Photo courtesy of THEY. PR
“Are you a bot?”, Drew Love teases me as I hit record on the call. The AI assistant Otter is diligently taking notes of our conversation — covertly blowing my cover in the process. “Yeah, you caught me,” I replied. “I’m actually about to use the Kanye West AI voice for this interview.” We laugh as we get acquainted with one another, and in these introductory moments, I gained a greater sense of who THEY. is beyond the booth.
Brimming with excitement and positive energy, the duo of singer-songwriter Drew Love and producer extraordinaire Dante Jones are a refined pair in both sound and stature. They’re the epitome of yin-and-yang — finding balance in each other’s strengths and weaknesses all throughout their collective career. Drew’s bubbly anecdotes contrast with Dante’s calculated and calm demeanor, as a Nü Moon ultimately dawns on the duo nearly six years after their debut project. Simply put, they’re brothers until the end.
“I’m thankful for Drew because he’s patient with me,” Jones said. “I’ll flip through a bunch of different ideas and chords and pitch it up and put this there; and then I’ll finally be like, Okay, I got something.”
“Shit drives me crazy,” Love adds.
While Nü Religion: HYENA (2017) was the catalyst for THEY.’s early success, it hasn’t been an easy ride to acclaim. Their first fully independent album, released on April 7, is a complete “rebirth” for THEY. — making the music they want on their own terms. Both getting their start as songwriters — as well as Dante’s early production placements — for pop icons like Kelly Clarkson, Chris Brown, Will.I.Am, Rihanna and others, Jones always envisioned more for himself, as he and Love triumphantly shed their industry ties on their new 14-track LP. “Even though I was having some success doing the pop stuff, I just always wanted to figure out something that was different,” Jones said. “Like I saw what Kanye was doing with ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’ and there was always this part of me that wanted to make innovative music. I just wasn’t able to do that with pop.”
Love echoed Jones’ sentiments, detailing their first-ever meet-up during a studio session in 2015. It took a few minutes for the two to hit it off. “I got flown out to LA by a management company and one of the people that worked there was Andrew Grant, and he was childhood friends with Dante,” Love recalls. “So one of the first sessions that I got put into as a writer was with Dante. We just had the same sense of humor. He’s drinking the same things that I like and just little things like that. We grew close pretty quickly, and he felt comfortable showing me his secret side stash of music he had.”
“He told me, ‘I got this dark stuff I’m working on. I don’t really know what it is yet, but can I play it for you?’ First song he played was ‘Africa.’ And man, those drums… I was like, ‘Yo, what? What the heck. Let me do my thing to this,’” Love continues. “He had a little melody to ‘Africa‘ already, there were no words to it yet. And so we made the whole thing and after that, we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s make another one.’ That was ‘Back It Up.’ Alright, let’s make another one. Then we had ‘Bad Habits.’ Everything just happened so naturally.”
Not only does their unbreakable bond bleed into the music, but allows them to pick apart the best parts of their respective arsenals. They co-op duties, and the glory in all aspects — never holding back if Dante doesn’t like a verse or if Love isn’t feeling a melody. It’s shared control at its peak. “We both have melodies for days,” Jones said. “There’s never a shortage… We really just start bouncing off of each other. Something happens when we both know we really got something and our brains kind of meld together. We’re honest with each other too. There’s a certain rawness and connection that he and I have when it comes to putting songs together.”
From Nü Religion, The Amanda Tape (2020) to the star-studded Fireside (2018), the duo’s dark R&B, grunge-infused sound is limitless. Not only finding pockets within more pop-centric notes, THEY.’s charismatic, unique approach to crafting left-of-center hits all stems from their understanding of one another. Over the years, they’ve learned to accept each other’s nuances, evidently fine-tuning the sound they’ve claimed as their own. Jones always ran opposite of the pack, “wearing Bapes instead of Air Forces,” so to speak. “That’s just how my mind has always operated,” he said. “Whatever everybody else is doing, I want to try to do something else. I think that that’s honestly been one of the main things to sustain us all these years. [Drew and I] always did our thing. We’ve always tried to give something fresh and new to put into the mix. To us, it’s not about what everybody else is doing.”
Wearing influences of rock on their sleeve, citing Nirvana as a key inspiration, THEY. has been a pioneer of the new wave’s unabashed genre inclusion whether you knew it or not. “Being a black kid into rock music… there was a long period of time that that wasn’t cool,” Jones detailed. “Now, you see so many different artists that are really embracing that.” Dante and Drew have long championed rudderless creation, dating back to the aforementioned “Africa” and the bombastic “U-RITE” off HYENA. Their independence has only bolstered their desire to break barriers, as their tumultuous experience working under the pressures of label expectations was a core attribute to the underlying motives of Nü Moon, making freedom more worth it by overcoming waves of past adversity.
“When I look back, there were certain decisions and advice that I probably, at my core, didn’t feel right about; that I went under the guise of ‘maybe they know better than me’ or maybe I should approach it this way,’ or whatever it was,” Jones said. “We’re now at this point, being independent and having gone through all these different experiences, where we’ve seen so much on so many different sides. The main advice I would give to my past self is trust your gut on everything. Not just the music, but how you want to present yourself, the moves that you make etc. Because at the end of the day, I really look back — and look back at a lot of people who were with us — there’s not too many left.”
Tired of “Just Going Through The Motions” as Love sings, Nü Moon is a beacon of introspection and self-realization draped in emotion. “Intro” implores listeners to contemplate “What do you truly want from this next phase of your life?”, setting the tone for an alt-escape of reflection. Their patented style of R&B is largely channeled on tracks like “You Don’t Deserve This,” “Brutally Honest,” “Riptide” and “In The Mood” with Yung Bleu — which feel inherently poppy and of-the-moment. Jones’ production chops glisten on each cut. It’s impossible to pinpoint him, and THEY. for that matter, to a single sound.
“This is our most introspective album to date. We really wanted to make something that felt personal and also reflective of our thoughts and trials we go through at this stage in our lives.’Nü Moon’ is meant to represent a new era for THEY. We look at every album as an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves and refine our sound. We covered a lot of new ground sonically on this album while still maintaining the darker R&B sound our fans have come to love over the years. Being independent for the first time in our careers has put the power back in our hands.”THEY.
“Blu Moon” and “Comfortable” featuring CMIYGL‘s Fana Hues were slowdown anthems that led in the record late last year, as the latter mimics the earthiness found on their first-ever track “Africa.” Dance vibes, R&B cuts, rap bangers and silhouetted guitar ballads all meet on Nü Moon — all perfected with an attention to detail not found in most artists’ catalogs. Other standouts like “Set Me Free,” “Lonely” featuring Bino Rideaux and “Wait On Me” with Kacey Musgraves — the crown jewel of the record according to Dante and Drew — are backed by contemplative guitars and ear-melting sonnets. The chart-topping country singer is an anomaly within her space, as THEY.’s excitement peaks when speaking about working with her. THEY. were shocked when Musgraves reached out to them.
“She loved ‘The Amanda Tape,'” Love recounts. “We went out to Nashville to meet her and I’ll let Dante say the rest.” “This was different,” Jones picks up. “But as soon as we got there, she was the nicest, most gracious person ever. She actually recited ‘STCU’ with Juicy J verse-for-verse without missing a beat. It’s crazy to think she was a fan of ours… We did a couple of songs, she hopped on ‘Wait On Me’ and the rest is history.”
While “Wait On Me” is a love-inducing fusion of pop, R&B and country, it’s a robust example of THEY.’s sonic differentiation — deriving from a message as clear as the Nü Moon in the night sky. “Sometimes I forget how far we’ve come,” Love croons on the bouncy Memphis-inspired “Twenty One,” calling back on their days as young men living the Los Angeles lifestyle for the first time. That life is well past them, though, as Nü Moon exemplifies THEY.’s rebirth to the fullest; a metamorphosis of artistic intent while staying true to their roots. Whether it be mental health or reminiscing on the past, they know they’ve come a long way, but are still just getting started.
“Dare to be different. Bet on yourself.”
Listen to Nü Moon below!