relatable words and relatable lyrics, because there’s already a soundscape and a deep emotion that’ll be able to receive those lyrics.
Dante: I definitely agree. For me, I think it’s a reflection of where I’ve been the past few years. The past few years, I totally forgot about meditation, totally forgot about peace for a bit. So we try to create a texture that embodies that. Maybe we put in a choir, or we put lo-fi; just little touches and trying to look for answers within our own creation.
RESPECT.: Would your music still be meaningful if other people didn’t perceive it that way?
Dante: I think that one of the few things about our music is that people always have their own interpretation to it. Not to bring up religion, but everything’s about interpretation, and everyone has their own way of following. Even on a more basic level, sonically, there’s gonna be things people are gonna identify.
Drew: What we really want is not just differentiation. Whatever people receive from us, we want people to take that and make their own music with it. That’s the quickest way to be obsolete- emulation. Ultimately, pioneers last longer than the regulars. Create your own path if you wanna last longer. Don’t focus on if some people can’t perceive the meaning. They’ll catch on.
RESPECT.: Should a struggling artist go for a more mainstream and accepted sound, or continue struggling, possibly finish their career unknown, and be as boundary breaking as possible?
Drew: Making genuine music, if that’s what speaks to you. Otherwise, people won’t believe what you’re saying. If it’s not authentic, what’s the point of making it? Like, are you doing it as a means to make money? Is it your palette or your money bag? And that’s the difference between some of these artists here- and people can really tell. Is this guy really about what he’s talking about? There’s people who’ve gotten to me in the past because it’s an embodiment of who they are, and it’s disappointing. But this is our music and this is who we are. We’re zany and it’s just who we are, whether people know who we are or don’t.
Dante: I also think it’s a waste of time to try and emulate. Genres and trends change by the week and month. I guess if I had to quote Wayne Gretzky, “I skate not to where the puck is, but where the puck is going. And that’s how I stay ahead of the game.” I never look at things where they are, but how they could be.