Shorter version of this interview published at phaser.com
Exciting new R&B duo THEMXXNLIGHT, comprising of identical twins Akash and Krish Chandani, made waves in the music industry when Wiz Khalifa featured them on three tracks off his 2018 album, Rolling Papers 2. On 20th April, a few hours after the release of a new Wiz Khalifa album, which contains two more THEMXXNLIGHT features, I sat down to chat with the 22-year olds about what’s been an unforgettable year for them...
Well, this is really the perfect time to talk to you guys, because you’ve pretty much come full circle! This time last year, Wiz Khalifa had you all over Rolling Papers 2, and then just today his latest project, Fly Times, Vol. 1: The Good Fly Young, drops and you have a big presence on it once again. How are you guys feeling after such an amazing year?
“We’re feeling good, it’s pretty crazy. The feedback last time was similar, but they were mainly newer people that never knew about us. This time it was more like, ‘You did it once again!’”
How was the process different this time around, working with Wiz a year on?
“Well, the first time was through Sledgen [Taylor Gang’s in-house producer]. We had about eight songs, he probably just took three of them for the album. This time we actually went to Club Nightingale in LA, and then Wiz comes up to us and says, ‘Yo I need you to come to my house to record.’ We go to his house, and then we’re there for like twelve hours, we record like five songs, some with Chevy Woods. It was crazy because that was the first time in the studio with him. He was writing his verses in front of us. We just wrote something for the hooks pretty fast, just recorded it, both songs were on repeat the whole time. It was really different, a lot of the Taylor Gang were there, it felt like more of a family.”
Could you clarify, because there’s been a lot of speculation online, are you signed to the Taylor Gang label, or are you still independent?
“No, we’re not signed to Taylor Gang, but we are signed to Will Dzombak, who’s the CEO and founder of Taylor Gang Entertainment. He’s also Wiz’ manager”
There’s a new EP, XX, on the way, as well as the full length album, MOOD. Any word on when we can expect those to drop?
“XX is going to be first, we want to drop that in the next couple of months. Then MOOD will hopefully come out later in the year.”
I wanted to ask you about the origin of your name, THEMXXNLIGHT, and the reasoning behind switching the O’s out for X’s.
“So in Hindi our last name means ‘the moonlight’. And then we just felt spelling it with the X’s made it more mysterious, as well as being symbolic of us being twins.”
A year before you secured the Rolling Papers 2 features, you were recording in your dorm room on the 2004 version of GarageBand. I wish it could make me sound like that! Have you upgraded your kit since then?
“(laughing) No! It’s still hella old, a really, really old version of GarageBand. I think it’s the 2007 version.”
You rejected offers to play basketball at MIT and California State, and instead ended up graduating from RPI in New York with an engineering degree. A lot of readers will be at that point in their lives where they are having to choose between what they’re being told they’re supposed to do, i.e. get a degree, get a Masters, get a secure job, etc., and their hobbies. What made you take that leap of faith and opt for music over engineering and sport?
“That’s a good question! Somehow it worked out perfectly with the timing. At first, we imagined we’d play basketball for four years while doing our degrees. But within the first two or three months, we just didn’t feel a connection with the coach. It was a new coach, as the coach that recruited us had left. So we decided to drop from the team. Initially, we just made songs for fun, but by the tenth song, Wiz discovered us! That was two and a half years into making music. We graduated, then Rolling Papers 2 dropped in July. So it didn’t really involve any leap of faith before then, it was after that album released that our parents were like, ‘Ok, you can take some time away and focus on music’. It was a family decision, it wasn’t a rebellious, 'We’re running away from home’ kind of thing. Our parents said, ‘We’ll support you, and you guys can pursue this, and see how it goes’.
You’ve spoken in the past about how your sound has been heavily influenced by one of your favourite artists, The Weeknd. What drew you to his style of R&B?
“In high school, we were kind of shower singers. We always took instrumental lessons, but we were never trained vocally, and we still haven’t been, even though we do want to be. We were kind of singing around campus, and then we first heard ‘The Zone’ by The Weeknd one morning before getting dropped off at school. We just thought, ‘Yo, he sounds super unique, he sounds like an angel.’ He’s Ethiopian too, and his music actually has close tie-ins with Indian music, so immediately we felt very accustomed to his sound. We did a few The Weeknd covers and put them out on Soundcloud. They got shared by a couple of OVO and The Weeknd fan pages. It was crazy, it felt like our idols were slowly turning into our reality.”
Speaking of Drake’s OVO label, you recently shared a photo with Roy Woods on your Instagram. What features can we expect from the upcoming EP and album?
So we have one song with Chevy Woods, that’s going to be on his album in the summer, we can’t say what it’s called just yet. Then for our own projects, yeah, we have Roy Woods and Ye Ali. We've also worked with Megan Thee Stallion, she hit us up after the Wiz songs. She sent us a song which had two verses, but the hooks were blank. We recorded something, and she replied saying, ‘Yo, my mum loves it, my whole team loves it’. To be on her album would be a major honour, she’s an amazing female artist doing great things right now. Also TM88 is producing his album sometime this year, we have a song on there that’s co-produced by Sledgren. Also, Roy Woods has a full EP in the works. We have a collab project with him too that we’re excited about.”
Wow, so a lot to look forward to! I wanted to talk to you about your Indian heritage, and how big a part that plays in your music.
“It definitely plays a big part. Jay Sean inspired us a lot, it feels like the entire world still doesn’t know he’s British Indian. Obviously, NAV with XO, signed to The Weeknd, we would love to be a part of that. It’s clear that The Weeknd supports artists no matter what their culture is. Him putting on NAV was pretty crazy, and a great step for our community. Again, NAV paved the path for South Asian artists to really make it in genres other than Bollywood music.”
How does it feel to be role models for minority groups pursuing careers in music, particularly Indian Americans, because apart from NAV, there aren’t many in the game at the moment?
“There is a lot of pressure to please the community, because we can’t do a lot of the same things. Obviously there are a lot of drug influences in NAV’s music and videos, his background is more from Rexdale from Toronto. So it’s hard to find the balance for us. Based on feedback from the community, I think we can be good role models. Local high schoolers come up to us like, ‘Yo, you guys are legends, you’re the biggest inspiration for the Indian community’. We wish we’d have had an Indian rapper come to us and say, “Yo, you should pursue music’, then we would have been way more inspired from a younger age. What’s great as well is that people from all over India are also noticing us.”
You mentioned how NAV has the freedom to make a lot of drug references in his music, and modern R&B as a genre definitely contains numerous themes of drug use, with The Weeknd, for example, also following this trend. Do you feel, as artists that are just coming into R&B and are perhaps still seen as outsiders, that there is a pressure on you to conform to these stereotypes of R&B music?
“Yeah, good question. Not really, it’s kind of the theme of R&B to be on a druggy vibe, to put you in a high mood. We don’t feel pressure to do any of that stuff. Obviously singing about it makes sense because that’s the style of music, R&B is typically very sensual. If you want to do drugs, if doing drugs helps you in listening to that kind of music, then we’re not going to judge anyone for what they want to do. But there’s no pressure for us to partake in that. Our music is not heavily drug themed, there are very, very few references to drug abuse. We focus more on passion, and love story type stuff. There are some references, because like I said, it comes with the territory, but generally that’s not what we aim to sing about.”
Finally, for my blog I have this concept called Self-Help Songs, where I pick certain lyrics that people can learn something from, and I thought it could be cool to ask you about some lyrics from one of your newest Wiz features, ‘All For You’. Your chorus reads, “If you need someone to treat you right/If you need someone to talk to, call me/I’ll do anything you like/I wanna do it all for, all for, all for you”. What was the inspiration behind these lines?
“Yeah, so it’s kind of the beat that carried it. We heard it and it had that really reminiscing, slow jam R&B vibe. But we could also imagine Wiz going crazy hard on it. We thought we could make something that pleases both R&B and Rap fans. In terms of what inspired the lyrics, we came up with this story. We were kind of imaging a scenario where one of us was with a girl, maybe taking her around a shopping mall, treating her right kind of thing. Basically it means using your success in the music industry, to give back to your girl, and being unselfish, like ‘Everything I do, I’ll do for you’. Both songs are kind of about greatness, and giving back, and reminiscing.”
Interview by Maxim Mower
Hear THEMXXNLIGHT on Wiz Khalifa’s latest album, Fly Times, Vol.1: The Good Fly Young, and stream their brand new single, ‘Good Things’.
Avicii, 'The Nights'
“He said, one day you'll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the nights that never die”
I think it’s a testament to the selflessness that pervades the late Swedish DJ’s music, that he wove a constant theme of ‘Carpe Dium’ throughout his catalogue, despite clearly struggling to overcome his own struggles to find happiness. Maybe this is what motivated him so fervently to provide his listeners with an approach to help them find their own joy. Either way, Avicii’s ‘The Nights’ is the epitome of what my Self-Help Songs series is all about.
“One day my father he told me
Son, don't let it slip away
He took me in his arms, I heard him say
When you get older
Your wild heart will live for younger days
Think of me if ever you're afraid”
It may sound corny to call an EDM track my favourite song of all time, especially considering my overwhelming love for Hip Hop, but ‘The Nights’ is a definite contender for my personal top spot. Its tale of a father telling his son not to waste his life and to chase his dreams reminds me of the mentality my dad has always tried to instil in me. I remember playing this song to him a few years back, and he immediately fell in love with it too - despite in no way being a fan of Electronic Dance Music. The music video only serves to drive home the valuable message, with professional life-liver Rory Kramer giving us a snapshot into the rip-roaring adventures he has always been inspired to embark on. My dad still sends me texts at University saying ‘Remember - these are the Nights!’, (admittedly usually accompanied by a few random emojis!). But sometimes I feel like I do need this reminder to try and make the most of this moment. It seems adults spend half their time telling us that ‘Oh, life does go by quickly, and before you know it you’ll be old and wishing you’d made more of your youth’. Ugh, whatever, is the standard response, occasionally followed by a roll of the eyes.
It’s true though, and I think we all know this deep down. I mean, it feels like I only started my Oxford journey last month, but already I’m going to Halfway Hall, signifying I’ve officially made it through half of my three year degree. Time does fly by, and one day we will leave this world behind, despite my childhood attempts to reject this notion and believe in the possibility of immortality (part of me is still tempted to go and freeze myself for a few centuries until a cure for death has been made, but I guess I’ll need to commit a little more than part of myself in order for that to work!). I’m as guilty as anyone of looking forward all the time, planning ahead, thinking of where I want to be in five, ten years. I think this is partly a symptom of our education system, and how there is always an objective, a goal we are preparing for, whether this be GCSEs, A-Levels, Prelims or Finals, and we believe that once we get past the next target we can start living as we want to. But life is one long string of targets, and I feel like it’s easy to focus so hard on that next deadline, that upcoming holiday, and that job promotion that’s a couple of years off, that you eventually find that you’ve wished years of your life away.
So following on from my last Self-Help Songs post on Zac Brown Band, I think that while it’s important and inspiring to set goals, at the same time we have to remember to just appreciate this night, this day, this moment, without thinking of what comes next. It’s that cheesy old slogan that’s now emblazoned across every iPhone case, laptop screensaver and River Island t shirt - 'Carpe Dium'. It’s a painfully overused cliche - but at the same time, it’s undoubtedly true. Because in reality, we only ever experience life in the present, so I guess you could say that the future never arrives. So why put your emphasis on something uncertain, when you could be putting your energy into making the most of the what is right in front of you? After all, these are ‘The Nights’ (unless you’re in Australia, in which case - these are ‘The Days’!)
“When thunderclouds start pouring down
Light a fire they can't put out
Carve your name into those shining stars”
How to Live Without Regrets #1 - Seize the Day
How to De-Stress #1 - Slow Down
So you’ve heard it a million times. Yes, ok, we get it. The world we live in moves at too fast a pace. But quite frankly, what are we supposed to do about it. I’ve got an essay in for tomorrow, an internship application to sort out and lots of baying blog followers to please with a steady flow of posts. Well, maybe the last one was a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it seems easy to just tell people they’ve got too much going on without providing an actual solution to it.
I feel like this song gets to the crux of the matter in a really simple, convincing way. ‘No Hurry’ is about (spoiler alert) slowing down, and just taking a moment to breathe. Because in this day and age, we do have a million things to think about. Certainly at University, any moment you take off essay reading, or essay writing, or essay checking (pfft, like anyone actually does that), you feel kind of guilty for not spending it on work. But this shouldn’t be how we feel, life isn’t just about work. It’s just as important to stop and chill every once in a while, otherwise the bundle of impending deadlines and doom pile up in your mind until you reach breaking point. Personally, my mind often feels like its moving too fast for me to keep up, so that when I’m sat working on my CV I’m thinking that I should be working on my degree, but when I’m writing an essay I’m thinking I should be working on my CV.
Taking a step back is always really useful (unless you’re posing for a picture in front of the Grand Canyon, of course), and it puts everything into perspective. At the end of the day, what is the worst that will happen if you miss one deadline, or have a sparser bibliography than normal at the end of an essay?
So take a leaf out of Zac Brown Band’s book, because in reality I could have chosen any one of about ten songs all about kicking back and taking it easy that they have in their repertoire. Adopt the Mediterranean mantra of ‘Mañana’ every now and then - after all, they do say the laid-back attitude of our continental cousins is what makes them have such lengthy lifespans. Or maybe it’s the Mediterranean diet. Either way - what’s the hurry?*
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
*No responsibility will be accepted for any missed deadlines or angry emails from tutors.
Originally posted on Sosmusicmedia.com
Name: Maxim Mower
Artist: Jess Glynne
Song Title: Thursday
Song Link (YouTube/Soundcloud): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0v30jKH958
Issue: Body Image
“Sometimes I'm shy and I'm anxious
Sometimes I'm down on my knees
Sometimes I try to embrace all my insecurities
So I won't wear makeup on Thursday
'Cause who I am is enough”
Where’s the Meaning?
In this song, Jess Glynne walks us through her inhibitions, before closing the verse with a positive, uplifting statement of intent, proudly singing that she “won’t wear makeup on Thursday” in a rebuttal of her fears and society’s expectations of her. Notably, she conveys how she is desperately trying to ‘embrace all my insecurities’, rather than attempting to cover them up and hide them from the world. This sense of determination is even more rousing, because its optimism starkly contrasts with the worries of the preceding lines. In these Glynne acknowledges and reveals the severity of her struggles regarding other people’s perceptions of her. Powerfully voicing her resolution to forego make-up on Thursday suggests that the aforementioned insecurities (“Sometimes I’m shy and I’m anxious/Sometimes I’m down on my knees”) stem from a lack of body image confidence.
Struggles with body image and it’s most potent form, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), are increasingly prevalent today, perpetrated and exacerbated by social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, the culture of which puts pressure on women in particular, but also men to an extent, to look a certain way. The widespread use of Photoshop and other photo-editing tools by celebrities, influencers, and general users alike encourages fans, followers and friends to aspire to unrealistic and unattainable body goals.
The final, triumphant line (“‘Cause who I am is enough”) reminds us that the basic purpose of make-up is to cover up imperfections that we don’t want other people to see. Jess Glynne rejects this, arguing instead that we should embrace people’s imperfections and put less strain on people (young women especially) to fit into a mould set for them by society.
Her compelling use of the word ‘enough’, rather than something stronger, such as ‘beautiful’, or even ‘perfect’, impresses upon listeners that we shouldn’t be aiming at traditional, outdated body image standards. We should just be us, as imperfect as that might be, and refrain from passing any judgments or classifications on how people appear, or indeed, should appear.
Doesn't it get dark, right before the sun peaks?
Chance the Rapper, Work Out
I was going to call this edition of Self-Help Songs ‘How to Handle a Break-Up'. Because, initially at least, that’s what this song is about. But then the core message is so overwhelmingly one of love and peace that I had to put it in the ‘How to Be Positive’ category. It’s interesting because it does involve an on-off relationship, but Chance gives us insight into how to continue loving through these testing times, and to not react with resentment to periods of distance within a relationship.
Work Out is infectiously uplifting. What makes it resonate so much more than the usual, bubblegum-pop, happy-clappy songs that we might also deem exceedingly positive, is that he starts off on a more prickly note. And when I say prickly, I mean as prickly as the ever-smiling, man-of-God Chance the Rapper is ever going to be, which isn’t very. Chance begins his verse rapping, “Luckily my ex ugly, I don’t eat so she can’t get no lunch with me, I don’t reach so she can’t get in touch with me, Can’t be buds with me”.
This is an unusual tone for the Chicago rapper in that it feels kind of bitter. Is Chance making a…God forbid…diss track?
Before any of you start to wonder whether the world has just turned upside down, have no fear. Because before the first verse is even finished, Chance restores life to normality, crooning, “But I must confess, I must confess, For every single ex, I want the best, I really wish you nothing but success”.
Ah, that’s more like it. Although I speak in jest, it does contain a vital point about having the right outlook in life. Having feelings of bitterness or anger is only going to fester and have a negative impact on you in the long-run, especially if it’s about an ex-lover or someone you used to be super close to. I think Chance is preaching acceptance here, and more than anything love - because thinking selfishly, love not only brings warmth to its recipients, it also makes the giver feel so much better and happier.
How to Be Positive #1 - Love unconditionally
This isn’t the only thing we can learn from Work Out, though. Chance goes on to reference the earlier statement about his ex, rapping, “No you is not ugly I just said it to be/Funny we both know that you look better than me”. Now, there’s not many people who've gone through a break-up, and would be able to bring themselves to say something like that. So this obviously ties in with the ‘unconditional love’ note, but also what I get from it is how important it is to not take yourself too seriously. Yes, it’s vital to have self-esteem and to be confidant. But equally it’s refreshing and healthy to be able to laugh about yourself. A lot of artists get too involved in the intense introspection that music often entails, but watching Chance the Rapper speak on Genius about this song reinforces how it’s usually a lot better not to be so po-faced. Life can be sombre enough without adding extra, unnecessary seriousness to it. It’ll only weigh you down.
How to Be Positive #2 - Don’t take yourself too seriously
Finally, just a point on the fact that Chance is now engaged to the woman he is singing about on this song. I guess it goes to show that in the end, even when life sucks and gets you down, everything ultimately works out. Hey, that would be a good name for a song…
How to Be Positive #3 - Know that it always works out in the end
When I’m with you, I’m not afraid to show it all. When I’m with you, I’m not hiding anymore
The Shires, Naked
How to Love #1 - Be Yourself
This song is all about how love involves letting your guard down and just being yourself. The Shires suggest that if you love someone without letting them see who you really are, then that person will be loving someone that isn’t really you, and you’ll be playing a part that eventually you’ll become tired of playing.
I love the metaphor of being physically naked, as it shows how revealing your true personality and all your flaws can be scary, because in your head you’ll be listing all the negative parts of you and you might feel set up for embarrassment. But this is why the line, “I can’t believe that you’re finally letting go/And I’ve been hurt and burnt before” is so important, because it shows how closely intertwined this feeling of being yourself is with trust. It takes trust to let someone in, especially if you’ve been ‘hurt and burnt’ in the past.
I feel like this whole song encapsulates one of the most vital moments in any relationship, when you finally drop the facade you’ve been maintaining to impress the person you’re with, and you just relax. The song’s intro highlights how putting up walls only complicates things and creates a feeling of uncertainty. But if there are no walls, then there is nothing to hide, as everything is out in the open.
Equally, what’s awesome about The Shires is that they can portray the perspectives of both lovers. So we are not only shown the amazing experience of freeing oneself from insecurity in the presence of one’s partner, but also the partner’s fulfilling feeling of being trusted and accepted. The country duo highlight the responsibility in a relationship not to judge, and to not throw this trust back in their partner's face.
Read the full lyrics to Naked here: https://genius.com/The-shires-naked-lyrics
As a philosophy student, I spend most of my time learning about the best ideas we humans have ever had.
One day I'll read about John Stuart Mill's ethic of doing the greatest good for the greatest number, as long as no harm is done in the process. The next I might have to peruse through Aristotle's theory of following a middle path between vice and virtue, in order to be a good person. And maybe then I'll be taught about the Buddhist principle of losing one's self and focussing on love as the only way to be truly happy. But while sitting wide-eyed and amazed by these awesome ideas, something always troubled me.
These principles and theories seem pretty watertight, right? So whenever I read about them, I can't help but wonder to myself, why is the world still full of problems, if these philosophers have offered us so many good solutions to them? Why don't people always act with love as their main motive? Why don't people walk down a middle path between vice and virtue? Why don't people do the greatest good for the greatest number?
Okay, circumstances make it incredibly difficult for a lot of people to do this. But most of these ideas don't require any money or assistance, they start with ourselves.
So why haven't philosophers' ideas spread more widely? When I enquired about this to my teacher, she simply replied, 'Because most people haven't read the books. Sure, they'll hear about the main ideas, but to understand them you have to read the texts. People don't look up to philosophers anymore - they look up to the fickle merry-go-round of popstars and rappers.'
So...what? Is she suggesting that I'm supposed to view Lil Yachty on a par with Plato? If that's the case, then I might as well quit my course now and save myself Â£9,000 a year!â
After a moment of Descartes-style self-doubt, wondering whether my belief in the powers of Philosophy were in jeopardy, I realised that all might not be lost just yet.
Think about it. Artists are the prime champions of free thought and the capacity of ideas, probably even more so than philosophers. At the moment, the charts are full of feel-good, soundbite-philosophies. The past few years have heralded hits called, 'One Man Can Change the World', 'Get Along', 'Donât Be So Hard On Yourself', 'God is a Woman', and at least three called 'Love Yourself'. This is an era where music is trying to inspire us to be better, to be happier and to be ourselves. Yet due to a number of factors, such as the rise of Social Media and Reality TV, people struggle with issues such as self-esteem, mental health and finding a purpose in life, probably now more than ever.
Of course, music isn't going to solve these problems. But the least it can do is help. Whenever review sites (like this one) analyse tracks and albums, we look at what the song means for the artist. We ask, 'What does the artist mean by this?', 'What emotions are they trying to convey?', 'How does this correlate to the recent events in their private life?'
I think these aren't the questions we should be asking. We should instead approach music with the mindset of 'What can I take from this?' Songs often contain incredibly motivational and insightful lyrics, but they get lost in all the focus on the actual artist and how it relates to their life. Well, not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder - meaning is too.
So welcome to a music series with a selfish twist - I'm looking at what songs can teach us about how to be happy, how to love, how to be more appreciative, and many more lessons we can learn from unsuspecting sources. I might call it 'Music Philosophy'. Or maybe 'Self-Help Songs'. Oo, how about 'Headphone Healing'?
Without further ado, my first piece will be on 'How to Be More Decisive'.
Actually, maybe it won't. But then again, maybe it will.
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?