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Audio/Q&A: Krewella singer Jahan Yousaf wants people 'to not give a [bleep]'

If you’re a 21st century Chicago artist and your name isn’t Kanye, Common, Lupe or Fall Out Boy, your album doesn’t debut in the Billboard Top 10. Sadly, it just doesn’t happen.

The exciting exception is EDM trio and north suburban Northbrook-bred Krewella, whose debut full-length “Get Wet,” anchored by massive singles “Live for the Night” and “Alive,” launched at No. 8 when the album dropped in September. Jahan Yousaf, who shares vocal duties in the group with her younger sister Yasmine, says they didn’t celebrate that achievement—selling out shows she likens to action movies means more to her than charts and numbers—but they’ll definitely celebrate after the tour-capping hometown show Nov. 16 at Aragon, a venue few local acts have the audience to play.

From New York, Yousaf—who moved to L.A. earlier this year and declines to confirm her reported age of 24, saying, “When I turned 21 I actually told myself that every single year I’m going to keep turning 21”—talked about supporting “dirty” fans, crowds too intoxicated to pay attention and guys touting an unexpected slogan.

How much should people train for your show? It seems a certain level of endurance may be needed.
You don’t have to train at all. In fact, it’s about liberating yourself. It’s about letting go. It’s about not preparing. Prepare with water, obviously. We encourage people to not get dressed up and not wear heels and not try to look good at our shows. Because you can’t have a good time if in the back of your mind you’re always thinking about how pretty you look or if you’re trying to stay away from sweaty people. A lot of people go to shows and they try to stay toward the back away from all the really dirty kids. We like the dirty, grimy kids. We’re on that same level.

Have you ever looked into the crowd and seen that one person who got super-dressed up and was trying not to get soaked, and then something happens and it drenches them or gets them dirty?
[Laughs.] I try to look at everyone in the crowd when we play. Especially when the strobes shine on them. I always scan the crowd from left to right, top to bottom, all the way to the balcony. It’s just adults, the older couples that stay toward the back in the balconies. People that are on dates together, which I don’t even know ‘cause that’s not really a hot date or a romantic date, going to a Krewella concert. Unless you’re down to get weird with your date. In the front rows, everyone is just crazy.

What does it mean to you to headline a local venue the size of Aragon?
It’s so crazy because I just remember being a kid and I’d be listening to 94.7, which doesn’t even exist anymore, but that was like the last metal station and I’d hear all my favorite bands: “Now playing at Aragon on July 21,” or whatever day it was. You’d always hear that name thrown around. It’s so crazy; it feels like a teenage dream now that we’re playing there.

How are you going to crank things up to close out the tour at the hometown show?
It’s probably going to be the best show because our parents are there. We have our core, the nucleus of our fanbase there, the people that have been coming to our show since when we were playing little raves to 10 kids ... My best friends from high school … Fans in Chicago feel a certain sense of loyalty … When we were opening for Porter Robinson back a couple years ago and we had probably 300 kids in the crowd, which isn’t that much considering Logan Square Auditorium is pretty big, those kids know that they were the first ones and they feel that sense of ownership.

There’s obviously an association between EDM and drug use at shows. You guys have been outspoken about not doing hard drugs and the importance of safety. Is that something you emphasize live as well? It’s easy to imagine you talking about safety and people who would rather hear artists talk about everyone getting messed up would start booing.
We party. We love to party. But I don’t do hard drugs. None of us do. I know it’s happening; I’m not stupid. I know it’s happening at our shows, and I can see it. We’re part of a scene where people are doing that, but I’m not anyone’s mother. Our shows are 18 and over, and I’m not there to preach. I think it’s important that people are responsible. They have to make the decisions themselves. Hopefully they look up to us in a way where when we write a blog post and encourage people to do research, that’s all I can say: Do your research beforehand and surround yourself with people that are looking out for you.

You guys talked recently about how much better you can judge a DJ set when sober. Many people may think they best enjoy dance music when outside themselves.
Yeah. I encourage people to be independent thinkers and know their rights and know what they’re allowed to do and have the freedom of choice. I encourage people to do whatever they want to do in that way. At the same time it’s really interesting if you try one night going out and actually be sober and listening to music, it’s completely different and you are a better judge ... It’s a completely different world when you’re sober. As an artist I think that’s what makes you want to challenge yourself more. That’s what makes you want to be a better producer and a better writer. You can drop the same 4-on-the-floor songs and the same themes with similar sounds. If you look at the top 10, a lot of those songs have the same feel to them. Mimicking the same sounds. You notice that stuff when you’re sober, but drop that for a drunk kid or a kid rolling he doesn’t [bleeping] know. It makes us want to be more compelling artists and keep pushing ourselves and try to evolve.

Is there any frustration when you’re trying to set yourselves apart lyrically and musically but the chances of people paying attention to anything when totally out of their minds is slim?
Yeah. It’s frustrating sometimes when we perform for a crowd that’s really [bleeped] up, and we’ll be pouring our hearts out on stage and I’ll look in the front row and I always try to make eye contact with people, and they won’t even be able to look me in the eye. Their eyes are rolling in the back of their heads; it’s almost scary. As a performer you want that connection with people.

I suspect the album title may have prompted a new and rather transparent pick-up line.
“Do you want to get wet?” … That would be cool if in five years people just started saying, “Yo, bro, let’s get wet tonight.” I would love that.

Guys saying that to each other?
That’s the weird thing, and that’s actually amazing to know that guys can start saying that. They’re wearing “Get wet” shirts; they’re holding signs that say, “Make me wet.” It’s originally something women say; women get their [bleeps] wet. [Laughs.] Let’s just be real. But I love to know that guys can let down this guard that they have of being so masculine and they can sing songs of ours. We’re girls singing. They’re very feminine lyrics sometimes and very sexual lyrics, but I see guys in the front row singing along and that makes me happy to know that they’re not trying to be masculine and they don’t feel too girly. They just don’t care. And that’s all we want at our shows. We want people to not give a [bleep]. We want people to feel liberated. We want people to not feel any restrictions from society.

Krewella, 9 p.m. Nov. 16 at Aragon. $30.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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