Here's how 3OH!3 grew as artists after 'WANT' for their comeback
The duo from Boulder, Colorado, made up of Nathaniel Motte and Sean Foreman, have been a staple in the scene since they started making music in the early 2000s, releasing their first self-titled album in 2007.
But it was their second studio album, WANT, that propelled them into major stardom. Their first hit single “DON’T TRUST ME” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. They went on to collaborate with mega pop stars such as Katy Perry and Ke$ha [Kesha], all while selling out venues and throwing major parties onstage along the way.
3OH!3’s old raunchy tracks spoke to a generation who grew up on Myspace and attended every Warped Tour stop possible. Motte and Foreman are experts at bringing people together with music that doesn’t fit into one genre—it’s just music that makes people want to party.
And now the duo are preparing to release their first music in four years. They haven’t shared new work since their last album, NIGHT SPORTS, and for the next era, they’re turning back to their WANT era but with a whole new twist. They’ve already dropped their futuristic first single “LONELY MACHINES” featuring 100 gecs and are gearing up for a full-length release. While 3OH!3 have laid low the past few years, Motte and Foreman have been extensively working on songwriting, and Motte producing, for other artists.
The beginning of their return came almost at the same time the coronavirus pandemic was shutting down the country, so Motte and Foreman had to revert to doing what they do best—collaborating with each other and making music from their basement.
The two spoke exclusively with Alternative Press about the process of recording an album in a pandemic and how 3OH!3 have evolved from the WANT days but still incorporate that same high-level energy we know and love.
You’ve just announced this new era, and you decided to turn to the past with a teaser video. Why did you think it was important to take your fans back through your journey as a band to kick off this new album?
NATHANIEL MOTTE: I think we really overtly, consciously and subconsciously, got back into the groove of how we started doing stuff back in the days when we were making music just from a sense of fun and energy and inclusiveness and rock and party.
And you made the album in Boulder during the pandemic, which had to be pretty interesting. Were you quarantining together, or how long were you together during that period of time while you were making music?
SEAN FOREMAN: It was a little back and forth. It was interesting because we were literally like a mile away from each other. But we were observing the safety precautions of being apart, especially when it first happened. Now I feel like musicians adapt really fast, and everyone’s doing these Zoom writing sessions and Zoom performances, but early on, it was like, “This is pretty new.” I think you can get in your head when you’re writing, especially a band like us that’ve been around for so long. You’re like, “What do people expect? What if all these things happen?” But when we’re just trying to do something over Zoom, we just throw a lot of that to the wind. And we’re just like, “Let’s just have fun. Let’s open a couple of drinks and enjoy ourselves.” But at the end of the day, we got in and did a lot of the fine-tuning together after we knew that we could be safe.
Yeah. And what was your day to day like when you were in the midst of recording? How was that different than in albums past?
MOTTE: Well, I think we work a lot more efficiently now, at least on my side of things. I remember recording WANT in 2008, and we would go 16 hours straight, easily, every day. And it was a lot of work. We did that record in four or five weeks. I just think you learn to hone your craft a little bit as a songwriter, as a producer, especially after doing it for a long time. And I think six hours in the studio can represent what 16 did when we were first starting.
Once we started getting together, it was about definitely refining things, retracting vocals, hashing out the ideas that we had but then also just having fun. Like, that’s how it all started for us just when we were in college. We were two dudes just fucking around, having fun in our basement, making music and spinning records and making beats. And that was very much the vibe on this thing, again, because we were back in my basement.
Your fans haven’t heard new music from you in four years. What should they expect from your point of view with the new record?
FOREMAN: It’s just exciting to put new music out. I can’t really anticipate. I feel like even putting the teasers out there, seeing our fans, they’re so supportive and excited. People are like, “Oh, you’re going to save our 2020?” I’m like, “Oh, that’s a heavy burden to try to save your 2020.” But, you know, that’s what the beauty is of putting out music in these times especially. But the new music’s fun. It’s very 3OH!3 in the sense that it hasn’t been done by us. I think that when you hear it, it fits into something that you’d hear on WANT. It would be like the WANT lost track, but it’s like a modernized version of what we do with that.
In 2020, cancel culture is such a prevalent thing. Going back, some of your songs have been considered controversial. Did you have any fears coming back into 2020 with that being thrown in your face or people bringing that up?
FOREMAN: Yeah, of course. We’re pretty sensitive people in what we look at in our culture and stuff. And we’re a product of our environment, too. We’re different musicians now, and we’ve made changes in the sense of our music. And I think it will show. The times have changed, and we’ve changed, too, as artists. So I think that is representative in our new music.
Do you think those songs that might not be considered politically correct should still be played at events such as Emo Nite in 2020?
MOTTE: Those [songs] are a time and a place, and we don’t regret any of our songs or writing anything that we did. I think obviously the times have changed. If people who are going to Emo Nite want to listen to those songs, if people want to listen to whatever they want to listen to, more power to them.
Can you walk me through a little bit of the inspiration for “LONELY MACHINES” and how you decided to make that the first single after all this time?
MOTTE: Earlier this year, we just got together, and it’d been a long time since we really had the time or the right mindset to get back to writing for 3OH!3. Sean and I have worked extensively on writing and producing for other artists. And I think therein we wanted to do something that captured some of the energy of our old songs and then took it to a new place, a place where we hadn’t been before.
FOREMAN: Lyrically, there are some touchstones on it that are just fun. They’re like callbacks. It’s funny: When we wrote it, or at least started it, it wasn’t quite quarantine. And I didn’t think of the aspect of lonely machines and all this stuff [applying]. It was while we weren’t in these isolated parts. But I think it speaks even truer now. It felt really natural to get 100 gecs involved. They are really awesome and super creative. And I think it really spoke to the song of how we just like to collaborate. It was back and forth online. But, again, just like effortless collaboration, even though we weren’t in person. And then eventually, we actually met them in person [while] shooting the music video for it.
MOTTE: I think I definitely took out a lot of my energy on that music video shoot. I was exhausted for three days afterward because we’re not used to doing that as we usually are when we’re touring because our shows are all about energy. But I think our shows are less performances and they’re more just parties that we happen to be curating and MCing, so we try to make sure we have that energy every time. And I think that’s one thing, subconsciously, that we’re doing during the video is trying to bring that energy so if and when people watch it, they can feel a sense of that.
I was going to ask about the video because it feels like a 2020 fever dream or nightmare. What was the idea behind it, and what was it like shooting a music video for the first time in four years and during the pandemic?
FOREMAN: Nat and I have been careful about and supporting the safety that’s revolved around COVID and protecting other people. We haven’t booked sessions or anything like that. So when a video came around, we’re like, “How do we do this and make sure everyone that’s involved is safe?” So everyone got tested before we even went in there, and we made sure that everyone was in masks unless we were shooting and distanced. We worked with this director named Weston Allen. He’s an amazing director. Like you said, fever dream is probably a good expression of some of the videos that he made. I think especially with this song, it didn’t speak to having this narrative component to it. And we really leaned into his creative vision. A lot of the scenarios [in the video] were exactly what we thrive on, which is just being in a room, dressed up ridiculous with a prop and just saying like, “All right, let’s just figure out what we’re doing here.” It’s borderline improvisational. It’s like controlled chaos.
MOTTE: For like eight hours it was amazing because we just got to shed everything, got to be back in our element of performance and collaboration and fun and energy. My little 2-year-old niece has been watching it on repeat. So I don’t know if it’s good or bad.
That’s pretty funny. Also, the new album seems to take a lot of inspiration from various genres, but you tend to get labeled electropop or crunkcore. How would you label the upcoming record?
MOTTE: We’ve always struggled deeply with that, and I think maybe that’s it’s a chicken and the egg with us. It’s like, do we struggle because of that, or is it overt? We’ve let people call our music what they want to call it. To be honest, I think our music is a weird hybrid. I think a lot of things are directly influenced by all the music that we grew up listening to, inherited from our parents, which is everything from ’60s British invasion rock to old blues and folk and bluegrass and jazz and classical.
And then when we came into our own, that was when electronic [and hip-hop] music was really starting to prevail. When we first made our first of 3OH!3 stuff, we wanted to make music that incorporated specifically those electronic elements and those hip-hop elements that make it edgy, make it different and then try to combine all that into something that was catchy and fun and energetic. And so I guess whatever that’s called, we’re happy with it.
FOREMAN: So what genre do you think?
MOTTE: Oh, it’s crunkcore, for sure. Happy hop.
With that, you answered another question I was going to ask. How do you approach writing songs for yourself? How is it different from when you go into a work session to write songs for another artist?
FOREMAN: You try to be safe a lot when you work with other artists or when you’re writing a song to pitch the artist because if you write very intimately from an experience, it might be harder to get across. But I also think what makes pop music, or any music great, is when something feels like it comes from a real place for someone or you take a chance. So I’ve been trying to dissolve that a little bit. I think when I go in and work with other artists, it’s like if I’m not the one coming from the heart with different things, I want to be there to get that from them, if that makes sense. I want to be that ear and this sit-in therapist that’s just like, “Let’s go there. Let’s figure out what you really want to write.”
What does it mean for you to come full circle and release another album with Photo Finish now that you are back with them?
MOTTE: We hate those guys, man.
FOREMAN: We were contractually obliged to do it. They forced us.
It‘s fun to look back on. Back in the day, we had zero idea of what it meant. It was like a success to be signed. You’re like, “Oh, my God, you’re going to be signed and all these things.”
MOTTE: I didn’t know what a single meant. We were in the studio, and they’re like, “Oh, maybe this for your second single off WANT.” And I was like, “I thought that was just like a cheaper version of the CD.”
FOREMAN: We didn’t know charts. We didn’t know anything. It’s full circle in the sense that it’s fun, again, to work, even on the business end. And that’s hard to find because sometimes you just want to focus on the music and throw the business away, but we’re so in tune with how we run things, too, so it’s like we’ve got a great partnership with them.
And obviously, it feels weird to ask during this time when there’s so much uncertainty, but what do you hope is in your future, both with 3OH!3 and as musicians who do a lot of work for other artists?
MOTTE: I mean, hope for the future. There’s a lot of things that need to go. But just concentrating on 3OH!3, we hope we can get out there and tour again soon. That’s really integral to what we do. I think [for] our first live set we were opening for a local hip-hop act in Boulder, and we had like three songs, and they’re like, “You got 30 minutes to fill,” so we were like, “All right, we better write seven more songs in the next three days,” and we did.
FOREMAN: Yeah, Nat’s actually [the one where] you can see all the equipment behind him. He’s trying to develop a vaccine in the past couple of months. Well, you know, I don’t know if we’re going to release that one to the public.
The last question I have is, what is the most important thing you want fans to know about the new music that you have coming out?
MOTTE: Sean and I have gotten a lot of work done.
FOREMAN: I got all my face tattoos covered up.
MOTTE: We got our face tattoos removed. I think it’s maybe a bit of the ostrich thing. We just had our heads down, like grinding so much that I haven’t really thought about the big macro question.
FOREMAN: I think they’re going to probably tell us what is important.
MOTTE: I don’t know if maybe that’s actually symptomatic of us as 3OH!3. We usually just keep focused on the work and put it out. It’s reflected by the fact [that] we don’t know or don’t really care too much what genre of music people call it as long as they’re listening.
You can read more Alternative Press digital cover story interviews here.