Whether on-stage or off, what stands out about producer/songwriter duo Drew Love and Dante Jones is they are undeniably genuine.
It was just a few years ago that DJ Khaled introduced the world to a common enemy no one seemed to realize existed: the infamous “they”. Through his viral Snapchat spiels Khaled convinced scores of people that “They’ don’t want you to succeed,” “They’ don’t want you to win.” Well, the real THEY. is winning, and they want you to win too.
Drew Love and Dante Jones make up the producer/songwriter duo and originally selected the group name at random when Jones christened a song they were working on as “THEY.”.
“I always name my beats random words . . .” Jones explains. “[Drew] saw it and he was like, ‘That looks cool. There’s something odd and different about that. Maybe we should make it the group name or the project name.’” At first it was just that, but over time it took more of an omnipresent meaning to it. It’s very strange to look at. That’s what we thought about it, like a paradox.”
Inside Toronto’s Mod Club, hours before hitting the stage for a headlining show, THEY. enter the concert hall’s modest upstairs lounge, introverted and polite, shaking hands and exchanging introductions. Seated, Drew Love leans forward left foot balancing atop his right knee, his tattoo-clad hands tumbling over each other every so often. Jones is more relaxed, reclining into the belly of the couch. The interaction is distinctively different from their presence on stage. Given an audience, the duo is theatrical, intimate and charged with adrenaline. Bits of choreography are weaved into their performance. Dante Jones shines on the keyboard. Drew Love’s energy plays off the crowd.
In both instances, though, whether on-stage or off, they are undeniably genuine.
Pulling influences from the writing styles of musicians like Kurt Cobain and Max Martin to the rhythmic remedies of Missy Elliot and Pharrell Williams, THEY. use the studio as their ultimate playground. Their music discourages the concept of category.
Sonically the possibilities are endless. Their 2017 debut NÜ Religion: Hyena parades a grand assortment of elements across 14 tracks that showcase the duo’s gnarly production, vocal and lyrical skill. The album touches on topics like the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality on songs like “Say When”, while also flirting with their feels on “Truth Be Told” and “Dante’s Creek”. Toss a few anthems in there like previously released singles “Bad Habits” and “U-RITE” and it all makes for a pretty badass listening experience.
Fast-forward to their most recent 6-track EP Fireside that dropped at the end of 2018 and this time around the pair has assembled a roster of features to assist in the melodious delivery. Vic Mensa, Wiz Khalifa, Jessie Reyez and Ty Dolla $ign are just a few heavy-hitters to join Drew and Dante by the fire for a ’90s R&B inspired project with hints of hip-hop grunge and soulful vocals. Fireside acts as a preview for THEY.’s forthcoming sophomore album Devil in the Valley due later this year. As the partners in rhyme and song continue to evolve their sound they also aim to spread the message of freedom of expression and being your most authentic self.
What was it like the first time you guys worked on a track together?
Drew Love: When we made the first THEY. track it was easy. It was second nature because [Dante] had this weird, left-field type of production and he had a little mumble on it, like a little melody on there. I was able to take that and naturally make something out of it. That led into another one, into another one, into another one and I was like ‘Yo, we should make a group out of this instead of doing this for fun.’
So when you guys first started out you weren’t thinking about a future in music?
Dante Jones: Not at all, but I always had production that was really different so the fact that he was able to latch off of what I was doing and really understand it from early, it was like instant chemistry.
We like to experiment. We like to almost stumble upon the song or stumble along the back of a song.
What’s the feeling in the room like when you guys are creating a track?
Dante: We just keep it pretty relaxed. We never just go to the studio [thinking] we have to do a song today, we just walk in. We like to experiment. We like to almost stumble upon the song or stumble along the back of a song . . . Sometimes I’ll start with melodies or he’ll start with melodies. You never know. I think that’s what’s [good about] it too. If one person’s not sure, the other person will have an idea.
In the song “Dante’s Creek” off of NÜ Religion: Hyena there’s a line that says “We live for something.” What is it that you guys are living for?
Drew: The whole entire thing about “Dante’s Creek” is kind of embodying the feeling of coming to L.A. and trying to figure yourself out. Same with “Motley Crew”, they’re kind of touching on the same topics. But when we say we’re living for something it’s just basically meaning that we’re all kind of striving towards our goal. Me and Dante have goals that we’re both striving for . . . [Dante] could probably explain it a bit better.
Dante: Well, even beyond the song I would say that for me if there’s one thing that I’m chasing, it’s freedom. You know what I’m saying, just to be free to do what I really want to do. Free to make what I want to make. Free to be who I really want to be. I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like people telling me when and where I need to do things. I think for me it’s always been this quest to live the life that I really want to live.
In your music and a few interviews I’ve heard you guys speak on being your most authentic self. What empowers you to be your most authentic self?
Drew: Each other.
Drew: I think Dante and me are really good at empowering each other. Sometimes when you’re in a duo I’m sure you butt heads a lot and sometimes people separate, but Dante and me are really good at empowering each other, which is why I think we continue to grow and get better. I think we’re our own best influence.
What do you think are each other’s strengths?
Drew: He’s very ambitious, very wise, very smart. I think he’s always going to have that going for him. He’s the best producer in the game.
Dante: Ah shucks. I’ll say that Drew is very smart as well. He takes risks and he’s so versatile. There’s nothing we can’t do with his vocals that anyone else is doing. He can do a song like “Dante’s Creek” all the way to a rap song. You write and not miss a step and I think that’s very rare as a vocalist. A lot of guys just have one thing they can do, but with him, the sky is the limit.
If you stay safe and follow what this guy’s doing … then you’re not really being yourself. You’re chasing a cheque at that point.
You made the decision to have local artists open for you at each stop of your first solo tour in 2017. Why was that important to you?
Drew: I thought of growing up and wanting to be an artist myself back then, I understood the feeling of people not really wanting to take a chance on me. In the industry, a lot of time with the openers you get people putting on someone who’s already kind of on to help sell their tickets. But I thought it was a lot more important to give a chance to people that wouldn’t necessarily have had a chance otherwise. Everybody just needs that chance to grow their fan base and get some shows under their feet and boost their confidence. There’s a lot of talent out there and I want people to be able to [see it] as opposed to stuff that’s already been put on.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the music industry, but doesn’t know who their authentic self is?
Drew: Experiment, take chances and keep going until you figure it out. That’s the only way you can figure it out. If you stay safe and follow what this guy’s doing or what that person’s doing, then you’re not really being yourself. You’re chasing a cheque at that point. In order to be able to find yourself, you got to take chances and do things that you’re uncomfortable doing. Step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it’s not going to work, sometimes it will, but you got to keep doing it to figure that out.
Photos © Lee Hon Bong + Urbanology Magazine