“If we become big enough and manage to become the first hit when you search for 18+, I feel that would be a very strong indicator of success,” says Justin, half of the seductively graphic electro-R&B/visual artist duo 18+. Indeed, upon an initial Google search of the band, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the seedy underbelly of the Internet that your spam filter is working in overdrive to hide. Yet it’s in this Internet 2.0 environment that the Los Angeles- and New York-based duo—comprised of the mysterious first-name only Justin and Samia, who previously went simply by “Boy” and “Sis”—began. They’ve been consistently churning out gothic and bewitching mixtapes since 2011, often accompanied by hyperrealistic and hypersexual videos (a select aesthetic sampling: gyrating lady avatars, winking Emoji faces, and succulent exploding foods), which blurred the lines of the “real” and the “virtual” in the process. Their sound is like a fetishized Nosferatu, quietly lurking behind questionable late-night city street corners and clubs, waiting for trouble.
The duo is now emerging from their foggy Internet facade with their recently released 14-song debut album Trust, a remastered and expanded collection of their material from throughout the years. Oozing with unadulterated sexually charged lyrics that permeate over drone-like synths and “fucked up” beats, the album isn’t for the faint of heart.
HOMETOWNS: Honolulu, Hawaii (Samia); Outside of Los Angeles, California (Justin)
LOCATIONS AT TIME OF INTERVIEW: Los Angeles (Samia); London (Justin)
ORIGIN STORY: Samia: We met while at the Art Institute of Chicago. We were both in the same sculpture program for our last two years there. We had many mutual friends and hung out when we were there. And then we both moved to L.A. around the same time after graduating.
WHAT’S IN A NAME: Justin: When everything started, it happened very quickly—we released a video and we had to come up with all of the basic information for a band very quickly. At that point we had two songs and they both dealt with this childlike amorality, this hypersexuality. We had a bunch of ideas and I think 18+ stuck because it sums up those themes. It also looks really nice graphically and we wanted to have something that would have a nice iconic image, so that’s why I think we stuck with it.
INFLUENCES: Samia: Currently I’m pretty open to everything and finding things online. Growing up, I listened to a lot of jawaiian music, which is basically reggae and Hawaiian music mixed, even covers of pop songs but in an island style. I’m personally really into how people make their own versions of things. I like Desmond Dekker; I’m into Rihanna. I also listen to a lot of Umm Kulthum, who’s an Egyptian vocalist. Now I feel like there’s so much information and so many options to listen to that my taste is expanding and becoming more about time and mood above anything else. I’m not stuck to a particular style anymore. There are a lot of visual influences and fashion influences as well. But in terms of music, because of the method of the Internet and all of these sources, there’s nothing too specific.
Justin: I’ve been thinking about it more and more. I get inspired now by artists who have long and diverse careers—people like David Bowie or Michael Jackson or Björk. Or even Trent Reznor from the Nine Inch Nails. A recent band that I really like is Death Grips. Also, I think DJ Screw is a continual influence for me and a continual influence in music in general. He introduced me to this idea that by editing other people’s artwork you can create a world all to your own.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS: Justin: There’s lots of variety in it. The most average structure is that I’ll make the instrumentals, then I’ll send it to Samia, Samia starts the vocals, she sends them back, then I’ll do the vocals, and if everything’s perfect then it’s done. [laughs] That’s the most common version, but there are many modules and reorganizations of that process. After that we go make a video if we feel it.
Samia: I think it’s really important for us to have our own space with whatever part we’re creating on our end. We’ve never really been in a studio together doing this. It’s always been Justin’s turn, Samia’s turn, Justin’s turn, and then a critique about the thing that we pass between each other until we’re satisfied with it. Also the way that we record is very different, I would say, or at least generate the lyrics. I know Justin writes his and I don’t. The personalities on both ends and the way that we approach what we’re working on is different, and the privacy between the two of us is important to the process.
Justin: We have archives of stuff that we like and we’re always putting stuff into folders. It eventually reaches a point that we both agree it’s done and then we upload it.
EVOLUTION: Samia: I think the “characters” in our early work have evolved. We started [18+] without really having any expectation about audiences or themes that we were going to be investing in. I think the characters that we played started out as exaggerated versions of what they’ve become now. We play these roles of ourselves and these extrapolated versions. Like, this is the “bitch” and the “thug” and then this is the “melancholic lover” singing about nostalgia and searching for things. I think that those characters have become more developed and a bit subtler than the earlier stuff. I think it’s also us figuring out what 18+ was going to be and what the sound was going to be like. Also, the videos have evolved significantly. It began primarily with CGI characters, mostly women dancing in environments that were very fake, but now we’re inserting ourselves in the videos with personal footage and things that are not human—objects, food, actual video shots. I think that whole creative side of it is maturing, which is really nice. It seems to have direction.
CENTRAL THEMES: Justin: I feel like we have a list somewhere. [laughs] The way it’s set up is that the most important structure to it is a means of communication between the two voices, which are us.
Samia: Between Justin and I we’ve created a language of communication, which has always been constantly responsive. Within that, some of our themes have been revolving around personal space, privacy, sexuality, trust, and control. These kinds of things seem to be common themes within the songs regardless of the characters that we’re playing.
COLLABORATING WITH PRADA FOR F/W 2011 CAMPAIGNS: Justin: It’s better as a little sentence than as a life story. Ideally it would’ve been I met Steven Meisel at a party and then we struck up this very responsive collaboration, but no, it was just offered through an email.
THE FUTURE: Justin: The next album is definitely a focus in my mind. Just because I feel that we haven’t released new music in a long time, since this album has been finished for a while now. We have lots of stuff that’s finished and stuff that’s halfway finished. We’re working on different types of objects to engage the body in some direct way. Something that people can hold on to, rather than MP3s. Designed objects, pedestrian things, like plates and keys and odd objects to attach to the 18+ brand.
TRUST IS OUT NOW AND 18+ IS GOING ON TOUR STARTING JANUARY 15. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THE 18+ WEBSITE.