Imagine seeing Kanye West perform to a hometown crowd of thousands when you’re 11. You then start creating tunes with your best friend in high school, and one day Katy Perry tells the world you made one of her favorite songs. Next thing you know, you’ve helped write The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” and it’s, like, the biggest song of 2016. You’re not even old enough to drink in a club. You must be Louis the Child.
It’s hard to imagine that level of teenage success, but LTC’s Robby Hauldren and Freddy Kennett — now 22 and 21, respectively — don’t sit back on their accomplishments and phone in dance-pop hits. Instead, they ponder the ephemeral nature of life and craft rainbow layers of infectious sound.
After three EPs and 14 singles on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart, Hauldren and Kennett struck a chord so jazzy and golden, it meets their strict standards for a debut album. Out Friday (June 26) via Ultra Music, Here For Now is thoughtful and intentional from top to bottom. It’s experimental and a little psychedelic, without wandering too far from the future-pop fantasy LTC fans love.
We caught up with the pair in early June, just as protests were breaking out across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd. We talked about the message behind Here For Now and what that sentiment means in our ever-changing world.
Robby, you went out to a Black Lives Matter protests in Long Beach. How was that?
Hauldren: I went with my friend Drew Love and his girlfriend. Drew Love is on our album on the song “Free.” It was really amazing to see the support and how peaceful it was. You see a lot on news about violence. Everyone is focusing on the looting. From everything I saw, the people who were there protesting were peaceful, kind and loving. It’s not the protesters who seem to be inciting this violence. I left feeling very inspired and happy to be a part of it.
You posted a note on Twitter about a time you were pulled over in Atlanta. Why was that important to share?
Hauldren: It happened a couple of years ago. I was getting an Uber ride back to our bus late at night. The driver was Black, and we got pulled over for something very minor, like an illegal right turn on red or he didn’t fully stop at a stop sign. The officer came and explained what happened, and after a few minutes, he let us go, but the driver turned around and was like, “I don’t know what would have happened if you weren’t in this car.”
I felt it was important to share, not at all trying to make the situation about myself, but to highlight how terrible it is that a Black man feels safer around police if a white person is in his car. That’s so wrong. … Those injustices are out there.
Kennett: I remember working with a few artists that told me they had incidents. This guy Pell — he’s the sweetest guy, just the best. It makes it so real to see people you love have dealt with this. It needs to stop.
There’s been a lot of talk about how influential Black culture is to greater American culture. How has Black music inspired your art?
Kennett: My first hero in my entire life was Michael Jordan. I played basketball games on the PS2 that had all this New York ’90s hip-hop in them. My aunt showed me Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon when I was really young, and Graduation by Kanye West. Both of those were hugely influential for my music taste, especially after listening to Pete Rock and CL Smooth and Chief Rocka on NBA Street Volume 2.
When I was 11 at Lollapalooza, me and my mom were front row at Kanye West. Seeing Kanye sing “Graduation” to a flood of people in Chicago, it was hugely influential. I learned about slavery and the injustices that Black Americans face, and I’ve seen them as my heroes. For that reason, it’s even more painful to see all this still happening.
Hauldren: Previous white musicians who came before us, a lot of that music derives from Black culture and their contributions to music, art and everything. There’s absolutely no denying their influence and impact, and they deserve an equal seat at the table.
It seems growing up in Chicago had a lot of influence on you.
Kennett: We grew up 45 minutes north of Chicago. Me and Rob grew up in neighboring cities about 10 minutes apart. We went to the same high school.
Hauldren: We grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and it’s important for us to do our part, to learn and have these conversations, especially with people from our area and make sure we’re having a positive influence, that we’re holding the fellow people of our town accountable.
When, where and how did you two first meet?
Kennett: We got introduced to each other at the Bottom Lounge at the Madeon show, probably a few releases after “Pop Culture.” We were really young. I remember he opened with “The City,” and “The City” wasn’t out yet. We only really got to say hi then. I didn’t realize Robby was so into electronic music until I saw he was trying out to play at Spring Awakening, an electronic music festival in Chicago that used to be at Soldier Field.
Hauldren: It’s crazy to have met at a Madeon show, and years later we got to tour with him. He’s a good friend of ours now. We sent him the album the other day and he loved it, which is such an amazing, full circle moment.
Besides Madeon, what were some of the first songs you bonded over?
Kennett: Rob, when we got together in my house, do you remember what we would have been playing? I remember Flosstradamus, Avicii, Porter Robinson.
Hauldren: Who else? Feed Me. Definitely can not forget Skrillex. Justice. Daft Punk.
Kennett: He came over to my parents’ house. Rob actually had a nice studio at his house. His dad is a musician and has a bunch of gear, but we would come to my house because I had a little studio setup, like two speakers and a keyboard. We totally could have used his nice studio, but we used my little closet and made a bunch of stuff there.
Do you remember the first song you made together?
Kennett: Was it called “Multiverse”? No, “Fausage Sattener.” There is a Dada Life plugin called Sausage Fattener, a saturater that makes things sound a little fatter. We just switched the first two letters.
Hauldren: Freddy posted a snippet on Facebook, and I hit him up like, “This is crazy, like, one of the greatest songs ever, oh my God. We need to make stuff together.” I was so mind blown by it.
What is your dynamic in the studio?
Kennett: It’s just very flow, back and forth, switching off between who’s manning the computer and who’s messing around with the instruments. Once we have a vibe going, someone will be writing while someone’s moving the production along. We’ll switch around, whatever feels natural. If someone’s been spending 20 minutes on the computer and they get tired, the other person hops in.
Hauldren: Or recognize when someone’s on a roll. Sometimes, it’s like, “Yeah, he’s been crunching on the computer for two hours straight, but he’s getting somewhere. Let him go. It sounds sick.”
What about on stage?
Kennett: The last tour, we added this new stage setup where we’re playing drums and keyboard. We’re taking a pretty symmetrical approach, not specializing in different things, but both being able to do whichever.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened during one of your shows?
Kennett: I always love seeing back flips in the crowd. One of my favorite things is in Mexico, sometimes you get the whole crowd and they don’t know the words and they just want to show support. They’ll go “haaay, hooo.” that’s always a really fun feeling.
Hauldren: Also when you see kids up in trees and stuff. Seeing people climbin’ up s–t is always crazy.
How are you staying connected with fans while in quarantine?
Hauldren: We’ve done a few “story times” where we’ll hop on Instagram live and invite random people to tell a story. Some fan from the other side of the country hops on to tell a story about Coachella or something fun. We also did a beat battle with our buddy Whethan and shared some unreleased music. We did an online fest, and we’re always trying to be on Twitter and Instagram, sending video messages back to people if they send us something.
We had a chance to talk right before Kids At Play came out. That was nine tracks with an intro, but it was an EP. You said at the time you wanted to reserve your debut album for a longer, more thought-out concept. Why is this album the statement worth making?
Kennett: It’s called Here For Now. We’re taking a universal perspective on life on Earth and the human condition. That was important for us, because we see things as a whole and don’t just think about ourselves.
Throughout our whole career, we’ve been trying to add positivity to the world, trying to find a right way to put it. Here For Now means that, to the best of our knowledge, you have this one life on Earth. You never know when it’s going to end. You have to appreciate every moment you have with your friends, your family or the people around you, and appreciate every moment of the gift of life. It’s easy to not see that magic in every moment. The fact that you’re looking through eyes right now and breathing. You can dance and be weird. You can do whatever you want. It’s a gift to breathe, and I think that’s easy to not see.
Hauldren: Part of it also is understanding that you have the power to make your life great and make other lives great. You can have an impact. Everyone that’s on the Earth right now with you, these are the people that you’re having this experience with. You can make it a great experience for everyone. Isn’t that what you should be doing?
Is it a message that you shared with your collaborators, specifically?
Kennett: Yeah, we wrote them together with that in mind.
Are there stories of working with the collaborators that you want to share?
Hauldren: K. Flay was awesome. We did that song “It’s Strange” with her, and she comes from the same area of Chicago as us. From what I remember, our calendar said we were working with someone else, and K. Flay showed up. That’s so cool to stumble into that, and the message of the song is really great. It’s tough for anyone to follow up with a big song of theirs with the same collaborator. It’s always going to be compared, but I believe in this song so much and feel it’s such a great message, I’m not even worried about comparisons. It’s totally it’s own new thing.
The album starts with a track called “Scooter’s Debut.” Who is Scooter?
Hauldren: You’ll find out. Scooter Boswell runs a radio station. He exists.
Kennett: It’s a little, personally owned shack on the beach. He bought his own radio station.
Hauldren: He definitely embodies the idea Here For Now. He doesn’t have the biggest radio station in the world, but he has something that makes him happy, and that’s what’s important.
What other instruments or random samples are on this? It sounds like there’s a recording of baby Robby.
Hauldren: That’s taken from a video of myself and my mom right after my little brother was born. We sample a tiny bit of “It’s Strange” somewhere. The vocal chop in our song “Fade Away” is from an unreleased thing we made with another artist. There’s an actual voicemail from Freddy’s mom at the very end of the album. The sample in the song “Big Love,” our A&R Josh was on this island, Rarotonga.
Kennett: It’s a very small island, like one road that circles it.
Hauldren: There were people gathered at a church singing songs. He recorded them on his phone. He came back like, “How crazy would it be for you guys to flip this?” That’s the beginning of “Big Love” and the sample you hear throughout. We made a very generous donation to that church in exchange for it.
It sounds like you also played a lot of instruments.
Kennett: We played a lot more piano on this record. I think there’s four or five songs with piano parts that are a little more jazzy. We’ve used trumpet on two or three songs. Our buddy Ariel crushed it. “Get Together” with Duckwrth feels like an electronically-produced jazz song. It’s mixed like a modern electronic song but it’s not.
Hauldren: We worked with Mark Foster on the song “Every Color.” We went over to his place and saw how many different music toys he had; so many different synths, little shakers, or drum machines that make one or two sounds. Just the experience of picking up toys to make different sounds changed the way we approach our music. After that, we definitely went out and bought a lot more gear.
How else did you push yourself creatively?
Kennett: Just having the boundary of the overall message helped us fine tune each song. That was really good to go into it with that framework.
What kind of stuff do you have planned for the drop? Obviously, it’s not a traditional album release situation.
Kennett: We think Scooter is going to be announcing the album drop just the day before or somewhere around it.
Hauldren: Because the tour is not looking very likely for the rest of the year, we don’t have anything planned until 2021. We definitely are going to drop a lot more music, feeding people more stuff to keep them excited.
What does success look like for this album?
Hauldren: Hopefully, people feel inspired to make the world a better place.
Kennett: I just hope that anyone who is not feeling the magic of life feels it little bit; looks out of their eyes and appreciates their eyes, something simple, appreciates their breath, appreciates the sound of music and feels a little bit of magic in their stomach.