Groove Theory: The Internet Is R&B’s New Remedy
If the acid jazz sounds of The Internet aren’t on your radar yet, they should be. Instinctively carrying the torch of this generation’s answer to R&B/soul, the six-person band is cool, calm and collected as they await the arrival of their third album, Ego Death, sure to skyrocket them into major success.
On a blazing summer day at AFROPUNK, the Brooklyn-based music festival that hosts a mixed scene of established and fresh acts, The Internet was hypnotic. Emitting psychedelic sounds that engulfed the crowded park, I was summoned by an angelic yet raw voice that packed as much conviction as Pac’s thug life tattoo and his Makaveli album cover art combined. There she stood in a plain white tee and blue jeans, deep in the groove and belting out her sincerest thoughts. It wasn’t forced; it was fluid, giving even the smoothest operator a run for her money. It was the producer/DJ-turned-singer of L.A.’s radical, hip-hop collective Odd Future, Syd tha Kyd. Behind her was a full band going just as hard, comprised of Matt Martians on the drum machine (and possibly holding a mariachi shaker), Patrick Paige II on bass, Jameel Bruner on keys, Steve Lacy with backing vocals (and guitar), and Chris Smith on drums. Together, they made the Los Angeles-based R&B/soul band, The Internet.
While performing in Hov’s borough, the six-piece group attracts a mixed bag of audiences. The diverse crowd of hipsters, skaters, preps, and nerds bobbed their heads, flailed their arms, and moved their hips in unison to the funky, soul-inspired tunes The Internet delivered with ease. These six black kids were killing it. Heart-rending melodies and playful chords stroked my soul and tip-toed on my heart as the steady, syncopated flare of the hi-hat and snare drums complimented the lead singer’s effortless crooning, blending into one potluck of harmonious, feel good music. In the Internet’s words, however, their experimental sound is acid jazz.
It’s been shy of a year since that day and the six-person outfit of The Internet managed to conquer in an arena where trap queens and strip club anthems reign supreme. Although their moniker signifies millennials’ perpetual hub, the twenty-somethings (minus 17-year-old bass player, Patrick) prefer being artists of the people. Priding themselves on music that speaks for itself, the group has penetrated the mainstream scene, garnering praise from a number of outlets. Spin hailed them “neo-soul experts,” Mass Appeal predicted that the group’s First Lady would “make history,” and Pitchfork found them to be “undeniably impressive.” But even 140 characters couldn’t deny The Internet’s greatness.
Collectively, they’ve put their souls on wax for Ego Death, saying, “Being vulnerable and honest. It’s about us growing up as a band and as individuals, and the challenges we’re facing and learning from. It’s about us acknowledging our egos and the egos around us, and using them the best way we know how.”
After five months of e-mail tag and Twitter exchanges, VIBE (finally) caught up with the group two weeks before the release of their new album. During the interview, Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martians cleverly finish each other’s sentences, discussing the space they occupy in modern-day music, maturing as a band and all the individuals that contributed to the album. They are also holding sidebar conversations with three other members in attendance, trying to conjure up answers while maintaining focus on the subject at hand. Along with an awkward silence when compared to Ashford & Simpson, the band laughs then describes their journey through their soul-derived cosmos. –Ashley Monaé
Your third studio album, Ego Death, is coming soon. What was the recording process like?
Matt Martians: We started the first song [on the album] immediately right after Feel Good. The first song we made was called “Golden.” It’s like we know we want to make a good album, but we don’t really have a direction, which is kind of good. When you try and have too much of a direction, you sort of box yourself in and leave out cool ideas that you could possibly do. To put an album out like Ego Death, we don’t think too much about anything – just being free about things and going with whatever comes to you.
Is the third time really a charm?
Matt: With this album, I feel like we finally found our sound. With our first album, our very first songs were on that album.
Syd the Kyd: Yeah, that was the first.
Matt: We didn’t get any mixtapes, any demos. The very first song we made together was “Cocaine” and “She Dgaf” so I feel like we grew in a different kind of way than I feel like most artists do. They put out EPs and scratch demos before they really come out. With this album, we finally found our sound, and it’s a sound that you can only get from us.
Ego Death is a definite departure from Feel Good in a sense that it’s a more mature, hard-hitting and darker sound.
Syd: Well, I know Matt can agree with me on this, we really just wanted this album to hit hard. Our last album was feel good music, it was airy. But this one, we wanted it to hit people in the chest. You know what I mean? Like, we wanted it to knock.
Matt: With this album, we really tried to hit people in the chest with it and tried to go a little bit harder. N.E.R.D, has always been a really big influence on us, and we like how they made sort of hard records, but still had a soft core to it. But you’re right. We kind of teetered on more of a hard-hitting album. I feel like when you want a broader audience listening to your music, you kind of have to have something for everyone –you heard the new album–the drums are a lot harder, they are a lot more hip-hop than they are live, like on previous projects we’ve had.
Syd: And we know it will still translate when we do it live and that’s why it’s kind of cool. We made Feel Good after performing PNL (Purple Naked Ladies) live so many times and we were like, man, we want to make an album with live everything. So we did that, got that out our system, and now we’re kind of going back to our producer ways and making beats. But it’s really a collective thing, everyone in the band contributes.
Matt: Everyone in the band has solo work as far as production, so we’re always working together.
Speaking of the band, the album cover has all members on it. The past two albums didn’t. What was the reasoning behind it?
Matt: To be honest with you, I feel like a lot of people, not anyone personally, but a lot of artists now are more about the image than the actual talent. I feel like a lot of people try to put on a mysterious, sort of tedious image to steer you away from the fact that they aren’t really doing much when it comes down to the talent they are trying to sell. So with us, I really wanted it to be clear-cut. Every time you play your favorite album, you see the artwork so every time you play our music, I want you to see the people and the hands involved. I don’t want it to be a question of who did stuff on the album.
Syd: Yeah, that was the main thing we wanted. We got tired of people, well not even tired of anything because it was never really an issue, but we just wanted everybody to know that we’re a band and not a duo—we have six members. We wanted everybody to know what we look like. We wanted everybody to know that we’re black and young.
Matt: It’s a throwback to the old Jackson 5 and Isley [Brothers] covers, too. Those are really the inspirations we had. Every one of those albums had just the band on the cover. You were able to see the differences in age and seeing how their style changed. That kind of thing is real cool to me, and I feel like I want to bring back the traditional sort of band per se.
Syd: And to give a platform for the members in the band because they all do their own work as well. We want them to be able to be like, ‘Yo, this is my album.’
Matt: It’s a visual aid and it’s face recognition, too. When we come to shows now, instead of the band coming on stage and people saying, “Who’s that?,” they know everyone and are like, ‘Oh sh*t. Sh*t’s about to crank up.’ Opposed to before, it would take Syd or me coming out for people to even make some noise. Now, it puts more emphasis on the collective unit, and you’re coming out more than just seeing Syd. Syd’s an instrument in the band—one of the instruments, you know what I’m saying?
The Internet is kind of carrying the soul torch for the new generation.
Syd: We’re not necessarily doing it on purpose. It’s just the kind of band [we are] so that’s naturally what we ended up making. We really just make what we want to. Our next album could be another genre – it could be pop. Right now, this is just kind of what we’re on and it’s probably going to stay this way; it’s what we grew up on and what not.
Matt: I do think it’s important, especially to black kids, to see different people taking on this kind of music. It’s good to see black kids picking up instruments and knowing they can work in a band as opposed to just doing rap music. There are other avenues of music you can go down as a black kid when you’re young that can work out if you really put in the work and really try to bridge gaps and try to do something different. That goes back to the [album] cover. It’s important that we show that camaraderie. The feedback from the cover was great. A lot of people were like, ‘Yo, this is so dope. Who is this? What does he play?’ That’s the type of feedback we want. We want people to feel like they can do it too.
Describe the songwriting process. How collaborative is it? Also, Syd, did you seek out input from the guys?
Syd: As far as writing lyrics goes, I have a guy that I write with all the time. His name is Nick Green and I wrote “Dontcha” with him. After [that], I was like, ‘Yo, we gotta write more.”
Matt: He’s got a real cool band called Nicky Davey.
Syd: Yeah, check them out. They’re awesome and are about to drop another EP. I wrote most of the songs with him. I wrote a couple of tracks with girl named Taylor Park, and James Fauntleroy wrote one of the songs for me. I wrote a couple songs by myself.
Matt: Steve wrote on a few songs and is singing as well.
Syd: So yeah, collaborative effort definitely. The writing part is mostly me and like I said, I bring in my guy, Nick Green–he’s a big part of it. That’s about it. I like to keep it the process condensed and still be a part of it.
Matt: We like to run everything by each other. Even if Syd is not right there, writing with them, then she’ll play it and ask if it’s cool. [The music] has to clear [with] everybody.
There are other amazing artists featured on the album. Syd, are you and Janelle Monáe’s voices layered on “Gabby?”
Syd: Yeah, it’s really random. What actually happened is Janelle is a friend of Matt’s family—his brother works with her. She was in town and she came to my studio. Matt and Steve had made this beat called “Whip,” which is the second half of “Gabby.” Matt wanted her to sing on it and she started singing like these interesting kind of operatic melodies.
Matt: Sort of like samples.
Syd: Yeah, it sounded like a sample. I just sang along with it and wrote the lyrics to the similar melody for it to fade on top. The plan was for her to come back and re-record stuff and for us to finish writing, but she never made it back in time. So we were just like, forget it, we’ll just act like it’s a sample and keep it under there.
Matt: It’s funny how things work out because that’s really what I wanted her to do. Tyler [The Creator] does a similar thing with his features, too. We’ve been hanging with out with [Tyler] a lot while making this album. This is the type of feature that blends in. You don’t really wait for somebody to have this crazy verse; it’s kind of more organic and deeper that way. It’s a better blend, too, because it’s not like you have a verse come in and then they’re gone. I don’t know, I guess that’s just me personally, but I kind of like those type of features where it feels like it’s a little more thought out. It’s cooler, too.
How did you all link with Vic Mensa?
Matt: Right when we got signed to Sony ATV, one of our publishers, Katie Welly, kept telling us we should work with his guy named Vic Mensa, but it never worked out. Time goes on or whatever and Vic’s in town—this is before all the mayhem—and he comes through, chops it up, drops a verse and just dips–that’s it. Vic is real cool, like a real cool cat. He’s always supported us and shouted us out to a lot of people. Everyone on the album I consider a friend. It wasn’t really hard to get the features because it was literally like calling up friends and being like, Hey, you want to do some sh*t we’ve been trying to do?
Syd: This was a little bit after the INNANETAPE days, so it was like when we had been bumping “Orange Soda” and “Lovely Day.” We had been bumping his sh*t for a minute. So it was dope that he came through.
Matt: Yeah, that’s the thing about Vic. Every time we were in his city, he’d come out and support so he’s got my support. You’ll notice on the feature on the album, Vic started with a live band so it’s like going back to his roots, moreso than the hip-hop that he’s doing now. It’s cool.
How do you think you each have grown individually since The Internet’s inception back in 2011?
Syd: Man, I’ve gone through a lot of my own little personal battles. I can say I’m a much happier person. I’m more satisfied and content. I’ll probably never be fully satisfied, but I’m definitely way happier than I was even last year and even 2011. I’m much more confident. I try to portray that in the album so I hope that comes across. I’m a much better singer. I’m not great or anything, but I’m much better than I was in 2011. I’ve been practicing a lot and taking classes.
Matt: It’s a lot of behind the scenes [development] for me with handling business. I stopped taking a lot of things that have to deal with the music business personally. Also, taking a stronghold on our career, like Syd and I own our own separate clothing for the band. We have really just learned how to take things into our own hands and control our own destinies. As far as growing musically, I kind of try to stay in a place of having infinite possibilities – like from being trash one day and tight the next. I don’t know. It’s weird. [Laughs] I kind of like to stay in limbo. People always say they make their best sh*t when they’re young and they become trash when they’re older so I can’t really gauge it. I’m in a weird space right now.
If you could give Ego Death a mission statement, what would it be?
Matt: I don’t really want to give people too much because I want people to interpret it how they want to interpret it. Play it late at night though. When you first get that sh*t, get some wine and bump it.
Photo Credit(s): Facebook/The Internet