A first project that truly launches an artist’s career is always tough to follow up. The expectation that’s aligned with what people fell in love with your music can be daunting. There will be pressure to stick to what got you to where you are, while also elevating the music to something that separates the two projects. This way listeners don’t want to just go back to what first caught their ear. Nü Religion: Hyena in 2017 introduced LA-based duo THEY. to the world combining experimental R&B with rock, trap, and electronic influences. The sound felt inherently current and fresh. It tied in darker toned R&B, which was becoming more and more popular at the time, with a more eclectic soundscape. This built a solid core fan base for Dante Jones and Drew Love, who make up the group, causing them to tour the world and build a three-year anticipation for the follow-up.
After dropping the feature-filled and excitement inducing Fireside EP as well as a plethora of dynamic stand-alone singles between then and now, it’s safe to say the expectations were high for the second full-length body of work. The Amanda Tape, which dropped late last month, delivered a new overall tone centered around a reinterpretation of late 90’s/early 2000’s guitar-centered R&B. The duo inserted nostalgia into the contemporary and diversely shaped musical concept THEY. initially created. The new album finesses exactly what the goal of a follow-up project should be by holding to their core energy but offering a set of songs that deliver something intrinsically different.
From the lead two singles “Count Me In” and “Play Fight” feat. Tinashé you could hear the slightly brighter tone shift. THEY. have clearly evolved and actively dove into the more lustrous elements of love sonically. They still express various elements of toxicity throughout, but with a bit more of a positive and playful outlook. The feeling this exudes seems particularly poignant in a time where the world can feel more and more bleak. The album feels like it can be played specifically on a day at home with a lover dancing around, making love, and maybe even cooking a meal together. Though it also feels like the perfect soundtrack to a drive out of town to a more secluded spot for a baecation. It’s that sound of holding onto that last bit of warmth before winter truly hits, as well as what’s good about a relationship you’ve committed to. The guitar varies slightly in style throughout but always stays in that pocket that makes you want to bop around with a simple suave two-step or let your hair blow in the wind.
Firstly amazing tape! Who’s Amanda? 2018 -2019 we were both in or leaving relationships with women named Amanda, even our engineer Chris was with a girl named Amanda for a short stint.
Are all your songs on the project specifically about the crew of Amanda’s? Yep every song. We write everything together so it was really just about who had the inspiration that day.
Who takes the lead on your guitar playing that’s throughout your music specifically on The Amanda Project? Is there a specific style of r&b guitar that is most inspiring to y’all? We got a few friends that we usually vibe with on the guitar, this album most of the guitar parts are from Mitch Bell and Ryan Marrone. Ryan has this really sick guitar from the 30’s that we used on “All Mine” and “Play Fight” that give those records a really unique texture. As far as influences, I’d say our biggest influence on that front is Donell Jones, specifically the Where I Wanna Be album. That project has some of my all-time favorite guitar parts and overall production.
Is there a non-R&B guitar player’s sound that inspires your tone? I’ve always been a big indie rock fan and usually draw a lot of inspiration from that genre. I love everything that Kevin Parker touches. The 1975 is another band that always finds new and interesting things to do with their guitar parts.
I wanted to talk to you about my favorite song of y’all’s pre this tape “Pops.” Did that sound you experimented with on that song have any influence on your current sound? Sidenote: there’s alotta momma songs out there what was the inspiration for that Dad song? That’s still one of our favorite songs that we’ve ever done. Our first album covered a lot of ground, but one thing that we didn’t get to do was speak on a lot of things from our personal lives. That was something we wanted to incorporate more after that first project. We actually wrote that one on my dad’s birthday. I was talking to him on the way to the studio and I guess he was still on my mind by the time we started writing.
How was it getting Juicy J on “STCU?” Why was this song the right song for his feature? That collab was a dream come true. We wrote the record with the intent to make something edgy and provocative and we knew we needed the right verse to take things to the next level. We reached out to Juicy J because the track had a bit of a southern flavor to it and he immediately hit us back to hop on it.
Is that song more about a mental state or a reality? “Shoot the Club Up” is a phrase we use as a joke when talking about sex.
That bounce on “Mood Swings” sounds like 2001/2002. I’m getting “Bump Bump Bump” mixed with “Senorita,” but the 2020 version of it. Was bringing that feel back intentional? Absolutely. That day we were doing a deep dive on a bunch of our fave boyband stuff from the late 90’s/00’s. NSYNC Backstreet Boys, 5ive, a few jagged edge songs. The type of shit you could really dance. We always wanted to find a way to bring back that bounce and I had actually started some drums in that vein a few days before. We started jamming out and the record just came together from there.
Maybe my favorite part of the album is that bridge breakdown in that song when you sing, “How much more can I take?” What section of the fight you were having does that represent? Yeah, we definitely had a little Jagged Edge moment on that bridge. We wanted to do something simple so that we could stack a lot of vocals on, and it’s also kinda the climax of the song. Like you’ve been pushed all the way to the edge.
“Don’t say that it’s too late we can still save this thing.” Whichever relationship you were talking about with that lyric, what were you holding onto specifically? That one is about the Amanda who’s not around anymore. That relationship was tough, there were a lot of normal ups and downs on top of being a long-distance relationship.
“FWM” is up there for my favorite songs on the tape. Did the writing by chance start with the “how…come…you…don’t” part? It’s so dynamic. We started that one on guitar and bass. The bass line has a really dope walk up at the end of the phrase and we just had the hook kinda follow the music.
What are each of your favorite The Amanda Tape tracks and why? “Mood Swings” is definitely a favorite for both of us. That record is heavily inspired by 112 and Jagged Edge, and truly we’ve been wanting to make a record along those uptempo r&b lines for years.
It’s your first full-length release since Nü Religion: Hyena. How has your sound grown then to now? I feel like we just have a lot more clarity now, a better sense of who we are, and what type of music best reflects that. I guess that comes with maturity but I think sonically and lyrically we have refined our entire process.
Dante, you said “unapologetically pop, but still black” was missing from today’s music. Do both of you think this project fills that void? I grew up with the idea that a lot of the biggest pop stars were black. Michael, Janet, Prince…. They were all artists that could transcend genres and boundaries while still being black and progressive.