Monday, April 6, 2020

Krewella on Overcoming Career Obstacles | Spotify for Artists

EDM superstars Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf have weathered their share of controversy—and are emerging stronger than ever.

On January 31, EDM duo Krewella released Zer0, their first album in seven years. That wasn’t how sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf planned it. Their 2013 dubstep-oriented debut, Get Wet, debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and coincided with the group getting invited to—and crushing—virtually every major dance-music festival in the world. And then, in 2014, Krewella parted ways with a former member, who then sued in a case that was amplified across social media. Jahan called out the resulting wave of online misogyny in a 2014 essay for Billboard; then, in the face of what could have been career-crippling legal morass, she joined her sister in rebuilding. Zer0 represents both a new Krewella—who have their own record label, are collaborating with South Asian stars, and sing their own truth—and also the Krewella that was there all along. Yasmine and Jahan explained to us what that all means.

Spotify for Artists: In 2014, Krewella went from growing success to suddenly being, in Jahan’s own words, "the most hated group in the EDM scene." What were you feeling at that time?

Jahan: Anxiety. My entire self-worth revolved around Krewella and people's perception of it. So when that fell apart, I had no foundation. I hadn't done any work to figure out what gives me a sense of value and purpose in life outside of this project. I often lean into stoicism to reframe my thoughts, and in hindsight it was an opportunity to see how the obstacle can be the way, as Ryan Holiday says. It was really transformative for Yasmine and I to look inward at who we are when this was dissipating, and how we can create from a more authentic place.

Being women in the male-dominated EDM world must have given you thick skin.

Yasmine: I actually think I felt untouchable because so many good things happened for us as our careers started picking up. This pulled the curtain away and I’m actually thankful for that because I’d have conversations with people I didn't necessarily agree with, or witness things I knew were wrong but wouldn't say anything about. It wasn't until we went through the lawsuit that I finally had a flame lit under my ass to speak on things or stand up for things, or be able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I think it's made me someone I like more now.

When the lawsuit happened, you faced a torrent of online hate. Jahan, in your Billboard essay, it seemed like you were collecting those tweets. Did it fire you up somehow?

Jahan: I almost took it on as research, like, look how many people are repeating these age-old generalizations about women: that we don’t do the work, and we can't be trusted. It had me imagining girls who are aspiring artists, songwriters, or DJs, seeing how their own scene talks about them and how that reinforces a feeling of, “I should probably stay out of here.” Of course it affected my mental health, but I tried to take a more objective view, like, “We need to look at this and see that this is a problem within this genre, and in the industry in general.”

Was starting your own record label part of reestablishing your identity?

Yasmine: Yes. After the lawsuit, we worked to keep everything moving in a forward direction, and starting Mixed Kids Records has really helped our evolution. Being able to call all our own shots, own all our masters, and being the people who fund our own projects has changed the way we think about everything. We're more careful in some ways, but we're a lot more excited and just shooting from the hip in others. To have full agency has been the best thing for us.

Was connecting musically with your Pakistani heritage part of it too?

Jahan: Yeah, we started examining our roots and these identities within us: the Muslim-raised Yousaf girls, but also the sexually liberated girls who grew up with a Western education. “East meets West” has been our motto—our mother is American, German, Lithuanian. Our father is Pakistani. We grew up listening to Bollywood music but also Led Zeppelin, celebrating Christmas but also fasting for Ramadan. It was a really exciting challenge for us to see how we can lean into that. Playing visuals of Bollywood dance sequences and ancient temples in the studio while we're sampling tablas and dhol [drums] but also creating lush polysynths that are very nostalgic for electronic dance music. And with the art, layering the gritty punk rock aesthetic with lotus flowers and paisleys—Islamic-inspired imagery. I think all of that is what makes this project so real for us.

Does the album’s title relate to the idea of starting from zero?

Jahan: That's one of our many interpretations. When Zer0 came out, our dad texted us this inspiring message saying how every single moment is an opportunity to start again at zero. I think that's such a good reminder. The phrase “zero o'clock” keeps coming into my head—the idea that this moment is all we have, and whenever we are holding onto the baggage of the past, or anxious about the future, it’s because we're not living in that sacred space of zero.

After everything, how does it feel to have this very personal record out in the world?

Yasmine: It's very surreal. It’s scary to release a body of work you've been developing for so long. Almost in a motherly way, part of me just wanted to hold it in the womb longer because it was just ours at that point. But eventually you need to let go, and I’m so excited and refreshed by the fact that people can hear who we've evolved into, and where we’re going next because everything is a stepping-stone. I love that people are getting to know us better, little by little.

What would you tell young women venturing into male-dominated creative spaces?

Jahan: Really take the time to get to know your inner world because women have such magic. Yes, we are always changing, but lean into how that makes you unique and magical and unpredictable, and how exciting that can be once you get to know that her, or it, or him, or creature within you. Honor whoever that is. If it's gross, if it's ugly, if it's angry, if it's pathetic, if it's sad, if it's emo, if it's sexual, if it’s sensual... just express that fearlessly. A lot of artists are trying to make music for commerce, but if you really want to have a sustainable and growing business, have faith that when you honor that, the universe will reward you in the long term.

—Chris Martins


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