Interview: Jean Louis Droulers and Keith Lalley of Cook Thugless

In 2019, New Jersey hip-hop music collective Cook Thugless released two projects. The first of the two was “LUXE,” an aggressive alternative hip-hop focused full-length, while the second saw the group venture into more indie pop mannerisms via a short EP, “lost in LA.” The group has returned with yet another project, but this time blending both sounds and venturing into new sonic territory. I interviewed two members of the group, vocalist Jean Louis Droulers and producer, instrumentalist, and vocalist, Keith Lalley. The two discussed not only the direction and focus of their newest record, “YIKES,” but how their creative output changed as a band during the COVID-19 pandemic:

 

“Being that you guys are such a huge group, where did you all meet?”

Droulers: “My sophomore year of college at Rutgers, I went to the acting conservatory with Jerry [Sanchez]. Keith [Lalley] and Brian [Clines] were in the music conservatory and were living with Jim who was studying biology. I was sharing a room with a roommate I had been assigned that I definitely didn’t jive with, my place was right in front of a cemetery, sh** sucked. Brian let me sleep on their couch and they [Lalley and Clines] were always jamming on their instruments. I never played any instruments--I wasn’t even into music that much, but I learned how to freestyle so I could take part in the jams.”

“After doing that for a couple months, I started writing to the beats they were making. I brought Jerry, Jerry started writing to the beats, and we eventually made an album. Then we were like, “What are we going to call this thing we’re doing right now?” We were living on Cook Douglass campus at Rutgers University and one of our boys had this running joke that “Cook Thugless” was a group of rappers that ran around the campus. We kept making this “Cook Thugless” joke, and when it came down to naming the band it kept coming up so we thought maybe that would be appropriate. We didn’t figure it would grow into what it really has. At the time, it was just playing around and having fun with it. Then we really stuck with it and “Cook Thugless” got cemented into being what our group was named.”

 

“How has the creative and communication process changed because of COVID-19? How has it affected the dynamic and how you work together?”

Droulers: “It’s actually been pretty cool because we’ve had to find ways to make music when we’re not together. We were AirBnBing places in LA and making the record there, but once COVID hit--I don’t have family in New Jersey--but all the other boys, they have people that everyone collectively felt it would be smart to leave, but we all got split up. We had to figure out how to make music while we’re not together.”

“We discovered that here on Discord is actually a great way to make music. I’ll send in my top lines with my phone as they’re cooking up beats in their own separate zones and sending stems to each other. It’s actually opened up our ability to make music no matter where we’re at, which was something I found limiting in the past, but has actually grown to be super cool and productive. In the beginning of July, I’ll fly out to record the set of songs that will be the project after “YIKES.”

Lalley: “Basically between July of 2019 and February of 2020 we were all living together, all five of us consistently and definitively. The communication process was more off-the-cuff and on the fly. There was a lot of information being passed around immediately and everyone was in the know because it was a real palpable, tangible thing we were talking about.”

“These Discord sessions have been very cool, but you have to rely back on the groupchat and things that make you have to go out of your way. You can’t just tell your boy in the next room, “Can we do this?” Then you do it and an hour later it’s done. There is a lot more communicating that needs to get done. It’s a little bit more effort and thought, but we’re still rockin’ in the free world.”

 

“I received an early release of your newest album “YIKES” and noticed the vast majority of songs have a sort of “indie” aesthetic to them. Was there anything that prompted this change of pace for you guys?”

Lalley: “It’s so interesting because you have to go backwards a little bit. Something that brought us to LA in the first place was this opportunity to work with people that were very very much in the pop lane. The LA music scene is very pop oriented. It’s all about making hits and there is a structure to things. Just understanding pop as a whole and what makes songs accessible and learning the tropes and all that.”

“Our first few months there were digging in hard to learn what that was; to adapt. We kinda lost access to a lot of those songs for a few different reasons, but afterwards we all kinda came together and were like, well, we wanna put this new record together with these new skills and with this new understanding and just be ourselves.”

Droulers: “One big factor here is that Koi Cola [Aj Seferlis], who has historically filmed our music videos with his company, Moon Culture Films, that he co-founded with Anthony King, he [Seferlis] makes music on his own. When we were moving to LA, he was such a prominent, talented artist--he was living at my house--I was just like, “Dude, why don’t you come with us and make music with us,” so he came out to LA. He comes from a lot more of that indie feel and vibe, and his influence was what brought a whole new element to what we were doing. When he joined the band, obviously it’s a new energy, and I think it took a second to go in that direction and then recalibrate to where we all meet in the middle.”

 

“I really enjoyed the final track “i’m still here” and how it compiled all the hooks and choruses from the previous songs. How did you guys come up with that idea?”

Lalley: “There were a lot of factors, but I think it was Koi primarily. He kinda wanted more elements, like transitional elements, to tie everything together. While a lot of those didn’t necessarily make the final cut of the project for a few reasons, the thing at the end, we baked that into the end of the song to really make the album. At the end of the day, this was a collection of songs that what all had in common was the time thread. They were all written at this time where we were experiencing a lot of turmoil, a lot of anxieties, unsureness, adventure, positivity, and good stuff as well, but that manifested itself in the different genres that came across. You have to bounce back and forth, with synth-pop, yelling, and all this different stuff. At the end, “i’m still here” is really cool because it shows a common thread between everything and then it helps the album solidify itself as sort of a story, obviously not linearly told, but as a package.”

 

“What’s the story being the “maggots” sample used near the end of “i’m still here?”

Droulers: “Keith, Jim, and Koi came in with the really strong idea to use these voicemails that were taken from real situations. We were living with this social media and video game influencer in his mansion that was slowly going in a downward spiral because he couldn’t afford the debts and all that stuff. The house was in decay and we were all living in the kitchen. Those were voicemails that the owner of the house would send out to people. We thought this represents what it was like in that situation and the boys put that in there. They did the whole medley with the songs and that’s why that’s my favorite song on the album. I just feel like it’s cathartic and really captured the feelings that were real and present at the time that we wrote that.”

 

“After “YIKES” drops, what do you think is next for you guys? Is there anything in the works?”

Droulers: “Yea man, the next album. That’s already in the works and we already have a couple songs that we are jazzed about... With all the time we got, we have footage of everything we’ve been through and I’m compiling a docuseries that talks about a lot of these themes, so I think that is going to exist really nicely in tandem with the newer music. As artists, we just gotta keep working and stockpiling stuff. I also want to be able to tell this story in a more narrative way than what the albums permit. We’ve seen a lot of exponential growth within the last two months; we went from 35,000 monthly listeners to 90,000 and we’re trying to break 100,000.”

 

Cook Thugless’ newest album, “YIKES,” dropped June 26th and is available to listen on all music streaming platforms. You can listen to the full interview below, in addition to a review of their newest record:

https://www.gavblog.com/yikes

 

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