grouptherapy. Is Staying True to Themselves as They Bring the "FUNKFEST" [Q&A]

Photo: Jumelles Studio

Childhood friends turned creative collaborators, grouptherapy.’s SWIM, Jadagrace, and TJOnline have combined their individual magic and touched eclectic hip-hop gold.

Based in LA, there’s a warmth grouptherapy. naturally emits, like a home-cooked stew that contrasts many prepackaged acts, robotic in nature. In the way they support each other as individual artists, give space for the next to unravel and bloom, and uplift one another with unconditional love, you can see their inner children beaming with pride. They’ve protected the preciousness of their pack, never letting a prying industry taint their true why, expressing a funk that wants so badly to be born through them. 

We sat down with the collective to explore the most surreal moments of their careers thus far, their take on R&B’s evolution, and what they have brewing next.

Ones To Watch: You just came back from SXSW. How has the festival experience been for you guys?

TJOnline: It’s something you always want to do as an artist but strange to see the reality of.

Jadagrace: Yeah, there’s so much that goes into it that you don’t even think about. 

SWIM: It’s strange because as a music fan, you hear about these things and then you become a part of it and it’s so different. Not to downplay it, it’s just scarier and realer. As a fan, you’re thinking about how fun it’s going to be, but as an artist, you’re thinking about all the logistics and how to pull off a great performance. It was dope though, being a part of something like SXSW is so cool.

I hope you’re letting yourself marinate in the accomplishment. In your careers thus far, what’s been your most surreal moment?

TJOnline: That’s a great question. The one that was the most surreal for me was the New Yorker article. It came out of nowhere and to be recognized that way, to go do the photoshoot for it, was a very beautiful and validating moment.

SWIM: We did a tour last year, our first tour and our first time traveling outside of LA to perform. A lot of our support is digital which is fire but, the Atlanta show was a surreal moment. We didn’t sell it out but the people that were there were so happy to be there, for some of them it was their first concert ever, or their first since the pandemic. We had people come in from Florida to see us. To me, when someone really takes time out of their lives to support you, it means you had an impact and I don’t take that for granted.

Jadagrace: For me, it was when we got the call to open for EARTHGANG. That was so random and I remember when we got to the venue and really took it in, like “Wow, we’re really doing this.” That was the biggest stage we’ve gotten to perform on.

Part of the reason why I feel like people resonate with you guys is because they gravitate towards what is genuine and it’s obvious to me that you aren’t in it for clout, but rather, true expression. Being such fluid and honest artists, is it difficult to have to define yourself by labels or genres?

SWIM: HELL YEAH. Oh my god.

Jadagrace: I remember when we first started turning in our music and playing demos for labels, sometimes they had a lot to say and it was really important for us to always take people’s opinions into consideration but balance doing ultimately what we want to do. We’re the ones who will have to perform it for the rest of our lives so we have to love it. We’ve been getting better at it but I feel like it’s always going to be a battle, no matter how big you get.

SWIM: When you look at the way the industry is set up, I think the bigger labels and companies who invest in artists aren’t really in the business of taking chances and because of that, they’ll try to confine you into something that has already worked. As an artist, you’re not thinking with that brain, you’re just being creative. We faced a lot of obstacles coming into it because we are artists who haven’t been seen before in our format and we took a few years to figure out what that format even was. Early on people were trying to rush that process like “What are you? Are you a band? Are you a group?” and it was hard, especially in an industry that's looking to immediately label you and decide what playlists they want to put you on. You have to play the game a little bit but ultimately when it comes to using our creative minds, we have to throw all of that out the window and not let it contaminate the art.

TJOnline: It was a process for us to figure out a way to be authentically who we are and stay true to what feels right for us while also taking notes and being able to make things accessible without sacrificing who we are, just being easily digestible. 

People have no idea how nuanced this whole thing is. Were there musical acts you guys gleaned influence from?

Jadagrace: Odd Future for sure.

TJOnline: Odd Future and BROCKHAMPTON were huge influences. As we’ve matured and understood what we were doing, there’s been more N.E.R.D. influence regarding letting the music be fluid and being several genres at once. It sort of allowed us to be more amorphous with how we approach songs. We throw as many ideas into a song and then refine, refine, refine.

SWIM: Sometimes we’re Wu-Tang, sometimes we’re Destiny’s Child.

Who is the Michelle, Beyonce, and Kelly?

TJOnline: Jada is Beyonce 100%.

SWIM: I think TJ is Kelly. I’ll be Michelle, shout out to Michelle. Justice for Michelle.

You guys are great at uplifting each other individually while creating something collectively. How do you structure that creative dynamic?

TJOnline: That’s always been the goal for us, to see each other succeed not only together, but separately. Just by the nature of how we make things, there’s some songs where we’ll make and be like “I don’t want to be on this. I think this is just for you.”

Jadagrace: I started out as a solo artist and never in a million years thought I would be in a group with my best friends, but I’m so happy. We make it a priority to allow each other to do solo opportunities and grow as individuals and I’m very grateful. We figured out the format.

SWIM: To me, it felt like the individual tip was always there from the beginning and grouptherapy. was a shelter for us to have the confidence to go out and do our own thing. Even our first project was a lot of solo songs put together on one compilation, we always wanted to highlight that we weren’t going to be on every track together. The other side of it is I don’t know if people know, because of how the music industry works, we weren’t put together by some label head. We didn’t audition and have Jermaine Dupri trying to get us all in the same key. We really did grow up together and know each other’s families intimately. We’ve supported each other from the get-go, so that aspect of it is truly our nature. 

Though your sound is malleable, you’re still labeled as R&B. What’s your perspective on how the genre has evolved? 

TJOnline: R&B is suffering from the same thing rock was suffering from for quite some time, where there are people who are R&B purists and won’t allow it to be anything that isn’t exactly what it’s been for decades. Because of that, the innovations in R&B aren’t being labeled as R&B so we can’t change as fluidly as so many other genres can. Rap has evolved from hip hop to trap, so many subsets that doesn’t make it not rap. If something is R&B but electronic-leaning, then it’s alternative. There are people doing interesting things in the R&B space but it’s not being labeled that way.

Jadagrace: Even with the new SZA album, she’s got full-on rock songs on there but it’s R&B.

SWIM: R&B is the only genre that feels stiff in its evolution. Obviously hip hop is usually the most ahead of its time, but there are a lot of R&B artists that are really pushing the envelope and need more respect. James Blake is R&B. Look at his voice, his tempo, how is this not R&B?

What’s next for you guys?

SWIM: I’m overwhelmed with the amount of things we have going on. We’re sitting on a really exciting next wave of music that is our most real, honest, vulnerable versions of ourselves. One thing I love about what we have coming next is if I were to explain to someone who I am, I would feel comfortable presenting this and letting it speak for itself. As an artist, in the grand scheme of things, you want to be proud of what you’ll leave behind when you’re gone and this is something I’m so grateful to have done and proud to leave behind me. I’ve never felt that before.

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