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There is no stopping Cheat Codes in 2021. The Los Angeles trio is doing things strictly on their terms after breaking free from their major record label, leading them to “spread their wings and go crazy.” The band has been dropping new music continuously in the lead-up to the first installment of their three-part record Hellraiser and are currently spreading “good vibes” with their Danny Quest collaboration “That Feeling.”
We recently caught up with Trevor Dahl, Matt Russell, and KEVI to talk music, virtual gigs, and rock and roll behavior.
You recently collaborated with TikTok sensation Lil XXEL on “No Chill.” How did that track come about?
Matt: I think we just hit him up. We wrote this song with our homie Lil Aaron. He’s like a big songwriter and he is really cool. We just reached out to Lil XXEL, he jumped on and did his thing. He is a really nice guy; we got to do a bunch of content with him like a music video and live stream. We have been doing a lot of live streams for virtual fans, so that was cool. He’s also on 300, which is the same label so we had a connection through that as well.
You’ve worked with many so artists – how do you seek out your collabs and figure out who to feature where?
Trevor: With “No Chill,” for example, I was the original singer on it and we had a whole different production on it; it sounded a little different. I saw Lil XXEL on TikTok and when I listened to one of his songs, I thought “No Chill” could be really good for him. I changed the production a bit to feel like it is a combination of both his and our sound and hit him up and he was like “Oh dude this is perfect!” We just him up on Instagram and little did we know he was signing to the label we were just on. It was a good fit.
Matt: In terms of previous collabs, it’s always trial and error. We just want the song to sound as good as possible. It doesn’t really matter to us if they’re a huge artist or an up-and-coming artist, we just want it to sound dope. Sometimes if we know the artist has a specific style, we will try and blend those styles together and explore where that might go. So like Trevor was saying, “No Chill” had a slightly different sound before production-wise and we switched it up to fit Lil XXEL’s style.
Trevor: For a song like “No Promises” with Demi [Lovato], for example, we had the song all finished up and were like “If we could have anyone sing on this, who would it be?” All of us came together and agreed that Demi would be the best choice ever, we sent it across to her and her team and she loved it. We have lucked out a few different times, it’s been cool.
Which artists do you dream of working with?
KEVI: I’d say Drake.
Matt: I want to work with Hans Zimmer.
Trevor: Let’s do Hans Zimmer and Drake in one song!
Matt: Yeah, just, like, a crazy intro for our live set, like orchestral sounds like Batman vibes and Dark Knight. Imagine you seeing us at Coachella or something and it just opens like that.
Trevor: That would be so cool. I would love to do something with somebody like Norah Jones or Jimmy Buffett. Some stuff that I grew up listening to, just like a weird combination but they would be amazing. We always want to work with different artists that you would not typically expect us to work with, just because we love blending genres together and pushing forward different styles we would not normally do.
What names from the UK music scene are on your radar?
Matt: We have been wanting to work with RAYE really badly. We have sent songs back and forth but we just haven’t found the right one.
Trevor: Sam Smith!
Matt: Yeah Sam Smith would be cool, and Rudimental.
Trevor: We might be doing something with Rudimental so that’d be awesome. There are so many artists over there that we would love to work with. We have done songs with Liam [Payne] and Little Mix and would love to do another one with them. Love those guys!
You’re about to drop your debut album Hellraisers Pt. 1., what more can you tell us about the record?
Matt: We thought of the name from our manager Michael Theanne who passed away. He used to call us hellraisers because we always wanted to go for what we wanted. Even when people were like “that’s not realistic” or “we can’t do this” or “you’re asking for too much” and we would just say, “Who cares, we want it anyway.” He always thought we had that attitude of not caring if you are disrupting, or you’re going against the grain. He liked that about us and we liked that about him so he always called us hellraisers.
It was really sad last year when it happened and we have been wanting to do an album our entire career, and he’s one of those guys that believed in us. It is so important the idea of us doing an album when a lot of people in our team were always like “just do singles, just put out songs.” We thought it was a perfect name for the album because we probably would not have done it without him. That’s the inspiration of the name and as far as the music goes it’s a three-part album and is probably going to be 30 songs or something.
Trevor: It’s going to be a three-part album and they’re all just sectioned off into different vibes and genres so we’re not kept in one box. We have always had this idea of doing a three-part album ever since we started. We were going back and forth like “Do we want to make this a one-piece album with 12 songs or do we want to break it up in three parts?” Since we started, we have always liked to do different styles of music and go back and forth whether it’s more pop-leaning, dance leaning, rhythmic leaning etc. When we started the process of making the album we started making so many songs we liked but they sort of felt like they were in three different sections and different styles. We broke it up that way and they sort of represent each one of us. We all like different styles of music, we all come from different backgrounds. The first part is very pop-oriented, the second leaning towards the hip-hop/emo vibe and the third one is very dance. We want to be able to show all our personalities and get a big body of work out there. We are stoked about it, there is a lot of cool collaborations in each section. Part 1 is the stuff we have been releasing the last six to nine months and we have another few songs on the album for Part 1 coming out really soon.
Matt: We really want to create a vibe as far as the album songs and the production and the artwork and all that. Sometimes when you go single by single it feels like you’re just chasing what the next trendy sound is which is fun to do, but we wanted to tell more of a story
What has been your most rock and roll moment?
Matt: There has been a lot!
Trevor: I don’t know where we wanna go with the stories but a really cool story for me is when we played Madison Square Garden for one of the holiday shows. We played with Demi and performed “No Promises” out there and that was pretty awesome. Just being able to check off that bucket list and seeing that many people in one place singing along was pretty awesome.
Matt: I remember we were playing an arena show in Europe where we were opening and sometimes when we play shows we like to throw money around because you’ve got to give back to the fans. The band playing after us didn’t really like that very much so they cut our set. We want to be able to do what we want, and if someone tells us not to, we want to do it more. So that was one of those moments we were like “Screw it!”
KEVI: I can’t remember what show we played in Chicago but I sprayed the fire extinguisher everywhere and got arrested.
Matt: It’s one of those things where you were drunk and messed up so you didn’t really remember, but wasn’t there another guy, like you had an accomplice or something?
KEVI: We were playing tag or something with the fire extinguisher. I broke a microwave in the hotel, in the lobby.
Matt: You unplugged the ATM or something?
KEVI: I was messing shit up that night. I was taking no prisoners.
Matt: I’m saying the jury is still out — maybe you didn’t spray the fire extinguisher?
Trevor: They took you away and then kicked me out of the hotel for no reason! They were like “You just gotta leave now” and I’m like “What?”
KEVI: The funniest shit is that the cops gave me a ride from the jail cell to the airport catch my flight. That was a wild night.
Trevor: I went to the airport a few hours early because I got kicked out of the hotel and I was sitting there just waiting like. “I hope KEVI makes it.” KEVI just pulls up, looks all disheveled as he went through all this craziness. I could just picture it perfectly.
How would you describe each member in one word?
Trevor: That’s so hard. You guys are so complex! Give me a second.
Matt: Trevor I would say is curly and KEVI I’d say tall.
Trevor: Matt’s gone for the descriptive words. KEVI what you got?
KEVI: I would say genius and legend. There you go, they can make out which one they are.
Trevor: I would say Matt is balanced. Matt is a very balanced person, he is really good at never overdoing anything. It is hard to have balance in life and Matt is really good with that. He is very well thought out with what he says and what he thinks so that’s Matt. With KEVI, I’d call him creative. I think he is super creative and risky with his ideas and his creations, both with visuals and with music. Those will be mine!
KEVI: That’s very nice of you Trevor!
Trevor: You’re welcome, bud.
You’ve mentioned that you have participated in different live streams over the last year. How have you found interacting with your audience online rather than in person?
Matt: It doesn’t really feel real!
KEVI: Unless you’re playing Oculus!
Matt: We just did an Oculus set and that feels pretty real as you are talking to people, and can hear their voice, see their bitmojis.
Trev: We just got them a couple of weeks ago and when we got them, they asked us to do a virtual live stream show for a performance and it was the craziest thing. Just in a virtual world with a fake stage and a bunch of people in the crowd who in real life are in their rooms. It’s so crazy. We were laughing the whole time! You can personalize your character so Matt looked like Matt and KEVI looked like KEVI and when they walked in they were just hilarious. So that was an interesting communicative experience.
Would you say VR gigs are representative of what gigs used to be?
Trevor: Yeah, it’s tough. We definitely miss playing shows, we had gotten used to playing shows so often. We were gone three to four days a week consistently for a handful of years so we had missed interacting with fans in that sort of way. Doing it online has its benefits for sure, it is just less personal.
Matt: It’s more like playing a show with us and our friends.
Trevor: It’s cool and you got to roll with the punches.
Do you think there will still be space for virtual performances once live shows return?
Trevor: I think so. There will be less maybe, but more than they were. I think that they will be elevated, some people have found really cool ways to do it over the last year. Some people might enjoy it. I don’t know how much of a fanbase there will be that only wants to do live stream shows but maybe there is. There could be a future for it.
With streaming such a big part of the industry, how invested are you in your numbers, and do you ever feel the pressure to keep making hits?
Matt: Streaming makes it really easy to know, “Oh this song is our biggest song in the UK, so when we play shows in the UK let’s play this song,” whereas we might not play it in America because we have a bigger song in America or songs that people like more. It’s cool that you can even break it down to cities. I think that changes the game, especially as a DJ because you cater to your different fans around the world, whereas before you didn’t know those breakdowns as easily. So it was like “Here’s my show and it’s the same every time I play the show, and hopefully, you like it.” I think that is a good thing.
Trevor: I agree. Being able to just use the information is really cool. I don’t think we are obsessed with the numbers but it’s good to be aware of them though and be aware of what you’re doing that is working and not working and what we like and what the other people like. At the end of the day, I don’t feel pressured to make one hit after the other. It’s one of those things where we just got to keep making the music that we love making and the songs that connect on the platform connect in a bigger way. With songs that our fans love, that’s great too and we are down with whatever.
What are your 2021 goals?
Matt: Putting out the first part of the album. That would be goal No. 1.
KEVI: I’m just going to keep it simple and pretty straightforward. My goal is to go to the moon. Physically and on crypto.
Trevor: Putting out the album is a definitely huge one for us. We’ve never done an album, we’ve only done singles and EPs. Being able to do our first full-length and have it be this big body of work that’s three different parts, about 30 songs. It was a lot of work and a lot of time spent so we are excited for people to hear these songs. That is a huge one for us.
What message do you have to your supporters reading this?
KEVI: Peace and love!
Trevor: That’s a good one, I agree with that.
Matt: I would just say that everything is growing and expanding. You’re always getting better and even if it feels like you are taking steps back, you are going to come out on the other side with a new perspective. Maybe your house will be more organized, maybe you will be set up when things are really fast and moving again.
Feature Image: Trevor – Top: Charles and Ron | Jacket: Collini | Shoes: For Those Who Sin KEVI – Sweatshirt & Jewelry: For Those Who Sin | Shirts: Flaneur Homme | Pants: Pacifism Matt – Shirt: Wish Me Luck | Jacket & Shoes: John Geiger | Jewelry: Leilou