VOILÀ has found their sound. That's not always an easy thing for artists to say less than a year after releasing their debut single, but the Los Angeles-based duo has carved out a niche for themselves with earnest lyrics and passionate songwriting. Now with their debut album on the horizon in 2019, they're doing everything they can to make their impact impossible to overlook, while maintaining their relatability in the process.
Luke Eisner and Gus Ross first met in a classroom at USC, and it wasn't long before they began creating their own music outside the course. The duo DJ'd plenty of parties during their time in college, but eventually they moved on from the electronic realm in an effort to better express themselves through the music. Listen to their latest song, "Don't," which slotted in at #19 on Spotify's New Music Friday playlist, and you'll understand why it was a great decision; with refreshing guitars and heartfelt lyricism, VOILÀ makes it easy for listeners to access them, and hard to turn away from once they have.
They certainly sound genuine when their voices are playing through the speakers, and it shines through just as clearly when talking to them in person. They're quick to laugh and crack jokes, keeping a light-hearted nature even as they thoughtfully discuss their music and what they hope to accomplish with it. We recently caught up with the duo to talk about their new single, as well as a few career highlights and pivotal moments in their journey so far.
OTW: You recently dropped "Don't" – tell us about the inspiration and story behind the song.
Luke: We started with a guitar riff, and then in terms of the story behind the song, I compare it to an analogy. Basically when I was growing up, there was this willow tree in my front yard, and I'd always try and climb it, and everyone was like, "Why are you trying to climb this tree?" My friends were like, "You'll get hurt," my parents said I was wasting my time; I still have this scar on my elbow from falling off of it. But what they didn't know is that when you did get to the top, it was the most beautiful view of my subdivision, the kind of view that made you forget how much you hated the climb. And I grew up and fell in love with a girl who was like that willow tree, so that's kind of what the song is about to me.
Gus: Exactly, the climb – is it worth the pain? It's an addiction you just can't get rid of.
Luke: Yeah, it paralleled romance so much, where everyone is like, "It's not good for you," and you even know it's not good for you, like my elbow is split open. But it's that one thing that meant something to you, so you just keep coming back to it.
OTW: You both met at USC, and graduated in May. What was your biggest takeaway from your time at school?
Luke: Gus is sitting here in a leopard shirt, that's the biggest takeaway. [Laughs]
Gus: Actually though, we met on the first day of class; it's weird. He came and sat by me, for the record. We just kept working and working on a few different projects, and about a year ago we really got down to business with this. And then it's been non-stop ever since, which is wicked.
Luke: USC's very good at selecting people to come to the school that are passionate about something, so that was the biggest takeaway. This Trojan network thing, just being around all the kids they bring there is so invaluable.
OTW: You guys started out making electronic music, and then you switched to more indie-pop because it felt you could tell your stories better. Do you think you've found your sound now?
Gus: 100%. We just finished writing new songs with two different writing teams, and we have the sound. Every single song we make now, we can say that's a VOILÀ song. It took a while, it took 3 years of just sitting, writing, making music, to really stumble across it. I think that's important.
Luke: It's funny, now we can go back to old songs that don't have that sound, and we're starting to re-do some of them. The idea is still there since the story is still true to us, but we're redoing it with our new sound. That's exciting.
OTW: Was there a moment where you knew you found it, or was it a gradual change?
Gus: Definitely gradual. We've written one album that's unreleased, 17 songs. Off that album, we probably have 10 signature VOILÀ songs, and the rest were sort of the outliers. The next batch of songs that we're on now, which is another album's worth, all the songs are more in-line. Instead of ten being very similar, we have 12 or 13, and you sort of get closer and closer to a sound through that.
OTW: In terms of your lyrics, you guys sing about heartbreak in a lot of your music. What do you think is the best way to get through a breakup?
Luke: For me, it's always literature, for everything. Whenever I'm trying to find the words to say something, you put it in a song, or you look for the words somewhere else. I was going back to a lot of the classic novels and romance structures; when you read them, it's something about witnessing something else go through it even though they're fictional. It's the relatability, and the happy ending even if there isn't one.
Gus: For me, I'm not good at it, so I'm probably the wrong person to ask. [Laughs] I think you have to embrace it, though. I'm a big believer that being broken early in your life is very beneficial when you can look back at it; I had a horrible experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But, it's the best thing that ever happened to me, it really makes you know yourself. But I can't tell you how to get out of it, you just have to power through.
Luke: Everyone says to wear your heart on your sleeve; why not wear a broken heart? You have to embrace it, be proud of the scar.
OTW: Gus, you grew up in London while Luke grew up in Wisconsin. When you guys came to LA, what was your first culture shock moment?
Gus: Everything's massive in the US, everything. From the cars to the signs to the people, everything. When I touched down, I accidentally missed orientation, I ended up skipping up the whole thing. I was there and I was thinking "this surely won't matter," and it was the biggest mistake. I got here and everything was dark, it was 9pm and the last day of orientation. The doors were locked and I didn't have a card, I had to bang on the doors to get in. I had to wait until Monday and I came on a Saturday, it was miserable for a day or two until I finally got in the swing of it. The culture shock though, I still have that now. I don't think it stops.
Luke: For me, when I got to LA, I got scouted to do modeling. Being from small-town Wisconsin, like buzzcut, beer drinking, football Wisconsin, I thought that didn't exist. I vividly remember standing in this shoot, and there's a guy with a bucket of potatoes, and he's tossing the potatoes at me to catch for the pictures. I'm in this long robe, I'm wearing makeup for the first time in my life and my hair is all wavy, and I remember thinking, "what has happened?" [Laughs] It all hit me at one time, literally, as the potatoes were flying at me.
OTW: Do you still do modeling? How hard is it to balance that with your music?
Luke: You know, it fuels the music thing, because it's my income. Every time I'm working I'm thankful for that opportunity, because it allows us to progress here, financially. So I'm thankful, but every time I do it I'm reminded about how passionate I am about this.
OTW: This summer, you opened up for Kesha, The Fray, and X Ambassadors. Talk about what that experience was like for you guys.
Gus: Amazing. It really opens your eyes to how open you've got to be, as an artist, when you're singing about your own tragedies on stage. You really have to embrace that; there's no act up there, everyone is seeing into your own life. In Kesha's case, it was like 15,000 people, it's insane. It makes you grow suddenly, and realize your vision very fast.
Luke: When you hear people singing your own heartbreak back at you, it's an interesting concept. It's both healing and appalling at the same time. For me, performing with The Fray was one of those full-circle moments. The first song I had ever performed in my life was in my fourth grade talent show, it was "How to Save a Life." And then there was a moment where I was watching them do it, I was speechless. You just hope that you can create music that there's another kid in fourth grade who can get the song, and then they'll open up for you.
OTW: What's the atmosphere you want to create at your live shows?
Gus: I think it's kind of a mixture, between an Ed Sheeran show which can be very intimate, and then you also have the rocky pop aspect of a Twenty One Pilots show. You have the anthemic song where everyone can move, but you also have a number that's more introspective, more raw. It's sort of these people not really knowing exactly where they are, there's happy and proud moments, but you also really have to stop and think for a second.
Luke: I want people to walk away feeling like they've had every opportunity to access us, whether that's physically, like after the show I want to meet as many people as I possibly can. Same with the music, I want the communication to be so thorough, that they really feel like they've been through the story. I think accessibility is one thing that makes a lot of performers that I admire.
OTW: Last question – who are some Ones to Watch artists that you're excited about?
Gus: Ooh, there's quite a few. We were just on BBC Introducing last weekend, there's a guy who we've been on there a couple times called Jack Vallier.
Gus: Also, I love Ella Mai, British singer. She's incredible, she really is something. That "Boo'd Up" song I saw blew up, but she's been at it for a little bit, I really like her. A very different genre from us. And then Luke's kind of into country music.
Luke: I love country music, I love the lyricism. I think some of the best lyricists are in Nashville. There's this guy Spencer Crandall, who had found our music and messaged me. He's unbelievable, he's so accessible. He replies to everybody, he messages people all the time.