A talented musician is able to gather inspiration from any style or genre; identifying its strengths and its limits then using that knowledge to inform their own work. This is certainly the case with THEY., the duo of singer-producer Dante Jones and singer-songwriter Drew Love, whose music mines a variety of influences to create a distinctive blend of rock, pop, and R&B. “There really aren’t any rules, it’s just whatever the song calls for,” says Jones.
Influenced by classic R&B groups like Ready for the World alongside ’90s alternative rock bands like Nirvana, THEY. comb through and combine the most satisfying elements from each genre for the six tracks on their new EP, Fireside. Though many listeners might not immediately make a connection between those two styles, THEY. blend them together in a way that makes the pairing seem like common sense.
“I think that it’s about the feeling that the two genres give you,” says Jones. “The most important thing in both worlds is authenticity. We are huge fans of both genres and are fortunate that we can tie it all together while it all still feeling natural and genuine.” On the first track off of Fireside, “What I Know Now”, the main guitar riff is reminiscent of grunge or emo, but the synthetic beat that comes in aligns the song more closely with contemporary hip-hop and pop music. The closing track, “Rockville Station” leans more heavily into the duo’s R&B side.
Recently, Jones and Love have also been looking to collaborations with peers and contemporaries to expand their sound. While Nu Religion: HYENA, THEY.’s debut album, featured no collaborators, Fireside features a guest vocalist on every track. “This project is our first time doing collaborations and bringing other people to the world that we’ve created,” says Jones. This also inspired the title Fireside, with Jones explaining that “We are very visual and pictured it as kind of a gathering in an intimate setting, bringing artists from different genres and walks of life together.” The result is an eclectic yet focused seventeen minutes that can pivot directly from the sunny and staccato “Wilt Chamberlain” into the mournful and searching “Tell Me”.
THEY.’s mainstream breakthrough was a guest spot on the producer ZHU’s hit “Working For It”, which also featured the EDM superstar Skrillex. The artists that THEY. have invited to join them on Fireside have similarly high profiles. Some of rap and R&Bs most popular artists — namely Wiz Khalifa, Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, and Vic Mensa — all make appearances, as well as singer-songwriter Gallant, whose 2016 debut album Ology received great critical acclaim. On highlight “Broken”, singer Jessie Reyez’s tender vocal delivery is well suited to the song’s emotional tenor as she duets with Love about recovering from a cycle of heartbreak. Looking to the future, the artist that Jones would like to collaborate with most is the Dream, whom he believes is underrated.
Jones and Love have described themselves as outsiders growing up, an experience which has influenced their current work ethic and outlook. “Being an outsider or an outcast serves as our fuel to keep pushing, and, furthermore as a vehicle to inspire creatives like us that feel like their voice isn’t valuable,” says Love. “Music has given us the gift to spread those differences and use them as strengths and that’s the best part about it.” A relationship with music is something that both Jones and Love each sought out independently, driven by their own passion. “Neither of us come from musical families, we are both self-taught. We both got our foundations in school. Drew was in theatre and I studied music production in college.”
The relationship between Jones and Love leaves equal room for each of their creative voices to be heard. Both of them enjoy working on songwriting independently outside of their time spent together in the studio. “Sometimes we start ideas separately and bring them to the studio later and sometimes it happens in the room. I prefer to write alone usually and bring the idea to Drew as it allows me to complete my thought without any outside input,” says Jones. Still, their talents are complementary and work best in tandem. “At the end of all the songs, there’s input from both of us.” Across Fireside, there is an ease and cohesion that suggests Jones and Love are becoming increasingly adept at playing to the others’ strengths, as well as their own.
Love would like to be remembered in posterity for his musical innovations, in his own words “to be known as someone who took almost every musical risk possible.” He seems to recognize the development of his identity as a musician as just one part, albeit an important one, of a larger process of coming into a more complete sense of self. “I still don’t know fully who I am and don’t have myself fully figured out. I want to go down as someone who inspired kids who want to be something but struggle with identity and acceptance.”
In 2019, Jones and Love are hoping to gain even wider recognition for their work (Love says that his “next goal is to be nominated for an award and to put some plaques on my wall”), but THEY. have already amassed a devoted fanbase. Love fondly remembers tour dates in Australia, telling me that “to see people 18+ hours away singing all of the words to our songs was something I’ll never forget.” Fireside is guaranteed to bring THEY. an even wider audience and the sight of fans on the other side of the world singing all their words is one that Jones and Love are likely to become familiar with.
THEY.’s latest EP, ‘Fireside‘, is out now.
words. Matthew Later