Nostalgia can be a funny thing, can’t it? Sometimes you find yourself listening to an old song, or looking at an old photograph, and looking fondly back on those times. Whether it’s a high school prom, or just looking back to the general lack of responsibilities of our youth, we’re all almost certainly guilty of it at one point in time. The tricky thing with nostalgia, though, is that it is not inherently bad, but perhaps it can cause you sometimes to miss out on the things that are present and around you.
As corny as that sounds, there’s a lot of truth behind that. Believe it or not, that’s essentially the mantra behind 3OH!3 as they gear up to release NEED — their first new album since 2016’s Night Sports. For the new release, the duo — Sean Foreman and Nat Motte — are teaming back up with Photo Finish Records, who the band released three albums with: 2008’s WANT, 2010’s Streets of Gold, and 2013’s Omens.
While there’s a lot of nostalgia in returning to Photo Finish Records, and even the title of NEED is a nod to 2008’s WANT, 3OH!3 is looking forward. Due to the gracious power of the internet and video chatting, I was still able to get together with both Foreman and Motte last week to chat about the new record, their growth, and what fans can expect to get from NEED.
I’m sitting at my desk, their publicist is in their office, Motte is in his home, and Foreman is in his parents living room, which he humorously explains as “living the life of luxury as you’d expect from 3OH!3.” While Foreman’s own home is back in Los Angeles, in order to record with Motte and work on this record, he’s traded the comfort of his own home for two twin beds pushed together and helping around the house.
It’s a trade that, for Foreman, he’d make again and again, as he enjoys having a distraction from the uncertainty of the world, which is of course working on this 3OH!3 record. Motte himself mentions that they’ve been dealing with changes to how they operate like everybody else, but still is quick to point out the positives. “We write and produce a lot of music for other artists, and that takes up a lot of time,” he begins, explaining that in normal times 3OH!3 would still be touring, doing college shows, and so forth, so the inability to tour has given them almost unlimited time. “This time off presented us with tangible time to just have nothing else to do but write music. That was kind of rediscovering why we do what we do, having fun, and having the time to do it. That’s been great.”
The road to new music for 3OH!3 was always planned to start in 2020, as the duo had really began capitalizing on a resurgence in popularity of sorts. There was a time between 2008-2010 that Motte estimates the duo toured 9 months out of the year on the road, and while they never stopped touring, or really putting out new music, he traces their resurgence back to 2018: when WANT turned ten years old, and they performed on the final cross-country Warped Tour. “Things have slowed down a little bit in terms of touring since [2008-2010], I think since 2018 was the 10 year anniversary of our WANT record, we bundled that in with a tour and doing Warped Tour again,” he says, “That was a heavy touring year, but it was also really eye opening and really flattering for us because we’re kind of having this resurgence of our music.”
Motte tells me that they’ve never really lost opportunities to tour or reach their fans, but is looking forward to being able to do even more fun stuff with their fans due to seeing an uptick in their popularity again — and that’s what made 2020 the right time for them to hammer out new music, even before COVID-19 took over. “Sean and I were kind of getting together at the beginning of 2020 anyways to work on new music, and coincidentally everything shut down which allowed us to really dig in and finish it. I think that the timing just felt right for us, ” Motte explains, stating that now being 13 years removed from the release of WANT has allowed them to appreciate it a little more.
The first taste of new music that fans got from 3OH!3 came back in November of 2020 with the release of “LONELY MACHINES,” which features the rising electronic duo of 100 Gecs. The guys are no stranger to collaborations, having written for and collaborated with many artists over the years, and even for 3OH!3 have worked with Katy Perry, Kesha, and Lil Jon. As has always been the case for the duo, they prefer to have organic collaborations with artist, rather than drop thousands of dollars to work with someone they have no history with.
Not only was the collaboration with 100 Gecs organic, but it’s one that also makes a lot of sense on surface level: two electronic/pop duos would, of course, make sense to work together. “We were working with Benny Blanco actually, we were on the first day of writing ‘I’M SO SAD,’ and Benny was like, ‘Hey have you listened to 100 Gecs?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard some of the stuff,'” Foreman begins to tell me, “And he’s like, ‘It’s so funny, I worked with them and they said you were their number one inspiration.’”
As a listener, you can hear some of 3OH!3 in 100 Gecs — though they are certainly different. For both Motte and Foreman, it always is an honor to hear when they’ve influenced any musical artist. “Especially where they’re at, because they’re like playing Coachella, Pitchfork loves them. It’s just an avenue that’s interesting to us,” Foreman says. “All the shit that never happened for us. They’re the cool group that we were hoping to be. We never invited to Coachella, never even invited to attend,” Motte quips.
Ultimately, 3OH!3 reached out to Laura Les of 100 Gecs first, and then it all moved quickly from there. “We kind of had the start of ‘LONELY MACHINES,’ and it was a different song. It had the bones of it, but it was slower, and just sort of had space to be collaborative with. They took it, they did their thing, and took it a whole other place. Then we grabbed it back and it was just like molding clay back and forth, since we couldn’t be in person,” Foreman says. Eventually though, the two duos were able to meet up for the very first time during the music video shoot, long after the song itself had been done and finalized.
A few weeks ago, 3OH!3 followed up “LONELY MACHINES” with the release of the NEED‘s second single, “I’M SO SAD.” The single is one that fans of the duo latched onto pretty quickly, as it stylistically mixes a bit of their previous sound and some updates to keep it sounding modern and fresh. This was intentional from Foreman and Motte’s perspective, as they were looking to continue their brand of writing fun songs that aim to put smiles on other people’s faces. “It’s a nod to where we come from and what we’ve done in music, and trying to make music collective and all about walking the lines of dealign with a serious issue, and putting a good face on it,” Motte says.
In order to harken back to some of their earlier material, 3OH!3 once again enlisted the help of long-time collaborator Benny Blanco, who they first met during writing sessions for WANT. The relationship between Blacno, Motte, and Foreman is one that “Was a friendship that lead to a working relationship,” according to Motte. They’ve always worked well together, being friends first and working together tremendously through that — things were different for “I’M SO SAD,” which Blanco helped write. “We spent 80% of the writing day that we had with Benny on that thing just like, talking shit, catching up, joking and whatever, a little bit of working. We came out of that with kind of a shell of what ‘I’M SO SAD’ could be, and then in our time off here in Colorado we dug back in and really polished it in a way that we’re happy with.”
Towards the end of our conversation, we pivot to discussing NEED, although no definitive release date has been set yet. I ask who’s idea it was, and Foreman tells me it came up due to their signing with Photo Finish Records, where they started their career. There’s group chat between 3OH!3 and those close to them, which they refer to as a “creative text chain,” where someone else posed the idea of doing it as a nod to WANT.
For Foreman and Motte, it just felt right to roll with it. They’ve come so far since their first stint on the label, and have grown as musicians and as people. “I think it’s just cool that we went on our own trajectories and sort of orbited back to working together,” Foreman says. “It just feels like a peak and not a valley right now for us releasing [the record]. It makes sense, and I think aesthetically it’s fun. I always liked albums like that, that were a next chapter. For us, its the next chapter — WANT and NEED, I don’t think there’s anything much deeper than that.”
The record harkens back to their earlier music through more ways than just the album title, though. As fans have noticed from “LONELY MACHINES” and “I’M SO SAD,” they worked hard on walking that fine line between nostalgia and looking forward. “What was kind of cool about the circumstances that we’ve dealt with for a lot of the record is that, by necessity, we had to embrace some more lo-fi techniques. We’re back here in Colorado, and sometimes early on, Sean and I were like 3 miles apart, but we were doing sessions through Zoom like everybody else. Kind of recording, sending shitty sounding audio back and forth. That was kind of cool, because I think sometimes stripping down in terms of your tools as an artist, can almost open creative lanes,” Motte says. It’s been over a decade since 3OH!3 first exploded into the music industry, and as time goes on, they have gained more perspective on those days. So, they wanted to callback to some of those things with the new record.
Part of their growth has been their experience on writing for other artists across all music genres. It’s a process that Foreman compares to “speed dating,” especially if you’re pitching songs to the pop sphere rather than going in and knowing who you’d be working with. But, the two thoroughly enjoy doing that, and they’ve felt that it has helped them grow and learn so much over the years. “I think thats one thing I love about collaborating,” Motte begins, “You get to work with so many different people. You learn different ways of having fun. Most of these people are, you know, they can be crazy but we’re all crazy because we’re artists, whatever. They’re also openminded, dynamic, they’re different.”
When Foreman and Motte joined together back in 2020 to bunker down and start writing for NEED, they took everything they learned from co-writes and working with others, and brought it all to the table. While it was not necessarily the most common circumstances, some of it was familiar and back to the basics for 3OH!3. “I think we’ll definitely, you know, be able to think back on the record and think that it was made under a lot of similar circumstances, because how we started to write music and how we’ve always done it is in a basement in Boulder, Colorado with a computer and a couple dudes who like to make music, so it’s not really that different. But then some of the other circumstances we’re completely different, doing things remotely and such. I think it’ll be special to look back on,” Foreman says.
At the end of the day, 3OH!3 aren’t trying to chase down 2008. They love WANT and everything that has gotten them here, but there’s no attempt to write another “Don’t Trust Me” or “Starstrukk.” NEED may, at face value and often throughout the record, have several moments of nostalgia, but as a whole it’s a sign of progress — one that will leave a lasting impression on the history of 3OH!3, one way or another.