For the first time in five years, electro-pop duo 3OH!3 has a new album out, and they find joy in ‘embracing the ugly’ while giving HL an EXCLUSIVE track-by-track rundown.
The world of pop music has changed since 3OH!3 released 2016’s NIGHT SPORTS. Taylor Swift went from having “bad blood” with Katy Perry to hugging her at the end of a music video. Kanye West found time to run for president (while also missing multiple album release dates.) Pop groups like One Direction and Fifth Harmony splintered, with members starting solo careers of varying success, and mumble rappers started making pop punk albums. Yet, while the landscape has shifted, 3OH!3 re-enters the chat at a time when their ‘crunkcore’-branded, electro-emo-pop stylings seem more on-point than ever.
NEED sees the duo – Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte – deliver eleven jet-fueled tracks ideal for the TikTok generation. The album is packed to the brim with catchy hooks (“I’m Sad,” “Mayne On A Leash,” “Vampire’s Diet”) and some surprisingly earnest lyrics that cover everything from growing old (“Last Breath”) to feeling alone while drunk at a Mexican restaurant (“Taco Tuesday”). This “warts and all” approach on NEED shows that the band has evolved in their songwriting – while still maintaining some of the tongue-in-cheek humor that made them popular in the first place.
“We’re really not concerned with having any sort of mystique,” the band tells HollywoodLife. “I think there’s a place for artists like that, and some of my favorite artists are shrouded in carefully cultivated imagery and story, but it’s just not our vibe for 3OH!3. We’ve always wanted to remove those walls between fans and bands and just rock a party across all platforms. We’ve found that mantra to be really liberating and inspiring when it comes to writing songs, hence embracing the ugly.”
With features from Slipknot’s Clown, Bert McCracken of The Used, and 100 gecs (the highly-celebrated hyper-pop duo that cites 3OH!3 as an influence), the band picks up where they left off, seemingly not missing a beat. In an EXCLUSIVE track-by-track interview with HollywoodLife, 3OH!3 discusses the challenges behind making NEED. their impact on artists like 100 gecs, and why they’re comfortable with “bridging the gap between the playful and serious, the funny/tongue-in-cheek and heartfelt.”
1. “LAST BREATH”
HollywoodLife: You kick off the album with a song that references Petey Pablo, your MySpace Top 8, and – well — dying. (Kudos for starting a project with “Last Breath,” especially since how the album ends.) Was this song – a bit of a ‘f-ck yeah, we’re older, but we’re still here’ type of mission statement – always going to open up Need?
3OH!3: I think this song has a bit of that sentiment. We wanted to make something that embodied a lot of our overarching ethos for 3OH!3, and that’s making music that’s big, heavy, fun, and bombastic, and LAST BREATH was that. Lyrically we wanted to touch on that sentiment of getting older and progressing in our careers but also keeping that mentality of being dynamic, funny, and a bit wacko… We’ve always tried to make our intro songs on our records pretty hyped up, so yeah – this one fit naturally!
Bonus: Was this line – “When your metal fingers rust” a reference to MF Doom?
It wasn’t consciously, but maybe it was pulled from our deep subconscious! We grew up listening to so much underground and indie hip-hop, and Doom was a big artist for us, for sure.
2. “I’M SO SAD”
“I’m So Sad” touches upon the theme of “aging” that appear in the first track. It’s a taboo subject in a youth-obsessed culture (the cries of “don’t trust anyone over 30” have been replaced with “okay, boomer.”) What compelled you to talk about it on this song?
We wanted to talk about gracefully/ungracefully aging on this song because… shit, we all do it. We’ve always tried to overtly not have too much hubris with our project as 3OH!3. Our mission has always been to include everyone in our music (at our shows, listening to our records, watching our music videos). The goal is always to bring people in and not force them out. Our most salient way of doing that is just being regular people and divorcing ourselves from any and all mystique – it’s always been pretty liberating for us, and the ability to make people smile by sometimes taking a jab at yourself is awesome!
Bonus: If you could have Maynard feature/remix on any 3OH!3 song, which would you pick?
Maynard from Tool? Shit – anything he wants!
3. “MAYNE ON A LEASH”
The cadence of the rapping is reminiscent of Eazy-E or maybe early Beastie Boys. Were you going for that ‘overhyped bravado’ vibe with the flow here?
We were pulling from those influences for sure on this song. That bratty, caustic, and over-exaggerated style of rapping and flow is so immediately energetic and inclusive to our ears. It’s fun to do, and we had a lot of laughs writing and producing this one.
4. “FBD INTERLUDE”
The biggest question is: who is this mysterious FBD?
That, my friend, shall remain a mystery. One does not simply ask who F.B.D. is…
5. “MI CASA”
“Mi Casa” is, on the surface, a house party banger about living in excess – but the attitude on the chorus (“I thought I told you, boy / Mi Casa Su Casa”) makes me wonder if there’s a darker origin to the song. Like, was someone just a poor party guest, and you got that inspiration?
MI CASA is what it purports itself to be – a fun song about partying at a house. It’s a critical theme that we’ve often explored here at 3OH!3 HQ. No, the inspiration here is all about having fun at a house party and really, REALLY making sure that people know that “mi casa, su casa.”
Bonus: Was that a sax on the track? It’s a great addition to this house party banger, and it invokes that one scene from The Lost Boys.
There is a form of saxophone on the track, yeah. The sax is actually one of my least favorite instruments normally, but I found that with enough treatment, cutting up, pitching around, and general deep, deep surgery on the tone, it was just annoying enough to be fun and catchy.
6. “POUND TOWN”
The song “Pound Town” is about your home, Boulder, Colorado. If certain cities have specific styles or attitudes that influence art and music, what would you say is the most “Boulder”-esque element of Need? Also, how does it work that you feature on your own track?
I tracked a lot of the record wearing Birkenstocks and socks, and if that’s not Boulder-esque, I’m not sure what is! Recording the Martin D-28 acoustic guitar that my Daddy and Mommy gave me on my 21st birthday in my basement in Boulder, Colorado in Birks – that’s Boulder. The self-feature is a nod to the fact that we tried to find a feature on this song and nobody wanted to do it! We decided to feature these dudes Sean and Nat from 3OH!3, and let me tell you, they are cheap to feature – what a bang for our buck.
7. “SKID MARKS”
So, we have the album’s “‘Lick My Love Pump’ from Spinal Tap” moment. What starts as a heartfelt ballad takes a turn south – literally – once the chorus gets in. Has there ever been a moment of reluctance to use such graphic lyrics, or is it more of a case of understanding your audience? A ‘the ones who are supposed to get it, will get it,’ type of deal?
I think that at this point in our careers, we’re pretty solid in knowing who we are and why we want to do things artistically as 3OH!3. One of the avenues that we try to explore a lot in our own songwriting is walking the line and bridging the gap between the playful and serious, the funny/tongue-in-cheek and heartfelt. I think this song is a good example of that. At its root, it’s a really honest and heartfelt song about a breakup – we just wanted to inject a little humor and wordplay in there as well. From there, I think we’re happy to trust our own instincts and our aesthetic. People are good, they’re smart, and they get it – we’re just happy to be able to have fun making this music!
What was the hardest lyric to write in this song? Because it’s pretty damn clever, and I certainly was eager to see how y’all were going to get by X, Y, and Z.
I think we stumbled on “Xan” happily. It’s a bit of a cheat, as Xan is usually a shortening of Alexander, but fuck it – we’ll take it!
9. “VAMPIRE’S DIET”
There are many guests on Need, and “Vampire’s Diet” boasts vocals from Bert McCracken. How did this collab come together?
We got teamed up with Bert over quarantine through our awesome manager Gabe Apodaca. We had met and hung out with Bert previously on Warped Tour 2018 when The Used did part of the tour. It was a great time to hang and chat with Bert. We sent him the song late last year, and he really dug it – we were so flattered. He drew inspiration for his verse from a book he was reading at the time and recorded himself at his house in Australia. We put it all together, and we had a true COVID collaboration track!
Bonus: Well, what about The Smiths?
Johnny Marr is the nicest dude ever, I know that for sure. We met him backstage at the Pukkelpop festival in Belgium back in the day, and he was so kind with his time and conversation. What a dude!
10. “TACO TUESDAY”
Do you remember when you wrote the lines “lonely is the new drug” and/or “generation solitude?” Those are interesting observations of a generation that spends a lot of time together while alone on their phones (a habit we’re all really guilty of.)
It’s hard to feel connected sometimes these days, man. We wrote this song a long time ago actually (probably 4+ years ago), but already things felt hard. I think a lot about the poor people who had to (and are still having to) spend quarantine alone – that sucks, man. Nobody deserves to be lonely… Also, shout-out to Juanita’s, a bar in Boulder that used to do $1 beers and tacos on Taco Tuesday.
11. “LONELY MACHINES” (ft. 100 gecs)”
You close out the album with “Lonely Machines,” your collab with 100 gecs and the song heralded as your comeback single. Is there any symbolism to ending your “comeback” album with the song that ushered in your return? That “the end” of the album is really “the beginning” of the new phase, or am I just reading too much into this?
I think the placement at the end of the record for LONELY MACHINES felt right because of the dynamics of the song. It gets so frenetic and crazy at the end and then just has this hard stop, which was sonically interesting to put at the end of the listening arc.
Bonus: You worked with Dylan Brady on Rebecca Black’s 10-year anniversary remix of “Friday.” Did that collab lead to 100 gecs appearing on the album, or was this team-up cooking before the Rebecca Black project?
I (Nat) had actually worked with Rebecca a bunch over the past few years. I co-wrote and produced a song called “Self Sabotage” for her, and she’s just the best. We got hooked up with the gecs through our record label for LONELY MACHINES, and the dots were then connected for RB’s Friday remix, on which she kindly asked us to feature.
Bonus x 2: How does it feel to know that you’re cited as an influence on bands like 100 gecs?
It’s really flattering, man. I remember our great buddy Benny Blanco saying he was working with the gecs, and they said we were a big influence for them. It’s always surprising and flattering when people say that!
It’s been five years since your last album. What was the biggest challenge in making Need? Was it a struggle to get back into the creative flow, or was it more like riding a bicycle, with muscle memory kicking in?
A big challenge was the obvious one – the physical one. When we were in the middle of making this record, we were not seeing each other, even though we were living probably 5 miles away from each other in Boulder, CO. I would drop a microphone off at Sean’s house and scuttle away, after having sanitized the bag the mic was in, all the contents, etc. We’d get on Zoom, like everyone else, and hash through things, trading files back and forth. As testing got more accessible, we opened up our circles a bit to work more in person, but it was still tough. That said, it was really great to get back into making music for the fun of it – not having too much of an agenda except for following our hearts and our instincts.
What’s the plan for the rest of 2021, and the following year, since 2022 is creeping up on us?
We have some touring dates on the books – we’re doing our absolute best to make sure to do those all safely and responsibly while still giving people a great show and putting as many smiles on as many faces as we can. From there, it’s where that Western wind takes us, baby!