Read it on HUNGER TV
Words / Marco Pantella
Photography / Fabio Esposito www.fabioesposito.co.uk
Ami Carmine is a singer, producer and DJ who from the age of 16 was already a session singer for the likes of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, before touring as leading vocalist with Basement Jaxx and working with KT Tunstall.
Lee Potter, aka Killa Kela, is as Pharrell Williams once stated, ”one of the finest multivocalists and beatboxers on the planet.” He has been sharing stages alongside Busta Rhymes, Prince, N*E*R*D and opened the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2010.
Ami may come from Venus and Lee from Mars but together as a band they find a common ground where their identities create a bittersweet recipe made of ethereal vocals and sharp beats, produced by James Rushent (The Prodigy).
We catch up with the duo to peak inside the twisted fairytale world of Them & Us…
HOW DID THEM&US COME TO LIFE?
LEE – It came about quite organically, we were finishing our own projects and through that it just felt like the right time to start working on a project together. I was asking her if she wanted to do something on my project and vice versa so people would see us together a lot, you know? Whether or not they knew we were a couple…
AMI – Everyone else knew before we did!
LEE – Yeah and they started associating us together and making assumptions like “oh you must be working together ’cause she sings and you are a writer”. This was four years ago…
AMI – The first two years were just a relationship and now it’s a double relationship!
LEE – We were sitting there in two different creative artist modes so we thought “that’s Them now and together we could be the Us”. Symbolically there are two different alter egos and as things moved on we realised that people getting into the idea of Them&Us were seeing “Them” as people who do certain kind of things and “Us” as these two guys who do something different. This created quite a following of pro-Them&Us.
WAS IT DIFFICULT TO MERGE YOUR DIFFERENT MUSICAL BACKGROUNDS?
AMI – I’d say we do have similar tastes but our paths have kinda gone on different ways. I grew up listening to all kinds of music and I am very beat driven, just like Lee.
LEE – I think we are very clear about the style and sound we are looking for. We’re not influenced from what we are familiar with, it’s more like having a new white canvas and experimenting with new things that may come a little bit out of our comfort zones.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC AND INSPIRATIONS?
AMI – I like to think otherworldly, this is one of the reasons why I love films like “The Neverending Story”, “Chronicles Of Narnia” and everything with a fairytale feel to it. It is inspiring to me because these things take us away for a little bit to a nice place to be.
LEE – And this makes it easier to make music that is far broader than what people may be doing now. There may be a hint of dubstep, hip hop and dance but when you have an ethereal orchestra behind it and a great hook in a verse… Well it turns everything into something very moving and powerful. Something else.
HOW DOES YOUR BEATBOXING AND DJING BACKGROUND INFLUENCE YOUR MUSIC?
LEE – I’ve been beatboxing since I was 16. It came fairly instantly to me even though I was more into graffiti, rapping, and that hip hop competitive side. On every new project you take, everything you’ve developed in the past come back to you to be applied in a deeper way. I do all these sort of different things within the project that I don’t feel like I’m stuck at being just a beatboxer.
AMI – When you are a musician you kind of need to experiment with every angle in music. This is how I started DJing, I took an hour lesson once and I just went on practicing, bought some decks and three years later I was ready! There is a little bit of everything in my DJ sets, they can be quite slow, there’s a bit of hip hop in there, Filthy Electro and the Moombahton of course.
YOU RECENTLY OPENED FOR KELIS AND YOUR GIGS INVOLVE HUGE WINGS ON STAGE, MASKS, DANCERS… HOW DO YOU PUT A SHOW TOGETHER?
AMI – The visual aspect is very important because we see our music as a journey. You have these heavy beats and dark-looking dancers but there’s also a more theatrical attitude entwined in it. You can see a juxtaposition between light and dark in everything we do. I found those wings online and in my research I came across Loie Fuller, one of the first contemporary dance artists. She does this Serpentine Dance with a huge cape on and it inspired me having flowing wings for the show.
LEE – The mask is some sort of “Beauty And The Beast”, the hard and the soft, dark versus light. This is what we are trying to celebrate in our songs. The drops are always heavy and hard but the journey is floating.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR DEBUT VIDEOHAPPY NEVER AFTER, SHOULDN’T A COUPLE NAME IT “HAPPY EVER AFTER”?
AMI – As for the song we had an idea of the bassline and we worked on it with our producer. It starts off with a very playful mood to become more melancholic, more… “fuck another Monday morning!”. The main idea for the video was to have a fairytale-ish atmosphere, so we called upon our friends who are video directors and they totally got the idea and really expanded on it to make it more crazy.
LEE – Super Massive, they were really great!
AMI – Absolutely, they were really fun to work with despite the long hours shooting outside in minus five degrees in a dress. It was freezing cold but they kept our spirits up!
LEE – When we were writing it there was not a feel that this could be about our relationship but in the same breath we got tweets from people on Mondays saying “Fuck another Monday morning”. We didn’t even think about the context of talking about Mondays!
WHAT ABOUT WRITING TOGETHER?
LEE – Ami is the main visionary towards particular songs, she’s almost a filter of the ideas we put together when writing cause she is a commercial songwriter and she knows her voice because she’s predominantly singing.
It gets tough and rigid at times but at its source and from the beginning it is an organic process.
AMI – And it is always different, our song “Oh My God” on the other hand starts off very ballad like and it’s ethereal before storming out.
You always learn along the way and I feel happy about where we are now, it feels right for me and for us.
YOU SPENT YOUR LIFE IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT?
AMI – Personally I see it as an experiment of my own creativity and a place where I try to keep myself intact in an industry where you can get broken very quickly. You start out at a level where you don’t get paid for what you are doing and you do it for passion, so as long as we are being sincere we can express ourselves and have people understand us.
LEE – There are obviously times when tactics and strategy comes in but we’d be going against our name if we were to do it just to get along.Also, we are really into all sorts of mediums, not only music-wise. I love art, Ami loves fashion and if you believe in what we believe, we are not averse to work with like-minded artists.
THE DREAM COLLABORATION WOULD BE WITH…?
AMI – That would be with Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro who’s got that fairytale thing again but with a dark twist. Björk is also a big inspiration for me, her music is timeless, I can still listen to her old albums and feel so inspired.
LEE – I am a very big proper rock fan so that would be someone like Slash. Working with him would be… awesome! And Lemmy from Motörhead.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THEM&US?
AMI – We are working on other tracks, we are constantly writing. It takes time especially because we want to make sure that what we are doing has substance and feels right for us. We are working on our first EP and it should be out pretty soon.
LEE – We actually had more songs that were ready to go, but very much like the first tune we want to make sure the video has its own characteristics as well. We are also doing a lot of road testing to see how people respond, which is very important. So far it has been awesome and it’s nice to feel how things are coming together.
WHAT DO YOU THINK AN ARTIST SHOULD ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND?
AMI – Be true to your art and what you want to do because as a human being your instincts are usually always right when it comes to art. You have to be true about your art because you will not be happy with the end result if you are not sticking to where your feelings reside.
LEE – Also, just don’t be an arse! Skills, practice, style, moments of artistic enlightenment, that’s all important, but being nice, well that’s everything! This is why Peter Andre is famous I guess, right? Ok, seriously, the point is: be cool!
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
LEE – I have an appetite for destruction!
AMI – My hunger lies in just trying to always live my life at its fullest potential.
Catch Them & Us LIVE at The Underbelly of Hoxton Square, London. August 10, 2013
Official Website / www.themandusofficial.com
Soundcloud / https://soundcloud.com/themandusofficial