THEY.’s The Amanda Tape isn't the plot of some quirky Netflix romantic comedy. The 10-track project is a combination of Dante Jones and Drew Love's real-life experiences after realizing that they, along with their engineer, were all dating women named Amanda.
"We're fortunate that there are two of us because we have this unlimited amount of material that we can pull from," Jones tells VICE. "We weren't consciously thinking that while we were making the music, but putting together the tracklist, we were like, Okay, how can you make this a story from top to bottom of what it's like to be in a relationship."
Together, Jones and Love are THEY., an inventive R&B duo, who have a knack for outfitting R&B in the emo, pop-rock, and hip-hop music they grew up on. The two met after years of working in the industry behind the scenes, with Jones producing for pop stars like Kelly Clarkson and Big Time Rush, and Love songwriting for artists like Jason Derulo and Jeremih. Shortly after meeting in 2014, THEY. opened for Bryson Tiller's TRAPSOUL tour, and three years later released their debut studio album, Nü Religion: Hyena, which was heralded by critics as "Grunge N'B."
Songs like "Say When" had guitar chords similar to the genre's Seattle predecessors, but its lyrics detailed an explicitly Black experience as the Black Lives Matter movement was growing. "They'll shoot at my brothers and let 'em fall / And then we some thugs if we get involved?" Love sang on the album. Even "Dante's Creek" reimagines the theme song for the similarly-named 90s teen-drama, but it uses their lives in Southern California as its backdrop instead. The Amanda Tape, out now, is a slight departure from their grungy sound, but it’s still a patchwork of their greatest influences with its focus on R&B's rousing new jack swing era.
"Our passions changed," Love says. "We wanted to get more into the foundation and show our prowess when it came to R&B. [The grunge sound] will always be in our back pocket, so we can always use it, but I don't know if that fully describes who we are anymore."
The Amanda Tape distills Jones and Love's respective relationships and documents everything from the thrill of the chase to the break up that leaves two people as strangers. But it's almost as if Love foreshadows their demise before it even begins on "Moment," an opener brooding with temptation. "This shit won't last forever / Looks like it's now or never."
The R&B duo spoke with VICE about how everyone from The-Dream to Teddy Riley influenced The Amanda Tape.
Did the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests change how the album was going to be rolled out?
Love: We started the single rollouts during the heat of when the Black Lives Matter protests were happening. Me and Dante were both a part of it too. We dropped a whole letter addressing [the uprisings] and put out a pack of beats for fans to do their own thing to and pushed back the single release.
Jones: There's a particular soundtrack that adds to the aesthetic of whatever's going on at the time. I don't think this time is any different. We're so inundated with negative shit all day. Every single day there's something new the president said or another shooting. While it's important to keep the focus on those issues, it's also important to escape from it.
How did you guys decide to approach The Amanda Tape differently than you did Nü Religion, which was praised for being more alternative?
Jones: Up until that point in 2014 and 2015, it was this convenient packaging of someone being an R&B or rap artist and you had to stick to exactly that. If you strayed too far there was this fear that you weren't marketable. To me, that was never really reflective of how I felt about music. I was a Black kid in high school listening to rap just as much as I'd listen to Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy, Panic At the Disco. When we were presenting ourselves to the world it was something that set us apart. When we came out it was about grunge guitars and 808s, but we did that. What's next?
You guys have said that you were trying to channel The-Dream on "All Mine." What was it about his music that you guys wanted to emulate?Jones: I grew up being like one of the biggest Dream fans ever. What always resonated with me about him is how he never held back lyrically. He cussed if he wanted to and he could be poetic if he wanted to. You always felt like this is a real-ass dude who's writing these songs. Not only does he care about the song, but he cares about the production and the musicality behind it.
When we were making "All Mine" I wanted to make some hard R&B, like something The-Dream would make. Drew just started rattling off that verse. "You still with that weak nigga / You still with that bullshit," I was like, Oh, we're on to something. I started getting tingles. I left that one a little more bare bones because I wanted the vocals to be very direct. Doing that song opened us up to being like Yo, this is the energy we want to give off for most of the project.
Getting Juicy J on "STCU" was a pretty big feature.
Love: As soon as we made the song I felt like he would have been the perfect feature. I was bugging Dante, and it was just like, "Yeah, if we could get that to happen." He came back with a verse, and not only did he give us extra bars, he gave us the OG adlibs and he even hopped on the production a little bit with Dante too, which I wasn't expecting. He definitely put his foot in it and didn't just give us a phoned in verse.
I watched something where you guys said you want to bring new jack swing back. When I listen to "Mood Swings," I think of "Iesha" by Another Bad Creation. Was that intentional?
Jones: Between us two, I'm definitely the new jack swing nerd. I've heard every song Dallas Austin and Teddy Riley produced from that era. I go through old soundtracks to find new jack swing songs that I never heard. That's always been my favorite type of music because it was musical but the drums also knocked.
For "Mood Swings" we went through an *NSYNC, 5ive type of vibe. When you think of music from 112, Jagged Edge, to even Soul 4 Real's "Candy Rain," it's hard to capture that feeling in a way that doesn't sound like you're doing a remake. After recording the song, we listened back to it at the end of the night and realized we have that Teddy Riley grit, coupled with the boy band stacked harmonies. It was like, Damn, we did it.
Drew, how did you use your experience in "Conclude" to tie up the project?
Love: There's a lyric that says, "What do we do? / There's something I need that I just can't get from you." You don't want to leave that person but no matter how many times you try to be with that person there's still those few things missing that aren't going to figure themselves out. It's on both sides. You want to stick together so bad because the idea of being apart is terrible. The only thing you can do at that point is just call it quits.
How do the Amandas feel about it?
Jones: My girl loves the album. When I first came to LA she moved out with me. It was a cool moment for me personally to involve her, but she definitely picks and chooses which ones are about her and which ones are about the other Amanda.
Love: I don't talk to her anymore so we don't know. [Laughs] I'm sure her ego is very inflated because she does know it's about her, so I'm sure she's having a ball telling everyone that.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer at VICE.