If you’re a fan of Bryson Tiller, Nirvana, or New Edition, you should listen to THEY. immediately. The Los Angeles based “GrungeR&B” duo consists of Dante and Drew, who make music that draws from a diverse pool of influence from the likes of Kurt Cobain to Babyface. After breaking out on “Working for It” with ZHU and Skrillex, THEY. released their debut album Nü Religion: HYENA in February which touches upon themes like police brutality, Hollywood nihilism, and nostalgia for 80’s metal over layers of gritty guitar licks and grimy vocals, defining songs like “Deep End” as “some trap R. Kelly shit.” The B-Side had the opportunity to interview THEY. before their show at the Social Hall in San Francisco this Friday, 3/10.
Congrats on your releasing your debut album, Nü Religion: HYENA. What does the hyena mean to you and does it mark the first of a series? What vision do you have for future projects?
Dante: The term “Nü Religion” is a theme that covers positivity, progressiveness, and embracing your individuality. It was what we named our first EP. The first official full chapter of our work is Hyena. The hyena is a very specific type of animal because it has characteristics of canine and feline species but they are actually their own subspecies; their own thing. That’s why we felt the hyena is a reflection of the project we were working on because our music draws from lots of different influences and can’t be defined by one thing. Hyenas are also outsiders, and we’ve always kind of considered ourselves as outsiders; outside of the normal. The next project is probably not going to be called Nü Religion as far as a series, but it’s probably not going to be about animals.
It took you 2 years to craft this album. What artistic/emotional obstacles did you run into when making it?
Drew: We didn’t necessarily have any obstacles because we didn’t give ourselves a time frame to complete the project. We knew the project would be done when it was ready. It was nothing forced and we made sure to take our time. When the influence came, we channeled it and made music every opportunity that we got. We think we did a good job channeling our experiences and our beliefs into a full body of work.
What were you doing musically before you both met each other?
Dante: We were Both working as songwriters in LA. Drew was relatively new to the city but he quickly got a lot of big influence and worked with people like Jeremih, Jason Derulo. I was working on a lot of pop stuff with artists like Kelly Clarkson, Chris Brown, Cee Lo Green. However, we didn’t find much satisfaction, because when you’re writing for different people, there are so many channels you have to go through for a song to actually see the light of day. There’s also so many people preventing you from making something distinct and different because they have a formula they want you to stick to. Once we linked up, we started working on a few songs and we thought to ourselves that we were making something unique, and maybe we should make this our project, flesh it out, and make it our thing. Here were are today, having released our first album and now we’re going on tour!
We heard that you met Timbaland, who served as mentor for you. How did you meet him and how did his mentorship guide you to where you are today?
Drew: First of all, shoutout to Entourage, Austin and Eric for making it happen. I think it was just an interest in our music. We barely put out the Nü Religion project at the time and Timbaland already took a liking to the project altogether and more specifically wanted to help back it up. He invited us out, but at first we didn’t even think if it was a real thing. My boy Eric was like “Timbaland wants to work” and we were like “Ok sure.” We’d only believe it when it happens. Before we knew it, we were on a plane. When we were working with him, he already knew the words to our songs and gave us instructions and wisdom. Now it’s gotten to the point where he’s like an uncle to us–We call him Uncle Tim! We’re glad we had an experience like that because he taught us important lessons more than just how to make music. It was more about how to pace ourselves, and he gave us advice on being artists and being ourselves. It was valuable info, and we still have contact with him.
What sort of advice did he give you?
Dante: He gave us a lot of advice. It was over a while, but he always said to reinvent yourself and make sure you’re always working hard. As a producer, he gave me pointers I already kind of knew but I needed to hear from someone who was better and wiser. Obviously we spent 2 years working on the album, but one of the things he told me is that “Eventually you have to step back away from your songs.” As we were finishing the songs and album, I’ve always kept that in mind. I would be like “Ok, I’ve got it now” and now I just need to step back and let it go.
I first heard your music when I was in the car with my friend and we were picking up her little sister from elementary school. When she got in the car she said “Play ‘Bad Habits’” and she knew every word. What message do you want your audience to take away from your music, especially the younger generation?
Drew: I think it’s important, beyond just a general message from each song respectively, that we’re trying to portray an overlapping, all encompassing idea that it’s okay to be an individual and take chances. I think that’s what me and Dante do with our music. Make sure that we don’t necessarily follow all norms and just kind of go with what we feel and think is right. I think our entire lives we’ve been told what to do and told that we couldn’t do this or we couldn’t do that and have been ridiculed for trying to step outside of the lines. And now that we’re on a platform to be able to do that professionally, we want to influence other people to do the same; take chances and be an individual. That’s what we want more than anything for our listeners to gravitate towards.
How have the first few shows of your tour gone?
Dante: Our first show of the tour is going to be on Tuesday. We’re excited! Last year we had the opportunity to go on two great opening slots, first with Bryson Tiller and then with PARTYNEXTDOOR. That gave us a really good platform to expose our music to people who hadn’t really heard it and it also gave our fans the opportunity to come out and see us. We definitely learned a lot from those two experiences and now that we’re going out on our first run, we’re using a lot of things we learned from that. Also bringing our full vision to fruition cause when you’re an opener there’s not as much as you can do creatively. You’re more there to fill in the spot, entertain the crowd, and keep them engaged. But now we’ve really been working toward building the full experience and fully release the live extension of what we’ve been doing on the album. I’m really excited to go out there and see how the fans react to it. It’s gonna be a really great time.
We noticed the album has no features but we saw on your Instagram that Syd the Kid added her vocals to “All.” Since you have worked with a lot of other artists before, are there any artists you would like to collaborate with and feature on future albums?
Drew: For this album particularly, I think that me and Dante pride ourselves on the fact that we can do things on our own. I think that Dante is one of the most, if not the most, talented producers in the game right now. And I was lucky to be able to find someone like him because I was able to further my craft. For the first project we wanted to see what we could do on our own. And Syd definitely helped out on the “All” record. It’s one of my favorites on the album. In the future it’s not that we’re not going to work with anyone. We already have for some songs that aren’t out yet and we will continue to do so in the future where we see fit. But it’s not one of those things where we say “Oh, we need to put somebody on this record” or “We need to work with somebody and have a collab.” If it’s something that naturally sounds tight then for sure, we’ll keep it. We kind of just go with whatever works.
We haven’t found any vinyl copies of the album yet. Do you guys plan on releasing a vinyl copy, and if you do, are there going to be any special booklets or posters inside?
Dante: Obviously I don’t want to give too much away as far as what’s coming with the vinyl but it’s definitely coming. And I think that the vibe you get with the cover, of that encyclopedia or Bible entry type, we really want to expand on that by doing something really creative for our fans in the vinyl. So it’s coming. It’s not available yet but we definitely have something really cool in store.
Interview by Rebekah Gonzalez and Kenneth Zhang.