On April 5th, around 10:00 p.m., Cheat Codes — comprised of Kevin Ford, Trevor Dahl and Matthew Russell — arrive at Necto. This stop isn’t their first time at the Ann Arbor club — they played a rowdy show last September as openers for Matoma. This show, however, is special for the trio: it’s their first official stop on the No Promises Tour, which spans the US, Europe and the Middle East. The tour’s namesake originates from their latest summer-influenced single, “No Promises,” featuring pop diva Demi Lovato. With a music video on the way, Daily Music Editor Matt Gallatin and I sit down for an interview with the DJ trio.
Danny: So how did it all come together with you guys and Demi?
Russell: We actually played a show with her in Sao Paulo, Brazil … it was an amazing show, the fans were crazy. We were thinking to ourselves, ‘Man, it would be kind of sick if we got a song with Demi.’ We left and went back to LA and all of her fans on social media were like, ‘You should collab! You should collab!’ We had this song ‘No Promises’ and we told our managers, ‘if, in a dream world, we would get Demi Lovato’ and he sent it to her and she loved the song and recorded it a couple months later…Trevor went to the studio with her and spent a couple of hours [there]. She crushed it in a really short amount of time — she’s a professional.
Danny: What are you most looking forward to with the upcoming tour dates? I know you’re doing Lolla.
Russell: Yeah, we’re playing Lollapalooza. We’re playing Hangout Fest, that’ll be really cool. Honestly though, we’re stoked to travel to some new countries we’ve never been to like Croatia, Latvia, Finland. We’re going to Norway. We want to just keep expanding it to the point where our set is all originals — that’s the goal we’re working for with these shows.
Danny: When you guys sit down to do an original song with the three of you, how does the process go — songwriting, composing, mixing?
Dahl: It’s all a little different, honestly. We all write music. I do a lot of the production. Every song is different; some songs will be written completely by one person, some songs will be written all together.
Russell: We kind of came into the DJ world as songwriters before producers so we almost reverse engineer these songs to where we have the song before we have any of the track or any of the beat or any real direction of where the song is gonna go. We know that if the song is really good with just chords or piano or guitar then it’s going to sound really good with all the bells and whistles as well. That’s our test before we even move forward on spending a lot of time on the production. We might have three or four different versions of the track before we really settle in with the vibe we want to go with.
Danny: Do you see yourself moving to more of the pop charts with the new music? Would you like to do more collabs?
Dahl: We want to release a lot more dance songs, we want to release more collabs with other singers, we want to release more music where we sing and produce it ourselves just Cheat Codes; we honestly just want to keep putting things out consistently and let people hear the music.
Russell: The rule from the beginning has always been the song comes first and the best song always wins, so whatever is best for the song. We don’t want to do features just to do features; we want to make sure it actually works for what we’re trying to do. It was really amazing that Demi worked out because I think it’s a different style than what she usually does. She’s really soft on the verses; typically she’s really upfront with her vocals and really powerful all the time. It was cool that we met in the middle and were able to make something new. I think that’s a cool thing to do when collabing.
Danny: You guys came together two-ish years ago; how has it been? It must’ve been a crazy two-and-a-half years then?
Dahl: It has been, man.
Russell: You know what, it’s been moving really fast but we kind of created in our minds how we wanted it to go before it happened so even though it’s moving really fast and we might be overwhelmed at certain points we already saw it coming and were mentally prepared. When we put out ‘Sex,’ we were like, ‘this would be crazy if it got 100 million plays. If we got 100 million plays, we’ll get tattoos that say “Sex.” ‘ We knew what we wanted and when it happened it was crazy but at the same time that’s the direction we wanted to go and we were all on the same page, which made it easier.
Danny: Did you guys get tattoos that say ‘Sex’ on them?
Russell: No we haven’t [laughs]. I still really want to do that. The dudes Kriss Kross Amsterdam did that.
Danny: Well you probably haven’t stopped in two years?
Dahl: No, we haven’t. We’re either recording or playing shows.
Russell: Yeah, 2016 was the first year we started playing shows and we played 86 shows and in 2017 we already have 70 shows booked.
Dahl: We’ll probably have 100-something this year
Russell: We’ve adjusted pretty quick. The main thing we need to adjust to is that we’re so used to making music out of our home studio in LA that now we need to learn how to do stuff on the road, in the hotels, on the plane. That’s the next step.
Danny: What’s been the craziest part about being internationally famous now?
Russell: When we were playing in Sao Paulo there was about a hundred Brazilian kids waiting in the airport for us and that had never happened to us before. We saw this crowd of kids and didn’t know they were there for us and next thing we know we’re surrounded. They’re snapping selfies while we had just been on a plane for 12 hours and looked pretty tired. You begin to notice people noticing you, but that was a moment when we were surrounded. People had to come and save us and put us in a car and drive away.
Danny: I wanted to touch on the imagery behind your covers: How do you guys go about picking your image with these singles?
Dahl: We kind of just go with what feels good. In the beginning, we were really into the black and gold vibe, we did that for a long time. Since we are in a next chapter of music, we wanted to do a rebrand and change the colors up and do something a little different.
Danny: What about a dream collaboration outside of Demi?
Russell: Paul McCartney, Sting.
Russell: We want to make dance records with people who have never been on a dance record before. Obviously Demi’s a pop artist so it makes sense, but at the same time she’d never been on a dance record before — let’s be the first guys to put her on a dance track. Like if you heard Elton John on a sick dance track, you’d be like ‘this is epic.’ Or Drake, Drake’s never done that. We don’t want to be basic. It doesn’t need to be a huge gimmicky thing but we want there to be something unique about what we’re doing.
Danny: When you guys joined 300, how did things change and how did that go about?
Dahl: Thing’s didn’t really change. In a sense, we’ve just had more opportunities like being able to reach out to Demi, that wasn’t necessarily a possibility before. That was one of the big reasons we signed was to be able to get to the next level. Before Demi, we pretty much recorded, produced, sang, everything. We had a few collaborations but we’d never been able to collaborate with a big artist like that before. Signing with 300 let’s us do stuff like that. They haven’t stopped us creatively at all; as far as us doing our thing and making our music and release it whenever we want, we’re totally the same which is rare with labels.
Danny: Have you guys been able to meet Thug and Migos, other people on your label?
Dahl: We’ve met Fetty Wap, he’s a super nice guy. Hopefully we’ll meet everyone else soon.
Russell: We’re playing a show with Fetty Wap this month. Young Thug is playing a show this month as well so maybe we’ll meet up with him, that’d be sick.
Matt: Who are you guys listening to right now for inspiration?
Russell: Honestly, I really need to get Spotify premium [laughs]. We have a shared account and you can only use one person at a time so Trevor kept locking me out! I’d be in the middle of a workout or something and think ‘I’ve got to get my own account.’ Since that’s been happening, I haven’t been listening to as much music but I love Kendrick — ‘Humble’ is amazing.
Dahl: Alina Baraz — she’s amazing.
Russell: I really love the new Zedd record, I think it’s really catchy. We try not to listen to too much dance music for inspiration, sometimes it’s better to be ignorant.
Dahl: We just listen to whatever we like and try to bring it into a dance song.
Ford: I like Drake, I love ‘More Life.’ ‘Passionfruit,’ ‘Blam’ — good album.
Cheat Codes does really love Drake and their setlist showed it. They jumped from original tracks to DMX to the The White Stripes. You can see their holistic influence in their DJing: taking popular non-dance tracks and making them work in an EDM set.
If “No Promises” is any indication of music to come, Cheat Codes is a trio to watch. In a genre that seems to pigeonhole itself into EDM-only content, those who rise to the top of the charts (see Chainsmokers and Halsey), aren’t afraid to step out of the electronic club scene. Cheat Codes is doing just that, I promise.