INTERVIEW: Krewella (2013)
Krewella is one of the biggest buzzing EDM acts of 2012. Formed in 2007 with two sisters (Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf) and producer Rain Man, their track “Killin It” became a meme of its own, gaining major attention from DJs and music lovers all around the world. Their EP “Play Hard” and recently-released remix EP ‘Play Harder” show the depth of their musical tastes, covering the full spectrum of dance genres. Although they are gigging constantly, they are looking forward to taking a break to complete the work for their forthcoming debut artist album. I spoke to them when they played in Nashville, right before New Year’s Eve 2012.
Ron Slomowicz: So, where did the name “Rain Man” come from?
Rain Man: I was doing a hip-hop beat competition in Chicago a couple years ago, and one of the judges asked me my name and when I told him, he said “no you’re not that, you are rain man because you will have money raining down on you one day.” He was one of my biggest inspirations and mentor for a while and it has stuck.
RS: Speaking of names, where did the name Krewella come from?
Jahan: We came up with it about 4-5 years ago; it was actually before Yasmine was even in the group and while we were trying out other girls. I thought of it when we were writing down lyrics, we were thinking of darker, evil, sexy, feminine lyrics and the name popped in my head and I didn’t even question it. I thought it was the perfect name for a group that would have heavy masculine beats and feminine vocals.
RS: It is a rather disparate thing to have really aggressive beats and pretty lyrics; when you write a song do you start with the track or the vocals?
Yasmine: If Kris gives us a scratch track, we will go in and put some topline over it. I know that many times Jahan and I have written acappella just because we were thinking of melodies; sometimes we write with the piano or guitar, it just depends, there are so many different ways that we have written songs.
RS: So you guys play guitar and piano also?
Yasmine: Yeah, very rudimentary but enough to songwrite.
Jahan: Sometimes we will write acappella and just come up with lines on a plane. Some of the best songs are actually when you are not confined by a beat.
RS: I read that “Killin’ It” has been through many incarnations over the years.
Jahan: Yes it has, that was one of the first songs back in what we call the “old retro Krewella days” when no one was really exposed to us and we were just on MySpace. We put the song on MySpace and then decided to take it down and looked into it a couple years later and decided that it was actually a hidden gem, from there we took parts and layers of it and Kris made a new beat from there.
RS: Did you have any idea that it would blow up as big as it did?
Rain Man: No way, right before we put it out I was about to put the kibosh to it and called everyone telling them the song sucked and that we weren’t putting it up. As people started liking it I changed my mind though.
RS: It’s hard doing your own A&R, isn’t it?
Rain Man: Yeah, 100%.
RS: Is Benny Benassi producing the whole album that you are working on, or just a track on it?
Jahan: No it is just one track, a collab track.
Rain Man: I don’t know what I would do if Benny was producing the whole thing, I guess I could just hang out and be the mascot, I would wear the “Killin’ It” bear suit to the studio.
Jahan: We are writing, producing, and recording the entire album ourselves, we have a couple songs that are just the 3 of us, or just Kris on the entire beat himself. We decided that for this album, we wanted to pick a few songs that we want to go in for collaborations, just to incorporate different sounds.
RS: Any ideas who those are going to be?
Jahan: We have a few people that we are bouncing tracks back and forth with, but I feel like I can’t name them just yet. It will probably be another few weeks until we start developing those songs a little more to where we can come out and say who they are with. One of them is with Benny Benassi.
RS: We are loving the “Play Harder” EP, is that going to be a direction to where you’re sound is going to go with the different remixes or how is that a precursor to your album?
Yasmine: I think that it was more giving a chance to some of the dope producers and our really good friends. We just wanted to let them take our tracks in a completely different direction; it was a lot of fun to put it together. I guess it’s not really a direction, though, because they are all remixes of other people and it’s their sounds and not ours. It was more of a “Play Hard” 2.0 and letting people have their own take and make our songs even more ragey or put a different twist on them.
RS: Speaking of your sound, “Killin’ It” is such a dubstep song and “Alive” is such a stadium house song, you don’t really hold to one sound is it just a range of electronic sounds?
Rain Man: Definitely, I personally got into electronic music by listening to deadmau5, Bassnectar, Swedish House Mafia, and Skrillex. All of those sounds were what I came into; I didn’t get it trying to do electro house, progressive house, or dubstep, so whatever we are listening to and enjoying we get our inspiration from and then make our own versions.
RS: Is there a big EDM scene in Chicago?
Yasmine: Hell yeah. I have noticed that out of most of the cities that we have played in Chicago rages hard and they love dirty, grimy music there. I don’t know if it has any correlation to the beginning of house music in Chicago because it is such a different scene. The grimy dubstep scene and the drum and bass scene are way different from the house/tech house scene, but yeah, Chicago has a great scene.
RS: I know that Dani Deahl was hyping you guys like 3-4 years ago; it is great to see all the love from that?
Yasmine: That’s awesome, she’s our homey. We love her.
RS: How did the 3 of you meet up?
Jahan: Yasmine and I are sisters and Kris and I met in high school when I was about 16 years old. Kris and I were in the metal scene and we would go to metal shows with our friends all the time, I met him at shows and through partying. Making music was very casual for us and we didn’t really think about a career at the time, when you are that age you are very carefree and it was more of a hobby. Kris would throw a party at his apartment and he would pull me aside and show me the beats he was working on in his room. I was really inspired by it, it was a dream come true to actually know someone back 6 years ago that could make music that you could write to, everything back then felt like industry beats that you would write to. From there on we tried out a couple girls but none of them seemed like the right fit, and at the time Yasmine was in an indie band making completely different music. Maybe it’s a sister thing, but our writing styles really meshed together well and our voices complement each other, we have different styles but at the same time we balance each other out as far as our writing goes, so it really felt like a natural fit.
Rain Man: Yeah, we stole her! We got a ringer.
RS: What is it like touring with two girls who are sisters?
Jahan: Go on Kris, you can be honest.
Rain Man: We will be playing shows at festivals and I meet up with other DJs and it’s a bunch of bros talking about bro shit and I’m like “I want to go on tour with you guys!” We do girls stuff all the time like playing with Barbies, going to the American Doll stores, toy stores, candy stores, and tampon shops.
Yasmine: Sorry for dragging you to the tampon shop, my bad!
Rain Man: I am just playing, they are like my bros and we party.
Jahan: Actually, Kris is a heavy partier than Yasmine and I are, so maybe that is why he is saying that because he doesn’t really have a partner in crime for getting hammered every night.
RS: Is he the one that drinks all the Jameson?
Jahan: He is the one, usually by the end of our set I want to get drunk and the Jameson is already gone.
Rain Man: I do my best to try to get our friends and managers involved.
RS: Do their parents approve of you, Kris?
Rain Man: They definitely didn’t approve of me at first because I was trying to convince the girls to drop out of school and quit work, but they started coming around. We can pay the telephone bill now, so it’s been okay.
Yasmine: Yeah our parents love him; we are like family now since we have been together for so long.
RS: Y’all did a big show in Australia where you performed live on stage, is that what you are doing in your sets now here in the states?
Jahan: We played at Stereosonic, which is a traveling festival throughout Australia, and what we did was a hybrid live DJ set. It really depends on the venue and the show, we are just doing DJ sets right now, but in the near future we are going to be doing what we did in Australia with the live hybrid DJ set.
RS: When you are on stage, what exactly are you all doing?
Jahan: We DJ together, and when we do a live show Yasmine and I have a back-to-back thing going on where we switch off DJing and Kris does the special effects. With the live show it was cool, because you aren’t confined in the booth so you can finally come out and interact with the crowd. We are really looking forward to do doing that in the future.
RS: In your DJ sets are you using Traktor?
Jahan: Yes, Traktor and CDJs.
RS: When you are doing your production, what software are you using?
Rain Man: I’ve used Ableton for about a year and a half for the tracks, and I use Protools for cutting all the vocals and editing.
RS: Going back to vocals, whose idea was it to add the vocals to the Knife Party track- that was sick.
Jahan: Yasmine started writing it.
Yasmine: I wrote a hook over “Fire Hive.” I was trying to write a completely different song since I loved the chords in the song and Kris said it sounded too perfect over it, so we decided to do the remix. It’s a total sister thing, because Jahan had parts that were just perfect for the song.
Jahan: It happens all the time with our writing, where Yasmine and I are writing in totally different rooms and we will come together and compare what we wrote and they end up being very similar themes, it’s very weird but it works out perfectly, it’s some sister telepathy shit!
RS: These next batches of questions are going to sound a little random because they come from people who knew I was going to be speaking to you guys.
Jahan: That’s awesome, we love questions.
RS: Is there a song for 2012 that deserved a Krewella remix that did not get it and which one was it?
Rain Man: Well it’s a half-and-half thing, we have “Scorpion Move” by Zedd that we remixed, but we haven’t put it out, I don’t know why but it didn’t feel right, that would have to be the one for me.
Yasmine: There is a song that Netsky released on his most recent album called “Puppy” that at one point didn’t have any vocals on it, it would have been my track if I could pick something but someone released a vocal edit of it already.
RS: If there was a gun to your head and you were forced to choose between remixing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” or “Gangnam Style,” which of the two would you remix?
Yasmine: “Gangnam Style.”
Rain Man: Definitely “Gangnam Style.”
Jahan: I would have to say “Call Me Maybe,” I would turn it super-emotional with those chords and give it a very emotional vibe.
RS: Who does most of the tweeting, I am guessing Kris.
Jahan: That’s so funny, I would say that it’s pretty even, Yasmine is heavier on the tweets and when Kris randomly comes in it’s a really good tweet. It’s always a mystery whether it is Kris or Yasmine!
RS: Did you all get the snapchat figured out yet?
Jahan: No, you are so on top of your shit; you must have been looking at that last night. I set it up on my phone and the second that I gave out our user name my phone started blowing up and it made the app crash. I have ton of little present images that I want to open and cant.
RS: Is your cat on tour with you?
Jahan: I wish! The cat is a very interesting story in that he is a Krewella cat. There are actually 2 cats, Captain Doom and White Boy, they are brothers and they first belonged to Kris. Yasmine and I fell in love with the cats and asked to adopt them and took them to our apartment in Chicago. We were at home writing all the time and hanging out with the cats and we fell in love then- boom we had to be on the road all the time and had to figure out a new home for the cats. Hopefully, one day once we settle down we will be able to be back with them.
Rain Man: They live with my grandmother right now.
RS: Are they jealous of Meowington being on the cover of the deadmau5 album?
Yasmine: They might be.
Rain Man: They are pretty chill and pretty stoic, they’re chillin on my grandma’s bed being fat.
Jahan: They’ve been around since the beginning of Krewella and they were there to witness the first demo that we ever recorded. They moved into the loft that the 3 of us lived in so we really had a personal, deep bond with them. We each have a publishing company names and I named mine Captain Doom in honor of my furry boyfriend.
RS: Are you going to be constantly on the road for the next 5 years?
Jahan: I hope not
Yasmine: We are going to take most of January and February off to work on the album; we will hopefully get a nice big chunk of that done. We love touring and being on the road and seeing and playing for our fans, there is not much more in this world that is much more rewarding than that, but we love being in the studio more than anything.
Jahan: Like Yasmine said, it is so rewarding because you finally get to see the people that are supporting your music and pushing to make you bigger, but if we all had to choose a place to be our ideal place as artists would be in Los Angeles in the studio every single day. That is where we feel the healthiest and where we feel that we are really in our artist zone, touring is great but you can’t make music as much as you want to.
RS: How did you guys get involved with Sony?
Jahan: It was We Are Hunted, I don’t know how it works but I think that there is an algorithm of who are the most-searched artists or people that are buzzing and the A&R guy who found us from Columbia found us from We Are Hunted and flew into Chicago to meet us.
Rain Man: He had a scarf with skulls and we were immediately interested, he took us out to lunch and we signed.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Jahan: We love you guys even though we don’t personally know most of you, we really do love you guys.
Yasmine: They’re hilarious, we are always on Twitter or talking to them on Facebook and there are a lot of really cool people. It is pretty unreal and amazing to have everyone’s support.
Rain Man: I have more faith in humanity after meeting Krewella fans and getting to know people in the scene, it has been great.
Yasmine: Everyone is so supportive, we have met some of the most amazing people on the road and we are very appreciative of it.
Jahan: A lot of fans feel ignored in this day in age and feel that there is no communication, a lot of artists leave right after the show and don’t care to meet their fans, but after every show we always want to meet the people that love our music. Music is our life and just being a part of someone’s best night is a mutual relationship, the fans make our night. There are so many shows that I come out of and feel like it was the best night of my life and they feel the same way. It is beautiful and we feel like one with our fans.
RS: Your fans in Nashville definitely love you!
Yasmine: We are stoked to play in Nashville; it has been more than a year since we’ve played here.
Jahan: In October 2011, we played one of our first DJ sets and it was our first show outside of Chicago, we drove from Chicago to open for R3hab and we were so excited.
Jahan: I think that there is a video on YouTube if you look up Krewella, Nashville you can see how few people were there. There were like 20 or 30 people there and 2 kids were in the front with the light up gloves singing “Strobe Lights” and Yasmine and I were freaking out because they knew our song. We love coming back to Nashville; it has a special place for us in our heart.
Interview conducted December 29, 2012 in Nashville. Special thanks to MSO PR and 3rd Brain Management for arranging this interview.