On their debut EP Trouble, NAWAS approach pop music with both immaculate songcraft and rule-breaking originality. Brilliantly mashing up elements of electronic music, hip-hop, and R&B, the Louisiana-bred trio build their sound around frontman Jake Nawas’ shapeshifting vocals, Ben McDaniel’s crystalline guitar work, and Joey Gonzales’ powerful yet minimalist drumming. Along with bringing focused experimentation to their sleek production, NAWAS push the limits of pop with daring and darkly charged lyrics that lend each track an unforgettable depth.
Trouble arrives on the heels of NAWAS’ breakthrough single “Wrong”—a 2016 release praised by SPIN for “find[ing] the medium between Prince’s androgynous melodies and Calvin Harris’s euphoric bangers.” Recording the EP mostly in their adopted hometown of Nashville, the band joined forces with leftfield producers like the Grammy Award-nominated Sainte to expand their sound with more intricate textures and undeniably massive hooks.
Throughout Trouble, NAWAS bring a layered complexity to their lyrics, a dynamic embodied in the soulful and shimmering title track. “There’s a line in that song that goes ‘Trouble always follows me,’ which is a theme that runs across all of the EP,” says Nawas. “There’s a dark side to it but there’s something deeper there too—and sometimes trouble can be a good thing.”
Built on stark guitar tones, heavy beats, and a fuzzed-out groove, “Who Are You” kicks off Trouble with a candid reflection on infidelity and responsibility. “That song’s about what’s going on under the surface when someone’s cheated on you,” says Nawas. “A lot of the time there’s something bad happening on the other side, and maybe you start to realize how your own wrongdoings might have played a part in the whole situation.” On “Running,” with its eerie intensity and hypnotic vocal flow, the EP twists what first feels like a story of romantic obsession into a frenzied portrait of mental unraveling. “I wanted the bridge to take the song into a different place, where you’re going deeper into this person’s mind as they’re experiencing a manic episode,” explains Nawas, who co-wrote “Running” with longtime Jack White collaborator Ruby Amanfu.
Though the urgency of Trouble never lessens, NAWAS also deliver more carefree songs like the giddy and lovesick “White Hot” and the sweetly seductive, blissed-out “Waves.” And on “Galaxy,” a track woven with delicate guitar work and dreamlike effects, joy and desperation get gorgeously tangled together. “‘Galaxy’ is a song about being almost too much in love—those relationships where the person is your whole world but in a crazy, destructive kind of way,” Nawas points out.
From track to track, NAWAS instill the EP with an infectious energy that reveals the raw, unrestrained instincts at the core of the band. “Both of my bandmates have this very deep musical knowledge, but I personally don’t have that kind of skill set—I don’t even have an understanding of that kind of skill set,” says Nawas. “I can’t play guitar well or get on the drumset and kill it, but I do have this ability to feel out where the songs should go next.” As the band’s chief songwriter, he partly credits his upbringing with helping to hone his strong musical intuition. “Growing up, my dad was always playing me Prince and Michael Jackson, and my grandfather was into a lot of old soul and R&B stuff like Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding,” recalls Nawas, who also names the pop ingenuity of Justin Timberlake among his main inspirations.
Soon after getting his start by singing in church at age 16, Nawas joined a band with McDaniel, one of his closest friends since pre-school. Once the two formed their musical partnership, they continued playing together and, in early 2015, headed to Nashville to take their collaboration to the next level. Within a few months they enlisted Gonzales as their drummer, and quickly began working on a batch of songs that included their debut single “So Low.” Upon its release in April 2016, the track was hailed as “beautifully produced” by The Fader, who also made note of Nawas’s “bewitchingly androgynous falsetto.” By the end of the year, NAWAS had landed on Spotify’s most coveted playlists (including New Music Friday, Weekly Buzz, Discover Weekly, and Fresh Finds) and inked their deal with Harvest Records.
As they set to work on Trouble, NAWAS made a point of preserving their decidedly instinct-driven approach to pop. “I like to feel out the melodies and feel out the rhythm, and then figure out what I’m going to write about from there,” says Nawas. “Then as soon as we get to a place where the music feels good, I’ll go off alone and just write out lyrics over and over.” In the songwriting for Trouble, that soul-baring process allowed for a vulnerability that NAWAS hope might ultimately inspire others. “I’m not the kind of person who tends to share everything—I’m usually very guarded,” says Nawas. “But with our songs, I see the lyrics as my opportunity to be completely truthful. I want everyone to take away whatever they can from that,” he continues. “But if they end up feeling more okay about their own truth, and feel like they can be more honest about things they’ve felt uncomfortable about in the past, that would be amazing to me.”