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THEY.'s 'Nu Religion' is a Movement & a Message

THEY.’s penchant for experimentation and variety is a direct reflection of their larger mission of nonconformity: try everything, test everything, and don’t ever limit yourself (arguably rule number one). Out of that commitment to originality comes Nu Religion: HYENA: a album that serves up grunge, alternative, trap, R&B…you name it, they’ve recorded it. A self-proclaimed yin and yang duo, THEY.’s Dante Jones and Drew Love are both wholly different and “essentially the same person,” a paradox that allows the pair to reach new heights, creatively and collaboratively speaking. And while Nu Religion: HYENA is just one album, it’s not really just anything—in fact, it’s one piece to a larger puzzle that seeks to confront individuality, self-expression, and belief, in oneself and others. MILK.XYZ dissected THEY.’s mantra and mission, spoke further on future chapters of Nu Religion, and the production of politically-motivated tracks like “Say When”; check the full interview below.

I want to talk about y’all’s album, since it’s your debut and it came out earlier this year—can you talk about how it all came to fruition?

Dante: The whole thing happened really without too much planning and too much intent behind it. I think that we just met in an organic way, you know just through mutual friends in Hollywood and hanging around the same studios. The album came from just fucking around, honestly. I can’t really say it any other way. It started off with me playing him ideas, and then we started working on more ideas together, and before we knew it we had the first iteration of the album, which we then kind of shaved down into our first EP. From there we focused and started building back up to make a full body of work. But like I said, initially there wasn’t that much intent. I think what we wanted to do was just make a body of work that kind of reflected all of our influences and everything we could do, whether it be grunge or alternative or trap, or songs like “Say When”, that are a little more politically motivated—I think it just shows a lot of different facets of our personalities. And then, like you said, it’s our debut, so it’s our first time at it, so we just wanted to make the best expression that we could.

Would you say it’s more of a compilation then, or is there a narrative that kind of ties all the tracks together?

Dante: It’s not a compilation, but I think the spirit of the album is about trying to find your way, in a new and different space, especially with songs like “Motley Crew” and “Dante’s Creek”. And also just with observing the things going on around you. There’s no necessarily narrative, but I think there is an overall mood and headspace that we were in at the time.

What is it like coming from two different perspectives—since you’re two different people—and keeping some parts that are distinct while melding other parts together?

Drew: I think it’s pretty easy, honestly, given the process that we have. So I’ll come into the studio, Dante’s already working on the beat or whatever his skeleton of the idea is, and I’ve kind of learned to give him his space to do that, and then when I feel like it’s right, I can tell when it’s the right time for me to hop in, I’ll take what he’s got and put my flavor on it, and either tone it down a few notches or take it up a few notches. And so the give and take process that we have allows us to both put our influence into it. It allows me to put my spin on what he’s already done, or vice versa. So he might have started a song, and it might be super grungy, and I go and add some R&B elements to it, or vice versa. I think the process lends itself to both of us being able to put our influence into it.

Dante: And too, it comes down to respect as well. We both respect each other’s perspectives. I appreciate that he does have the perspective to kind of hone things in, and I’m sure he appreciates my perspective as well. It’s not really as much of a battle as it is, “Oh cool, I’ve never thought of that” or vice versa.

So, do you guys ever disagree then?

Drew: Oh yeah. We’re yin and yang. We’re very much opposite in a lot of ways. At the very fundamental of it all, I think we’re very much the same person, but when it comes to different creative ideas and where our headspace is at any given time, it’s usually at distinctly opposite places. It allows us to come up with those different ideas.

So when you met, I’m sure you didn’t know about that right when you met each other—like the fact that you guys were gonna be able to bounce off of each other so well—so what made you guys come together in the first place?

Drew: Well I came out to LA as a songwriter and he was a producer, and it was just a run-of-the-mill session. And when the session was over he played me some of his other stuff and when I heard that, I was like, “Ok, so there’s a whole other side of this guy that I didn’t even know about.”

Dante: Yeah, for me, it was just the fact that—actually, the idea was just a song off of our album called “Africa”, it was a very kind of Avant-garde song, and I think just the fact that he understood what I was trying to do with that song, and at the same time where he could take it to make it a fully-fleshed out idea, having that vision and that clarity wasn’t really something I had encountered with any other writer. He knew exactly what to do with it and where it needed to go. So just the fact that he had that perspective on it was really encouraging.

Do you feel like there are parts of you that you maybe wouldn’t have developed creatively if it weren’t for the other person?

Drew: Yeah, I think one thing I definitely attribute to Dante is me delving deeper into musical albums and anthologies. Because before I would be a singles guy and listen to the singles or whatever was most popping from an artist, and he encouraged me to look a little bit deeper and read a little bit deeper into things. So from that I’ve gained perspective on how to craft an overall album from start to finish as opposed to single songs. I’ve really learned the intricacies of how people create albums.

Dante: Yeah, I mean likewise, I think that for me I always kind of came from the background. I always wanted to be an indie producer. So I wasn’t really listening to much contemporary urban music. So just being around him—he had his finger on the pulse of what was really going on, and especially back then, I think just combining those two worlds was when we knew we had something special.

So I know the debut EP was out two years ago now, how do you guys feel like you’ve grown or evolved as THEY. since 2015?

Drew: We’ve been doing a lot of shows since then—maybe 150 plus shows, since then.

That’s insane. That’s like more than once a week.

Drew: Yeah, yeah. So from a performance standpoint we’ve really rounded ourselves out. We’re getting better every day, and adding more things to the live show. So the live show is the main thing we’ve really seasoned ourselves in and then after that it’s just been kind of learning how to maneuver within the industry I guess, and then how to position ourselves in different situations. We got thrown into the fire kinda fast, so we learned a lot of things early on.

Dante: Yeah, I think that, not that we were naive, when we first dropped the EP…

Just green, probably.

Dante: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot more that goes into supporting the music, it’s not just about putting it out. To our advantage, that was definitely our focus, we wanted to drop the best music possible, but there’s just so much more than goes into it. Like Drew was saying, having that message, finding a way to connect with your fans. You realize that what you’re creating is a lot bigger than you. It’s not just about you. It’s about all the people involved. Music is still the very most important thing, but at the same time there’s a lot of other moving pieces to really making sure that people are hearing your music and that you’ve giving them the full experience.

Yeah. So with a track like “Say When”, and using your music and platform to speak out on political issues, is that something you guys want to continue doing? What pushed you to go there?

Drew: Yeah, I mean I think at the end of the day we make our music based off what we’re feeling at the time. And a lot of times, songs like “Say When” are gonna reflect that. I don’t even know how we decided to talk about it that day, but we did feel like it was important, as black youth, making music that’s Avant-garde and a little bit different, we felt like it was important to speak on topics like that. Because everybody speaks about it, especially during the time that we made that song, there was a lot of people making songs about mass incarceration or police brutality and things like that. We just wanted to put our take on it, with the Avant-garde approach we take musically. ‘Cause overall, the idea of Nu Religion is just individuality and being different, and not being afraid to take chances. And speaking on those types of things in your music is taking a chance in and of itself, so I felt like that was something important. And there are other messages that we feel like we still want to speak on and touch on in the coming months when we make more music.

Dante: Yeah, I mean for me, specifically on the topic of mass incarceration and police brutality, it’s definitely an issue that’s important. It’s always been important and well-known in the community. Now, with social media and stuff like that, there’s just a lot more attention that can be brought to the cause. But you know, the thing is, Drew and I obviously have certain musical gifts, and that’s going to give us a platform to be able to speak about some stuff. There’s some people that have the platform and don’t want to talk about it, and there’s some people that have the platform and can’t talk about it, so I think we’re fortunate that we’re two guys that not only have the platform, but we want to say something. In our own way. It’s never going to be something that’s cliche or that’s been done before, because that’s not the nature of what we do. Just knowing that we have the platform, I don’t ever want to look back and think, “Oh shit, we could have said something.” I’d rather be the guy who said it, even if some people don’t like it, I really don’t care, because it’s something that matters to me.

And as far as Nu Religion, it’s obviously in the title of the album and the EP, but does it go beyond that? What’s the broader vision for the project as a whole?

Drew: Well like I said, Nu Religion is a new way of thinking. If you take the word “religion”, what does it mean? It’s belief in something. Nu Religion is belief in yourself. That’s the simplest way to put it. I feel like, as human beings, me and Dante, I don’t feel like we necessarily have any limits. Especially with us two put together. And I feel like everyone else should feel the same way about themselves. There shouldn’t be any limits to where you feel like you can take your art. Whatever you’re passionate about, you should take it from zero all the way to 100. As opposed to feeling like there’s boundaries or a certain way to go about it just because of how everyone else is going about it. I encourage everyone to just try everything, because you never know what’s going to stick. That’s why me and Dante, on this album, kind of tried everything—there’s a little bit of everything on there. There’s some grunge, R&B, elements of everything. There’s a song for everybody. That’s what Nu Religion is kind of about—taking chances, being an individual, and not having any limits or any boundaries whatsoever.

Dante: He definitely summed it up. Something can start off very simple, and take on a greater meaning, especially when you start to see people identifying with it. Even with our EP being called Nu Religion, just that term, it really stemmed from something personal for me—that’s the root of the album, I’m just trying to find my way. I never really grew up in church or whatever, and kind of getting away from the Bible Belt—I mentioned earlier that I lived in Oklahoma—to LA, it’s trying to figure out your way in the world and where you stand. I think we’re all kind of in this place where we’re trying to find ourselves and find what we can believe in. And it just comes down to really just believing in yourself and your own experience that you’ve having on this planet. That’s what it meant from a personal note from the beginning, and like I said, eventually these things start to take on a broader meaning and people find their own interpretations within it.

So do you think the next album will also carry the name or have you not thought about it yet?

Drew: Possibly. There will definitely be more chapters to it for sure, whether that be the next album or four albums from now. We’ll continue it when we feel like it’s the right representation of the next chapter. We’ll see if that’s the next one or not.

Stay tuned to Milk for more dynamic duos.

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