There’s happenstance and then there’s fate. Alt-R&B duo THEY. falls under the latter. Members Dante Jones and Drew Love both moved to Los Angeles on separate paths in the music industry that quickly converged. Jones had found success as a producer working with the likes of Chris Brown and Kelly Clarkson after relocating to L.A. in 2011. Love made his move to the city in 2014 and became a sought-after songwriter. Within a year of moving to the West Coast, Love met Jones and the two formed a fast friendship. “We clicked on a personal, bro-to-bro level and, and more importantly from a musical standpoint,” Love says over the phone.
Dissatisfied with writing and producing for others, THEY. was born in 2015. Their debut EP, Nü Religion, followed shortly after, and led to them opening for Bryson Tiller on his 2016 Trapsoul Tour. Sharing similar tastes in a wide array of genres, their boundary-pushing sound is a mesh of R&B, indie rock, grunge, and pop, as evidenced on their acclaimed 2018 debut album, Nü Religion: Hyena. Recently named BET's Amplified Artist of the Month for November 2020, THEY. dropped off their sophomore effort, The Amanda Tapes, in October. For this project, which was two years in the making, Jones and Love revisited the soulful R&B that they grew up on with a modern approach. With the album out in the world, THEY. are already in the midst of plotting their next project.
BET.com spoke with THEY. about the origins of The Amanda Tapes, pushing R&B to a new scape, and where they’re taking their sound next.
BET.com: October marked the three-year anniversary of when you released Nü Religion: Hyena. How have you grown individually and as a duo?
Drew Love: Our chemistry has improved tremendously. My songwriting has gotten better. Dante’s songwriting has gotten better. His production has improved. My ability to tell him different ideas when it comes like what he could do on production. Before, I used to not know how to. I still don't really know how to necessarily articulate it in the best way but now I can at least give him some pointers like ‘What if you tried this? Or what if you tried that?’ On top of that, just our confidence in what we're doing and the team that we have has increased tenfold.
Dante Jones: That first EP was really our first time ever being an artist. Maybe in the beginning, it wasn't necessarily completely true to who we are, but we wanted to make music that had a certain vibe to it. Over time, we've gotten a lot of credit as to who we are as people. Because it is difficult. Nowadays, people don't necessarily allow as much opportunity [for artists] to step away and grow. That has been one of the biggest things that’s changed for us over the past five years.
BET.com: Getting into your new album, The Amanda Tapes. The title stuck out to me as very unconventional. How did y'all come to that name?
Dante Jones: It’s a pretty simple story. I've been with my girlfriend for a long time pretty much my whole adult life, and her name is Amanda. Around 2017 and 2018, Drew got into one of his serious relationships with a girl who's also named Amanda. Then, our engineer, he was also with the girl, Amanda. One moment, I'd be going through with my girl. Next time, Drew would be going through it with his girl. Over the course of the years, we were all in our own relationships pulling from so many different experiences and things that we were going through. We stepped back and listened to it, and the album felt like it was almost speaking to a particular person. So, we settled on The Amanda Tapes for the name of the album. My Amanda is the only one that is still around. The rest are no longer in the picture. But yeah, the album name stands out as something special.
BET.com: You said that you have been working on this album for the past two years. When the pandemic hit, did that change what y'all were doing with the album?
Dante Jones: We had most of the project done. The last song that we added to the project was “Mood Swings.” We literally did that on like a Tuesday. The next day was when COVID got real for everybody when the NBA shut down the season. That was the last song we wrote.
BET.com: Were there any worries going into this album with it being your first album in almost two years?
Drew Love: There's going to be people that are going to want the old THEY. sound, the grunge-R&B, Nü Religion sound so to speak. We saw people say that when we started the first couple of singles. For most part, everybody loved that we’re exploring the sound that we're in. We’re happy that Nü Religion: Hyena was the first album that we ever dropped and we will stand with pride having released that forever. But we've always been about growth. That's what our artistry is all about it.
Dante Jones: For me, it doesn’t matter what the release is. It could be a song that I'm confident in and I'm always going to get a little nervous before ever releasing it. That's just my nature. I’m a perfectionist and I want to make sure everything is right. Eventually, as an artist, you sit with a song long enough that you start to question it a little bit. I didn’t know if people were going to receive it the same way I was receiving it. A lot of people I trust and respect reached out and said ‘We love what you did.’. It's definitely a validation because when you're creating something new and different that doesn’t sound like what you did before, there's always going to be a little bit of reservation. I like my music but I want people to enjoy it too. We got the highest aspirations so we want to make sure that we're adding to people’s lives.
BET.com: Were there certain topics that you want to explore going into this album?
Drew Love: We wanted to make sure that the album had a message, but we also wanted to make sure it was focused. Our last project was kind of us showing that we could do a little bit of everything. Whereas, this time we wanted to lock in and have one message, which is an R&B album. It still has that edge that reminds you of the stuff that you grew up on whether it was Jagged Edge or Donell Jones.
BET.com: Did you have any particular favorite songs from the album?
Drew Love: “Mood Swings.” It just exudes pure energy. It has the Jagged Edge and 112 energy that I like.
Dane Jones: I would definitely put “Mood Swings” up there as well. It’s one of those things where you try to capture [a specific] feeling. It's always tricky because you straddle the line between something that's cool and something that could come off real corny, especially with up-tempo stuff. I was proud of that one. Another one is “Count Me In.” It has that classic bass sound to it and the first half of the song is sung completely differently [from the back half].
BET.com: One thing I liked about the album is how it delves into what love looks like from the perspective of Black men today. Which song would you say best describes where you're at in life right now?
Drew Love: “On and On.” I feel like it embodies not only where we are on a personal level but this is where we are as a country. It’s just a lot of uncertainty. We're in a COVID pandemic but what is that even? [Laughs] We never even knew that was going to be a possibility. Everybody's dealt with this year in a different way. There’s been a lot of civil unrest going on right now. We dropped an album and that brings on its own uncertainties. It’s a lot of on the off and on, so to speak. It's a constant inner struggle that you're dealing with in both a mental and emotional sense. But then when I'm in a good mood, “Mood Swings.”
Dante Jones: I would say “Play Fight.” We’ve been in this lockdown so there is a lot of time spent in the house getting on each other's nerves. You know how it is. You wake up every day seeing the same person. Same routine. So I definitely feel like that’s where I am right now with what's going on in my relationship right now.
BET.com: Listening to your guys' music from your early days up until now, The Amanda Tape feels like a creative breakthrough. Would you agree with that?
Drew Love: I feel like Nü Religion was a creative breakthrough in and of itself. I'm not even going to speak shy or humbly whatsoever. Nobody had put together a project like that when we dropped that. I equally believe there's not anybody who's dropping a project like [The Amanda Tapes]. Not to say that we're better than anybody else. But this is different. When we're ready to drop the next one, I feel like it'll be something similar.
Dante Jones: To build on what Drew was saying, I definitely feel what you're saying as far as [The Amanda Tapes] being a breakthrough. With the first project, we kind of lived within that space for about a year and a half. We were on tour and lived a rockstar, party lifestyle. [When] we came off the tour, I was in a reflective state for three or four months. I was just like, like ‘Damn,’ I've established myself. What do I want to do with this platform?’ Do I want to be somebody that pushes the negative, stereotypical narratives talking about money, b***hes, and this and that?
Or do I want to try to push myself to do something better? You can see the beginning of that with songs like “Pops.” I think that [The Amanda Tape] is like the next step into who we are as people and artists. There’s still a lot of stuff we want to explore on the next one. While we've been doing this for a little bit, we always try to carry that spirit of we’re up and comers.
BET.com: How has 2020 impacted you? Did you find yourself exhausted by the events of this year or have they lit even more of a fire under you?
Drew Love: No, it's been terrible in a lot of ways and the inability to get on the road sucks. But then also it's good. I put a home setup [studio] in my crib. I didn't have one before. God knows why. I guess for some reason I kept making excuses. Now, I'm able to send Dante stuff back and forth. I'm able to do all different types of things when it comes to working on my craft and getting better every day. I wouldn't probably wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for this COVID situation. It’s allowed me and Dante to put a lot of extra songs in a tank and figure out what we want to do for the next visual. We've been able to shoot a lot more videos for this project than we were able to shoot for past projects.
Dante Jones: I operate best whenever my back's up against the wall and a fire lit under my a**. It brings the most out of me. Before the pandemic hit, there's just so many different things that we weren't sure about and it put us in a state where we're being a resource. We figured things out. We shot a lot of videos just with a friend and a handheld camera. It’s been some of the best visuals we’ve ever done. It just put us in a space where it's like we got to create something out of nothing. I feel like that's how we operate best. It just put me in a headspace where it’s like everybody got the same level of playing field right now so what are you going to do with it?
BET.com: Where do you guys hope to go next in terms of musical direction?
Drew Love: We've already started working on new music. There’s some songs that did not make [The Amanda Tapes] that might make the next one. There’s new songs. We’re going to continue working throughout the year. There’s still more extensions to this album that are going to come out at some point. People are going to be able to see some of the songs that we've done in a different light. I can’t put a label on what it's going to sound like but we're excited with what we've been creating.
Listen to The Amanda Tape below.
(Photo: Grant Spanier)