Sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and Kris “Rain Man” Trindl have come a long way since their formation as Krewella six years ago. Long gone are the days of producing music out of Kris’ closet, doing small club shows, and traveling from gig-to-gig in a van. Today, Krewella have emerged as one of EDM’s top-selling groups.
While their music is filled with pounding beats and catchy hooks and their live shows are pulsating, intense, and intoxicating, the trio are thoughtful, friendly, and grounded. They have a rule where they don’t drink alcohol before the show, instead preferring to stay focused on the performance at hand. Understanding the prevalence of drugs in the EDM culture, they ask their fans to be safe and to always have a sober companion. And despite their success, they realize that there is much more to be achieved.
In the midst of a lengthy tour across North America, I sat down to have a brief chat with the super EDM group when they stopped in Ottawa. We focused on the path they followed, the road to come, and the lessons they have learned along the way.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and congratulations on debuting at #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart
ALL: Thank you very much.
I know Kris plays guitar and once played drums. Jahan and Yasmine, do either you play any instruments?
JAHAN: Ummm, I play my vocal chords. (laughing) When I was 16, I played very basic guitar. Now I mainly write.
YASMINE: We got a guitar when I was 11 I think and Jahan would have been 13. We would play super minimal and write songs together. We had a beginner’s drum kit, so we would drum and play guitar. We were pretty mediocre, so I don’t think we could say we played, but we used them to help us write songs. I have a piano in my room to help me write songs, but instruments aren’t something that I’ve learned to master. So yeah, vocal chords, that’s what I play.
How did your songwriting develop and who was your guide?
JAHAN: For me, it was Kris who was the one that really guided me. Just looking at the level of songwriting I had back in 2007 when we first started, it was extremely amateur. I would go to Kris three times a week and go to his house and always have a new song. He would go through it and completely dissect it and stripped down the song. He would tell me which words he thought were cheesy or how to make my writing more abstract and how to develop my melodies better. So he was the one that really helped develop my craft of writing.
YASMINE: Definitely Kris and Jahan for crafting my melody writing. I started writing songs when I was 12, but that was just me in my bedroom writing stupid Indie songs. When I actually thought about songwriting and putting a good deal of thought into it, it was because of the inspiration and influence of these two.
Kris, you were in a metal band. What got you interested in production?
KRIS: I was programming all the instruments for my metal bands and sending them to the different members before practice. So this would be in high school, and I would write guitar parts and drum parts and send them to them on this program. As I got introduced to more sophisticated software, it just went with that. So first, I started with basic MIDI stuff and then I found Fruity Loops and Reason and stuff like that. It just kind of made sense because I had all these ideas in my head. With the more sophisticated software, I could make my ideas come alive.
Do you ever get the urge to just thrash on the guitar again, especially on stage?
KRIS: Oh for sure. We talk about it. Usually when I’m at home, I’ll pick up the guitar and play it. It’s a great outlet.
For future albums, any thoughts about having you play more guitar?
KRIS: We do have a little guitar on Get Wet, like on “Human” and “Dancing with the Devil”, but it is definitely something I’m considering incorporating more.
Do you see yourselves following the same path trajectory on future albums or branching out?
JAHAN: It’s up to Kris as he’s producing.
KRIS: I think as EDM gets more popular, you can do different things in it. People are experimenting all over the place with different things. As such, I think our second album will be something like that. It won’t be as straight-forward EDM like you hear people do. It’ll be more experimental.
When you look back over the past six years, are there any lessons you have learned that you keep in mind everyday?
KRIS: Most definitely. In the beginning, when writing or producing songs, there was a tendency of wanting to perfect things right away and working too fast to get it done. And when it wasn’t quite right, you think you need to drill at it and keep doing it, doing it, doing it, and think you’ll get through it. But after doing this over and over again, you learn that sometimes you need to just step away and return to it later. So knowing when to push and when to take a break has been a lesson, and after doing this over and over again it has become second nature.
JAHAN: I totally agree with that. Just reiterating what Kris said, when just starting off you feel like you have to work all the time, but you’re going to drive yourself crazy because you’re eventually going to hit a wall with your writing and dry out your creative juices. You’ll just become frustrated, depressed and start worrying about your future and feel like a failure as an artist. You have to know when to step away and do something social or leisurely or maybe research music, artists, or do something that will help you develop as an artist that doesn’t actually involve writing. You’re going to go through dry spells, and it’s important to not get down on yourself. You can write endlessly, but not come up with something. For instance, I might write 20 pages of lyrics and only 1 out of the 20 will be somewhat usable or something that Kris will like.
YASMINE: I think that in itself is a lesson. Just a couple of days ago, we were talking about this very thing. Only three years ago, Jahan and I would go to Kris and bring him songs, and we couldn’t handle it if he didn’t like something. We get upset and feel sad. But now, when Kris says he doesn’t like something, we’re like, “O.K. Let’s cut our losses and move on.” It’s like we have a different mindset now, where we know that we can always do better. When something isn’t quite good, you can’t be too attached to it. You just have to keep trying to be the best and being better than what you were yesterday.
JAHAN: So the process is still the same; it’s just how you handle the process, which has changed and evolved. We’re just not quite as sensitive as we use to be (laughing).
So how much has the process changed since you’ve signed with Columbia and how much control do you have over the songwriting and production?
ALL: Complete control.
KRIS: Luckily for us, Columbia offers us a little bit more resources, like a budget to record an album. For example, when we were working on a song called, “Party Monster” and we were in Boston at the time, we were able to rent a studio for the day as oppose to trying to do everything out of my closet. If we’re out on the road, we can rent studio spots and stuff like that, which makes it easier for us. As well, we get to connect with songwriters and producers. Everyone tries to write music, but to be able to talk to people who have a lot of experience and have been doing this for a long time just helps you learn.
How was the experience to produce Get Wet?
KRIS: It was hard because it was our first full-length. We had to do all these songs. We did Play Hard at first and then we did a bunch of singles. Get Wet was 12 singles, 14 songs including the bonus ones. It was a lot of material to come up with and to stand for because everyone is going to look back at the first album you’ve ever written or produced.
How long was the process?
YASMINE: If you go back to the earliest song on the album, it’s “Killin’ It”, which was written about 2 years ago. But then there’s this lapse in time where we did Play Hard and we put “Killin’ It” and “Alive” on it. Then you get to the Get Wet song writing, so it’s been a process of probably two years.
KRIS: I started the production on Get Wet after Play Hard, which came out in June or July of 2012. Then I started doing the album, which came out in September.
YASMINE: So a year and bit of production, and the song writing started a year before that.
You’re playing pretty much every night. What makes you still say, “Wow”?
YASMINE: I think a lot of it has to do with us coming to a city for the first time. We played in Montreal last night, and we had never been to Montreal before. We’ve talked to friends online, Twitter, and Facebook who are from Montreal, but we’ve never played there. It’s kind of hard to imagine what a crowd is going to be like if you have never had any experience in that city. And going to a new city and seeing a whole new fan base but it’s sold out and they are cheering for you, that’s the “Wow” moment. It feels new again every night because…it’s hard to explain. We’re all really proud to be here right now and what we’ve accomplished. I think we’re all still in awe and in shock that we’re here right now. None of us have gotten over this quite yet.
Just before our interview, it was interesting to see you take time to meet some friends and take photographs with them. What keeps you “grounded” and “keeps it real” for you?
JAHAN: Just realizing how much work we do have left to do. As much as it feels like we’ve been working since 2007 as a group, we’ve just released our first album, so it’s just the beginning. And in everyone else’s eyes, we’ve popped out of nowhere. So we treat that as the reality of the situation, that we’re new to everyone else. You know, that perception is reality, and the “reality” is that we are new and we’ve just started, so we have to scratch the past 6 years and treat this whole situation as having to prove ourselves as artists. Whether that means producing five more albums or doing stadium shows in the future, we have a long ways to go.
Last question, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to people starting out in the music industry?
KRIS: My advice would be to do something different. We struggled with that for a very long time, where we mimicked what we liked or what we wanted. When we finally came up with what we stood for as Krewella, it was unique and nobody was doing that. Music is something that you can do really well if you work at it and practice, but if you’re going to be an artist you have to figure out how to get people to pay attention to you.
JAHAN: Be fearless. I think the only way you evolve as an artist is if you take risks even if that means a small risk like trying out a different sound or writing something vulnerable or presenting yourself in a different way that you’ve never done before. I think taking risks is the only way to push and challenge yourself as an artist.
YASMINE: Agreed. I think a lot of artists who are younger or who don’t have the personality to be bold, sometimes you have to force yourself to sing out to a crowd or put your music out there. Force yourself to just do it because that’s your foot in the door. Like Jahan said, fear is something that holds so many people back. Just don’t be afraid to fail because you never know what might happen next.
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