The brothers Aged make sensual slow-jams for a generation that swipe and scroll. “We’re just trying to get to the core of what moves us,” says 27-year-old Andrew, the one with the wet-look centre-parting. “You know, what moves everyone.” Currently, it’s his younger brother’s choice of jewellery that is moving him – to fits of giggles. “It’s a vajra, a Tibetan symbol,” Daniel, 26, explains, fingering the silver amulet protectively. “It was on sale!” Andrew guffaws as he spreads his arms confidently on the back of their shared sofa. Daniel rolls his eyes. “It’s supposedly the sharpest symbol. Sharper than a diamond.” You get the feeling that, left to their own devices, Andrew would be receiving a clip round the ear right about now.
Inc., as they’re more commonly known, are in a chipper mood this afternoon, despite a touch of jetlag bleariness from arriving in the UK the night before. They’ve been to London a number of times, but until recently it was as session players for the likes of Robin Thicke, 50 Cent, Elton John and Beck. This year they intend to hog the spotlight on their own terms. On No World, their debut album, the bros draw from their lounge-jazz, blues, and hip hop influences and build a soul train all of their own. It’s a narcotic, libidinous listen that brings to mind the slinkiness of Prince’s breathless ballads and D’Angelo’s seductive neo-soul experiments, while winking to rock and hip hop in its tempered guitar riffs and offbeat triangle chinks.
The first track made available from the album, “The Place”, is a sultry 90s-leaning slow-jam with a stuttering hip hop beat and breathily urgent vocal layers, with a video of the pair trekking California’s Sequoia National Park in flesh-baring consignment sportswear: basketball shorts, Timberlands and moth-eaten cotton casuals. They’re the only ones visible in this woodland homotopia as they set up camp as a nubile community of two, with a knowing smile here, a brush against each other there. “People seemed to think it was really gay,” says Andrew, addressing the pink elephant in the room. “We’re not gay, but we’re not afraid of things like sexuality. I was really happy to document us at this age, like a flower when it’s blooming. We were looking at Bruce Weber and the films of Terence Malick; his films always feature really good-looking people, but they’re presented in a way that feels natural.”
They insist they haven’t sexed up their relationship for blog inches. “There’s this Greek symbol called ‘anima’ which represents the female in the man.” Andrew continues. “You know, like Prince when he’s lying naked on his album covers. We have a light, feminine presence on this album. I was feeling humbled, and I wanted to do something good and kind. I wrote the lyrics for ‘The Place’ about him.” He gestures to his brother, sitting beside him. “‘I know I have to try to be my best...’ Some people ask things of people, but he’s never really asked me for anything in my life. I guess that song came out of a feeling of love.”
No World is a statement of intent in a soulful groove, with touches of new jack swing, the sensual croon of Diamonds and Pearls-era Prince and atmospheric neo-soul all present in the duo’s production. Lyrics address Tibetan Buddhism, moneydriven culture and love in all its forms. The lustrous refrain of ‘Angel’ – “Till your head goes down” – could be about a number of things. Is there a sexual undertone? “I like that lyric a lot ‘cause it could be taken like that,“ Andrew smiles, “but it’s actually about the final moment when your head goes down.” Death. Oh dear.
It’s the multiple layers and possibilities of meaning that make No World such a singular listen. The brothers recorded the album in a gradual stretch from October 2011 to July 2012 in a studio close to their home in Mount Washington, Los Angeles, having previously self-released a 7” in 2010 (under the name Teen Inc.), and had a funk-pop EP put out on 4AD, the esteemed label to which they’re currently signed. They casually litter the conversation with musical references and Tupac lyrics, but say that No World was influenced as much by grunge as their love for gangstas.
“With ‘Black Wings’ we were going for a classic sound,” explains Andrew. “We put a stereo phaser on our vocals, and we wanted the electric guitar to be an electric guitar, you know? It’s a symbol of 90s alternative music for us.” As kids, the Smashing Pumpkins’ sprawling 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a particular favourite. “That sound does something to you physically,” says Daniel. “There’s a certain nuance to it,” agrees Andrew, “a depth to the sound where you can hear someone hitting a drum, or the voice in a very human way. Sometimes we try and find what zero is. If the message and feeling is all there, then we could do it all with an acoustic guitar and a drum! So then it’s like, how do we explain it, or how do we make it viable to our culture?”
The Ageds grew up listening to their mother’s beloved Motown records in Monterey, on the Californian coast. From an early age Andrew and Daniel were self-taught on guitar and bass, and they maintain the same roles in their live set-up today. “Everyone at our school was listening to neo-soul and jazz,” recalls Andrew. “Kids would be going off to Berklee (College of Music), that kind of thing.” Daniel describes the competitive musical environment as being “like a sport, the way people play basketball,” giving the teenage brothers impetus to quit smoking pot and start jamming together. “We did some covers!” remembers Andrew. “We did some Stevie Wonder, ‘Stay With Me’ by DeBarge, and an instrumental version of the Tupac song ‘I Ain’t Mad at Cha’.
“The music we make comes out of deep culture. American music, black American music, R&B, soul. We try to look at the essence of things and be real and honest, like anyone that sings from their heart: Aaliyah, D’Angelo. We do one cover in our set now, a 90s gospel song by Kirk Franklin called ‘Melodies from Heaven’. The lyrics are, ‘Melodies from heaven / Rain down on me / Rain down on me’. There’s a sense of something else in life. There’s no song like that today that makes sense.”
Andrew’s hitting his stride now. “In music there’s a general celebration of the dark that’s almost cliched at this point. It’s too easy to join that ‘fuck the world, YOLO’ approach. The ‘eat, fuck and make money’ situation? I can’t get down.” Daniel agrees: “Biggie used the medium of rap, or even that message, but he wasn’t trying to mess things up.” Andrew nods, and fixes me with a clear-eyed gaze as he delivers his verdict on the music industry of today. “It’s a scary, diabolical place.”
Inc. exist at the peripheries of a loose bi-coastal scene associated with the LA-based dance label Fade to Mind and the genre-mashing New York party GHE20 G0TH1K. Today, Andrew wears a visibly-branded white sweater from Hood by Air, the label run by his friend Shayne Oliver, part of the GHE20 G0TH1K collective alongside DJ Venus X. “It’s a collaborative community, but we’re in our own world a little bit,” says Andrew. In their spare time, the brothers often go hiking in the LA hills with their buddies Zane Reynolds (SFV Acid), Ezra Rubin (Kingdom), and Daniel Pineda and Asma Maroof (Nguzunguzu).
Andrew and Daniel played their first show as Teen Inc. in 2011 at Grown, a party thrown by Ashland Mines (Total Freedom) and Reynolds at a now-defunct Japanese jazz bar in LA called Dinner House M. “The name Grown was a joke because everyone was too young to be drinking!” says Mines, speaking from LA. “But Grown was also supposed to do something different. We tried to mirror the venue’s environment of velvet couches around brass and glass coffee tables, sea-foam-green plush carpeting and a greenhouse’s worth of plastic plants. There was a constant haze of cigarette smoke, and we played exclusively SFV Acid tracks and classic house, and the occasional foray into 80s boogie-R&B. I enforced a strict no-dancing policy. I was trying to have a space for sitting down, chatting with friends and listening to really good music. Inc.’s seriousness as musicians and subtlety in delivery made them a perfect tool for our goal.”
“It was a good hook-up spot!” laughs Andrew. “You could talk and drink till, like, 4am. Grown kickstarted what we were doing, really. It was real mellow.” It opened a new chapter in Daniel’s personal life too, as he met his long-term girlfriend Natasha at the night.
As Mines says, “Andrew and Daniel have a focus that sustains them and keeps them outside of a ‘scene’.” It’s a cultish ethos that the brothers had in mind when choosing their ambiguous, vaguely corporate-sounding bandname. “I like how it’s kind of Illuminati,” smiles Andrew. “People think we’re with them or we’re not.”
The next time Dazed meets Inc. is later that week in Dalston, where they are playing a show at Birthdays. The brothers have been to the area before: Andrew has fond memories of a night spent in Efes, the last-ditch snooker hall known for its striplit projections of MTV Dance and £3 cans of Red Stripe.
In between our meetings, Inc. travelled to Paris to play a successful gig and appear on a “super-cute” local television show. The brothers have been shaken by the tragic death of 22-year-old Californian pianist and Flying Lotus collaborator Austin Peralta. “We didn’t actually know him, but he was a part of our musical community and our drummer Gene played with him a lot,” Andrew says. “It was heavy. Before we go on stage, sometimes we’ll say something to bring that kind of thing into the room, and be grateful that we’re here and we’re alive. We have a basic hope that we can allow people to feel what we’re feeling, you know? We’re trying to do something healthy.” We sit down to kebabs and fresh pomegranate juice, which Andrew pronounces to be “really good”.
The biggest pop moment on No World is “Lifetime”, an effects-heavy track about cultural withdrawal which morphs into an R&B strut with Darkchild-style guitar licks and adlibbed melismas poking through the gauze. “We don’t often say much about these things, but that song is a bit about shedding,” explains Andrew of the lingering, breathy chorus, ‘This could be a life you’ll never find / You could always leave it all behind.’ “By ‘life’ it means lifestyle or culture,” he says. “You know, shed it all. Leave it. Let go.” It’s a medicine that goes down a little easier when accompanied with Andrew’s croons, reminiscent of T-Boz’s seductive patinas on CrazySexyCool.
“So many things can tie you down,” says Andrew as he tucks into his chicken shish. “We grew up in a place of very little culture, and we’ve gone from that to a place of immense cultural ties: pop culture, Hollywood, music and being involved in that. We’re trying to get outside of ourselves, and hope that everyone can get a little bit outside of their selves.”
Radically, Inc. believe in the power of music to enact change, and the duo are veering off on their own trajectory with soul and self-assurance. “A lot of people identify with cultural and regional things, and we’re ultimately trying to clear that,” says Andrew as he slurps the last of his jewel-coloured juice and we head off to the show. “It’s just us and the music, and not a whole lot else.” Daniel pipes up: “It’s about exploring, testing yourself and finding out who you are.” As ambitions go, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.
No World is out on February 18 on 4AD. Go to dazeddigital.com to see a film of INC. in action
Photography Peter Kaaden
Follow Owen Myers on Twitter here @owen_myers