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grouptherapy. Interview: ‘FUNKFEST’ ignites ‘new era’ for LA group

Photos courtesy of Jumelles Studio / Words by Jon Barlas

Be yourself and let them hate you.”

Coy Stewart (aka SWIM), Jadagrace and TJOnline see music as grouptherapy. in every facet.

The Los Angeles-based collective is one of the most versatile and exciting acts to emerge from the pandemic, yet they’ve been close for most of their lives. Friends for over 15 years — discovering each other’s love for music in the process — grouptherapy. managed to make the most of nationwide lockdowns in 2020, releasing their debut project, this is not the album, to the acclaim of alt-rap aficionados and underground hip-hop heads.

Three years later, overcoming adversity and merging their solo endeavors as one, their newest single “FUNKFEST” (April 25) embodies their artistic intent to the fullest. Igniting a rebirth for the trio, it’s a thrill ride that sees their skills seamlessly intersect, as the visual (directed by the group itself) is equally as captivating as it is polished.

An energetic escapade filled with battering guitar riffs and dramatic gravitas, Jada’s “Do you love me?” hook transports listeners to another realm, emulating sonics similar to Jean Dawson’s CHAOS NOW*. Yet, the mix of vocals and bars from SWIM and TJ immerse you into their one-of-a-kind world — bringing a fleeting “devil on your shoulder” conversation with yourself, combatting themes of insecurity with confidence. “You can hate me as much as your little heart desires,” they chant, letting their emotions run wild and breaking through a fourth wall that crumbles in their presence.

“This song is the beginning of a new, more liberated era for us. One where we aren’t held back by any inhibitions or outside interference. The process of learning not to compromise. Be yourself and let them hate you.”

grouptherapy. on “FUNKFEST”

Music may be the vessel of their message, but it wasn’t where the group initially found peace. After stints in child acting, they all felt they were the black sheep in the crowds they were part of and naturally gravitated to one another. “I met [SWIM, Jadagrace] at a young age,” TJ explains, who led the charge for the formation of the group. “When I moved to Los Angeles, I met Jada during a dance class when I was around 7-8 years old. Me and SWIM met while we were doing background in acting. We were able to relate to one another because we were put in weird adult situations [as kids]. We understood each other’s lives.”

The trio has spent a lot of time together over the years, hanging out in TJ’s garage among other places. While each of them were originally from a different city — SWIM (Columbia, South Carolina), Jadagrace (Los Angeles, California), TJOnline (Yonkers, New York) — their influences collided when they each decided to pursue music separately but within close proximity of one another.

Working on their careers as solo artists, it wasn’t until SWIM brought the idea to TJ of creating a mixtape together that the ideation of grouptherapy. started to form. Crafting a joint project over those next few months, TJ was producing for Jada at the same time, which inherently birthed the idea of going all-in on the collective. What was once a hobby for TJ and SWIM sparked into pure passion, as Jada had taken serious steps in the industry from the jump. But it wasn’t as fulfilling until the group came to fruition, she admits.

“My experience was a little different, I started making music when I was like 9 and I was signed at a label at 11 years old. It was a lot to navigate, acting and music. It wasn’t until I started making music with them when I fell in love in with it.”

Jadagrace on her background in music

Stuck in between the self-conscious thought of being a cliche “actor/rapper” and wanting to be more than a surface-level artist, grouptherapy. found solace in one another, creating the sessions they — and the world — so desperately needed to hear. With the release of “FUNKFEST,” amid three tapes’ worth of music, it’s a volition of emotion that lets their creativity speak for itself.

Leading in their next full-length album, we spoke with grouptherapy. on their beginnings, musical inspirations, “FUNKFEST” and so much more in this OGM exclusive interview.

Check out “FUNKFEST” and our conversation below!

Interview by OGM’s Mateo Braxton

A grouptherapy. session…

MB: What have your experiences been like acting?

SWIM: “When it comes to acting you don’t really know what you’re signing – for me I fell to it at a really young age and really loved to make people laugh. I bounced around to a few different areas, I knew I was always going to be in this industry.”

Jada: “I started acting and singing when I was really young, it was a lot to navigate both acting and music – I had to learn how to balance the two.”

TJ: “Acting is a really interesting thing because you don’t have any control over anything, you’re communicating someone else’s vision…but it’s always a first love, it’s the thing that I grew up doing – i’m able to take the good with the bad.”

MB: What is the workload like when comparing acting to being an artist?

SWIM: “In any creative career path it is sleepless nights, it’s all in your hands. It’s hard to balance that because there is always something to do, I try my hardest to detach the monetary aspect because it’s hard to stay motivated – you want to be creative enough to make the right choices to pay the bills. It’s a blessing to have the choice, I’m just obsessed.”

MB: With all three of you growing up in the entertainment industry… What is the chemistry like between the three of you outside of acting/music?

SWIM: “It’s really hard to work together since we’re so close. Friendship is always first, we always value each other outside of music, always making sure we’re good – we’re a family!”

Jada: “Yeah, also it makes it easier for us to work, we all kinda know we have to work and we got a strong work ethic, that aspect helps us stay on top of the things…but it’s also fun and foolish we see each other like everyday, it’s like a second home.”

MB: You guys been working hard since a very young age… How important is balancing your personal lives and your careers?  – How much do you guys prioritize mental health?

TJ: “It’s starting to get a lot more important now than when we were younger, we could be in the studio 24 hours straight, but now we set aside time, whenever we’re not working we spend our time with friends.”

Jada: “Yeah, I would echo what TJ said, lately we just hanging out and maybe pull up a YouTube beat, working is fun for us but we have been popping out a lot more.”

“When it comes to music you have to disappear for awhile and come back, I’ve grown to know that I have to take that time away to get better – when I realized that I gave my self more time to live, the balance is important.”

SWIM on balancing work and personal lives

MB: What is the creative process usually like… How much time is spent in the studio on average?

Jada: “We share each other on the note app and that’s how we write, we just throw everything on there and try it and see if it works – we used to spend 24 hours in the studio now it’s more like 8.”

TJ: “We usually show up to the studio and someone has an idea of something and we will talk for about an hour.”

MB: With 2020 and the pandemic being a very vital year for a lot of people, you guys took full advantage of it releasing your first project this is not the album… How do you guys feel about it now that it’s been some time?

SWIM: “You always want to write your story, you want every project to be the best but you can’t control that – looking back at what we were able to pull off I can only be proud but we would’ve done some things different. Every artist is there biggest critic and a lot of times as a creative your minds goes a lot different places – I’m figuring out how to take away personal detachment and learning to let it go.”

TJ: “I am very thankful for it, it was our first thing ever. It was something that God gave us the confidence to get us to where we are – as a creative when looking back you look at the bad in it but I’m glad I’m able to see where I was and what I’m able to do now.”

MB: Going on to release the project there goes the neighborhood that housed the fan-favorite singles “watercolor.” & “raise it up!” both of which gaining over a million streams on Spotify… Did you you guys feel these would be two of the biggest songs from this project?

“I knew “raise it up!” would go crazy, being a fan of Jada it would go crazy when she performed it – it was attention-grabbing. I knew it felt different, Jada is a superstar! However crazy she wanted to go we would help, TJ and I helped write on it and Jada took it to a level we haven’t heard other female artists done before… we love to see it shoutout to TJ he is an incredible writer, I love that.”

SWIM on “raise it up!”

Jada: “raise it up!” I’m honestly shocked, and “watercolor” was unexpected you just never know. “wish you were here.” also went crazy.

MB: In 2022 we got the Truth Be Told project which had the innovative title song that had 3 songs in 1 produced by TJ, along with my personal favorite “Tangerine”… What was the creative direction behind this project in comparison to the previous two? 

TJ: “For that project, we wanted to stretch and sort of like creatively expand a bit more – we got a little bit comfortable doing the same things, which inspired the title track. We said “let’s see how far we can push it.” We went far but we didn’t go as far as we could but we realized we can get experimental and it sound good…it was us bouncing back from the pandemic and a lot of the things were a lot more planned whereas before that it was a lot more free-flowing.”

SWIM: “I think also it was an experimentation on how far can we go, how creative can we be while still being digestible. When you look at a group or band there are a lot of pre-conceived notions, “Truth Be Told” the song was when we tried to put everything we know all together – I’m extremely proud of the song and glad I got to be apart of it.”

MB: Where do each of you draw inspiration?

Jada: “Honestly, everywhere!”

“Movies, Books, and TV shows, anything can be inspiration. A lot of it comes from music we like and don’t like, when someone is doing something that you are not comfortable with it becomes a challenge to me – I often try to see how can I do that in the right way.”

TJ on his inspirations

SWIM: “I agree you can get inspiration from anything, things that aren’t in my field. Constantly digesting and intaking new information, using it as you please. Always looking for new interesting things, you never stop observing”

MB: Gearing up for the next project, What can we expect on the upcoming body of work?

SWIM: “There are things on this project a lot of people close to us don’t know, I think the collaboration is something that’s different, there’s a lot of new colors and sounds. We want to give you more and that’s why I’m excited.”

TJ: “I think it’s going to be Truth Be Told times a million, we want it to be very unsafe, I’m very happy with how it turned out – very vulnerable.”

MB: Who do you guys look forward to collaborating with?

SWIM: “I love this question because it’s always different for me, I want to work with Teezo Touchdown, BKtherula and Luh Tyler.”

Jada: “Yeah same, right now I want to work with FLO, SZA and Doechii.”

TJ: “JPEGMafia, TiaCorine and Mk.gee

MB: I got the chance to see you guys perform in LA, and all of you have great stage presence… Which festivals do you guys look forward to performing at?

SWIM: “Pharrell’s SITW, Rolling Loud and Lollapalooza. We really want to be up there when it comes to performing – Tyler, The Creator made me realize how important the live aspect is. I learned a lot about writing songs after performing – the live aspect is extremely important for me.

Jada: “Camp Flow Gnaw”

MB: What’s next for you guys?

TJ: “Album! Our next single “Funk Fest” one of the most fun songs we’ve ever made.”

Jada: “After that who knows…”

SWIM: “We’re outside more than we’ve ever been, a lot more sh*t, a lot more from grouptherapy. It’s exciting we’ve been together damn near everyday.”

MB: Looking forward to seeing you guys grow as a collective and in your individual careers… Where do you guys see yourself in 3-5 years?

SWIM: Simple, I think what I’ve learned that it’s always about the journey, you only get one shot at this so I wanna take advantage of the time being.

TJ: “Same thing, I’d hope to be in the situation to be able to do what we want creatively.”

JADA: “Financially stable, I want to be passionate about what I’m doing, I want to be happy, I want to be with these guys still, I want to be on the Grammy’s stage!”