While every new act in the EDM world is set up as exciting and poised to blow up, there are only a handful of artists that could really make it big and break into the mainstream in a meaningful way. It’s difficult to straddle the two worlds, having to create electronic tunes that the hardcore EDM fan will love, while also attempting to make it to the top of the charts. Many have tried, but few have actually managed the feat.
Los Angeles-based Cheat Codes are one such group that look like they’re going to go all the way, and in some ways, they already have. The trio, made up of Trevor Dahl, Kevin Ford, and Matthew Russell, have now charted two singles within the top 40 in the U.K., and though the pair of singles—titled “Sex” and “Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)”—have only made an impact on the dance-specific rankings here in the States, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still the next big thing in the genre. In fact, if I was a betting man, I’d put most of my money on Cheat Codes.
If you don’t believe my predictions of grandeur, take a listen to their international smashes, and read what they had to say during a recent conversation down below.
Where does the name come from and why?
Matt: The name comes from a story that Kevin told me when I first met him. His brother used to be in a rock band, and they were signed under Warner or something like that. He was like 16 years old at the time, and they’re planning Madison Square Garden with Duran Duran and doing huge tours all over the country. And Kevin was like, “How are you doing this? I don’t understand how you’re doing this!” His big brother was just like, “I just found the cheat code, bro. It’s easy.”
That was one of the first stories he told me when I became friends with him, and I was like, “Wow, what a great story.” So then when we were looking to find a name for our group, I was like, “We should call it Cheat Codes!” The whole name symbolizes that. Just do what you want to do with your life, and it can be easy as long as you focus on what you want and don’t focus on anything negative or any of the bullshit.
You’ve got quite a few singles out already, but the two that have blown up the most, “Sex” and “Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On),” what would you call them? Are they remixes? Are they covers? How do you define what they are? Matt: I don’t know, actually. They’re just songs, I guess. With “Sex” we just took the hook and then we wrote around that. We changed it a little bit in “Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On).” It kind of came by accident. The production was very similar to “Sex,” so we thought that was a perfect follow-up.
How does it feel to have your two biggest hits at this point in your careers be established on hooks that people already know, as opposed to creating 100% original content? Trevor: I think it’s cool. I think the whole idea, I think it plays with the band name. The Cheat Codes. Our songs were doing well before that. Our songs were doing well from the beginning. We still had millions of plays when our original songs were released. But doing “Sex” really brought us to that next level, to the point where when we do put out more music, people are going to listen… A lot more people than would have listened.
So that’s cool. It just worked out, and we loved the vibe of the old school songs. A lot of people don’t even know that’s an old school hook. Some people are like, “Oh, is it all original? You guys wrote that?” I’m like, “We wrote everything besides the chorus.” They’re like, “Oh really? What’s that from?” That’s been awesome. We’re excited to put out new music. It’s coming out pretty soon, and it’s going to be all original. But we’re thankful that we were able to use those songs and get a good reaction from it.
What was the process involved in creating those two songs? Did you fully create them and then get the rights to use the samples, or did you get all that squared away before you made the final product? Matt: No, we just made them and got them approved later. “Sex” was really easy, actually, because Trevor is under the same publishing company as Salt N Pepa. That was actually super quick to approve. I think the other one was pretty easy to clear too. It was Kevin Lyttle originally. It took a little bit more time, but it was fine and it ended up working out.
Have you tried this tactic with any other songs, or did you want to and it was made clear that that was not going to fly? Matt: No, these completely came organically. We weren’t planning on doing it at all, just kind of by accident. Actually, to be honest, when we first started the group our management was like, “You guys should do an old school song but sing it and then do your own production on it.” We were like, “No, we think that sounds stupid.” We didn’t want to do that. And then of course we did it a year later without any input from them. And they’re probably sitting there like, “Okay guys. We told you to do this forever ago.” Anyway, yeah. It’s just one of those things. It’s a great way to get your name out there. Especially for us, we’re independent artists, so for us it’s always a battle of, how do you compete with these huge artists that have millions of dollars being put behind them? Trevor: We had no money. Matt: We’re literally spending no money on our songs. We spent no money on “Sex.” You know what I mean? It’s us, just like, how do we release something with no marketing and have it blow up virally? That to us was the Cheat Code within of itself. It’s like, “Okay this is the hook that people might be familiar with or might not be, but either way it’s going to be catchy to them,” you know?
Other than latching on to songs that people know, what else have you been doing to make these songs go viral? Trevor: There’s a lot of fun with the video. Both videos. For our videos we’ve gotten Kip Campbell. He makes really interesting, quirky videos. He started doing his first music video when we started doing our first music video. We’ve definitely come up together and gotten better together. So when it came time to do the “Sex” video, we already trusted him enough to let him do his thing, and he had this great treatment.
We have an understanding where we definitely want people to know that we’re fun dudes and we want to have a good time and don’t take the videos so seriously, because a lot of these videos are so cliche. You have a lot of artists that are just trying to look all badass and pouty and all that shit. We wanted to have a little fun with it and do weird things. If you’ve seen the “Sex” video, it’s like Sex Ed class with crazy mutants and all sorts of stuff. I think that helps.
I think that Spotify has been awesome to us. We found the song “Visions” had great socials, huge YouTube following, and everything like that. So it’s been a combination of things for sure. Yeah, pretty cool.
How do you guys balance creating these covers with your own original material? Is there pressure to do more of one than the other? Trevor: No. We honestly did “Sex” and “Turn Me On” in the same time period, within a few weeks of each other, and those are the only two songs that we’ve ever focused on doing covers. Everything else, we’ve just been writing and recording and producing and mixing and all sorts of stuff. We’ve been work and work and working on our other stuff. Honestly, we didn’t really spend too much time on either of those songs, so it’s been really cool to see them do well and for us to be able to do them and then kick back and work on our other stuff.
I know that for one or two of you, this isn’t your first foray into music. But you were both doing something very, very different before. So how did you find your way into this new electronic sound? Matt: All of us come from different backgrounds, musically. We all did completely different stuff before this, but it was one of those things where to us, it was always appealing to be able to make music and to cover a wide range of varieties with genres. To be able to not just do one type. I think we all got sick of doing just one kind of music. With electronic music, to us, we just focus on the song and the writing. It can be any sort of song, and then after that we combine crazy instruments or whatever to make it a dance song, you know what I mean? So we’re able to incorporate a lot more sound than we were a few years ago with our old types of music. It’s just one of those things where it appealed to all of us. We could have jumped in on it at the same time, actually, and it worked out… So far.
You said you’ve been working on a lot of original material, a lot of new music. What’s the next year or so look for you guys? An album? Anything like that? Trevor: I think we’re going to do an EP pretty soon actually. We’ve never done a body of work. We’ve only done singles so far. But we have four songs that we’re going to do an EP of that we’re really excited about. We think this is the strongest music we’ve done so far. It’s all original and it’s a little bit different, but definitely in our same vein. We’re excited for people to hear it.
The first song in the end of October. Yeah, so mid to end of October we’re going to release our first song, and you guys are going to love it. I can guarantee it. We’re doing a headlining tour in Europe coming up, first show starts September 9. We’ll be out in Europe for a couple weeks. Then we’re doing a full headlining tour with Matoma all across the US. That’s going to be in October. So that’s going to be really fun, and we’re stoked about that.