THEY. as a pronoun is ‘used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified.’ On the other hand, 27-year old Dante Jones and 23-year old Drew Love, better known as THEY. are not as easily identifiable. The duo represent a sound that is difficult to categorise, multiple genre’s intrinsically combined to create a sound that rings of Kurt Cobain influences with classic punk elements and melodic rock vocals entangled with Motown R’N’B. Their individual personalities compliment their joint creations and ultimately define what makes them THEY. When I headed down to meet them during their visit to London, my curiousity circled around more definitions and meanings – what lie behind their ‘Hyena’ references and the concept behind their Nü Religion EP?
In some ways they even look like a motley crue, when Dante Jones walks in as if he’s just stepped out of a Dipset video in his Juelz Santana inspired American flag bandana, my first question is directly about where the concept for ‘Nu Religion’ comes from –“This is a new agenda we are trying to push, we want to be alternative, we want to blend different genres together and take little pieces of what we like and fuse it together.” I’ve seen Dante’s manifesto of sorts in a tweet, “our idols are aging, this generation is hungry for new visionaries” and I prompt him for a little more context about their vision, “I want to be able to inspire kids the same way I heard Kanye West, or Diplomats back in the day. I want to inspire people, I feel like in today’s society it’s so easy to get distracted that a lot of people don’t realise the power they have to change things in this world, to really make a difference. It’s very important for us to share that and let them know that it doesn’t matter what your job role is. It’s all about making a difference in your own way.”
Dante Jones’ idols may be ageing but he’s “living the dreams of his 13-year old self in Allen Iversons”. A producer in his own right, he’s already made beats for the likes of Chris Brown and Kelly Clarkson but it’s his story about meeting one of the most influential idols of all time – Timbaland, that really put everything into focus. “It was a surreal moment as a producer – I’m standing right there with the guy I’ve idolised as a producer my whole life, giving me feedback on tracks; telling us how much he loves our music you know. It was one of the craziest moments for me but also insightful, getting that behind the scenes knowledge at that level. He gave us really good perspectives too as far as just continuing to work hard and stay humble. He’s like one of our day one supporters that heard it before it was even out there and said it could be something.”
It’s almost karmic that these newcomers have already had their music reach the ears of their own idols and it’s only solidified their resolve to stay true to their sound. Drew Love’s own encounter with John Mayer, hit that resolve home in one – “we had dinner with John Mayor, that was really really tight, that was super meaningful to me, just being so down to earth and so normal with us, we chopped it up in conversation I remember that, crazy.” The duo have managed to keep company with a pretty impressive set, gaining access to people they’ve admired growing up, as Dante recalls “a lot of my favourite rappers I’ve been able to talk to and one thing they always say is keep working.” Maybe it’s just a case of speaking things into existence but their admiration of the Diplomats itself even brought them into close quarters with one of their members recently, “I gave an interview whilst at Complexcon talking about how Juelz Santana really inspired me and he literally walks outs out the door from where I’m doing the interview and he’s standing right there. As he walks out, I walk up to meet him and I say man I was just talking about you man. I probably made him hella uncomfortable man but he told me the same thing, like yeah man just keep working and enjoy it.”
THEY. are defining their own way and while currently residing in LA, their karmic experiences are shaping their determination but regardless of all that – THEY are keeping themselves grounded through it all. As Drew explains, “A lot of the time musicians will put themselves onto a pedestal almost like a godly type persona, but in reality, we are just like you, regular people. We have a voice, we just want to voice it, we want to be different and let people know that it is ok to be different you know. You don’t have to conform, you can make whatever music you want to in whatever field, you don’t always have to do what everybody else is doing.”
We just bring that raw extension of what we like and how we hear things.
The direction of their alternative sound hasn’t been created intentionally but more as a natural extension of their shared taste of music – “I think we were like listening to Maroon 5 Becky G some type of record and we clicked on a personal level, we knew brother to brother we were cool.” Once they hit the studio together, their sound took a life of it’s own, “We try not to take off the rough edges for anyone, it’s the rough edges in the music that really gives it its personality.” Their approach has proved it’s worth the attention they’ve gained, and last year THEY. secured tour supports opening for Bryson Tiller and PartyNextDoor. Performing for the first time to large audiences, THEY. threw themselves into the deep end on tour with Bryson Tiller, it was as they recall, “intimidating in a way but it gave us thick skin really fast. It allowed us to be thrown into the fire and learn on the run. It allowed us to grow a little closer. I had no choice but to really really trust my brother at that time because we had never really done it before as we were in very unfamiliar circumstances.” Once THEY. hit the road on their second tour with PND, Dante and Drew were seasoned enough – 50 dates with Tiller seasoned.
So how did music become a central part of their life? Growing up in Maryland, in a household where Motown and Funk rang through the corridors, Drew Love always wanted to make music. “When I finally had the chance to come out to LA and meeting this guy here, just gave me the chance to be free and do things our own way.” Dante Jones’ big moment realisation came when his older brother moved out to LA to become a producer, as Dante recalls “he never got good at it but me wanting to be like him, I decided that I was going to make beats and that I’d be good at it. I was 12 years old at the time and I found out I had a knack for it.” When Dante hit 17, he made the decision to either write poetry or pursue music.
There is a way to voice your opinion through music with a more poetic sound as opposed to being just preachy.
Educated on how volatile the music business can be from watching episodes of VH1’s ‘Behind The Music’, THEY. are more than aware of the potential downward spiral, “It’s dangerous when you operate from a place of fear, I’ve realised that and I’ve really tried to keep that away.” As two young black men coming through during one of the scariest times in America, we touch on the current state of emergency and how they feel their music could impact their community. “There are different ways of speaking about these things especially with music, I feel like if its heavy handed or a little bit too literal you won’t find common ground or a balance. There is a way to voice your opinion through music with a more poetic sound as opposed to being just preachy. Even if its preachy like we did on songs like ‘Say’ where we talk but mass incarceration and police brutality, other songs we elude to the uncertainty of what’s going on around us. I definitely feel like there’s going to be a big change, I hope to God that everything works out, I don’t want Trump to fail but at the same time I want the best for my country, we are all feeling uncertain.”
Before we get even deeper into a passionate political conversation, I wrap up our conversation about the exciting future ahead for the duo and we talk about their upcoming album ‘Nu Religion: Hyena’. I wonder about the literal reference to Hyena’s, because these creatures are a complicated, highly social and intelligent component of the African ecosystem –“Hyena’s in their system are the outsiders, they are the ones who are nocturnal. There’s a lot that sets them apart from other species and that’s how we feel too – looking from the outside in, trying to find our place. When we were working on the album and concept, Hyena was best to describe what we were trying to do.”
THEY. Live in London photographed by Courtney Francis
On their forthcoming album, THEY are completely in their own lane, writing and producing all the tracks themselves, with no features, “even though some of our music is already out I guess you’d think it’ll be easy to form some sort of expectation but actually you can’t.”
With their latest single ‘U-Rite’ it’s not just about them riding a fierce beat but marking their moment in completing their debut album, by opening a new era, “especially after all that’s happening at home and globally, Trump’s inauguration, changes in the UK with Brexit, the song is attention grabbing. As we lead into ‘Nu Religion Hyena’, it’s about letting the fans know what the vision is and giving them that clarity.” When you put it like that, THEY may be right on the money and this is their moment to step to the frontline.