They. Plan to Focus on Lyricism for Sophomore Album
Talk to a young, emerging hip-hop artist for long enough and you're very likely to hear some boast about possessing a unique, completely original sound previously untapped by predecessors. And in most cases, they'd be dead wrong. Yet They., a genre-bending duo comprised of Denver producer Dante Jones and Washington, D.C. singer-songwriter Drew Love, actually lives up to the hype, merging rock, pop and R&B with hip-hop sensibilities.
They. hit the ground running in 2017 with the debut album Nu Religion: Hyena, a project with no guest appearance but a bit production assist from Timbaland. Since, They. paused on recording, in lieu touring extensively (they graced the Coachella stage) and also appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! The pair released a handful of tracks this year, dropping "Thrive" and "Ain't The Same," and "Pops," a touching story about fixing a wayward relationship with a father figure.
Dante and Drew sat down with XXL to talk about how their career has evolved over the last year, learning to trust each other and the importance of making music about fatherhood.
XXL: How did you guys grow to believe in each other's creative vision?
Drew Love: That was one of the things that actually gravitated me towards Dante, and vice-versa. I was a songwriter, coming from D.C.; he was a producer from Denver. We kinda met in L.A. and we clicked on a personal level, as far as jokes and satire. But our creative process kinda melded together and we just made really interesting music. There wasn't a lot of fighting back, we both had the same vision. We’ve been together for like three to four years now. Obviously we fuss and fight like any duo does, but as far as the creative process, we see eye to eye.
Because it's like a personality thing?
Dante Jones: I think trust is the key word. For instance, recording a song he may hear it one way, but I hear it another way. I'll be like, “Just try it like this.” We both know that we want each other to win. No matter what, I want him to sound good. I want him to sound the best that he can. It's my job to do that, but at the same time, taking his ideas on how to mold it all together.
Drew Love: Dante in my opinion, is a top-three producer in the game right now. I don't know if a lot of people know that yet; I don't know if a lot of people have gotten to hear enough to justify that. But I know for a fact that he's a top-three producer in the game. So it's easy for me to trust what he's gonna end up doing with me.
Why was there such a contrast between "Thrive" and "Ain't The Same"?
Drew Love: Wanted to show two different sides.
Dante Jones: Yeah, for sure. There's always been a lot of versatility in our music. Obviously there's like a overarching theme but even thematically, when we came back we wanted to make sure that it was what you would expect but two opposite ends of the brain, almost.
Did you guys intentionally take a break from releasing music? What were you doing during that time?
Drew Love: A lot of it was being on the road [or] crafting the new sound. A lot of it was just giving the album time to breathe, giving everybody a chance to really hear it for what it was. I think also it was growing, tryna figure exactly where we wanted to go next and what we wanted to talk about. The last album was great—it showed everything that we could do.This time around we wanna get a little bit more in-depth lyrically, hence songs like "Pops" coming out.
What spurred the idea for "Pops"?
Drew Love: There's not a lot of urban artists that talk about their father, so I thought that it was a really good thing to talk about. It's a song that's really relatable. People have different relationships with their father, whether it's a really close relationship or absence of a father or tough, difficult, strenuous relationship. There's a lot of different dynamics in that song that apply to Dante's and my father and hopefully everybody else's that listens to it.
How did you guys come up with the idea for the father and son haircuts?
Dante Jones: That actually came from somebody at the label. We went up to Warner and played the song and somebody had that idea. I immediately decided it was a great idea to team up and try to give back. Cause right now I just feel like I'm at the point in my life where I wanna try to give back and not make things so much about me. My mom passed when I was 15, [so] it was always a thing that me and my dad drive to this opposite end of town and go get haircuts with my lil brother. We'd have lunch together and then we'd go about our day.
How do you stay mentally prepared for the big looks you've been getting lately like Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Coachella?
Drew Love: Dante and I have done this whole thing together. Our first time on stage was at the same time—the first They. show was the first time we ever performed. Doing everything together for the first time really helps the chemistry and allows us to prepare a little bit better, ‘cause we're both going into things for the first time. So the trust there and the chemistry there helps everything. As far as being prepared, we just go out and try to have fun—whatever comes naturally—instead of trying to force things.
Dante Jones: I just try to stay present with whatever the task is. Each opportunity, whether it be Jimmy Kimmel or Coachella or a feature—even if it's just a day in the studio—I just try to stay present. I haven't really taken too much time to sit back and reflect on everything, particularly a lot of the accomplishments. We both have really high aspirations for what we wanna achieve in our careers. I'm sure one day I'll think back on these past few years and be really proud of it. I'm proud of where we're at now.
It took you guys almost two years to make Nu Religion: Hyena. Do you see yourselves as perfectionists?
Drew Love: Musically, I def see us as somewhat perfectionists. Dante more than me [laughs]. He's very meticulous, but it's for very good reason. We had first met; two years came from us just kinda figuring everything out, figuring out what They. was gonna be. Because we obviously didn't meet at first knowing we were gonna be artists. This time around we'll prolly move a little bit faster than that. I don't think it's gonna be another two years from now when we drop another album [laughs]. But now we just got the cycle and the process down pat.
Dante Jones: I'm definitely a perfectionist. I don't ever let people pressure me. I'm on my own timeline, my own vibe. I believe in timing and everything happens when it's supposed to happen. So I'm a workaholic. I'm in the studio every day trying to figure out something. We live and die by the music that we release. If we let any outside influences come in and try to say anything, they're not responsible. They're not the ones who've failed. I wanna make sure that I'm connected with my fans with the music that I'm really proud of.
Drew Love: And I understand the day and age we're in right now. The consumption of music—you gotta be consistent and fast. People put out five songs a month, a song [per] week. If for some reason we come up with a song [every] week, that's just amazing. But I don't think that we're ever gonna rush. We're never gonna feel like we gotta conform ‘cause everybody else is doing this. It's not gonna make us rush and sacrifice any quality in what we've been putting together.
Dante Jones: It takes time to make those timeless classics, it's not just slapped together. And that's something I just believe in.
What's next for They.?
Drew Love: Putting music out all summer. Hopefully a couple merch pieces every month. Just flooding people with stuff this summer, until we're ready for the album in the fall.
Dante Jones: I think you can even kinda feel from even just the few loose tracks that we've put out so far, it's definitely a different era for us—a different headspace. We're trying to speak from a real raw, emotional place, whether it is something it is something that's angry like "Thrive" or something more heartfelt like "Pops."
Will the new album include features?
Drew Love: The first project was super self-contained. We wanted to show people what our sound was and what we're able to do without the aid of all that extra stuff. Now that we've immersed people into our world, it's kinda cool to bring in other people that other fans may listen to and put them in our world and see what another artist would sound like in They.'s world. So we definitely have a few that we've already knocked out, and some more hopefully coming that will be part of the project and future singles.
How far along are you on the next project? Do you have titles or anything?
Drew Love: We have a couple tentative names. I don't even know how long it's gonna be.
Dante Jones: We created something special with the first one and you always hear that second one is kind of like make-or-break. So I keep that in the back of my mind, that I really wanna create something really special that is not only just as good as the first one, but an evolution of that.
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