Over those years, in Los Angeles, Jones put in the hours, produced songs for stars including Wiz Khalifa, cashed paychecks, even took home a Grammy for a song he produced for Kelly Clarkson — but he was never going to be satisfied competing for space on other people’s albums. In 2015, Jones joined forces with singer-songwriter Drew Love to cut their own tracks as THEY (stylized THEY.).
“When you’re producing for somebody else, you’re more trying to make sure, 'Is everybody else happy? Okay, is the artist happy with the song? Is the writer happy with the track? Does management like this? Does A&R like it?' You’re playing the politics of it,” Jones says. “Whereas with me, I’ve always had a bigger vision of everything.”
Following last year’s genre-blurring album Nü Religion: Hyena, the duo's new EP, Fireside, drops November 9. This time around, Jones has populated his meticulous soundscapes not just with Love’s versatile vocals, but with a variety of artists from their circle, including Khalifa and Jeremih, whom Love once wrote for.
From the ultimate player's brag track, “Wilt Chamberlain,” to “18 Months,” an R&B ode to a serious relationship gone rocky, the EP packs both surprises and soul while traveling the spectrum of the heart.
Growing up one of five boys, Jones always looked up to his older brother Marvin. When Marvin came home with a keyboard and a mixer, Jones started dropping beats and playing music. In the era of Dipset and BET, Jones and his friends rapped as A-Town’s Finest, rocking pink and coordinating Gucci knockoffs.
“When you’re fifteen years old, no one can tell the difference, so we’d walk around Eaglecrest in our fake Louis Vuitton and our fake Gucci velour suits,” Jones laughs. “Everybody thought we were ballin’, but really they were $60 knockoffs from our friend’s shop in Aurora.”
In the post-Columbine era of zero tolerance, Jones says his sense of humor got him in trouble.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I didn’t take my Adderall that day, but I thought it would be funny if we all went into the school store and put a bandanna on and said to give me all the cash,” Jones recalls. “I think I put my finger in my shirt or something like that — and at that time, it was zero tolerance for everything, and I was arrested.”
The skinny teenager was hauled off to the Marvin Foote Detention Center. After he was released, he spent his summer taking correspondence courses to make up for missed classes and put in hours of community service. Despite his hard work, Jones was expelled a second time from Eaglecrest when he was accused of stealing a wallet.
“It was a crazy time in my life,” Jones says. “It’s all a part of the journey, you know what I’m saying? If I hadn’t had those experiences, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. I was like an emo kid in high school, and I had a rap phase, and in college I was listening to indie rock, too. I always had the vision that you know you could put all of this stuff together, you could bring all these sounds together and make it sound cohesive and make it sound like something that’s really dope.”
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If you want to know what Jones means, just stream any THEY song and listen for the world beyond Love’s neo-soul serenade to the 808 drum machine riffing with Nirvana-style guitars. THEY will continue to tour while Jones and Love finish a second album, Devil in the Valley, due out in spring.
Jones says he wants to stay true to his ear regardless of what analytics or antics might go viral.
“I think that the world is rapidly changing around me — things move too quickly — but for me, I’ve always had a very strong sense of self of who I am and what I want to do," Jones says. He doesn't want to get "caught up in the way other people are making success, whether it’s trolling on Instagram or making fake beefs — I don’t want to have any gimmicks. I want to stand on my work. I just want to make something great. That’s what I wake up every morning thinking about. That’s what I walk into the studio thinking about every day: making something great, making something that’s going to stand up over time.”