The Happiest Accident: a Conversation With Motel 7 [Q&A]

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Photo: Paris Brosnan

Anton Khabbaz and Dylan Jagger Lee's collaborative project, Motel 7, is nothing short of a happy accident. Developed from an allegiance to authenticity and a genuine love of creating music, the two writers and producers have given themselves time and space to evolve their ever-changing sound. Their most recent single, "Things I Hate," arrives as a young adult's exposé on the chaotic moments we are so heavily consumed by, regardless of their regretful outcomes. We had the chance to sit down with Dylan and Anton of Motel 7 to discuss the duo's formation, their latest single, and striving to create timeless music without thinking too much.

Ones To Watch: OK, let's start from the beginning. Dylan, why don't you tell us who Motel 7 is and how the duo came to be?

Dylan: Ok, well Motel 7… The way we always describe it is, "the biggest happy accident of all time." So, essentially we both were working on music, separate projects, both in the EDM space, like making dance music, so we went to school and met each other at this place called Icon Collective and we connected over a different style of music than everyone else was doing. So, we were like, "let's hang out, let's make some music." One day, we went to my house and sat in the living room, had no idea we could sing and just said, "yo, let's turn some autotune on," see what it sounds like… see if we can sing, see if we can even do this. Then we wrote this one song, we put it up on Soundcloud and we forgot about it. So two months, three months later, we were like, "what the fuck? The song has 100,000 plays, what happened? This is so weird." So, I said we have to call it something and Anton said, "let's just call it Motel 6." Or maybe I said Motel 6 and he was like, "No, it's already taken. There's already a Motel 6… what about seven? Motel 7?" And so we were just like, "OK, it's called Motel 7." 

And then we [decided] we should take the song off of Soundcloud, let's put it on Spotify since it's working, obviously. You know, something's happening. Then we came back, and it had 100,000 plays there. Then we just started putting out more music, started taking it more seriously. It just became a creative outlet for us, because we were both doing different music and no one knew who we were. It was just fun to do whatever we wanted with no pressure. And then, all of a sudden, it started actually working and then labels were hitting us up, management were hitting us up. We never expected Motel 7 to even be a thing and here we are. Motel 7 is just a creative outlet, a happy accident, that turned into this.

So it's been two years since you first put out that track on Soundcloud?

Anton: I think it was 2018 actually, but we didn't start taking it seriously, or kind of seriously, until two years ago.

Dylan: I mean, realistically, we didn't have a team behind us until, like…

Anton: Like months ago. 

Dylan: It was really just a… let's make music for fun, forget about it, put it out. Motel 7 wasn't going to come and catch us one day… I mean, we're just so happy to do it now, and it’s really exciting because this thing that felt so organic and natural is now something we get to pursue. 

Anton: We always felt like it had potential to do things and we were kind of, like, scared of it. Like, shoot, we're kind of just doing this for fun and not telling people we're singing on these tracks, so if it does go somewhere, then we're going to have to go play shows and like, now we're kind of in that situation. We have a manager and it's just kind of crazy to be making music and then taking Motel 7 very seriously as our main thing right now.

Your new single, "Things I Hate," follows your singles, "Messing with Fire" and "Are We There Yet," so tell us about the progression of your sound. What was the movement, in terms of production, from past singles to this one?

Anton: Me and Dylan just send stuff back and forth via email. Through the pandemic, it was hard to be in the same room. That song ["Things I Hate"] kind of came about with Luke in a studio session… and Dylan had the idea. Dylan, you had the original demo on your laptop…

Dylan: Yeah. I mean, our sound, the reason why you would assume there's progression would be because we would probably never make a song that sounds the same. Motel 7 has always been no boundaries. One day we'll come out with a rap song, the next day we'll come out with a rock song, the next day it's this and that. There's no, "this is what we are." It's just… "This is a Motel 7 record." We always thought about it like that, not pop, indie, rock, rap. 

Anton: I know for a fact we go into every single session being inspired by what we're listening to in the past week or two, not like, "Oh, we're going to have to stick to this genre because this is what's working." We're open to new ideas and creatively inspired to challenge ourselves.

When you're making music, what is the one thing you come back to as the most important? A motto or mantra that you stick to when you're creating?

Dylan:  Our first project ever is called, A Reminder Not To Think Too Much. So we wrote all those songs super carelessly. None of those songs, if you listen to them one by one, really make sense. But when you put them all together with a title like that, it just puts it together. Like, wow. Those two years were a time period where we sat there, wrote music, did not care what it sounded like, if it was good, if it was bad. We just put it out. They all ended up working, people loved them, everyone connected with them. We just wanted to put a stamp on it so we called it, A Reminder Not To Think Too Much, because whenever we write music it's just like, let's write the song today or it's not a song. It has to just come naturally. So, I assume that is the motto, A Reminder Not To Think Too Much. It's what we always look back to.

Anton: Yeah, also, our lyrics are so honest and maybe, sometimes, being super honest could confuse us as being too cheesy or too on the nose… and going back to not thinking too much. That always plays again in our heads. Trust your gut and move on with it. Not like, spending three hours on one verse line or something. We've always been so good at embracing the imperfections of our writing and our production, because that kind of gives it its character.

If you could assume the music and the career of any artist, past or present, who would it be and why?

Anton: So many… one artist? Wow…

Dylan: Probably Jack Antonoff. He's just so creative… like how do you even, I don’t know. You just watch him and then you watch him talk, and I just want to write music with that mindset. It's just crazy, so probably him. He's so versatile, he's writing the Lorde record, the Lana Del Ray record, and then he's writing Pharrell… I don't even know. He's doing everything. Like how do you write a Bleachers record and then you write… it's just so insane. He's just a genius.

Anton: Producers like Pharrell, like, starting from the good ol' days of Justin Timberlake. I feel like those types of records, you hear like right now and sound way better than anything else on the radio, Spotify, Top 10, Top 40, whatever. Timeless music like that is so special, and if someone, like a producer now or from years ago, was able to pull that off, that's one of the greatest things ever. You rarely hear a song that's timeless these days. I think Pharrell has been one of those guys that has had that under his belt from the get-go. 

Dylan: And probably Paul McCartney, because he's just a legend.

Anton: There's so many legends, you know. Like, let's go down the list!

"Things I Hate" has this edgy, electronic, pop sound. Tell me the story of the song, what does it have to say?

Anton:  It was an ode to going out and those nights were you party and make bad decisions and regret it the next day… or see your friends do stupid shit and I'm pretty sure everyone has been there, right? Like, you're on a night out in town and your buddies doing drugs or drinking way too much and passing out on the floor. And in your head, you're like, "Fuck, what am I getting myself into? What am I doing?" I guess you get anxiety sometimes in situations like that or get in your head. It's LA and nightlife and partying and the idea of going out as the young adult. 

Dylan: Yeah, just like falling back into people and places and things that I hate. Like that line…

Anton: Yeah, you just keep on going back to it.

Dylan: You'll hang out with the people you don't really like, always go back to the places you don't really like. Even if you don't like them, you're still going to end up going. It's the way our brains are programmed nowadays. I hate the club, but yeah, every once in a while I'll go, I see people I don't like but I'll still say hi to them. I mean, you're programmed to be a yes man.

Anton: It's the same thing when you're drunk and then you're hungover the next day and you say, "I'm never drinking again." And then the next day, you do it all over.

What would be the ideal spot to listen to "Things I Hate?"

Anton: It kind of feels like a nighttime song, the song you would blast in the Uber on the way to the club. I'm not sure if I see it as a sunset drive on the coast kind of song, but, I could also see it as a song you play in bed, just on your headphones casually, too.

Dylan: Or listen to it on the way home from a party, while you're like, "fuck…" When you're in those feels, like, "Damn, I shouldn't have been there tonight." Then, turn it on. When you want some reassurance of your thought process after a party, turn it on.

What would be three words you would use to describe Motel 7?

Anton: I just want people to feel like that rawness, like how we felt making the music. I want people to feel that… when we play it live. That's probably the first thing. Second, I want the brand to feel authentic and unique.

Dylan: Raw, authentic…

Anton: That's second, and then third… hmm. I always want to feel challenged with what we're making, not staying in one place. I always want to keep things moving and step out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves to be better and to grow and learn… and also to make mistakes.

Dylan: I would also say Motel 7, we want it to be very unique, raw, and authentic. Those three words probably put Motel 7 in its best category. When we're working on music, we try to keep it as raw as possible. We don't spend so much time on the tiny, tiny details, but at the same time, we want it to be how we made it in that moment, and that's it. It's just, how it is in that moment, is just how I assume everything should sound. I don't spend too much time on the finer details, Anton's definitely the guy who loves the little, tiny details but like from my side of things, I love to just…

Anton: You love to just get the idea down, vibe with it, and then I carry it through the details of like song stuff and other little things that no one will ever notice.

Is there anything else you would like to say, as Motel 7, either pertaining to music or something you just want to get out into the world?

Anton: I just feel like we're always going to be creating. Like Dylan said, Motel 7 is a creative outlet.

Dylan: Pretty much, Motel 7 is an endless and endless hole. We'll just keep falling until the time comes. I just feel like when we're creating music, as Anton said, it's like the next song is always better, the next song is always better. It just feels like we're forever growing and I feel like Motel 7 isn't going anywhere anytime soon, so people should just keep an eye out. There you go. Ones to watch, baby!

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