Two Friends talk humble beginnings and growing as musicians

By Mitchell Rose, Staff Writer

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Photo credit: Two Friends Facebook

Matt Halper and Eli Sones are the best of friends; it’s been that way since high school. So when the duo decided to create music together, the name Two Friends was a natural fit. As their music improved and their popularity grew over time, Matt and Eli have remained the same great friends they were when it all began.

The guys are currently touring the country, propelled by a series of strong original tracks and dance-remixes. It’s clear how much fun they have on stage, and their positivity naturally seeps into the crowd. When Two Friends stopped by Electric Forest, EMMIE Magazine’s Mitchell Rose caught up with them after their show to talk about their beginnings, growing as musicians and recording remixes versus original tracks. Read the conversation below.

You just finished up your set over at Jubilee. How’d you guys feel?

MATT: Pretty Sick. Honestly, didn’t know what to expect. Electric Forest has an insane reputation, and it stood up to it… It’s one of the biggest stages we’ve ever played on, it was pretty epic.

ELI: I would agree with that, yeah. That was awesome, I’m exhausted right now. This was great, this is our first time in the forest like Matt said, even just searching on Google for what the pictures were gonna look like we were just so stoked for this one. And we’ll be back next weekend too, which we’re pumped about as well.

From the beginning of your set to the end of it, your crowd got huge. What would you guys attribute that to? Why did so many people flock to your show?

ELI: Well, yeah we were a little worried because they put 30 minutes in between the person before us and us, which is sometimes nice and gives you a chance to set up and stuff. But people just needed to wait and hear that music was playing and then they started coming towards. But yeah, that was awesome.

MATT: We also got a little screwed. For some reason, long story, but for some reason [the schedule] says we’re playing on Sunday, and not today. So, we’re gonna get a lot of angry tweets on Sunday from people.

ELI: Even people that came today were like, “Oh and we’ll see you on Sunday also!” and we’re like “Ah, nope.”

MATT: “Psych! Glad you came today,” you know. But it all worked out, I’m happy, it’s all good.

You guys played a ton of remixes. When you hear a song that’s not an EDM kind of song, like “Mr. Brightside,” what’s the process of turning that into a dance song like you guys did?

MATT: First we have to love the song in general. Obviously “Mr. Brightside” is a classic. There’s been other ones we’ve remixed that’ve been different ranges of popularity, but you’ve gotta be like, “Ok, can I take this and put a spin on it where it still has the feeling of the original, but works in a dance environment, or someone who’s an electronic music fan will like it more.” So, we’ll think about it before we do anything. We’ll be like, alright if we’re remixing “Mr. Brightside,” we have to use that guitar lick, like the whole time [so] people hear that and they think “Mr. Brightside.”

ELI: The original vision we had we actually scrapped it and kind of went with the plan B. The first drafts that we were doing were a little more trappy. They were still cool, but like for some reason it wasn’t quite clicking, and those ones are always definitely risky because, like, don’t touch the classics; you better do a good job or else people are gonna hate so hard. So we were kind of very careful, like let’s make sure we do this right. So we kind of re-imagined it and got some feedback.

MATT: That one’s pretty cool to see. Like we walk by stages all the time and people are always playing it, it’s fun.

So what’s it like to walk by some stage to hear your song?

MATT: It’s pretty dope, yeah. Good example, we were in Miami and we were just backstage at one of the parties and [DJ] Jaus just starts playing it. Never met him, never talked to him.

ELI: “Oh, hey, my song” [laughs]. Like the first time that ever happened I think I was still in college, and I was in a fraternity and our rival fraternity was right next door to us, and they were playing it at their party and I don’t think they made the connection. There were some heated moments between the two of us, and we were like “Oh, by the way, ya boy. Ya boy made it!”

MATT: It’s pretty cool, definitely. Even if it happens more and more it’s pretty awesome, like surreal a little bit.

So you guys just started music together in high school, right?

MATT: Yeah, basically, but that’s exaggerated.

ELI: Yeah, at the very end of high school.

MATT: We got more serious about it as we grew up. Well, we always took it pretty seriously from, not day one, but like day 50.

ELI: Day one through 50 was actually only coming up with the name, and not working on any music.

MATT: Didn’t even have a program.

ELI: I was just sitting in the back of our class in high school, just like, alright, our name’s gonna be Two Friends, our logo’s gonna be this. Here’s what we’re gonna do.

MATT: Yeah, it was a lot of that. We tried different names for a long time, just trying to think, “Hey, does this fit?” where we [tried] to be so cool. It’s pretty hard. Like, before a name is an actual thing you have in music, it just sounds so corny if it’s like a fake name.

ELI: Like if we tried to say that I’m, like, Avicii.

MATT: Like, what does that even mean?

ELI: My friends would think I’m just a tool.

MATT: Yeah, yeah, such a tool. So Two Friends, it’s like, you know, that’s what we are. And no try-hard.

What were some of the other names you guys considered before Two Friends?

ELI: I’m glad we didn’t do it, the second choice was “Bubonic Plague,” but Bubonic spelled B-O-O-B. Classic … [but] yeah, it wouldn’t work very well.

MATT: Especially if we’re trying to do more radio-friendly, emotional stuff. [Boobonic Plague] sounds like … heavy-hitting-dubstep.

ELI: You think so? I just think it doesn’t work anywhere [laughs].

What was the moment where it switched from just some guys coming up with names to “We could actually do this seriously”?

MATT: So we got the name, then we bought the program. And we were really bad. But we were playing with sounds, it was cool. I would say by sophomore year of college I was like, “OK I really like this, [though] we’re not good enough yet at all, like production-wise. We need to work really hard.” I remember one night in specific, I could not sleep, I was like “We need to work so hard.” But then, day after day working at it you get so much better. But I think by like sophomore, I wanna say freshman year, I was pretty into it. And I would not go out with my friends and I would stay in and make music.

ELI: The summer between freshman and sophomore year, we actually both got internships. But…

MATT: I quit mine.

ELI: I actually think I kept mine [laughs], but we were distracted at whatever jobs we were doing, actually on our laptops working on some music. I interned at a publishing company, and they didn’t give me a lot of work … so I had a program open, messing with some DJ stuff. By the next summer we’re like, “Alright no stupid jobs. Let’s buckle down.”

MATT: I was the worst intern ever. Literally making music always, not answering the phone.

ELI: So every summer [following] we would just act as if it was our job or internship. We’d be in the studio full days, full weeks. We were like, “Alright we’re pretty productive, we’ve got a good workflow, got a good rhythm. Let’s do it.”

MATT: I think we were gearing up. We knew how hard we had to work every year in college, it kind of gave us a good time to learn, basically. And now that we’re not in college, with shows now it’s still not comparable. We have so much more time during the day. [In college] you wake up, do an assignment, go to class, blah blah blah. Work from like 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., not fun.

ELI: Get a couple hours here, couple hours there. Yeah, I think it was trying our best to set ourselves up so that we could always take a chance and go for it, and then towards the end of college it was like, “OK this isn’t going to be such a, well, it’s always a risk. But we have some good momentum and we’re not gonna have to tell our parents we’re doing this crazy music thing. They kind of believed in us and we could show them, “Hey look we’re doing shows, managers want to hit us up, we’re doing well on the Internet” [laughs].

Besides remixes, you guys have a bunch of original songs too. What’s the process like for making a remix versus an original track?

MATT: I can’t speak for everyone, just for us. For us it’s like, at least right now the originals have taken so much more time. Just because we always write our vocals, so even getting the right singer and writing the vocals and rewriting it so it could be a hit, potentially. You have to keep doing that and the vocal editing and all that stuff.

ELI: Then because it’s taken so long, we’re like, “Damn, our original idea for the drop would’ve worked last year. But now let’s freshen it up a little.”

MATT: Cool six months ago, not anymore.

ELI: And then, OK, cool now it’s finally done. Now the label wants it. But wait, we need to fit in their schedule and get it mixed.

MATT: So I would say [originals take] a lot more effort. We also care about them more in the sense that, well we work very hard on the remixes, but as we’ve become more experienced producers they’re way quicker. So now we could do [a remix], if we needed to, in a week and a half. Before it would’ve taken two months minimum.

ELI: The remixes, you’re already working with a familiar vocal. So it’s like, “How do we put our new spin on this?”

MATT: Also the remixes, you know, not always but sometimes, they’ll have a very iconic melody and you can repurpose it in a cool way.

ELI: And in an original, it’s like starting from the ground.

MATT: You better make it reach it’s potential.

ELI: Sometimes we start with Matt just messing around on guitar, playing a cool little melody. Sometimes we hear a phrase in everyday conversation and we’re like, “Oh that’s a cool phrase, that could be the name of a song. What’s the story that leads to that phrase?” It’s much more of a blank slate, which is exciting but challenging.

So then for your new song “Emily,” how long did that take from idea to finished product?

MATT: We started that in college, that was two years ago.

ELI: I mean the other thing is that we juggle a lot of things and we put things on the backburner for a while. So “Emily,” that probably was two years but that doesn’t mean, it’s clearly not every day, ten hours a day only on “Emily.” It was like, do a little here and then, “Ugh, not really feeling it. Let’s do a remix then come back to it.”

MATT: “Let’s finish this other song because it’s slated for release, blah blah blah.” But “Emily,” the first day we already had the melody and the piano chords and the basic drop. And then we wrote the vocal that week. So it can happen quick.

ELI: Oh yeah, it’s definitely easier to go from zero to 75 percent than it is to go from 75 to 100 percent.

MATT: And we’re getting better at it, too. Letting go, it’s just what people say. Just let it out, let it be free.

What was the most fun remix to make?

MATT: So by most fun, it’s gonna be a combination of two things: A, we really have to like it and B, it can’t be such a pain in the process of making it, or else you’ll hate it. “Mr. Brightside” has not been the most fun.

ELI: Even though the reaction and getting to play it has been super fun, actually making it…

MATT: It’s brutal. Not fun. I would say, maybe, the most fun to make, probably “Sleepyhead,” [by] Passion Pit. Just because as we’ve gotten better producers, it goes quicker, it’s more fresh to us. And maybe this new one we’re working on, “iSpy” by Kyle and Lil Yachty.

You guys mentioned you write the melodies then you find the right vocalist, right?

ELI: We’ll write the lyrics usually.

MATT: Yeah, melodies and lyrics. But I’ll sing the drop, and I’m not a great singer at all but you’ll get the vibe. Then we’ll be like, “What singer fits this?” And then if it’s people that we’ve heard that we have a chance of collabing with, then it’s just the Sean Mendeses, we want him. [We’ll think,] “We’re not gonna get him, so who’s like him?”

ELI: Not only do we really enjoy writing, it’s fun and good to flex your creative muscles, but I think part of it is that when you go into a session with someone else and you kind of just have to start from scratch, and “Oh we have this one day or this one half-day, we’re probably not gonna see this person again so we gotta get something.” You almost, not that you cop out, but sometimes it’s nicer when it’s just us in the studio in a relaxing environment with no pressure to work.

MATT: With that said, we’ve done a million sessions that have worked out like that. So, it’s both. And since neither of us are great singers [so] sometimes it’s nice. But I would say for me, writing is more fun than production usually. I don’t know, its more creative in a way. Production is insanely fun too though. A little bit of both.

Last question I’ve got for you guys. I’ve been watching your Instagram and Snap stories; would you guys be down to try a joke of the day?

MATT: Oh yeah, you gotta give us the theme though.

I’m on it, yeah.

MATT: Alright joke of the day, what’s the theme?

EMMIE Magazine.

ELI: Alright, so what is someone’s favorite magazine if they’ve been coughing a lot?

MATT: What?!

ELI: Phlegmmie magazine! [laughs]

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