The Neighbourhood just released their sophomore record, Wiped Out!, but lead singer Jesse Rutherford is anything but. Just a few weeks after its release in October, he’s already working on new music in a Los Angeles studio. “I just… I love writing stuff,” the 24-year-old tells SPIN over the phone. “And now that I’m home, I’m only home for a few days” — the California-based band just finished the first leg of their North American tour, and will head to Europe this week — “but it’s just nice to be able to write and get some ideas out.”
Rutherford and the guys (guitarists Jeremy Freedman and Zach Abels, bassist Mikey Margott, and drummer Brandon Fried) have earned a break. After making long sleeves cool for the summer in 2013 with their massive hit “Sweater Weather,” the group toured the world in support of their full-length debut I Love You. While on the road they released a mixtape called #000000 & #FFFFFF, an homage to Rutherford’s hip-hop roots, backed by heavy beats and featuring guest appearances from rappers like French Montana and YG. When the group got home to Cali, they started to write and record, which took some time. Nearly a year later, Wiped Out!, recorded with I Love You. co-producer Justin Pilbrow and Los Angeles duo 4e, is a collection of roomy, rhythmic rock. On lead single “R.I.P. 2 My Youth,” Rutherford delivers a eulogy to adolescence, rap-singing over throbbing drums and eerie organs. The hazy “Daddy Issues” and the haunting “Greetings from Califournia” are perfect seaside-at-midnight jams, conjuring images of the same beach where Lana Del Rey is busy getting high.
SPIN spoke with Rutherford about Wiped Out!, the band’s writing process, and hitting it off with legendary music video director Hype Williams.
Before the Neighbourhood, you were doing your own hip-hop. How did you transition to fronting a band?
I was in bands growing up around town as a kid, like bands in the local kind of hardcore scene that we had because that’s just kind of what the kids in my area were doing. And I liked music and I picked up drums. I was really interested in pop and hip-hop. So I started making pretty s**tty pop/rap kind of stuff. [Laughs] It was pretty corny. But then I put out a mixtape that I’m not really – I’m okay if people heard it. That’s cool. It’s whatever. And that’s the one that my manager Kirk [Harding] found. He found me doing that and then the band kind of came around after that. Me and my friends Zach and Jeremy wrote ten songs together, and one of those songs was “Sweater Weather,” and that’s how the Neighbourhood started.
Once you guys started writing together, when did you say, “Okay, we’re gonna give this a go for real?”
Well, I was friends with the boys. It was mainly me, and Zach, and Jeremy in the beginning. I came to them and I was like, “I really want to mix genres together, but in a tasteful way.” I didn’t want it to be just as simple as rock and hip-hop mixing together. It needed to be its own thing. And a lot of the early stuff I was still rapping. When we first started I would rap a verse and then sing a hook, but right before the first EP was finished, I was like, “Dude, I can’t. I’m not gonna do this rap thing with it because it just doesn’t feel right. It feels better just to do all singing.” But my singing flow is kind of rap-y, and nowadays everything in hip hop is pretty much a melodic flow, so I guess it kind of came around full circle, huh?
That’s why I think it’s cool that you guys did the mixtape between the two records, which sounds a little more overtly hip-hop influenced. Was that intentional?
Totally. That mixtape project was basically me getting to just go off, and I produced a lot of those beats. I wanted it to go along and fit in with the other mixtapes that were surrounding it on the blogs… I knew it was gonna be on DatPiff and HotNewHipHop and everything, so I wanted it to live within that world, and not just be like some lame rock band made a rock mixtape or something. It was very aimed towards pop and hip-hop. I’m more worried about being relevant on the Internet than being relevant on alternative radio. I think there’s more people my age listening on the Internet or searching on the Internet than they are turning on static-y FM stations.
You shot the video for the first single, “R.I.P. 2 My Youth,” with Hype Williams. What was that like?
He’s so rad. He’s so sick. We sent out the song to directors to get treatments written or whatever, and Hype was the first guy to write back — he wrote back in f**king 24 hours or something crazy like that and was so pumped about it. And then we met with him two days after that, shot the video the day after we met him – it was all so quick – and he’s just a really inspiring guy to be around. He’s just super hardworking, really hands-on, really fun. And then two days after the video was done he sent a treatment for another song of ours ’cause he wants to do another video, which is pretty tight. He has such big ideas, which is cool to have someone there that thinks of our music as big as we might imagine it – even bigger sometimes.
This seems like a pretty raw album lyrically.
Yeah, totally. This record took way more out of me than the last one, or than anything I’ve ever done ever. I can’t help but to compare it to a school project where so much time is going by and you’re putting so much effort into it and you want a good grade so f**king bad. [Laughs] It was a hundred times harder than that could ever be. This album it really dawned on me, like, “F**k, people are gonna listen to what I say. I know people are going to actually listen to the lyrics and read the lyrics.” And I want them to, but I don’t want it to be just a bunch of off-the-top-of-my-head stuff. And the boys really drove that into me. I had to rewrite some of these songs three times because the dudes would hear the lyrics and be like, “Eh, all the melodies are cool and everything but the lyrics just aren’t…”
The thing about singing for the Neighbourhood is I have to have a voice for five people and not just for myself. And I’ve made so many songs and so many things in a really selfish way before. I had to open up the most I have ever opened up, but at the same time I had to speak for other people while I was doing that, which for me is a challenge, man. But I’m happy it’s over, I’m happy people seem to dig it, I’m happy I’m talking to you about it.
When you guys write, do you write most of the lyrics?
Yeah, I write all the lyrics but I’ll take ideas. Like on the song “Daddy Issues,” where it goes, [sings] “I’ll tell you what I’m thinking about, anything you’re thinking about,” Mikey gave me those words. We did mushrooms in Malibu one time, and I think it was Mikey sitting with his girlfriend and she asked him what he was thinking about and he was like, “Whatever you’re thinking about.” And I just thought those words were so cool. And sometimes that’s true – you can’t really explain to someone what you’re thinking about, but, even if it’s nothing, if you’re sharing the moment with them, it’s like, you’re both thinking about the same s**t, whatever it is.