In an interview with NYLON Manila, Cheat Codes talked about their new music, releasing a three part album, and what they hope fans will get from the album.
In the six or so years that Cheat Codes has been active, they have released a flurry of bangers. There’s the platinum Pop Radio Top 5 smash No Promises [feat. Demi Lovato] and the gold-certified Feels Great [feat. Fetty Wap & CVBZ]. Only You [feat. Little Mix] reached #1 on Pop Radio in the UK. They have also collaborated with artists such as Liam Payne, Kim Petras, Wiz Khalifa, and Sofía Reyes. But despite all the things the LA-based group has done, they have yet to do one thing, release a full-length album—until now. Last May, the group released their anticipated first studio album Hellraisers, Pt.1. Cheat Codes sat down for a Zoom interview with NYLON Manila to talk about their new album, its unique name, and the songs on the LP.
The group has released dozens of singles throughout their career, but it took them years to finally drop an LP. So, why do it now? “Why not now?” says Matthew Russel. “I think for us, it’s one of those things where we wanted to do it since the start and we talked about the idea of doing a three-part album forever,” adds Trevor Dahl.
Their first album is called Hellraisers Pt.1 and that is because the project is intended to be the first of three albums. This first part is focused on Trevor’s pop-leaning sound, while the second part will be focused on member KEVI’s hip-hop flavor, and the third part will be focused on Matthew’s dance-influenced sound. According to them, the idea to split the album into three came when COVID-19 hit. “Right before COVID hit, we were like alright, cool, let’s make an album, I think it’s time to do it. And then COVID hit and we’re like…alright, cool. Let’s make three albums, let’s do a three-part thing, and make something really special. So that’s what we set out to do. And that’s what we’re doing. And part one is finally out and we couldn’t be more thrilled,” details Trevor.
He furthers, “There’s three of us. And we all have such distinct and strong personalities, we want to go to show them through our music and be able to kind of show what our influences are and what we’re into. It’s a way to not be put in a box, it’s you know, we don’t want to make the same song over and over a million times. We don’t want to be the one that makes a million of the same version of a song. So, we want to push the envelope, do something people haven’t done before and break some boundaries and be a hell-raiser you know.”
Working in a group can sometimes be hard, especially when it comes to making sure each member’s opinions are heard. But to split an album into three with each one being based on a member’s sound might make for some complicated situations. For Cheat Codes, however, there was no issue at all when it came to making the music. “I would say that was a cool thing about making this out was that we were able to just make music without forcing it in any sort of way, we’re able to just kind of make a song and say, Hey, this works for the first part, the second part, third part, or it doesn’t work at all,” explains Matthew.
“We’re able to make, you know, a bunch of music between the three of us you know, like 100 songs or something, and we’re able to kind of be like, Alright, these 12 feel really good together. These 10 feel really good together. These 12 also really good together, but they all feel like Cheat Codes with kind of having their own identity,” he adds.
The name of the album, Hellraisers, isn’t just alluding to the member’s lifestyle, it is also a tribute to their late manager, Michael Theanne, who passed away just over a year ago. “He’s pretty much the reason why we started this out. And he believed in us every step of the way. But he used to call us Hellraisers all the time. Because, you know, sometimes you can’t be polite in every situation and you want to get what you want. You have to go against the grain sometimes then ask for what you want,” shares Matthew. “Even if it seems a little ridiculous. And he was always supporting us. So that was kind of our little inside joke when we saw each other. So, this album goes out to him.”
When you think of the word Hellraisers, a certain image may come into mind. But when you look at the album cover, the visual is quite colorful and different from what you would expect. The idea for the album cover actually came from a dream KEVI (Kevin Ford / prince$$ rosie) had. “One night, I was actually looking at the stars over here in Hollywood Hills. And I just fell asleep and I and then I had a crazy vivid dream. It was like washing machines and eyeballs and clocks and everything. And when I woke up, I actually had to call the guys and tell them about my dream.” he said.
The Album’s Songs
Hellraisers, Pt.1 is an 11-track album that sees the group collaborate with a lot of artists such as Marc E. Bassy, Bryce Vine, CXLOE, Lil Xxel, and Au/Ra. But it’s the album’s opener, On My Life, which sees Trevor sing about his life pre-fame and how his life is now, that serves as an interesting opening track. According to Trevor, the song was chosen as the first song on the album because it was a testament to the group’s grind since day one.
“We came to LA with like, nothing, you know, we came here with just a dream in mind and were able to keep grinding and you know, slept on the floor and, you know, worked our tails off until we’re able to kind of make something with ourselves and be financially independent and comfortable. And to live in LA and have a good life. So, I think it’s just a sort of a good message to start the album off with.”
The album’s latest single, Lean On Me, is a collaboration with Tinashe, a person they describe as someone who’s super cool. She’s really vibey, she likes to go to flow. She’s really laid back we got to be with her and had a lot of fun when did the music video with her.”
Another standout song on the album is Mathematics, which once again features Trevor singing solo. The lyrics feature a lot of references to math and have a catchy chorus where it’s someone saying one, two, three, four, five on repeat. Math was actually one of Trevor’s favorite subjects when he was in school, so it was sort of natural for him to make a song about the subject.
“It was just one of those things where I wrote it with our good friends Daniel Bloom and Joris Mur. I remember when we were writing songs together, we were like, we were trying to get inspired just by picking one word that will that we could really just write a lot about. And we picked the word mathematics. Just because it felt like we could write a lot of interesting lines and sort of clever little lines with math. And I sort of incorporated what I was dealing with, with my relationship at the time with the word math, mathematics. That was just kind of a fun little way to kind of decompress and have a little therapy session with your friends while you’re writing about math.”
Hellraisers Pt.1 then closes with Washed Up, which is odd considering that they currently have a successful career, but the song is about them asking someone if that person would still like them even if they were washed up. “Well, you know, you live in LA, and a lot of people are clout chasers, you know, they’re always trying to get that sound cloud demo fame. And you gotta, you know, ask somebody what their real intentions are. So, sometimes you got to ask those direct questions like, do you like me? Or do you like, what I do? So sometimes you got to be real with people,” explains Matthew.
The group has written and made hundreds of songs over the years. How then would they know a good lyric from a bad lyric? According to them, it has to do with how the lyrics hit you. “I think, you know, if something sounds lame, or cheesy, or something, something that like, we wouldn’t say in real life, that’s a good indicator, but you got to ask yourself, like, is this conversational? Like, is this something somebody would actually say? And if the answer’s no, then you probably shouldn’t but then. But also, you know, you want the song to make sense. And you want all the lyrics to line up with the theme of the song,” says Matthew.
As for their favorite song on the album, KEVI says that he loves Stay. Trevor’s favorite is Lean On Me because he’s “really proud of how it’s turned out. I think that a collaboration between her vocals by vocals sounds really cool together.” While Matthew’s pick is Hate You + Love You. “I just think AJ Mitchell sounds great on it. I love the production. I love the format. He does some really cool runs.”
Album’s Message And Not Feeling Pressured
When people listen to the album, what Cheat Codes want to get from the album is the feeling of freedom. “I would say like, the whole theme of Hellraisers is just going for what you want. And don’t be afraid to break some rules. Don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers if you have to, it doesn’t mean you need to be mean to anybody, but just, you know, there’s a lot of times people will discourage you from doing things that seem out of the ordinary or out of like, the formula of what normal people do,” says Matthew when asked what he hoped fans could take away from the album.
To release a full-length album at this point in their career might seem like a daunting task considering that they mostly release single or EPs. But they don’t see it that way. According to Matthew, “I think it’s like zero pressure, because we have so many songs, and we write so many songs on a consistent basis that will just make more, so no big deal.” But that doesn’t mean though they don’t put any effort into their songs, especially on this album, as he adds “But we definitely put a lot of work in this one, we put more work than we’ve ever put into a project. And we put a lot of work into making it consistent with the mix. So, yeah, I think we’re prouder than there being pressure.”
“I’d say it’s not so much pressure as it is, it’s more a feeling more accomplishment when we do something like this. And it’s obviously a lot more fun creatively, we’re able to look at it as like a big picture. And not just looking at it as segment by segment, we’re able to look at everything, you’ll take a step back and say, how do we want this whole thing to look? How do we want it all to feel?” adds Trevor. “And it’s kind of it’s more fun doing something like that, as opposed to just making one song, you know, so we’re able to kind of create this whole like Hellraisers world, in this theme, and like the sort of characters in these symbols and this whole thing that people can really dive into and sink their teeth into so we don’t feel any pressure behind it.”
He continues “And honestly, now we’re independent from our label. We are free so it’s one of those things where it’s less pressure and it’s more fun. It’s just like one of those things where nobody’s telling us no, we are creating our destiny. No one slowing us down. As simple as that. So, we’re having fun with it.”