Photo: Sergio Necoechea
WESLEE Talk Exes Of "London Love," Billie Eilish, Support From Annie Mac & New Album
Meet WESLEE: a vibey, electro-R&B duo featuring London-born Emma DD's smooth vocals and Kansas-raised Josh Grant's grooving production. The pair first met in New York City in a writing session and they've been on a roll since.
Though they initially didn't reveal their identities, WESLEE's 2017 single "Gassed" (the first song they ever wrote together) got the new act noticed in the U.K. right away, with DD and Grant being picked up by an influential handful of early supporters, including Annie Mac and Pete Tong on their esteemed BBC Radio 1 shows. In 2018, Emma and Josh continued to make groovy waves, dropping their debut EP, 9F.
Now, WESLEE is ready to keep the momentum going and make their mark Stateside. They're working on their second EP and have released two more big-vibe singles, "London Love" and "Something Bout You." On the eve of their Los Angeles debut, the Recording Academy sat down with the pair to talk about new music, dream collabs, what they've learned from working together, getting support from a major British personality like Mac and more.
You guys just made your L.A. show debut. How are you feeling? How do you feel like it went for you?
Josh: Still hungry.
Emma: Yeah, it was fun. It was good.
Josh: Made us hungry for more. [Laughs.] No, it felt good. It was a fun venue. We're just going to watch the sunset go down while we—
Emma: Yeah, it's a cool venue.
Josh: —see the trains go by and see the rest of L.A. Yes. A good way to start for a good first L.A. trip.
Yeah! How do you guys usually feel when you're on stage?
Emma: I think maybe I'm normally more drunk thank I am right now. But he's always like that, laughing. We're all really nervous. I had a bit of a weirder experience, though. I was just indifferent, I didn't think about it.
Josh: Emma was good. I'm always nervous.
I always wonder what it's like getting on stage with those lights...
Josh: In your head, you're like, "This is fine" and then you're like "I don't know what the f**k I'm doing."
Emma: Yeah, 10 minutes before, you're like, "I don't know anything I've done, what do I do?" And my stomach's doing somersaults, but I'm like," pass me the whiskey" and they didn't have whiskey here. And I just find out if this [holds up bottle] is basically just kombucha…
Josh: So, it's not alcohol at all.
Maybe there's a placebo effect at least?
Emma: I do this every day, so it's good that it's not alcoholic because I would be an alcoholic.
Josh: Do you prefer drunk shows versus now knowing that there's no alcohol in there?
Emma: It's different. Today's just weird. But yeah, it felt good after. It feels good now.
Can you talk about when you first linked up and how WESLEE was born?
Josh: So, we both write and produce for other people and so we met just doing sessions that way in New York. And then it sort of happened out of that, basically. We came from a session, I think we were burnt out on doing that sort of stuff. We hit a point of "We're over this" at that moment. We needed a day to make music on our own and we wrote "Gassed" then. That's how it started.
That was literally the first thing song you made together?
Josh: Yeah, we wrote it that night. It never changed from then until today.
You started working together and something clicked. How do you feel that you balance or challenge each other creatively? How does that push the project along?
Josh: I think, for me, I change up as like, I'm nervous on stage. I'd be likely to overthink everything in my world and Emma helps me not do that. I just go based on an energy and a feeling and I can keep that and we can put it back to where we just create music now that we're together based on whatever feeling we're having that day. It's not like, "Oh, let's make it this or this." And we don't have an end goal of an EP or an album is going to be about this thing. At least, so far. It's just you go with energy and feeling of the day and then see where that takes you. And I think she's making me get better at that rather than my brain overthinking 10,000 things.
Emma: Yeah, what he said. He's better at this stuff than I am.
Josh: She has nothing nice to say about me. [Pauses.] That's not true. [Smiles.]
When you're working on your own music and in that space of more so going with the dynamic and the flow of the day, do you feel like you're able to be more creative then when you were writing for other people?
Josh: I think it's more creative for me freedom-wise. You can just go and not stress about what it is.
Emma: It's what makes it more stressful.
Josh: Yeah. Because of that.
Your name's on it.
Emma: That's exactly what it is.
Josh: It's freeing, but you're also putting [more] pressure on yourself.
Emma: And then you're starting a lot of stuff between the making music. Like...
Josh: What do you mean?
Emma: …like interviews.
Josh: Oh, right.
You want to talk about it?
Emma: Yeah, I'm not good at talking about a lot of things. Especially, "What kind of music do you make?" I don't f**king know. Sh*t, you can hear it.
Josh: You're good at talking about things in music form, but talking about that is a different thing.
Emma: I don't like to talk about myself.
Josh: But it's also kind of nice cause it makes you reflect and be like, "Oh, that's what that was about." Maybe you haven't thought about it. It's like therapy in a way. You're like, "Oh wait!" It's kind of nice.
You guys are working on your second EP. Did you have a vision going into it, and have things changed or shifted since you started working on it?
Josh: I think for this second EP we realized that all this stuff has been made in L.A. and it sounds like that, I think. Whereas all of the last EP was made in London and it sort of feels that way. I don't know how to describe what that sound is. But when you hear these songs, you can tell we were in L.A. If we're going to write a song in London, it's going to feel like that vibe of London in that day and here it's a different thing. They feel completely different.
Josh: Yes. Sunny, hot. Yeah, it feels that way and sweet, in a way.
One of the lead singles is "London Love," which is a really fun song. And the video matches it really well, where it's really pretty. And can you talk to that song a little bit specifically? Maybe the emotions that went into that and the vision of the video.
Emma: The song is literally about my exes. One of my friends, when she first heard it, was, "Oh, my God, this is about that guy! This is that guy..." "Correct." Not all of them are real because I haven't dated that many guys. I feel like the song lended itself to the video. Even when we were writing it, I had that vision in my mind.
Was it filmed in London?
Josh: It was in London on a f**king cold-ass day, which is very London.
Do you feel like writing that song helped you process? I mean, no one likes talking about their exes, but we all do it.
Emma: Every other song I ever write is about one of my exes. I think I talk about them enough. New boyfriend, new ex.
You guys also recently dropped the Ben Pearce remix of "London Love," which is great. Do you guys have your eyes on any specific artists to collaborate with?
Josh: I mean, it always changes. What we listen to changes all the time. We're like, "Oh, it'd be cool to work with that person or this person", but no one specifically. I think it changes every week.
Emma: I'm gonna say Bass and Dave. Is that what they're called?
Josh: Oh yeah! Wait, is that their names?
Josh: But this is another song that's coming out is, not to give anything away, is like a duet, but there's no feature on it.
Emma: Don't give it away. He wasn't really supposed to tell you.
Josh: We're sort of open to collaborating with anybody. A lot of stuff that we do on our own or with other people, you play them stuff and then it's "Oh, we should do something together," and just see what happens after that.
So, then, how did the Ben Pearce remix come out?
Josh: That one was actually through management. They reached out and he was a fan of the song and, I think he hadn't done anything remix-wise in a while. He was just like, "I want to remix this" and he did it.
We have another one coming out with [British-Jamaican Dancehall artist] Stylo G on it, which is actually really cool. It's sort of reggae-ish. And then an Afrobeat style one going to come out as well, with [producer/songwriter] P2J, who did a bunch of work the GoldLink album.
Josh: So, just stuff like that where people hear it and go; "Yeah, that'd be cool. I'll do it" and we barter. I'll do one for you, you do one for me and we'll see what happens.
Emma: Pete and Bas! That's who I want to [collaborate with].
Josh: Everyone look out for Pete and Bas.
Emma: If you don't know who they are, f**king YouTube it.
"Gassed" was the first song you ever actually wrote together, which is pretty crazy. It was the first single you put out and, right off the bat, got a lot of love from BBC1. How do you feel that getting the positive response right away shaped your artistic path?
Josh: For me, it's super exciting because you're like, "Oh sh*t, this thing we've done, people actually like it," which is sort of weird. However, that then puts weird pressure like, "Well, what happens if they don't play it again and our next song? How does that work?" It makes me just get a little bit too heavy about sh*t. Puts pressure on yourself that doesn't need to be there. Emma's getting good at being like, "Don't f**king worry about that sh*t, let's make music." So as amazing as it is, then it's like, "Well, she didn't like our next song." But then it's, "Oh well, she'll like the next one after that."
And then Annie Mac brought you to her AMP fest, right?
Josh: Yeah, it was super fun.
She's so influential. What was that experience like at AMP, and did you guys learn anything specific from connecting with Annie and watching her work?
Josh: I think just that she is a good curator of music that we all like. She's good at putting together and finding—
Emma: Finding new sh*t.
Josh: —new stuff, it's really good. Then joining that together to see how she picks and chooses what's gonna do what and her team around her. She's a massive influencer, especially in the U.K., still, so to be a part of that, you're like, "That's f**king cool." I just wish that we had played with Billie Eilish.
Was she were there too?
Josh: She was there the week before us, she did a show. If we had only known. [Mac] is on this stuff super early. That's amazing because we saw her a year and a half ago. And then we saw Billie Eilish play a massive stage at Coachella this year.
Emma: Yeah, it's just crazy.
Who are you guys' biggest influences?
Josh: It changes. I'm always listening to Frank Ocean. He's what I always go back to. Other than that, it is constantly changing.
Emma: I don't know if she's one of my influences, but I'm gonna say her because I just saw her and she f**king killed it: Kylie Minogue. She deserves a shout out. She may be the most opposite person to me, but yeah.
What is your biggest goal and mission, right now as an artist putting out music?
Emma: Well, right now, to get food. Dumplings.
Josh: Trying to get Burgerlords. They do vegan tahini milkshakes that are better than actual milkshakes.
And just keep putting out music and seeing where it goes and playing more shows. And hopefully more people like it, or even if they don't. Just keep making, being creative, pushing each other and putting out music, that's satisfying. Whatever else happens, you don't really have power over. But we can control what the two of us do. And writing songs, that's a happy place.
Emma: Keep making, keep creating.
Yeah, you can't overthink it.
Josh: Yeah, we try not to.
Emma: Overthinking is the death of creativity. We're learning it fast.