Colorado electronic/rock/hip-hop duo Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte, a.k.a. 3OH!3, kick ass–period. The enormous, crunk beats, the dance rhythms, the piercing synth- lines, and the abrasive rapping all merge into a surprisingly intoxicating solution, easing itself into a not-often-found niche somewhere between club/house music and crunk hip-hop. Their latest album, Want, drips with sugary, ‘80s electronica- fashioned hooks and infectious dance grooves, containing both the catchiness of pop music and the head-bobbing funk of hip-hop.
Produced by pop-punk connoisseur Matt Squire, 3OH!3 hit “hip-hop, rock, thug rap, country, classical jazz, blues, and different kinds of music,” says Motte, without losing stride or stumbling over themselves once, easily trumping any notions of the inability to combine seemingly unrelated genres into a whole, new, original (and surprisingly fun) musical amalgam.
The Aquarian Weekly recently sat down with Motte and Foreman to pick their brains about some of the little known facts about the dark minds behind 3OH!3.
Let’s start from the beginning. I know how you guys met, but I want to know how you first got into creating this style of music–this hard-hitting, hip-hop thing. How long have you been producing your own beats and rhymes?
Sean: I kind of grew up on underground hip-hop. My brother was a DJ, and the first music I ever heard was him on the turntables. He started free-styling, and then I started free- styling in middle school.
Nat: As far as making beats goes, I didn’t actually start making them until after I met Sean. They were horrible at first. But they got better.
Is there a big hip-hop scene in Boulder?
Sean: It’s a college town and it was a lot bigger, but it’s kind of always going to be an alternative thing.
Could you describe to me each of your roles in 3OH!3. How do you guys define your partnership?
Nat: I make all the beats. Usually I’ll make something and progressively work on it more or less, and then I’ll send it to Sean. Sean does most of the lyrical work.
On the new album, I collaborated with Benny Blanco (Spank Rock) on a few tracks, and that was really fun. A lot of hours were spent in front of the computer.
Sean writes most of the lyrics.
You have some great pick-up lines in your songs. Do you ever use your lyrics to pick up girls?
Sean: Sometimes I just rely on free-styling on the spot. Usually I end up going home by myself.
Is the line ‘our tongues always pressed to your cheeks’ in ‘Don’t Trust Me’ a reference to tongue- in-cheek lyrics?
Sean: Some people say that we have a very tongue- in-cheek style of music, but in that case it was about this kind of girl who always had her tongue in her cheek.
We’re not afraid to do something a little controversial. Some of our lyrics may have a bit of shock value, but we like to have wordplay and we like to have fun.
Many of your songs have a fun, party vibes to them, but you have ‘Still Around,’ a pretty depressing piano ballad. Not many party hip-hop albums stop the party and get sentimental like that. What influenced your decision to put a more sensitive, vulnerable track like that, with more singing than rapping?
Nat: I remember Sean just wrote that, and it actually started as a song we were going to send Meg & Dia.
Sean: I wrote it before that. I was in town for a show and I wrote it on my parent’s piano. We used it for one of our manager’s other bands, Meg & Dia, just as kind of a little cute gift.
We definitely questioned whether we should put something like that on the album, but we realized that’s not the type of people or musicians we are. We’re not going to be afraid to push the boundaries of what people might expect on our album. We’re not afraid to put a piano ballad on our album. We like it, and we think it’s pretty badass.
When you look into the lyrics of ‘Don’t Trust Me’ it seems like a pretty dark story, as does ‘I Can’t Do It Alone.’ Meanwhile, these tracks are really catchy and infectious. Do you ever worry that the grooves and the catchiness of these tracks might overshadow the lyrical depth?
Nat: Maybe that’s just a reflection on the kind of dudes that are in the band. We’re tall, dark, and handsome– serious. At the same time very groovable! And infectious? I don’t know, man. I have to go get tested [laughs].
Many of your tracks have great hooks. Did working with Matt Squire have any influence on that?
Sean: He has a very strong pop sensibility, and we do too. We love listening to pop music and kind of studying it. Having something you can relate to, say, having a message and making it obvious, is just one of the best things you can do.
Nat: We wrote all those hooks. It was cool to kind of go to him with stuff and to have all three of us just listening and judging the songs.
Why did you call the album Want?
Nat: I think it was because I was texting my brother or something about the tracks we were making. At one point he texted me back, saying, ‘I want it.’ So I began telling him how cool they were, and he just texted me back ‘WANT, WANT!’
Sean: For me it’s a really abrasive word and it’s not really the prettiest of words, but it can still be kind of catchy.
Sean, do you pay a lot of attention to the specific details of the words you write, down to the diction and syntax and the moods it can invoke?
Sean: I was an English major in college and I’m really into lyrics. Lyrics can make or break a song. I don’t like lyrics that are too clichÃ©. I like lyrics that are clever or could be poetic and still sound really good.
Someone wrote on your MySpace that you have Bob Dylan lyrics and Lil’ Jon beats. What do you think about that?
Nat: It’d be sweet if we were in either of those realms, especially the Dylan lyrics realm, but its kind of a joke. We have a lot of fun with our music, but at the same time we’re very serious about the music we make, so I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive. We like to walk the line where it makes it fun for us and other people enjoy listening to, and we have this thing that we are very proud of.
I saw your set at Bamboozle, and you guys really know how to work a crowd. Those kids were going crazy, dancing, singing, and throwing your sign up in the air, just having an awesome time. What do you guys attribute to the energy of the crowds at your concerts?
Nat: Fun is a big part of it. When we’re having a shit-load of fun, and we see people in the crowd are reciprocating it, people pick up on that and they can relate to that. It’s a show where you don’t need to come with any pretensions.
Sean: And I think we’re pretty crazy dudes. It’s a great opportunity to just go insane and the kids get the opportunity, too. You don’t have to sit there with your arms crossed, you can actually be physically involved in the music. It’s a cool thing.
A lot of hip hop acts have started using live bands, but in 3OH!3, it’s still just the two of you and the backing tracks. Any prospects of using a band or do you want to keep it as just you two?
Sean: We’ve experimented. We’ve played with live bands, but what it comes down to is the dynamic of two people. It’s very minimalist, but it keeps the audience captivated and we kind of command the stage. I’ve definitely seen shows with bands that have way too much going on as far as like instruments and dance moves. It’s over the top.
After you guys played a show out in L.A., a blogger said you were ‘the second coming of The Beastie Boys.’ How do you feel about that?
Nat: That’s an honor! I don’t know if I totally agree, but to be put in that realm is dope. There are a lot of similarities between us. They came out of a pretty diverse musical background, too, and they broke a lot of musical lines and stuff. To know people think of us in those terms, too, is dope. We’ll keep trying to make what sounds good to us, and then, hopefully, other people will be into it.
Sean: It’s just flattering. I like to think that we have different sounds and we are bringing something different to the table, but I can understand the comparison. Powerful, abrasive rapping.
3OH!3’s debut full-length, Want, will be available in stores July 8. The band will be touring with The Vans Warped Tour all summer. Check them out July 26 in Uniondale, NY, and July 28 at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. For more info visit myspace.com/3oh3