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Interview: Krewella

| October 1, 2013


They Are One

Looking back on it now, all the signs were there.

It’s not hard to track the rise of Krewella, from Chicago nightlife artists that morphed into an international hard-partying EDM break-out story. During this year’s South By Southwest Festival, the group’s trademark electro-rock pop anthem “Alive” was playing in heavy-rotation on Austin’s KISS-FM hit radio. In late spring, Krewella announced residency at Las Vegas’ Light Nightclub at Mandalay Bay, a sensory overloaded hotel mega-club managed by Cirque du Soleil. Then there’s the act’s well-received set at this year’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami. And here at home, the trio moved from the sidestage (in 2012) to the main stage at Soldier Field’s Spring Awakening Music Festival. That’s not including the SoundCloud mixtapes, high visibility remixes, or the group’s highly engaged social media presence.

It’s just a small sample of the seemingly overnight rise of Krewella, the trio of sibling singer-songwriters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and producer Kris “Rain Man” Trindl. While the world at large is just now getting turned-on and tuned-in to the group’s melodic EDM pop stylings, Krewella’s rise has been long in the works.

“It started off just as a hobby, back in 2007,” co-frontwoman Jahan recalls when we connect over the phone,” because we were in school and had jobs at the same time. So it was really just for fun. And (after) several months, we decided that we had something special, and our friends were telling us that we had something really unique, and I personally didn’t know any other producers, so I felt like Kris, who I just stumbled upon. It was truly a gift and a blessing meeting him.”

Upon meeting Trindl, the Yousaf sisters began dedicating any-and-all free time to working with the producer, with the small group collectively improving each other’s talents. “It felt like boot camp with Kris,” Jahan describes, “because Yasmine and I would present songs to him, and he’d say, ‘That’s not good enough. Tomorrow, bring me a new one.’ We’d come back with a new one, he would edit our lyrics here and there, edit our melodies, and he’d say, ‘This is how you write a catchier song.’ So he really was training us to be songwriters, the songwriters we are today. And we kind of did the same with his production. He would work on a beat, he’d send it to us, we’d send revisions, we’d go back and forth.”

Though that drive and commitment was present in the act’s early incarnation, Krewella’s promotion from promising hobby to all or nothing, full-time crusade can be traced back to a specific date, which each member wears as a badge of honor in the form of a neck tattoo.
“We have the date, June 8th, 2010, tattooed on our necks,” Jahan explains.”And that’s the day that we decided to drop out of school, quit our jobs, and dedicate ourselves to Krewella.” The artist recalls her and Yasmine’s parents being “a tad bit disappointed at the time, because they really didn’t see a long-lasting career in music,” but she attributes no small part of the group’s rise to “a lot of risk-taking. And I think that’s what it takes in order to be successful.”

In its infancy, the group’s live set-up consisted of its three members all ensconced behind their laptops and mixers. It wasn’t until 16 months in, that the Yousaf siblings began incorporating live vocals into their stage performances. Krewella then began to emerge as a recorded and live juggernaut that would make appearances at nightlife parties at Chicago venues like Cobra Lounge and Evil Olive. Events that could have been the apex of their ascent.

“Those were heroic nights for us,” Trindl pronounces when I sat down with him at a Vevo Lollapalooza pre-party at Chicago’s Park West. “Those were, those were, like, Oh my god, we’re playing at (Chicago nightlife party) Porn And Chicken. This is amazing!”

The Yousaf sisters have a slightly different memory. “Those were semi-dark days for us, where we were making a lot of music, it was getting a little bit of buzz, but we didn’t know if we could really get past the wall, or the ceiling that some artists in this genre always seem to hit,” Yasmine adds. “You can have a few really good songs, but, where do you go after the third one? Do you get any bigger? Is this as big as you’re gonna get? Is anybody gonna come to your shows in a year? Are they gonna really care about you in a year? So, it’s felt pretty awesome coming this far, knowing that we’ve gotten past that hump.”
The group has moved beyond any potential “nightlife ceiling” in the Chicago scene with the fall release of Get Wet, the group’s Columbia Records’ full-length debut.

Building off Krewella’s 2012 Play Hard EP, Get Wet finds Krewella accelerating its pop EDM sensibilities launched on its earlier work, with “We Are One” dominating the album as a pulsing electro-pop anthem. Meanwhile,”We Go Down,” is a hyper-infectious dubstep beast, while “Ring Of Fire” finds the group in a more tense and menacing progressive house mode. Get Wet displays a different side of Krewella on cuts like the soaring “Enjoy The Ride,” where Jahan stretches her vocal prowess and the more vulnerable “Human,” a track that displays a sensitivity and maturity that wasn’t previously explored by the Yousafs.

“Jahan and Yasmine both came up to me, about a year ago, a little bit more than that, and were like, ‘We want this to be a little bit more about how we feel, the experiences we’ve had over the last couple years, getting to where we are now, and over the last year of touring, and stuff like that,'” Trindl informs of the group’s banger ballads.

“We can write party songs all day, and we have plenty of those,” Jahan continues. “We know that our fans have emotions, too, and different emotions. And, I think really, what made us want to write those types of songs is hearing stories from fans. So when people write letters to us, or tweet stories at us, or even at shows at meet and greet, it’s almost more sad stories that give people more colors to them, rather than just, ‘Hey, I’m at your show to party!'”

“We’re at a different time in our lives right now,” her sister adds. “Back then when we made Play Hard, we didn’t have as many people listening, we didn’t have as many ears. And I think now, when you gain a larger fan base and you have more people listening and actually care about every word that you sing, you have more responsibility – you have to be more careful about what you say and what you want to say and what message you want to get across.”

It’s a serious sentiment for an act so embedded in the idea of going full-bore in its career. But for Krewella, beyond all the partying, this is not only a commitment, but also a calling. They have no plans to ease up on music-making anytime soon. “Here’s the thing,” Jahan explains. “We could stop right now. If we were to stop making music, it can’t be a long-lasting career. Like we haven’t gotten to a point now where we could take even (a) five month hiatus, and be able to come back and have people still respect us on the level they do now. We’re not at that point yet. We’re not at the point where we can have a long-lasting career. That’ll be maybe in…Five, six years?” Yasmine suggests. “I feel like, four more albums,” her sister continues. “Yeah, four more albums, maybe when we feel like we can take a five month break.”

“Cause all of my favorite artists, who I still care about, that I’ve been listening to for ten years, have four or five or six albums,” Yasmine agrees. “That’s so important. Having an amazing discography.”
All of which suggests that the trio’s seven-year “overnight” success story is just the beginning of a much larger picture. Proving the group hasn’t lost its Chicago work ethic or wavered from the path they committed to on June 8th, 2010.

“What’s been cool about us together, we’ve been working together for now seven and a half years-ish. We make the music that, collectively, we want to make.” Trindl continues. “We don’t make it for anybody else. We don’t make it for some corporation, or for fans. We make it for for ourselves, and hopefully people relate to that, and hopefully, in the long run, that means something.”

Judging by everything thus far, the long run is exactly what Krewella is in for.

– Jaime Black

Appearing: 11/16 at Aragon Ballroom
(1106 W. Lawrence Ave) in Chicago.

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