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By the time 3OH!3’s Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte decided it was time to make the follow-up to their breakout 2008 record Want, they had spent a lot of time away from home and hadn’t really hunkered down into songwriting mode for awhile. So when it came time to woodshed the songs on their latest album, Streets of Gold, dropping June 29, they returned to Colorado and shut themselves and a bunch of recording gear into a cabin in Breckenridge for two weeks.
OK, so it’s not 303 but 970. But try making a hand signal out of that.
“We tried to get out, like, go into town at least once a day because we would get cabin fever and go crazy like The Shining or something like that,” Foreman says. “But it was very productive... We demoed out like 20 songs up there, and we took those to L.A. and recorded out there, but we did the majority of the writing for the album in Colorado. ... Kept it real.”
It’s the duo’s third album, the second with Photo Finish records. It’s been a long journey for the two, from bonding over underground hip-hop in the back of physics class at the University of Colorado to shooting music videos with pop starlets and cutting tracks with one of their idols, Lil’ Jon. They’ve had time to digest a lot of musical experiences, and they’ve traded the Jon-inspired “crunkcore” style for a more electronic, dance hall one.
And the fans are eating it up, too, reacting wildly to the new tracks the duo tested live on the Too Fast For Love Tour with Cobra Starship, the duo says. The first single off Streets of Gold, “My First Kiss,” featuring Ke$ha, debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles list, bagging 200,000 digital downloads in its first week.
What a long strange trip from a group whose early shows consisted of two friends, an iPod and some choreography. 3OH!3 gathered a rabid following in their home town during their CU days. Around 2006, they started selling out shows at the Fox and were making a name for themselves in Denver. Their Zombie Prom was the hottest ticket in town on Halloween 2007. They were opening for Blackalicious on Farrand Field.
“When we set out to do it, there wasn’t any real aim,” Foreman says. “I think that, a lot of time, it’s said that we’re more than we actually know what we’re doing.”
Back then — we’re talking 2006, 2007 — everyone in Boulder had an opinion about them. They were either the band whose shows you absolutely couldn’t miss or the band that made you want to slap yourself in the face out of disbelief that smart kids from one of the most educated cities in America listened to this shit — an inescapable truth for the haters, since Foreman and Motte are purebred Boulderites, having graduated from Fairview and Boulder High respectively and sum cumma laude from the University of Colorado.
(For the record, I graduated from Fairview High School one year after Sean. We were folder partners in Festival Choir my junior year. He says he vaguely remembers, but he probably doesn’t. No offense taken, Sean.)
Adding to 3OH!3’s meteoric rise was the fact that in a town known mainly for producing throwback stoner-rock (think Rose Hill Drive) and bluegrass jam bands (Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, etc.), 3OH!3 is the first homegrown band to reflect Boulder’s growing presence on the underground hip-hop circuit. It’s practically how they met. Foreman says he saw the six-foot-seven Motte from the audience at hip-hop shows in high school, but the two never spoke until that fateful physics class.
“I never really officially met him, but we would go to the same shows, and he’s kind of hard to miss,” Foreman says. “I took a physics class my freshman year, his sophomore year, and that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, it’s that dude.’ So I sat next to him and talked to him.”
Their love of hip-hop was crystal clear in their 2008 release Want. It was 12 tracks of white-boy scenester mock-hop, music that was tagged as “crunkcore,” delivering lines like “You’se a punk bitch if you don’t know ’bout Boulder / Your girl’s a freak, ’cuz that’s what I told her” in their best crunk inspired belly roar.
Many people’s introduction to the band came with the low-budget music video of “Holla Till You Pass Out,” which found the 3OH!3 crew schooling a bunch of 10-year-olds on the 8-foot rims at Mesa Elementary School and dancing to the chorus, “Bang bang motherfuckin’ street slang,” so it’s understandable that the direction the group chose for Streets of Gold might take some of the locals by surprise.
It’s an album full of dance anthems with four-chord choruses and their prerequisite breakdowns. And while there are a few tracks that harken back to Want’s in-your-face rhymes, like the bragging on “I Can Do Anything” or the night-out storytelling on “Deja Vu,” most of the tracks fall squarely into the electronic dance category. Gone is the crunk roar from tracks like “Choke Chain” and “Holla Till You Pass Out,” to be replaced with melodic singing, cleaner, busier beats, tighter songwriting and cascading chorus melodies designed to sink the hook into your brain and reel you in as far as they can manage.
The album’s highlight, “I Know How To Say,” starts with a crunchy guitar riff and then adds a catchy organ line, before bursting into the pre-chorus and building to the brilliant fireworks show of a chorus, and then taking it all apart and putting it back together. “House Party” is an admittedly “brat-ish” Beastie Boys party song homage, declaring, “I’m gonna have a house party in my house. I’m gonna pour booze / down my mouth.”
Many critics have labeled 3OH!3 as “frat-core” or something similarly demeaning, a label which will probably stick with the new album but that is shrug-inducing for Foreman, at best.
“I don’t know. In my mind it probably means like college party-core, which people relate to frats. I don’t think I’ve ever even stepped foot in a frat, unless it was like to try and steal beer or something,” Foreman says. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s just that, I’m not a frat boy myself, so I don’t really know what that’s like.”
No matter the descriptor, Streets of Gold is a distinctly different entry in the 3OH!3 catalog. Foreman explains the new direction as a maturation process.
“I know the last record Want, and even before that, I have, like, three different styles that I was trying to employ for the record — like I would be rapping, I’d be singing, and stuff like that, and not necessarily different styles of singing,” he says. “But now I feel much more comfortable in my own skin singing, and just having my style. … There’s a lot more consistency through the songs and through the record as a whole, and there’s a lot of different sort of sounding songs, but in general, for me the album is one piece. All the songs fit one way or another.”
On the Bill:
3OH!3 will present a laser show celebrating the release of Streets of Gold on Tuesday, June 29, at Fiske Planetarium at 8 p.m. Deluxe album pre-order ($24.95) required; no tickets are available otherwise. For more, visit www.303music.com.