After achieving worldwide success with 8 Letters, their 2018 debut album, L.A.-based pop band Why Don’t We could’ve easily continued doing things exactly the same way for their follow-up release. After all, 8 Letters led to numerous gold singles and sold-out shows around the world. But a problem came to light during interviews: “They wereasking us what the songs meant to us and it was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t a song that we even wrote.’ It was hard to be able to talk. We had people trying to tell us what to say,” says Jonah Marais during a recent Zoom video chat with all five members.
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In contrast, with their new album, The Good Times and the Bad Ones (out on January 15 on Atlantic Records), the band members wrote and produced all the songs themselves (every member is a singer and multi-instrumentalist, as well). This more hands-on approach, Marais says, felt much better as they began doing interviews this time around. “We were able to dive into every lyric and really explain everything to a ‘T,’” he says. “I think that sums up the growth right there. I think fans can feel that, and everyone’s excited.”
“This album is the first time that we’ve ever really told the story ourselves,” says Corbyn Besson. “We put out 40 to 50 songs in the past, but not one of those songs was fully written or fully produced by us. It was all either collaborative or sent to us through the label as, ‘Hey, this would be a great song option.’ The process before was, we’d listen to songs and make some changes and fall in love with them and put them out. But this album is 100% purely us, so it feels really big for us in that sense.”
The title The Good Times and the Bad Ones, according to Daniel Seavey, “ties into the fact that half of it was written in the highs of touring and half of it was written in the lows of COVID. So you get a lot of honesty out of this album.”
Besson agrees that they have much more freedom to speak their minds this time around. “I think when you’re in a boy band and you’re coming up, there’s a certain formula and a certain way that the industry makes you feel like you should act or behave.” In contrast, he says, “this period of time for us in our careers is very much like, ‘Here’s who we are. Take it as it is and we hope you’re having a good time with us.’ Because we’re having a good time.”
The band members say they were relieved when they showed their songs to their managers and other team members, and everyone agreed that it needed to be released. That was, Marais says, “super validating.” He adds that they really knew for sure they were on the right track when “Travis Barker jump
In truth, though, this transformation into full-fledged writers and producers isn’t entirely a surprise because all of the members speak about music-obsessed childhoods where they each spent significant time learning to play instruments. Prior to forming Why Don’t We in 2016, each of them had made noteworthy progress at kicking off music careers.
Jack Avery grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started taking classical piano lessons in the first grade after watching his pianist father perform. When he was fourteen years old, he decided to switch to guitar, and he credits his older sister for inadvertently helping him with that transition. “She had a pink guitar that she never used,” he says. “I’d come home every day after school and look up YouTube videos on how to play guitar, and I taught myself. I just kept going every day until I realized, ‘I’m getting it down now.’” He released a single, “Liar,” in 2016.
Zachary Herron, who is originally from Texas, was also self-taught on guitar. “I watched some YouTube videos and kind of figured it out on my own and ran downstairs and told my parents, ‘I learned “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz!’ I started loving guitar and tried to pursue that, and then went to electric
YouTube also played a pivotal role for Marais (who, like Avery, watched his musician father perform). Growing up in Minnesota, he began taking piano lessons when he was in second grade, “but I just didn’t like the songs that she was teaching me. It wasn’t fun, so I stopped,” he says. But when he was in sixth grade, he looked up how to play “Down” by Jay Sean on YouTube. “Because it was a song that I liked, I was excited about being able to play it. The next day I went to music class at school and I played it. A bunch of the girls were all excited. And I was like, ‘This is cool! I’m going to keep doing this!’” He released an album, When the Daylight’s Gone, in 2016.
Besson grew up in Virginia in a musical family, taking piano lessons from an early age – but it was a video game that helped him truly realize his skills. “I was playing “Guitar Hero” a lot and was just really good at it for some reason.” As a result, his parents bought him a real guitar, and he soon excelled at that, too. Video games also helped him realize his other talent: “I discovered I could sing on ‘Xbox Live.’ I would just sing in random ‘Call of Duty’ lobbies and people were like, ‘Oh shit, this kid can sing!’” He released a single, “The Only One,” in 2014.
Seavey, a Washington native, started off playing “a little toy piano that I stole from my sister,” he says. “Then I got a larger piano for Christmas one year and was bawling my eyes out when I got it—it was my favorite toy to play with.” He went on to play the guitar and cello next, and has since added more than a dozen others to the list. “My hobby started to become learning how to play different instruments.” In 2015, when he was fifteen years old, he competed on American Idol, finishing in ninth place.
With their similar backgrounds in music, and the recognition that each of them had attained separately, it seemed natural to relocate to Los Angeles and join forces as Why Don’t We in 2016. They released an EP, Only the Beginning, that same year.
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Their 2018 full-length album, 8 Letters, put them in the pop stratosphere, thanks to the singles “Hooked,” “Talk,” and the title track (as well as “Trust Fund Baby,” written by Ed Sheeran with Fred Gibson, which appeared on the deluxe edition of the album). 8 Letters made the U.S. Top Ten, and charted in several other countries, as well. They won and were nominated for numerous awards, including MTV Video Music Awards, Teen Choice Awards, and iHeartRadio Music Awards.
Even though the band members were still learning the songwriting ropes at that point, co-writing two of the tracks on 8 Letters, they still view the experience favorably. “It was cool because that album came out and did really, really well, and we were able to tour around the world and experience all these things,” says Marais. “I feel like we grew up a lot during that time, and those experiences inspired this
Still, Seavey says, “I think at some point, we couldn’t really deny that we know we’re called to do more than just sing songs handed to us. We know we can do more. I really do think it will pay off.” And in a way, he adds, it already has: “I think we’re more happy with the fact that we can be honest and really be passionate about what we’re doing now more than ever.”