It’s difficult to characterize a sound that infuses elements of hip hop, trap, dupstep, funk and soul, and that doesn’t bother Watch The Duck at all. “For us, it’s just music,” says group member Eddie Smith, who along with Jesse Rankins and Jonathan Wells have been experimenting with various genres since their college days. The guys agree that their unique sound and subsequent success have been heavily dependent on their experiences. “You began to absorb the stuff you are around and are influenced by just by living the lifestyle and then making it a part of you,” says Jesse. “An experience can help you understand the music better.” If this holds true, those who are either confused by or unfamiliar with the sounds of Watch The Duck should prepare themselves for a better understanding, because with recent collaborations with T.I. and Iggy Azalea, remixes for Beyoncé, cosigns from Pharrell, Timbaland, and Diddy. and an upcoming mixtape we all will probably be experiencing a lot more of those sounds from the Atlanta-based group formerly known as the Bama Boyz. Here, Watch The Duck talks to Life+Times about producing Beyoncé’s “Why Don’t You Love Me,” working on T.I.’s next album and getting advice from Pharrell Williams.
Life+Times: In what ways has your production style evolved since the transition from the Bama Boyz to Watch The Duck?
Eddie Smith: The Bama Boyz were always some pretty different kind of guys. We always were trying to push the envelope. We always tried to give artists we’d work with something different. The Bama Boyz were just as weird as Watch The Duck was ever going to get. We never looked at what we were doing as weird though. For us, it was just normal. Watch The Duck came out of our growth and our new experiences over the years, but also out of us just wanting to try something different. Watch The Duck gave us a new vehicle to get our ideas out there.
Jesse Rankins: Watch The Duck is a more concentrated version of the Bama Boyz. Our stuff was beginning to sound more and more like a compilation, because we had all of these varying batches of music, whereas with Watch The Duck we had decided to focus on this particular sound. With Bama Boyz we just did everything and anything.
L+T: How would you characterize your sound?
ES: Not that we consider it to be a genre or anything, but we like to look at what we do as “mirror music.” We started calling it “mirror music,” because it all depends on the person we’re talking to. If we talk to a person that’s heavily into soul music they’ll probably hear soul in our music. If we talk to somebody that’s really into electronic music or dubstep then they’ll hear those elements. To us, none of it is wrong. Call it whatever makes you most comfortable. We know people who don’t like dubstep, but they love our music, so we tell them to not call it dubstep [laughs]. It doesn’t really matter to us.
L+T: What are some of things that influences the music you make?
JR: Life, where we grew up and our travels. With us being from Alabama, we were raised with a lot of soul, gospel and southern hip hop and then spending time in Houston introduced us to another culture, musically. Then we actually stayed in London for about three months, which also had an impact on the music we were making.
L+T: What is your creative process like? How do you create tracks?
ES: I think the one consistent thing that we always start with is a conversation. If we’re passionate about a conversation that conversation can turn into a song.
L+T: How did you end up producing “Why Don’t You Love Me” for Beyoncé?
JR: We jokingly say that “Why Don’t You Love Me” was the first Watch The Duck production. It really was a track that never in our wildest dreams did we think Beyoncé would like, but Solange thought it was such a great record and ended up writing a song to it. She then played it for Beyoncé. That record came from us being in London. That record was a direct result of us being abroad and us playing with new sounds and us learning new ways of how to party. We thought that what we call ratchet music was pretty much the peak of all party experiences. Going over there and being able to listen to other music that has the parties just as turnt influenced the sounds that we were using and the music we were making.
L+T: You are featured on and produced Iggy Azalea’s “100,” which can be found on her debut, The New Classic. How was it working with her?
JR: Iggy is cool people. We all are a part of the Hustle Gang family. Tip told us that she was digging the music and a fan of “Popping Off.” He suggested that we should work with her. She happened to be in Los Angeles a weekend we were out there and we all – us, Iggy and Tip – just got together and “100” came about.
L+T: Whose idea was it to produce a remix for Beyoncé’s smash-hit “Drunk in Love”?
ES: We have a good relationship with Beyoncé’s camp. The Knowles family was the first ones to give us a shot at taking our music from just ideas to where people could actually hear the shit. That relationship goes back a while. Parkwood – Beyoncé’s company – reached out to us asking if we’d like to do a remix for “Drunk in Love” and of course we said hell yeah to it. It was crazy because while we were doing the remix we were cutting records for Tip. We were literally doing records for his album while at the same time we were working on this remix. Anybody that knows Tip knows that if you’re playing a record long enough around him he’s going to get on that record eventually. He’s just aggressive with the music like that. We were just like lay it down, let’s send it and we’ll see what happens.
L+T: T.I. has mentioned that a song featuring you and Jeezy is slated to make his forthcoming Paperwork album. Could you tell us about that record?
JR: You’re talking about “G Shit.” It’s interesting how that record even happened. That was more so a Pharrell thing. He and Tip had done a record together and Pharrell said he wanted to get us working on the song. At the time, Tip wanted Pharrell to go in and do his Pharrell thing, but Pharrell was like “I think you should try Watch The Duck for this one.” To see a hyped up Pharrell trying to convince a reluctant T.I. to let these three guys and a duck do this record for him was very interesting [laughs].
ES: It was just crazy. We were at this festival and had just gotten off the stage when Jesse had gotten the call from this engineer we know. His words were “Yo Pharrell said he wants to meet you guys in the studio.” At that time, we still hadn’t even met Pharrell. People would tell us that Pharrell was a fan, but that’s it, so that call saying Pharrell wanted us in the studio was a little bit daunting.
JR: We were like “Stop playing!”, but he was like “I’m serious, Pharrell is here sitting right next to me.” The studio was about 30 minutes away from where we were. We got to the studio in about 15 minutes though [laughs]. We did the record really, really fast. It didn’t take us a long time at all. We did like four records that night. When we walked in the studio there was T.I., Usher, Pharrell and Jeezy in there. That was really our first time meeting any of them, so to walk into the studio and see those superstars was an experience.
L+T: Has Pharrell given you any advice?
ES: It’s just surreal, because he really does give us advice and he does check for us. We have a record he did with us for our album. When Pharrell usually produces stuff he produces it his damn self, but he gave us the record and said “You guys do some of that special stuff y’all do to the record.” Pharrell has always been one of those producers we’ve looked up to and whose influence has helped shape our sound, but to have him tell us something like “What you guys are doing right now is going to be hard, but don’t change it,” just gives us confidence. It makes us feel like we’re not pissing in the wind. It gives us a lot of confidence to stay the path.
L+T: What does that kind of recognition feel like?
ES: I don’t even know yet. I feel they are just gassing us [laughs].
JR: It’s still kind of setting in, but honestly man, the whole response that we’ve gotten for Watch The Duck since it’s inception has been overwhelming and kind of surreal. Even before we had met Pharrell we we’re told that he was going around playing “Popping Off” for people in studio sessions. We were in the studio a few weeks ago working with Tip and Pharrell when Timbaland comes in a sessions like “Have people been telling y’all that I’ve been looking for y’all?” Diddy ended up finding us through a mutual friend of ours after he heard a record that hasn’t even been released yet. It’s crazy, because one of the first things that we said after we did the record was “Man, we have to find Diddy for this record.” Listening to him tell us what he thinks of our music and what we’re doing, not with just that record, but with “Popping Off” was just crazy. These are people that we grew up wanting to emulate and now for them to respect what we’re doing is fucking huge. It’s pressure too.
L+ T: Who else have you been working with as of late?
JR: We’re really in a place now where we’re just grinding and making more of this great music. We’ve been working with Busta Rhymes, CeeLo and The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. We have these songs with all of these legends. All kinds of people have just reached out and shown their interest in what we’re doing. We’re working with everybody that’s calling [laughs].
L+T: When should we be expecting a Watch The Duck album?
JR: We are going to give the world an album really, really soon, but before we give the world an album we’re just going to give the world a lot of Watch The Duck. Honestly, the album is going to be special. Every song you hear from Watch The Duck is a song we’ve put a lot of effort and time into it. When we give people an album we want people to really be waiting on that thing, because that thing is going to be revolutionary.
ES: Expect a new song or video from us about every four to six weeks. We feel like we’re on a campaign right now to earn the right to release an album. I just feel like there’s a lot of groundwork we have to do. A lot of people are just now starting to get hip to us.