Let’s call it a reimagination. The early years of Why Don’t We are firmly in the past and the LA-based band is looking ahead to a future of bigger sounds, bolder production, and a DIY feel that’s all their own. But you can still call them a boy band if you want. “I don’t care if people call us a boy band,” Zach Herron shared when I caught up with all five guys over Zoom. “I’ll take whatever label is thrown at us,” Corbyn Besson adds, before Jonah Marais chimes in: “At least you’re thinking about us.”
“Let’s say we’re a man band, though,” Herron adds with a chuckle.
The man band, better known as Why Don’t We, is charting a new course with their new album out now — The Good Times and the Bad Ones. The 10-track collection shot out of the gate with the first single “Fallin’ (Adrenaline)” back in September last year. It was the first the fans had heard from the band — which includes Herron, Besson, Marais, Jack Avery, and Daniel Seavey — in months. To prepare their album, they went dark on social media at the beginning of 2020, not realizing that the whole world was on the brink of shutdown and everything was about to change.
“We only planned on taking a break from social media for three months,” Marais shares. “But then COVID happened and all the studios shut down, so then we started going to Daniel’s studio instead.” He added that the whole process of the album took longer than expected, but the time in lockdown not only spurred some creativity within them but gave them plenty of time to polish a record that they’ve been dreaming of making since they came together as a band in 2016.
“It just feels like this is what we were meant to do and everything that we’ve done in our careers thus far has led up to this next stepping stone,” Besson shares of the new album taking a different turn from their previous music. “This is our most honest side of us that we’ve ever given anybody. All that stuff combined feels like a very powerful storm.”
The Good Times and the Bad Ones is a powerfully perfect storm indeed. Each song was carefully and thoughtfully written by the band themselves before being fully produced on their own as well. After watching other producers work on their previous projects, the band picked up on the inner workings of production and took it upon themselves to oversee the whole album this time around. It was Seavey who led the charge, though everyone pitched in to make this a record that was a true collaboration.
It wasn’t until the album was nearly finished, though that the pieces all fell into place — including the album’s name. “We didn’t actually get the name of the album until the very end,” Marais shares. “We had lots of strange names, but not that name until the very end. The first songs were written back on tour as a hobby. It didn’t even feel like we were writing for something in particular. But now here we are.”
“Fallin’ (Adrenaline),” the lead single, was actually the last track they wrote for the album, and up until then, they still hadn’t yet firmly selected what to lead with, but once this song started to take shape, they knew in an instant that this was the one.
“It was the perfect song to knock the door down for this album and make a statement,” Marais says of the track. “I think it was like the magic bubbly feeling we got in our chests when we wrote it. We were like, this is what people need to hear right out of the gate,” Seavey adds.
“It’s weird because you just know, I feel like your gut will tell you, this is the one to go with,” Herron chimes in with finality. And so it was — “Fallin’ (Adrenaline)” was the band’s reintroduction to the world and one that they had extremely high hopes for.
But then the streaming numbers didn’t blow up like they expected. To a casual observer, the number of streams is nothing to scoff at — currently over 42 million on Spotify and counting. There’s a moment in the band’s YouTube series, 30 Days With Why Don’t We, where they’re discussing the streaming numbers with slight disappointment, which I ask about, because the numbers seem incredibly impressive to me as a fan.
“We have really high expectations,” Besson shares. “We hit the Billboard Top 100 for the first time, which is a big thing for us, and we had a ton of radio support.”
“Yeah, we just have very high goals,” Seavey adds. “We have really high goals basically going into this album.” The rest of the band nod in agreement before also saying that the song has been an incredible success, it’s just that they always want better for themselves, especially with this album, because it’s one that they feel so close to.
Though the band may have started as a more traditional boy band, they’ve been moving closer and closer to a more mature-sounding grown-up full-on band, with instruments, pristine production, and an entire atmospheric change. Each member of the band has his own instrumental talents, but this is the first time they’ve been able to put all those talents to use for an entire project — and they’re going to keep building on that going forward.
“This album is very much instrument-based, so we’re kind of taking it back to our roots since we all grew up playing instruments. There are a lot of guitars, a lot of pianos, live drums all over the album, and just a totally different vibe than we’ve ever given our fans before. It means just a much more live feel,” Besson says of what fans can expect with the new music.
Fans were treated to an early glimpse of what the album contains, though, as “Fallin’ (Adrenaline) wasn’t the only track released before The Good Times and the Bad Ones. The band also dropped “Slow Down” and “Lotus Inn,” the latter of which they’re planning to use as a massive show-ender … whenever they can play live shows again.
Even though Why Don’t We was able to take advantage of a tour-free year to put this album together, it wasn’t exactly what they wanted to do this year. They really miss their fans and stepping out on that stage. With writing this album, they’ve kept live shows top of mind in crafting the music so they can be sure the shows are intense and deliver all of the musicality they’re so proud of.
Plus, they’re just really fucking ready to play shows again.
“I’ll probably just start bawling my eyes out with the first chord I play on my guitar. With all the girls screaming, we’re just going to be like, ‘holy … fuck,’” Avery says wistfully of their first live show, whenever it may be.
“That first show is going to be so crazy,” Besson adds. “When we walk on a stage and there’s an actual crowd?” Marais chimes in before trailing off. The whole group chatters excitedly about the day they can finally get back on stage and not just share these songs in front of a crowd, but specifically in front of their fans, because they’re not really into the whole world being virtual. Not only do they find it a bit weird — as most of us do — but they feel like it’s harder to connect with all of you, something that’s a core part of their band values.
But they still love you, despite not being able to actually see you in person right now. “Tell the fans we love them, because we do,” Herron says at one point while we’re discussing the fans, affectionately known as Limelights. And it’s the fans whom the band credits with always showing unparalleled support, something they’ve thought long and hard about in still considering themselves a boy band. Why Don’t We is well-aware of the connotations that come with being a boy band — cheesy music, matching outfits, synchronized dance moves — but boy bands are a fundamental part of the music industry, providing listeners with some of the most iconic music and most popular singers.
“The Beatles were a boy band,” Besson makes sure to point out while we’re discussing boy band history. And he’s not wrong. Plenty of boy bands made their mark on music, despite being panned and despite their fans — largely young women — being criticized or having their opinions shoved aside. “I’m pretty sure statistically young females are a big bulk of music’s listeners today, in general, and there’s really something to be said about that. I mean, they’ve never let us down,” he adds.
The whole band agrees that their fans are the best, and they have no time for the stereotypes and criticism. “People can say what they want, but I honestly feel like us and our fans have such a connection that we don’t really mind,” Seavey says. “The amount of people who would come up to us on the road and thank us for the help we’ve given them — there’s a lot of people out there that need the help, so we’re happy to do that.”
It was with the fans in mind that Why Don’t We starting crafting this album — something they’d be proud and excited to share with them and also reach new fans along the way. That doesn’t mean, though, that they didn’t write a few clunkers in the process. Their go-to writing method is to start by splashing out an absolutely terrible song, just to get the creative juices flowing. “Just for fun sometimes we’ll do super hardcore hip-hop or rap songs, just to get that out of our creative system. I don’t know, it’s really fun,” Marais shares of this practice they use.
Though Seavey insisted that at some point they might share some of these off-the-wall songs with fans, Marais adamantly maintained that they will never see the light of day. “They’re not for the general public,” he says with a cringe. I’m just spit-balling here, but I think the fans would love these wacky tunes.
But once they broke through the creative barrier, the music came pouring out, in songs that told their stories in a way they never have before. In the past, the band said, the songs were more of a collective emotion that tugged on all the band members’ heartstrings, but with The Good Times and the Bad Ones, they took creative liberty in writing songs that were more personal to each member individually.
“I do think part of what makes this album special is the songs have individual real emotions that one of us felt and brought to the table,” Seavey shares of the creation process. “On this album, for the first time, we really pulled from individually ourselves.” And that means Why Don’t We got even closer than ever before during this process.
Herron, Avery, Marais, Seavey, and Besson have lived in each others’ pockets since the band formed in 2016. What started as Avery’s small idea grew into a phenomenon that none of them dared to even dream about when they were still starting out. “We all knew each other and Jack was just like, ‘Guys we should get back to LA for a week and get an Airbnb and just hang,” Marais says of Avery’s original idea to stitch together four other guys he knew through various music channels.
“It was perfect. It was so fun, and I was just like, let’s keep going, let’s fly out again, let’s do more,” Herron adds of the beginning days of Why Don’t We.
“It was destiny,” Besson adds, and Marais chimes in with, “It felt like this was supposed to happen.” And it’s because of this instant bond that they created that they’ve grown unbelievably close over the past few years. So close that when Avery was struggling with anxiety last year because of COVID and not being able to see his daughter, Lavender, they were incredibly worried and offered whatever help they could.
“There were times I would tell the guys, I really don’t want to go to the studio today because I’m fucking feeling it,” Avery shares candidly. He said some days he felt so unsure of himself that he didn’t even want to get in his car and go anywhere because he didn’t trust himself to drive. Avery’s been open with fans about his anxiety in the past, something they’ve responded lovingly to, as so many have shared they deal with the same concerns. To see someone they look up to so fondly going through similar struggles means the world to them, and Avery doesn’t want to hide it.
He and Besson actually took their anxieties and turned them into a song, a song Besson calls an eloquent “fuck you” to anxiety. “Be Myself” was born out of the chaos in their minds, and the song is a stunningly raw addition to the album. “The whole song’s about just letting go of whatever you’ve got inside and also acknowledging how crazy it feels,” Besson shares of the song he penned with Avery. “It’s our way of saying, ‘Just take me somewhere where I can be myself.’”
But despite how hard 2020 was for the band — between writing an entire album, daily stress and anxiety, and just dealing with life, they did find some time to chill out and enjoy themselves. In fact, they all claim they took up a bit of band yoga. “We all do group yoga sessions now!” Seavey very excitedly shares. “We all wear the tights,” Herron adds. All five members of the group literally start describing their yoga sessions with a level of exuberance that is refreshingly hilarious to see.
“We all do the Downward Dog,” Seavey says, “All in a circle together.”
“Sticking our butts in the air!” Herron adds.
With a laugh, Besson looks straight at the camera and says, “That image in your mind is very riveting … I know.”
It’s certainly a good way to relax from the over-the-top busy schedule they’re so used to. They all admitted, however, that they miss the insanity of being on tour. “I miss the tour bus so much,” Herron says. “It’s like when you take a step back and really think about it, it’s just like, man, I just miss it.”
“Right now, I would give anything to sleep on a bus bunk and just vibe,” Besson adds.
“I’m excited to see all of our electric guitars in their own separate boxes on tour and open them up like, ‘I’ma play this one tonight,’” Avery says.
“It’s just going to be such a different feeling getting back on stage again because everyone’s been so deprived of live music,” Marais says of the day they can play a show.
But as soon as they can be on stage, they will be, because they want nothing more than to play their new music for the world and kick off a new era of Why Don’t We.