We speak to Cheat Codes, who have just released a new album – HELLRAISERS, Part 3 – closing out a trilogy of groundbreaking work for the DJ trio.
If you had to guess, what kind of music do you think the three members of Cheat Codes listened to growing up? Based on their own acclaimed version of electronic dance music, you’d probably imagine something along those lines. You’d be wrong.
“I grew up listening to a lot of pop punk,” says Matthew Russell and honestly, I’m a little taken back. The other guys also mention bands such as Green Day and Blink-182, as well as more the more classic Metallica and Queen. These were bands that I also listened to during my emo “phase”, but I also have to admit that my Spotify playlists feature plenty of songs from Cheat Codes so perhaps we are not so different after all. It does still seem like a reach to get from listening to Metallica to making the catchy “No Promises”, which featured Demi Lovato.
“I think dance music is a newer way to express yourself,” explains Trevor Dahl. “For all three of us, we just love different types of music and electronic music gives us a way to to blend different genres together, and to work with different artists in a way that maybe pop punk might not.”
All three guys say they’ve always wanted to make music, but before Cheat Codes was formed in 2014, they were all doing their own thing.
“My brothers were in a rock band back in the day,” says Kevin Ford, or KEVI. “Seeing them play shows and stuff was really cool. And I knew I wanted to do that for the sake of fun.”
“When I met Kevin, he was rapping. Trevor was doing acoustic music. I was actually in a kind of hip hop project,” Russell adds.
The group had their major breakthrough in 2016 with their single ‘Sex’, which sampled Salt-N-Pepa’s iconic song, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’. Since then, Cheat Codes have worked, sampled and made remixes of a plethora of artists and songs, including Little Mix, Kim Petras and Icona Pop. They might have sampled and remixed some big names, but they speak of the process very nonchalantly.
“It just comes down to the song. We have a demo, we have vocals that we liked. And then we see who could sing this vocal really well. Sometimes we’ll get pitched by the artists,” Russell explains and says the group is usually on the same page about decisions regarding their music.
There seems to be a natural order to how the trio works. Russell works on a lot of the edits as well as the live stuff, while Dahl polishes the songs. All three also provide vocals and it’s important for them to keep things fresh for crowds coming to see them.
“We like to play different versions, like live versions of our songs, that you wouldn’t hear on Spotify, just keep it fresh. So when you come to our show, it’s kind of its own unique thing,” Russell continues.
Their newest album, HELLRAISERS, Part 3, closes out a trilogy of albums that were created during lockdown. It seems that the restrictions of the pandemic got their creative juices flowing while the rest of us binged Netflix and made our own sourdough starters.
“We’ve always loved the idea of being able to bend genres. So once the pandemic happened, we had more time than we’ve ever had to really sit down and make a body of work. So instead of just working on 12 songs, we started to work on way more than that,” Dahl explains.
Although Cheat Codes have been around for a while and have produced several bops, you might be surprised to hear that HELLRAISERS, Part 1, which was released in early 2021, was the group’s first studio album. It was followed by Part 2 in October 2021 and in late May, Cheat Codes brought the trilogy to a close with Part 3.
It’s ambitious, for sure, and with ambition can come pressure. We often ask – or demand – that artists, whether its actors, directors, writers or musicians reinvent themselves for our consuming pleasures. This, too, can come with immense pressure. But Dahl says it’s, in fact, the opposite.
“If anything, there’s pressure for us to stick to one thing, but we seem to really like to have fun with it and experiment a lot.” He continues: “We never feel like we’re having to reinvent ourselves, like we’re forced to. We love doing that. We love making new types of music and working with different types of artists, whether it’s alternative artists or a pop artist or a country artist. We enjoy working with different instrumentation and trying to create something that you haven’t heard before.”
I close out our chat by asking them to choose a track from their new album that they’re most proud of, in order to try and gain some insight into them as individuals and their tastes. ‘Change your mind’ Russell answers, while KEVI goes for ‘Know No Better’ and Dahl picks ‘Memory.’
And there you have it; the three guys who loved pop punk growing up, are now topping charts with their toe-tapping songs.
“We’ve been wanting to do music since we were little, the fact that we’re able to make it our career is pretty awesome. We definitely want to do it as long as possible,” Dahl closes with. I don’t doubt they will.