Ahead of their show this Friday at U Street Music Hall, WRGW chatted with Maryland electronic-R&B duo abhi//dijon.
When and how did you start making music together?
Abhi Raju: June 2013, I guess. We just were bored and he had Fruity Loops on his computer and we decided to just mess with it.
Dijon Duenas: Yeah we’ve known each other for long enough to be comfortable making, you know, experimenting with stuff but yeah, it was probably June 2013.
A: All our friends have been musically inclined, so we’ve always been jamming. Me and him decided in 2013 summer to see what we could do.
How long have you guys individually been playing music?
D: I made beats and stuff from when I was like 15, 16. I just did mostly instrumental stuff. Abhi has more of a background in music.
A: I just played in bands, and in middle and high school I played guitar. I took a couple piano lessons. Mostly doing band in middle and high school.
How does your songwriting process work? Which comes first: the lyrics or the music?
D: It varies; sometimes we’ll just start off with some chords or drum ideas and just work up from there. We’re still trying to figure out a super set approach to tunes so it’s a little faster. It usually just chords and how those chords feel in a progression then we work with drums and just come up with melodies. The thing that probably takes us the longest is the melodies. Just trying to get them as cool as possible. The lyrics are usually last. We just fit lyrics into the melody and everything has a vibe so it’s not just a bunch of random stuff. A certain instrument might evoke a certain tone or theme so we try to work lyrics and syllables in from that. Everything has a reference point that gets built on, like a tree.
Quick question: which one of you does the vocals?
D: Yeah, it’s me. It’s the boy. Well Abhi can sing; he did backup vocals on “Horses.”
A: I’m nervous.
Your EP came out last fall and one thing I noticed is that the songs on there sound a little bit different from your pre-EP stuff. How did the writing process differ between your older music and the EP?
A: It’s funny that you say that because we actually made all the songs at the same sessions as the old stuff.
A: Yeah, we just collected some of the older material that we had and put it out as an EP. I think the only newer one that we had on the EP was “Distant Love.” “13” was before we had ever done “Twelve,” and “Honest” was when we did “Let You Know.” It’s all very scattered.
D: We just didn’t think to put out an EP at first. We had just dropped one-off songs and that was cool, but we might as well give people a chunk of songs to listen to at once, especially because we had finished them.
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Do you have any plans for a full-length album?
A: It seems more possible in 2016, but I think the most you can expect from us in 2015 is an EP.
D: We want to make sure that when we start doing an album, it just makes sense logistically. We would like to make a pretty cool, ambitious full-length, but we’ve been using my apartment and Abhi’s basement to make songs. We want a 16-piece horn section too, so it’s hard to fit that in a basement.
That would be really cool.
A: Hopefully one day!
What is your favorite song from the EP and why?
D: I like “Honest” a lot. It’s nice. I always jump between that and “Young.” I didn’t like “Young” a lot when we did it and then I liked it afterwards.
A: My favorite off the EP is definitely “Honest.” It’s a fun track.
D: You know how you have those teen summer camp movies? That would be the soundtrack to a post-teen summer camp movie.
Who would you say are your biggest musical influences? When I first listened to you guys I got total Jai Paul vibes.
Both: We like Jai Paul!
A: That’s a tough question right there.
D: We love the Neptunes.
A: Neptunes are a big influence. Timbaland, the classics.
D: The-Dream. I think probably none of our songs will ever sound like The-Dream, but just know that every song was made by The-Dream —
A: Inspired by The-Dream —
D: In our own little weird way. We both really like Jai Paul and more than us replicating him, I think Jai Paul helped us a lot from a philosophical standpoint, musically.
A: It sounded like someone in a basement making tunes and it was like “hey! we can do that!”
D: We were very excited when we first heard him. People really liked it, and it’s cool to know that people didn’t really need the polish.
A: Pharrell is a giant influence.
D: All we ever do is sit down and talk about music, and after the third hour it always comes back to Pharrell and Timbaland. J Dilla is huge. Kanye’s good too. We don’t really make Kanye songs, but his approach to music has always helped us. I think we’re two of the biggest Beatles fans in the world. We like a ton of music.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
A: We always used to say that we’d make a great track with Drake, but I don’t know what the boy’s been up to. If he ever wants to come back on his R&B tip, I feel like the boys and Drake could make some hits.
D: We both talked about Jessie Ware, and that would be really cool, I think. With classic people, I don’t know how anything would sound. Pharrell would be easy. I was also telling Abhi that I wish we could send Tyler, the Creator songs. I think he gets certain things.
What does 2015 hold for abhi//dijon?
A: We’re really trying to establish the sound this year. We’re trying to get beats and song ideas and some singers, and get an EP out. Definitely some more shows, but we really just wanna get the sound.
D: A lot of 2014 was a shoot from the hip thing because Abhi and I were both in school.
A: We only met up once a week, if that.
D: Now that I’m not in school anymore, we really want to spend this time doing as many shows as possible but also cultivate the music a little more. Hopefully get a visual out, too.
A: And be less mysterious. We didn’t plan to do the whole mysterious thing; we’re lazy, really.
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in pursuing a career in music?
A: Hone your craft.
D: Be patient, just learn your sound, and when the time is right to push different avenues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
A: Don’t give up is really the main thing.
D: We don’t know anything about music, so if you want to do something, you can do it. We’re still learning everything ourselves, too.
Any last words?
A: 2015, look out for the boys!
D: 2017, catch us at The Grammy’s.
abhi//dijon is playing at U Street Music Hall this Friday, February 13th with JMSN and Rochelle Jordan. Tickets are available here.
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– Lotanna Obodozie