Krewella | Belly Up | Aspen | February 21 |Tickets
They are innocent, if ignorant tweets. “I love krewella like her music is amazing and her vocals are just perf.” Legions of Krewella fans jump in defense on Twitter. Krewella is not a her, it is a them, they correct.
Krewella is a band—yes, a band—of contradictions, surprises and unexpected influences. Krewella does not quite fit in with the EDM herd, and therefore resonates deeply with anyone who does not quite fit in. To wit: It is one of the biggest rising names in dance music, but its beat-maker proclaims, “People standing behind tables putting their hands in the air is remedial.” The group name-drops Fall Out Boy, Blink 182, the Faint and Timbaland as inspirations. It is ostensibly an electronic act, though one formed by singer-songwriters and a guitar shredder who put live performance above all else, who cherish being flesh to flesh with their flock. Krewella is difficult to pigeonhole, and thus speaks to all those who view themselves as difficult to pigeonhole. Which is all of us. To understand Krewella, you have to go back to the beginning…
Chicago’s Fulton River District is an industrial corridor of warehouses, carnicerias and factories stretching westward from theLoop. The interiors of these old brick buildings have been chopped up and rehabbed into lofts, nightclubs, condos, galleries and chic restaurants. Though some old businesses in this meatpacking district still just pack meat in the shadow of the El tracks.
In 2010, a trio of young musicians from suburbanNorthbrookrented a loft in the heart of the neighborhood. The oldest, Kris “Rain Man” Trindl, 22 at the time, a metalhead who first picked up a guitar at age 11, tried to look his most presentable when meeting with the apartment agent. He wore a peacoat. Kris and his two bandmates, sisters Yasmine and Jahan Yousaf, then 18 and 20, respectively, moved into the 2,500-square-foot space with cardboard boxes and empty beer cases as furniture. They slept on mattresses on the floor. Kris ran his computer through a flat-screen television. He turned his closet into a vocal booth, drilling holes in the walls to thread cables, insulating the interior with comforters and foam padding. Inside that closet, Jahan and Yasmine belted the vocals to “Alive,” as Kris crafted the amphetamine-pumping beats and longing piano arpeggios of the hopeful dance anthem on the hardwood in his bedroom.
“Cardboard is a pretty good acoustic fucking dampener,” notes Kris. “But we probably didn’t get our security deposit back,” says Jahan. That recording would go on to reach Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40.
Wait, let’s rewind to 2007. Kris, Jahan and Yasmine met while attendingGlenbrookNorthHigh School—the alma mater of both John Hughes and Ferris Bueller. Jahan recalls first encountering Kris, who was older and already out of school, at his parties. “He was such a star,” she says. “People wanted the same guitars he had, the same pants he had. He was a bad boy.”
At one soiree, at some point in the night, Jahan sensed that Kris had disappeared. She hunted him down, finding him shut away in his room. “He was programming, while everyone was playing beer pong.” Kris asked Jahan to sing on the song he was secretly creating. Nelly Furtado’s collaboration with Timbaland, Loose, had changed the headbanger’s outlook on music. Now he wanted to make pop tunes like that.
Kris remembers first seeing Jahan at a concert his metal band was somehow playing at the Northbrook Public Library. The librarians were not thrilled. Hard to say which metal band it was. Kris cycled through ten of them. The excitable and quick-talking Killswitch Engage superfan can rattle off their names: Murder Midnight, Hero, Apostasy, et al. Meanwhile Jahan was in a group, too, a choir group for ten years. The two quickly decided a second vocalist was needed. After unsuccessfully trying out a couple of candidates, Jahan brought in her little sister, Yasmine. Though, she had been fronting a moody teenage indie band called Sunset andCamden, a moniker taken from the intersection in Singin’ in the Rain.
“It was cool watching them begin. They were working on music for three months,” Yasmine remembers. You can tell she still admires her older sibling. “Kris and Jahan called me up to our mom’s room. They were recording up there. I was shocked. I’m the little annoying sister!”
Back to the loft. To pay for rent, Jahan waited tables, while Kris slung smoothies at Jamba Juice 35 hours a week, between 18 hours of college music classes. He also worked as an apprentice for White Shadow, a.k.a. Paul Blair, theChicagodisc jockey and engineer who co-created much of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. The three soon made a bold decision, one that would accelerate their popularity and define their ethos. Dive in. Give it your all. Commit. Kris, Jahan and Yasmine quit everything but Krewella on 06-08-2010 and dedicated their lives to the band full time.
In July of 2011, Krewella began performing live in theWindyCityunderground. They played raves in rusted warehouses nearMidwayAirport. They rocked a multi-level Halloween party in a dilapidated hotel. Sometimes, there’d be a mere 20 kids dancing on tile floors. Sometimes, the three would earn a measly $50. Sometimes, Kris worried for his younger bandmates’ safety at unlicensed gigs in gritty venues. Yasmine and Jahan insisted on taking any and every chance to bring Krewella to the people. “We’re gonna play where we can play.”
Krewella booked its first official concert in November 2011, opening for Porter Robinson at the Logan Square Auditorium inChicago. The band made an immediate impression on Zach Partin of React Presents, the concert promoter. “All the fans just went nuts for Krewella’s set,” he recalls. “Even then you could tell they were on to something.” That something: Krewella’s unique recipe of gut-hitting songwriting, spirited performance and dancefloor know-how.
In 2012, Krewella continued to build its reputation over a hundred plus performances across theUnited StatesandAustralia. With each stop back in its hometown, Krewella progressively played larger and larger stages to a growing fan-base. First, the side-stage tent at React’s Spring Awakening Festival; then, the cavernous Congress Theater; finally, in May of 2013, the main stage of Spring Awakening inside Soldier Field. “I work with a lot of artists, and Krewella are by far the most concerned about getting to know their fans and fostering relationships with them,” Partin says. “At Spring Awakening, we did meet and greets for over five hours and their tour manager had to drag them away from giving more hugs, taking pictures, and high-fiving everyone.”
All three talk of pushing each other, pushing for success, pushing for perfection. “I pushed them so hard,” Kris admits, almost apologetically. “I was like, ‘Fuck you, be better. You need to work harder.’ For two years. They resented me for it. I was a dick. I was like, ‘Do it again! Do it again! Do it again!’ I take pride in how good they are now. Because they’re fucking good.” Jahan kept notebooks of lyrics, honing her writing skills. “Yasmine and I were so behind in songwriting compared to where Kris was as a producer,” Jahan says. “That’s why it took us years to develop. He was ready to go, ready to release music.”
“I still think I’m pretty bad at it,” Kris says. He’s not.
Krewella’s debut, Get Wet bangs with body-moving precision and unexpected range. The album balances studious pop craftsmanship with ecstatic, unhinged release. Jahan, Yasmine and Kris share songwriting credits on each of the twelve tracks. The three keep the pedal to the metal while smoothly shifting gears from the punk electro of “Come and Get It” to the crescendoing, celebratory trance of “Enjoy the Ride,” from the acoustic guitars and heartbreak of “Human” to the Godzilla giddy-up of “Ring of Fire.” Kris shows a deft hand with rhythm, drum & bass, dubstep, and the house music of his hometown. Yet he approaches dance music like a rockstar: “If DJing could become hair metal, my life could be complete.”
Speaking of rockstars, two of the Yousaf’s childhood heroes, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and Blink 182’s Travis Barker, belt hooks and pummel drums on “Dancing with the Devil.” Jahan gushes, “I didn’t think we were capable of getting those people on the record.” Yasmine was in equal disbelief: “I’m the biggest Fall Out Boy fan.” As proof of the uncanny mind-meld shared by group, each member quickly declares “We Go Down” as his or her favorite. It’s easy to figure why. It is the track that straddles the most lines, opening with an easy reggae bounce that builds into bright, irresistible pop hooks and busy breakbeats.
Jahan equates Krewella’s mish-mash of styles with growing up in a multi-ethnic household. The Yousaf sisters were raised by their Pakistani father and German-Polish-Lithuanian mother. Yasmine can remember being 5 years old, sitting in the backseat of her dad’s car as he sang along to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” She now has a tattoo of Kurt Cobain’s face. “Growing up, after 9/11, Yasmine and I never really fit in. We were too white for Pakistanis, too different for the white kids. We didn’t feel 100% embraced in one community,” Jahan says. “That pushed us into creating our own lane.”
The record was recorded in Los Angeles, Krewella’s new base. (Well, except for “Alive.” You’re still hearing the incredible closet take.) Jahan and Yasmine still live together. “We’ll probably always live together,” Yasmine says. Kris is not far away in Studio City. Of course they moved there together. California is where they were working. Their record label is in L.A.
All in. Head first. Get wet.
“Get Wet” is the Krewella mantra, its mission statement. Get your mind of out of the gutter. Or don’t. Do whatever you want. Be who you are. Just go do it. “You need to be able to jump and lose yourself,” Yasmine proclaims. “When we say ‘Get Wet,’ I think about the experiences I had when I was younger,” Kris says. “Go to the show! Start a fucking mosh pit! Go. Get. In. It. Pour your fucking soul out.”