The members of Krewella are young. I realize just how young when I ask them to name their influences. Singing sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf drop names of acts they grew up listening to as kids—Chromeo, the Faint, Bloc Party, Justice, Incubus. So if you're a jaded crank shaking your fist at the overwhelming wave of EDM acts, yes, you probably don't get it because you are too old. But Krewella looks to change that. People of all (well, more) ages can get Krewella, thanks to the big sweet pop hooks that Yasmine (pictured left in the first image) and Yahan (middle) weave over the dubstep and bass woomph of Kris Trindl, a.k.a. Rain Man. The formula took "Alive" into the Billboard Top 40. This is why the group now has the backing of Columbia Records, the label that brought Adele into everyone's household.
Born in Chicago but now based in L.A., the threesome is currently working on its debut album, scheduled sometime in early fall. When Krewella hits the main stage (er, "Da Main Stage") at Spring Awakening on Sunday, June 16, it will be facing the biggest audience of its career. At last year's Spring Awakening, the band was relegated to a tent. Now it warms up Soldier Field for Porter Robinson and Calvin Harris.
I spoke with Yasmine, 21, and Jahan, 23, by phone last month about Krewella's roots in the local warehouse scene, rave accessories, Vegas and Pakistani food.
You’re in Los Angeles, are you living there now?
Yasmine We moved here at the beginning of 2013. We’re from Chicago, obviously. We moved out here because it’s a lot easier for us to work on music. Everyone’s out here. And we’re working on our first album.
Which part of Chicago are you from?
Yasmine We grew up in the North Suburbs, Northbrook, but we moved to the West Loop in probably 2010 and we were living there all together in the meat[packing] district. We lived in this loft together and we had a built-in studio that we built ourselves. It was kind of janky for the time. That’s where we made our first EP. It was near the corner of Fulton and Morgan. We decided to discontinue school and quit our jobs. So the three of us basically had no social life besides work in the studio in that meat-district loft.
You started out playing warehouse shows.
Jahan We played a few warehouse shows in Chicago, those underground raves. It was funny, they were all kind of near Midway airport. It’s so all over the place because these underground raves are still not totally established. It’s not like [Electric Daisy Carnival] which is a very big festival that’s under wraps and there’s lots of security. These shows that we were playing were like at old hotels that weren’t being used anymore. There was one Halloween show that we did at an old hotel. It was three levels and there was a DJ playing on every level, but it literally looked like a run-down hotel. It wasn’t totally one of the most well put together places that we’ve played at but they were really fun.
What kind of crowds were at these raves?
Jahan A lot of the kids who go to raves in Chicago are under 21 so they can’t go to the clubs, and a lot of those kids are from the Southwest Suburbs. There’s definitely a very colorful rave crowd, like kids performing light shows. We love crowds that are really entertaining for us—costumes, wigs—it’s very, very colorful and animated.
Craziest costume you’ve seen?
Yasmine The Halloween rave we played [had] a lot of creepy ones. There’s a whole thing about gas masks that are really big in the rave scene, so there were pretty elaborate gas masks. People go really far out to look a certain way. It’s cool, though.
I’m surprised the pacifier still remains in the scene after all these years.
Yasmine I know! I’ve never understood that, but maybe it’s because I don’t do drugs.
You bring a harmonic vocal approach to a genre that doesn’t usually have that quality. Was that something that naturally developed or was it a niche you spotted that no one was filling yet?
Yasmine In the beginning, we didn't think of it that way. We were just making the music that we wanted to hear. Our manager at one point said, "You guys are the only ones who have in-house singer-songwriters and a producer. You have it all in one group." And it occurred to us later that maybe we were doing something a little bit different.
Do you see EDM getting more organic?
Yasmine Yeah, I definitely think so. We all come from playing instruments. We all started as musicians on real instruments, not software. But I think in the end, everyone goes back to their roots in some way. I will say that dubstep isn’t dead in my opinion—I love it. I love hard, grimy music. I just think you have to keep evolving and progressing upon it to make it better and catchier and better sounding. Chris is an insane guitar player, he already incorporates guitar on certain tracks. We’re definitely incorporating some of that. Maybe in the future we will have songs that are more stripped down, maybe more electronica and more live instruments. We’ll see.
I see that you have residency in that new Cirque Du Soleil club in Vegas. Has that started yet?
Yasmine No, it’s open Memorial Day weekend, I believe. Our first show there is June 1.
Thoughts on Las Vegas?
Yasmine To be honest, it’s not my all-time favorite scene, but one thing I do love about it is that it’s such a diverse crowd. America is a melting pot, but Vegas is a melting pot of America, if that makes sense. It brings in people from everywhere, not even just America but other countries, too. It’s a really cool, diverse city, I will say that. I do like playing in big venues versus clubs better, and there’s none of those in Vegas, so I will say that that’s the downfall.
Jahan In the places we’ve played, the DJ booths have not been big enough for us. We’ve had to definitely constrain ourselves at certain venues that are made for one person and we’re trying to squeeze three people in but it always works somehow in the end.
You two are Pakistani, correct?
Yasmine Yeah, we’re half. Our dad is Pakistani. I think it’s really cool because people can think whatever they want to think about that part of the world but when it comes to music, we’re just trying to bring some love into the scene. And I think it’s a nice new perspective on that part of the world. People are always kind of shocked when we tell them we’re from there. I’m not trying to be political or anything, but you can kind of tell what I’m insinuating at. But it’s cool, I think it brings something new that people might not have expected. And I love representing where we’re from. Our mom is Lithuanian/German/Polish. We’re always representing, first and foremost our city of Chicago, but after that we’re definitely prideful of where our parents came from.
Are you able to visit Pakistan often?
Yasmine I’m the one who's been there most recently, I must have been 10 or 11 [years old]. I haven’t been back since, just because it’s not the safest place to go right now, but we still have tons of family there. It’s something that even though I was 11 that I will never forget. It’s probably one of my most vivid memories, that entire 10 days that I spent in Pakistan.
Do you try to connect with the Pakistani scene in Los Angeles?
Yasmine Oh my God, definitely. We live with our cousin, who is Pakistani, and we love having nights where we’ll cook a Pakistani meal or we’ll sit down and watch a Bollywood film. We love doing stuff like that. We grew up really, really immersed in that culture. We ate a lot of Pakistani food—our mom, even though she’s a white American, she would cook the best Pakistani food every night. We were always going to weddings wearing traditional clothes, it was definitely a big part of our lives and still is.
Since you're the experts, I have to ask: What's the best Pakistani restaurant in Chicago?
Yasmine It’s more of a quick-stop place called Tahoora and it’s kind of expanded and grown into this empire on Devon Street, but when we first started going there about 15 years ago, it was this tiny little place and it had the best samosas and fried foods. So good, really, really good.
Krewella plays Da Main Stage at Spring Awakening Jun 16 at 5:30pm.