Krewella: The Road Back

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New York City – For the ladies from Krewella, their young career has been the kind of rollercoaster ride that very few could’ve predicted.

Back in 2013, when electronic-dance music was in the midst of its massive crossover into mainstream popularity with records like Avicii’s “Levels” and Zedd’s “Clarity” dominating the radio airwaves, Krewella’s infectious “Alive” fit right in. For pop fans, the tune seemed to come out of nowhere, but Krewella was far from an overnight success.


The story of Krewella began back in 2007 at Glenbrook North High School in suburban Chicago where sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf and close friend Kris “Rain Man” Trindl set out to chase their collective dream. Like most aspiring artists, the three did everything they could to get their name out there—writing songs, making beats, formulating plans—hoping to make their mark in the music world.

Riding the emotional and financial waves that come with being an up-and-coming artist, the trio toiled for three years before deciding that the group was no longer a passion project, choosing to dedicate their young, professional lives to Krewella. It was June 8, 2010, to be exact. This was the day, Jahan, Yasmine and “Rain Man” agreed to give up their part-time jobs and schooling to invest all of their time to their musical career. In fact, somewhat famously, all three members had that date tattooed on their bodies.

But, it wasn’t until June 2012 that Krewella started to garner some serious attention, as the release of its “Play Hard” EP drew the electronic community to its gritty, aggressive style of bass music. (Featured notably on the snarling debut EP was that soon-to-be-Platinum smash, “Alive.”) Additionally, in the midst of this initial push into the marketplace, the group pursued a well-documented and quite effective social-media program that helped engage new fans by the masses.

After all this lead-up, Krewella’s performance at Miami Beach’s 2013 Ultra Music Festival served as the group’s coming-out party, catapulting them to star status within the realm of electronic music. The group soon rode that momentum throughout the rest of festival season, signing with Columbia Records and releasing its debut full-length, Get Wet, the following September. The group also spoke and performed at the DJ Expo in Atlantic City, N.J., that summer.

As Krewella hit the road in support of the album, which also included the hits “Live for the Night” and “Enjoy the Ride,” fans began to notice Trindl was no longer touring with the Yousaf sisters, and that continued into the 2014 festival circuit. Then, in September 2014, it was announced that Trindl was no longer part of Krewella. This was followed by a lawsuit that Trindl brought against the sisters for allegedly kicking him out of the group unfairly. The sisters countersued. The Yousaf sisters then fired back with “Say Goodbye,” a rock-flavored/drum-n-bass track (co-produced by Pegboard Nerds and KillaGraham) reflecting on the legal battle with their once-dear friend. Things continued to get ugly and more public – the blogosphere derisiveness got particularly nasty – before the lawsuit was reportedly settled.

After taking a year-long hiatus during the much-publicized legal battle, Krewella rejoined the music scene, rebranding its image as the sisters prepared to embark on the newest chapter of their careers with the release of buzzy single, “Somewhere to Run,” in March, 2015.

Krewella returned in a more notable way the following year with its “Ammunition” EP (featuring multiple producers like Diskord, Pegboard Nerds and Goldstein) and the intimate Sweatbox Tour that hit 16 major markets that fall.

Going back to basics, Krewella began to reclaim its place. The sisterly duo parted ways with Columbia Records and started its own label, Mixed Kids, with the release of the “New World, Pt. 1” EP this past summer. Now delivering a new sound that, in part, reflects their Pakistani heritage, while still delivering plenty of big beats and melodic moments, Krewella’s Jahan, 28, and Yasmine, 25, continue to grow artistically. And live – where they DJ, sing and perform enthusiastically – they still bring it.

Indeed, at Terminal 5 in New York City, we saw Krewella tear the place down with a mix of recent material and the well-known hits. Fans both new and old were treated to a high-octane, 90-minute performance, fueled by Yasmine and Jahan’s indisputable energy, not to mention a hefty barrage of bass. Sporting a unique, new stage design, the show also offered plenty of participatory moments – champagne showers, head-banging, crowd-surfing and, of course, sing-a-long moments that had fans on all three of the venue’s floors involved.

As the group readied for the upcoming release of “New World, Pt. 2” (and its “New World” single, a trap effort with Yellow Claw featuring Taylor Bennett), we interviewed with Krewella. We caught up separately with Jahan (before the Terminal 5 show) and Yasmine Yousaf (afterward) to discuss how they’ve righted their career course and navigated the road back to EDM prominence.

Jahan Yousaf

DJ Times: A year ago, you two were in the midst of your intimate Sweatbox tour – how does it feel to be on the road again for another fall tour?

Jahan: It feels like we’re doing exactly what we should be doing. There’s no place I’d rather be right now. Seeing the fans every night, listening to their stories, watching them have the time of their lives, hearing them scream the new song lyrics right back at you is one of the most rewarding feelings of being an artist. It’s great fuel for getting back into the studio this winter because it’s a reminder the old, new, and unreleased all has a place with our fanbase.

DJ Times: Which setting do you prefer playing – intimate venues, clubs or festivals?

Jahan: We love intimate venues. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the “Krew” and finally hear them shouting lyrics into the microphone with you. Seeing all the sweat that close is so raw.

DJ Times: Crazy to think your “Get Wet” tour took place four years ago, huh?

Jahan: It still feels like yesterday. We’re still literally getting wet with our “Krew” every single night on tour. There is not one show we’ll play that we aren’t absolutely soaked through our clothes by the end of it. Four years later and we still go just as hard!

DJ Times: Your current “New World” tour comes in conjunction with your latest EP and recent collaboration with Yellow Claw, but “New World” runs deeper than just a title. Tell us a little about what inspired the name.

Jahan: Yasmine and I grew up in a multicultural household with our dad being a Pakistani Muslim, and our mom being European, but American-born. I think that diverse palette is what has made our life so rich with color, and what kept our minds open to different values and traditions of others. Moving out to L.A. almost five years ago and touring the world has given us so much perspective and only reinforced our already strong feelings about how integral cultural diversity is for our community.
DJ Times: So that is where a “New World” stems from?
Jahan: The song “New World” came from our love for the diversity in our own family and community of friends and fans, and then from there we decided to rock with that vibe for the entire “New World” movement.

DJ Times: Would you say that played a part in choosing the name for your Mixed Kids imprint as well?

Jahan: Absolutely. Growing up, being mixed was somewhat confusing. I just didn’t know where I belonged. I was the random white girl in Islamic school, and then I was the kid with the weird foreign name in junior high. I absolutely loved watching and listening to Bollywood records in the privacy of my home, but felt ashamed wearing Pakistani garments out to the mall when our family had get-togethers. It took me years to finally gain perspective and realize where I came from and how beautiful of an experience it has been to be exposed to something unique. Naming our label Mixed Kids Records is us finally owning and embracing the essence of who we are. We were brainstorming at the kitchen table with our dad and once we said Mixed Kids, he slammed his head on the table and said, “Yes, that’s it!”

DJ Times: Speaking of that, how does it feel to separate from Columbia Records, and now have your own record label?

Jahan: It feels incredibly liberating and empowering knowing that both of us are now the label. Yasmine and I are calling the shots, deciding what song we want to release and when.

DJ Times: Any advice to those who think signing with a major-record label is the only key to success as an artist?

Jahan: Being on a label is so instrumental if you’re an artist who is trying to play the “radio game.” If you have a song that you and a reliable team is confident sounds like it could fit within the radio world, and there is pursuit from labels, then I would think it’s a great opportunity if the deal is carefully worked out. However, if you have a cult following and diehard fans, who aren’t limited by what is fed to them on the radio, then I would keep stay in that world. If you have something that’s already working in the underground, then why change up the dynamic?

DJ Times: How do you two organize your workflow when working on a new record track in the studio?

Jahan: We both write lyrics and melodies simultaneously. We work best when we are “filling in each other’s sentences” and tweaking each other’s melodies. Occasionally, if one of us needs a day off or isn’t feeling well, the other will go into the studio alone and then when we’re back together it’s nice to know there’s someone who can listen with a fresh, unbiased ear. We’ve also done “split sessions” where both of us write separate songs with different producers, and then we’ll play it for the team and see if it’s worth going in on together.

DJ Times: What does a studio session with Yasmine usually entail?

Jahan: Lots of snacks, laughs, weird gibberish lyrics in the vocal booth, talking about deep shit, tea, coffee, listening to some of our childhood favorites, watching music videos in the background.

DJ Times: When it comes to production, you’ve recently been implementing your Pakistani roots into the mix – is that something fans can continue to expect going forward?

Jahan: We have yet to reach our full potential as artists, who are diving into their roots. It’s something that we will continue to explore and incorporate as it feels so natural since we are half-Pakistani.

DJ Times: How did your recent collaboration with Yellow Claw and Taylor Bennett come about?

Jahan: We sent the vocals and verse beat idea to Yellow Claw and they immediately started working on production on their end. We saw each other in passing at festivals, but all the revisions were back and forth through email. It was really cool seeing how confident they are in their vision and sound design, and how quickly they delivered the first idea for the drop. They just really know what they want and they’re really focused, which is so badass.

DJ Times: With a number of massive collaborations over the years, who are a few artists you hope to work with in the near future?

Jahan: Starting as early as this fall, we’ll be dropping some collabs with Pegboard Nerds, Lookas, and R3hab.

DJ Times: What’s your ideal DJ set up these days?

Jahan: We still use CDJ-2000 media players and a Pioneer DJ mixer, and have since Day 1! On this New World Tour, we are incorporating live vocals, so it’s more of a hybrid live-DJ set.

DJ Times: You two have made a name for yourselves with your exceptional songwriting ability, vocals and bass-fueled DJ sets. What is it that made you fall in love with the electronic-music genre?

Jahan: I always loved the endless capabilities of electronic music. It has allowed us to experiment and evolve. However, when I heard electronic music for the first time in my early teens, I remember it sounded like it was beyond modern times. It made me feel like that very moment was a scene from a movie, set in the future.

DJ Times: Who was the first DJ that caught your attention and introduced you to the bass-music scene?

Jahan: Yasmine first exposed us to bass music when we heard of Skrillex right before he popped off. I remember feeling so moved the first time I heard Bassnectar. To this day, I still don’t think there’s another DJ who is doing something comparable to Bassnectar. He’s truly in his own lane.

DJ Times: Krewella has been quite the tear as of late – what can everyone expect from Jahan and Yasmine in 2018?

Jahan: To be honest, I don’t know yet myself. I like that feeling. I really feel like we’re both just living in the moment, hopping from one city to the next, and then going ham in the studio whenever we’re back home. Let’s see where that takes us!

 

Yasmine Yousaf
DJ Times: Let’s talk Krewella’s studio/songwriting process. How does that work?

Yasmine: Every song starts differently. Sometimes we’ll start writing a song over just piano or guitar chords, and other times we’ll rock over a rough percussion track and build a song from a production standpoint first. Most of the time, we focus on songwriting first and production second, though.

DJ Times: What is your preference when it comes to DAW and microphones?

Yasmine: We always record vocals and anything live – i.e., random percussion sounds, guitars, etc. – in Pro Tools. We work with a couple of different producers who work in Ableton and Logic as well, so we jump around depending on the session. We love our voices on pretty much any Manley microphone. It’s been our go-to mic brand for over two years now.

DJ Times: How does a collaboration work with Krewella these days?

Yasmine: A lot of the time, collaborations will happen over the internet, because we’re working with artists from across the U.S. and sometimes even on different continents. We love working with new people, because there’s always something new to take away from such an experience. Recently, we released our collaboration with Yellow Claw called “New World” and it was such a cool process, partially because we fucking love everything those guys make. We sent them the full songwriting over what was essentially a hip-hop beat. They added a build-up and drop, and we went back and forth tweaking the details for about six weeks until both parties were happy. Most collabs work that way unless you’re lucky enough to be in the same city and get in a studio together.

DJ Times: Musically, what’s lighting Krewella up these days? Any other producers/artists you appreciate at the moment?

Yasmine: We are loving so many artists right now — to name a few: Reo Cragun, Oliver Francis, PVRIS’s new album [All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell], Odesza’s new album [A Moment Apart], and Circa Survive’s new album [The Amulet]. Our musical tastes, between the two of us, are all over the place, but it all helps ground our perspective in the studio.

DJ Times: Are there any new sounds that have caught your ear as of late?

Yasmine: Personally, I’m loving the genre-bending of rap and these post-emo melodies. We grew up on pop-punk and hardcore bands, and to hear that influence bleeding into some newer hip-hop and rap acts is super exciting.

DJ Times: Where does your “New World” tour rank compared to past Krewella tours?

Yasmine: It feels like an evolution past all tours we’ve ever done. There was a time and place for the tours we did in 2013-14 with gigantic production that had a larger-than-life stage presence that we did, and a time and place for the punk-rock room tour we did last year with a live band. This tour took on a more mysterious and dark vibe, coupled with a simpler stage production that captured the vibe we set out for in creating the music and artwork for “New World.” The rooms are large, but still intimate, which brings us a lot of joy on tour because we still feel like we’re so connected to our fans during the shows.

DJ Times: What are a few memorable moments that took place during this tour?

Yasmine: We have meet-and-greets every night with anywhere from 30 to 60 people. The shows are insane and such a high moment, but meeting the people who have followed and supported your music for six years and hearing their stories and experiences is the most memorable thing from this tour. That, and Jahan dressing up as the “old Krewella” for Halloween, that was fucking hilarious.

DJ Times: You two had quite the roster of support throughout this tour, a little bit of everything.

Yasmine: We absolutely love all of the acts that supported this tour. Some of them we’ve been fans of for years, such as Sigma, and some of them are newer to the game, like Ray Volpe or Crankdat. Being homies with a lot of them helped, too, because all were a fucking pleasure to tour with.

DJ Times: Which DJs do you enjoy seeing and why?

Yasmine: We both love heavy, hard music live, so anyone who captures that vibe while still connecting with the soul of crowd does it for us. Bassnectar, Lido, Flume, Alison Wonderland, and Unlike Pluto are a couple examples of this.

DJ Times: Going back to the very beginning, what artists, singer or songs made you love music as a whole and make you want to pursue it?

Yasmine: If we’re going way, way back, we grew up on Incubus, System of a Down, Linkin Park, and Fall Out Boy, to name a handful of bands that made us fall in love with music. Later in our teen years, MSTRKRFT, Justice, Daft Punk, The Faint, and Cut Copy sparked our love for a more electronic sound, and Krewella was born from all of these influences coming together.