Brothers Daniel and Andrew Aged of the LA-based duo inc. concluded their run as session and touring musicians in 2009. After playing live with Elton John and 50 Cent and spending time in the studio with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, they became disillusioned with the stilted environment of the pop world and decided they had something to contribute on their own. They soon fled their homebase in LA, returning to their parents’ house in Monterey to study up on home recording techniques and refill their well of inspiration.
In 2010, they returned to Los Angeles on their own terms, regrouping in the artsy enclave of Mt. Washington, where they met a group of supportive, like-minded individuals who encouraged their new undertaking under the name Teen Inc. The duo signed to 4AD not long after and released a three-song EP that set the tone for future releases, the latest of which is their full-length debut, No World. Unique and genuine, the album evades the colorless trappings of artists like How To Dress Well to evoke a sincere passion for classic soul and R&B, not unlike some of their main influences (D’Angelo, Jill Scott.) Prior to their stellar album release show with Zomby in New York, I spoke with inc. about performing with Elton John, the philosophical influences behind No World and its recurring themes of gender and sexuality. —Aaron Frank
How old are you guys?
Andrew: Just turned 28.
When did you originally pick up instruments and start playing?
A: We started around the house when we were like 11 and 12 probably, just like kind of playing for fun. We just got deeper and deeper in to it as we started getting older.
What did you grow up listening to?
A: A lot of jazz, R&B, Motown. Our parents’ friends would come down and drop off CDs for us. I remember having Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite pretty young and like Musiq Soulchild, all the stuff that was on VH1 Soul. I would always be watching Dwele music videos and stuff like that.
D: We were also really into people like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye.
A: And then Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage. I remember going to a Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage concert when we were like 11. I had the “Zero” shirt and we were moshing. By high school, we had found a place in R&B, soul and jazz. That was coming through the TV and we had the Jill Scott live album. That all kind of fused with our peer group. By the early 2000’s, there was kind of like this wave of jazz influenced neo-soul. Voodoo came out and everyone had that.
So all the Soulquarian stuff? Erykah Badu?
A: We heard all that stuff and we were like, “That’s where we’re headed.”
By the time you got to high school or got close to graduating, did you know this was what you were going to do?
A: Yeah, about halfway through, but during that whole time, we were already playing around a lot. We found a lot of mentors locally. Chris Kane, a really amazing blues guitarist, real fiery, just an amazing guy. There were a lot of jazz people in our town. The Monterey Jazz Festival was going on, and that’s where we’re from, so there were just a lot of good musicians that would just take us under their wing.
So you mentioned Smashing Pumpkins. Do you remember any other big shows that you saw when you were younger?
A: That one was big. It was at the Cow Palace. Garbage opened, and at the time, that was the thing. Even now, I mean, I think that just made an impression and showed us what we could be. We still look up to Billy Corgan a lot. He’s really something. On those albums, he just did everything. I know he would do vocal takes for like 10 hours a day. He was just so committed to the sound.
I worked in licensing for a while and he was one of our clients. It just seemed like he was always coming in looking for something to work on.
A: Yeah, especially with that song “Stumbleine,” his lyrics and imagery and poetry, it was really deep. He was just really dedicated to his craft. But there was a lot more. We went to a lot of jazz concerts, a lot of blues concerts. I remember sitting up in the Crow’s Nest in Monterey. It’s where Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar. This was a blues festival and they always let us go backstage when we were little kids. I remember watching John Lee Hooker and that was really powerful, just him and a guitar, stomping his foot. Stuff like that, when you’re a kid, that’s big.
D: We were kind of in to that Bay Area thing with just like a lot of old hippie guys in bars. A lot of that too.
A: Having old drunk ladies hit on us and weird stuff like that.
So what was the path you took after high school? How did you get in to being session musicians?
A: By the end of high school, we were driving a Cadillac and wearing Timbs, wanting to play soul and R&B. At that point, we were trying to play with D’Angelo or Erykah Badu or Jill Scott. It was trying to get in to that world and play on an album like Voodoo. That album was so important that it sustained us a lot. For four years, we listened to that album every day.
D: It was that, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, live Jill Scott, a few albums that were in constant rotation. We listened to Doggystyle a lot. We were kind of late to that, but it was like the local party music.
Even with that album, the G-Funk stuff obviously relies a lot on soul, funk and Motown.
A: Yeah, we were loving that. I ended up playing with 50 Cent a few years later and that was really big for me. It was just generally like any R&B, soul and hip-hop. We were pretty much on our way to do that, then we moved to LA after high school.
Do you remember some of the first people you got together and played with after you moved?
A: It was mostly musicians that were already on the inside. That was kind of my way in. My first real gig was with Robin Thicke. That was my foray in to touring. We did a lot of jazz stuff and experimental stuff before then though.
D: It was a time when we were almost purists or something. We were just really focused on jazz. Our goal wasn’t to make money or anything. It was just solely to get really, really good.
A: We were really searching. I remember listening to a lot of Bill Frisell. I was really obsessed with him for a while in college. Him and this other guitarist named Kurt Rosenwinkel. I was just fully in love with his playing.
Did you go to school for music?
D: Yeah, we went to USC. We didn’t graduate though.
Well, that kind of makes sense. Was that when the Robin Thicke gig came along?
A: That’s why I left. I got a call at school for an audition, and I think we really vibed personally. I think he liked that I was young and we just really vibed instantly. I didn’t think they were going to call me back, because I just felt like a 12 year old. It was mostly like grown ass men, and I just thought they didn’t like me. But they did, and then we went on tour opening for India Arie. From there, just a bunch of different things happened.
So what was the first tour you got booked on together? Or were you mostly working separately?
D: Pretty much separate.
What was your first gig then?
D: It was a lot of jazz. I dropped out of school and was just studying a lot in town, just practicing all day and studying with my teachers. So my first couple tours were more jazz tours, some Brazilian music. It was really fun, and I was really focused on that. But I also play electric bass and upright, so it was a lot of gigs that would call for both of those.
A: We played a cruise together pretty early on in college. It was this Bob James cruise with Daniel’s bass teacher Alphonso Johnson. That was pretty cool. We got to play with Fourplay. I was little, like 18 or 19. Michael McDonald was on there, Tom Scott, mostly smooth stuff, but a lot of good musicians. Robben Ford was on there too. He was an idol of mine growing up.
So who else did you end up playing with after that? Elton John must have been pretty huge.
A: Yeah, Daniel got to play with him.
D: He’s a really special person. It was cool, because when I was in fourth grade, there was no one else I would listen to. I would only listen to Elton John, just totally obsessed. So when I got to play with him, I felt really connected to him.
How old were you when that came along?
D: I was 22, I think. I didn’t tour with him or anything. It was just for a few days. We played at this Oscar party and Raphael Saadiq was the musical guest at the party, and Elton played some songs with us. It was super cool. He was a really kind person and a really powerful musician. His voice doesn’t even need a microphone or anything.
A: Apparently, he told Raphael that Daniel was one of the best bass players he’s ever heard.
Wow, that must have felt like a dream realized.
D: Oh, I was shaking.
The arrangements and production on his songs were so ahead of their time.
D: And they would do those songs in like a day or two.
A: Yeah, I think “Daniel” was written and recorded and finished in like a day.
D: And some of the other ones too. Like “Benny and the Jets” was finished in a couple days.
A: He’s one of our favorites, definitely a big influence.
I feel like he’s one of those people where, unfortunately, the character kind of overshadows this amazing talent, and a lot of people don’t really know the extent of his background.
A: Yeah, I feel like he’s kind of underrated. People look at like David Bowie in such a way as a songwriter, but I feel like Elton is right there. His songs will bring you to tears.
How did you get in to working with Pharrell?
A: I did a lot of stuff with Robin Thicke and Pharrell would be there. With 50 Cent, I didn’t actually play on a record, but I played on a music video and some live stuff.
A: “Follow My Lead.” Robin Thicke was on the song, and I’m in the video. I don’t really know if I should be saying this. It’s kind of like our blackmail stuff.
So are you still session musicians or are you mostly focusing on inc. now?
A: We gave it up. It’s a total thing of the past really.
What made you want to give it up?
D: It was just a different mentality and it wasn’t really fulfilling, the process that people make music with in that kind of environment. I think we have a certain way we like to work. We’re not really perpetuators of things. We’re really trying to open things up.
A: There are a lot of reasons, but for one, it was just feeling like there was something internal that needed to come out. And then also, we were just a bit disillusioned in that world. I just remember feeling sad and like I should be doing something else. A lot of people would be really happy in that position, being so young and making a lot of money, but it wasn’t musically fulfilling. It was a good place to learn, but I wasn’t able to fully be myself, and ultimately, I think I realized I was an artist.
So were you already writing your own songs before you decided to give up session work?
A: A little bit, but not really. I hadn’t sung ever at that point. We basically had a moment. For me, it was just one night when I realized I knew what I had to. We basically packed the car up and decided to drop everything. People were still calling us, but we were done, and we just went back to our parents’ house.
It took us a while to know what we were going to do, but little by little, I started singing more and Daniel got more in to production. At that point, we hadn’t really written or recorded or produced, but we basically just applied the same work ethic that we had toward our instruments. That was just a few years ago, 2009.
Were there a lot of ideas you ended up scrapping or that didn’t make it to the album?
A: It was moreso that we didn’t have that much to work with. These songs are pretty much our first real songs.
So it was more about reworking and refining the ideas over time?
A: Yeah, I know Daniel would always be learning production stuff, reading online and asking questions. We’re still learning.
Everything was recorded and produced on your own then?
A: Yeah, written, recorded, produced, mixed, everything.
How long did the whole process take then? It had to be at least a couple years.
A: It’s actually been kind of a long process. 2009, we moved home. We recorded a couple things up there. For a year or so, we were kind of dealing with some family stuff. It was a heavy time.
Were your parents dealing health problems?
A: They weren’t. They were kind of going through some financial and emotional things as a result. I think a lot of people were going through that at the time.
D: A close friend really got really sick too.
A: We ended up spending a lot of time outdoors. We were kind of blown to pieces and it was about just picking them up and putting them back together. Our friend was sick and eventually passed away. It was just kind of a cycle, and we figured it was time to move back to LA, but under different terms. We got a house in Mt. Washington and upon moving there, met a slew of new people. We found ourselves in this other world that was so foreign to us, which I guess was more of an art world or something.
That neighborhood seems to breed a lot of creativity. I know the Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus live out there.
A: Yeah, it’s like that. Early on, we met Ariel Pink’s band and they were really big supporters, just so many musicians and people that were in a different scene.
That’s interesting you mentioned spending a lot of time outdoors. There seems to be a really organic feel to a lot of the songs, in the way they kind of build and layer on each other. The lyrics are deeply metaphorical too. Are there any artists you look to as influences in that regard?
A: A lot of it really just feels like a gift. Some things we’re really influenced by, but the lyrics are really internal. If they work, they tend to really make me step back and say “Whoa,” that kind of thing where we’re just really inspired by personal things. But that personal thing has really resonated with me, even when I go back and listen later on.
D: Grateful Dead lyrics were kind of a big thing.
A: Yeah, the Grateful Dead. I mean, when you talk about songwriting, D’Angelo’s lyrics are amazing. There’s poetry too. At the time when we were making the album, my girlfriend was studying a lot of poetry.
That’s kind of what I was getting at. Were there any poets or writers that were a big influence?
A: Terrence McKenna, praise him man. We listened to him a lot on different podcasts and lectures…Yeah, this book The Imitation of Christ was really powerful too. Thomas a Kempis is the author. It’s an ancient Christian text from the 1400s. It’s basically about how to live, almost like commandments and lessons about living.
D: In that movie The Tree of Life, they took a lot of quotes from it actually.
A: You could say that movie was a huge influence too. There’s a book on Tibetan Buddhism by Robert Thurman too. It has these long prayers and poetry that is so…fierce is the only way I can describe it. The imagery is intense. You’re hearing about skeletons and bones and flesh. It’s very powerful, but it’s coming from a place of such reverence and illumination that it feels like it was written outside the body. There’s also this book called Black Elk Speaks. He’s a Native American guy, who also has some really powerful words. There’s a quote from him featured on the artwork on our album.
You can certainly see how that stuff inspired some of the lyrics, especially with “Desert Rose (War Prayer).”
A: Yeah, definitely on that song.
So I’m just curious about your current taste in music. You guys have, in my opinion, been unfairly lumped in with some of these other new R&B acts like How To Dress Well and Frank Ocean. Do you guys listen to any modern R&B or is it mostly classic stuff?
A: I think it’s mostly classic stuff. I think we just generally listen to whatever hits us. When we drive, we end up listening to the radio. There are a lot of things today where the palette is kind of clichéd. I actually really like that Jeremih mixtape. There’s good stuff out there, but still I think we mostly listen to older stuff like D’Angelo. A lot of that stuff I think we’re collectively or unconsciously aware of, but I think it’s pretty peripheral.
It seems like sexuality is a big theme on the album, not necessarily in the lyrics, but sonically. A lot of modern music seems to approach that subject in a really superficial way. Do you feel like love and sexuality is kind of misrepresented or glossed over in modern music?
D: To be honest, I’d rather have people keep it light and talk about it like that than falsely make it serious or something, or just faking it. That doesn’t bother me.
A: I almost feel like we’re trying our best to represent how we feel about those things on a personal level, but I certainly don’t feel like an authority. I’m really just trying to make it through the day, so I can’t say if it’s wrong or not. I’m not close to mastering that domain yet, but ultimately, we’re all trying to find our own answer to it.
Honestly, I know a lot of our songs are coming from a loving place, and even some of the more serious songs are about love that I’m feeling, not even in a relationship necessarily, but more familial or just universal. In terms of certain feelings, there just isn’t a lot of context for them in our culture, so sex becomes their one quick outlet for vulnerability. I think vulnerability is pretty rare in art these days, and it’s kind of the same with humor.
D: I guess that’s what I mean when I say I’d rather people keep it light. Because I feel like, at least when people are doing that, it’s clear. I think the light and the dark both need to be taken in to consideration though.
A: I read an interview with Waka Flocka recently and I just got the impression that he was really humble and genuine. He’s trying to his best to be Waka Flocka. I mean, we all put it on and go crazy, but he’s being his animal. That’s what we appreciate is when people are just being themselves. It takes a one in a million type of person to know what’s best for everyone and project that, and I don’t feel like we’re authorities on that. When people try to do that, I think we’re a little suspicious.
I guess this kind of goes back to that whole thing about vulnerability, but do you feel like gender roles are still pretty limiting in our society? I’m thinking of that line in “Desert Rose (War Prayer),” where you sing, “Show me what it takes to be a man.”
A: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think sexuality is very linked to someone’s spirit. I’ve learned a lot about myself through my music and probably my sexuality as well. It just kind of goes hand in hand. Like, I’m a straight person, but I know that there’s a range of frequency. I think about my stature or my physicality, and I think that’s connected with how I respond to certain things.
I was thinking about this recently. If I was 6’5”, I would probably be a lot different. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I just hope my spirit comes out in the music when I sing. It’s a vulnerable thing to go out and do that, and you’re exposing yourself and your spirit, but I can’t give much thought to how that plays out in society.
D: I feel like at this point, historically, we’re trying to remove all that and just look at the entire spectrum of people and sexuality. If you look at it this way, there could be a thousand different blocks, but at this point, there are only a few places for people to put them. I feel like there are only a few choices that people have to decide how to live in this world, and so I feel like that makes it hard to be free. You just have to choose from one of these things, which inevitably keep us bound.
A: I was watching a Marlon Brando interview on The Dick Cavett Show on YouTube, and he talks about how at that time there were only a few of these archetypes in film, like the wily Filipino houseboy or the dumb black cook. Back then, Native Americans were represented very poorly in film, and I think that’s dissolved over time, or I hope it has.
D: But hopefully as we get closer to the truth, those things will start to disintegrate.
A: Even with black and white, I think a lot of that has dissolved. I think, hopefully, it will dissolve and we’ll just become these spirits.
D: It’s funny, because those things beat you over the head, like blackness or whiteness, or gay or straight, but I feel like there’s something important about that right now. Maybe it’s developing some type of understanding for people to move on and grow from. You have to have somewhere to go forward from.
A: I mean, that lyric, the purpose of it is rooted in the laws of nature. It’s essentially about surrendering and letting the earth tell you what it means, because it’s not something that culture will tell you. It has to come from the earth or from within.
So where did the album title originate?
A: It was kind of like a feeling that we had pretty much the whole making it. It’s basically a feeling and kind of a mentality that we had to have to make the music. It almost became a mantra. We just weren’t considering of the outcome of what we were doing and we were just enjoying it and trying to make something that we felt. So, in that sense, there was no world to consider. We just had to block everything out.
D: It was kind of a gateway to a place where we were free and had no attachment to anything, so we could make whatever we want.
If there is one thing you wanted people to get out of the album, what would it be?
A: It’s just like our little prayer and we’re just putting a gramophone up to it and amplifying it. Hopefully, us being ourselves allows for everyone else to be themselves. I don’t know if we have anything to say. I really just have to hope that I can be pure and good and hit notes and create this energy through my voice and guitar and hope that people feel it.