MAB1


By Alex Siber

When I connect over Skype with Sait, one half of the cryptic group Men Among Boys, our voices cross time zones and miles of ocean. It’s 7:05 p.m. in the United Kingdom, where Sait and his creative partner, Vivien, reside. The former chatters on about football (soccer) as we wait for Viv to join us. Arsenal is playing Manchester United, and Sait guesses his friend has yet to appear because he’s crying over the soccer match.

In the few minutes that pass while we wait, Sait is the one asking questions—“What are you studying in school? What’s a good profile piece you’ve read lately?” He’s thoughtful, the type to try and learn as much as possible from whatever or whoever he can.

Men Among Boys first surfaced in April with “Presence of Man.” P&P’s Joe Price wrote, “Spectral without haunting, the track hints at big things.” The chilling spaciousness and tribal 808s did indeed provide a glimpse of what would come next. “PurpleBlack,” “The Edge,” and “Rivers” proved that the group was no fluke. Together, bundled as the In Reverse, Rivers EP, Men Among Boys’ songs have accumulated over 50,000 SoundCloud streams and a steadily building buzz. We talked to them for their first ever interview, in which they discuss their roots, why studios suck, who has the sexier voice, the influence of 808s & Heartbreak, and much more.


Let’s start things off where it all began, “Presence of Man.” There’s a lot of mystery to it. Why did you both wish to maintain that mystery?

Vivien:
Both me and Sait are quite private people. When you’re meeting someone, you have to get comfortable with each other and then say, “Okay cool, now I’m gonna tell you this.” We wanted to be gradual in how we let people into our story, really.

Sait:
It’s the same for me. As well as that, it’s also about people judging us based on appearance. We want people to hear the music and judge it off the sound alone. To not attach any idea to it because of how we look.

What are each of you specifically responsible for when crafting a track?

Sait:
Well, to be honest, we pretty much both do everything. Viv is the lead vocalist, but we both handle writing and production. Viv’s voice is sexier than mine so he takes the forefront [Laughs].

Vivien:
Supposedly. The jury’s still out on that one.

Sait:
Supposedly. I’m somewhere, hidden in the tracks, but I’ll let you guys figure that out [Laughs].

Vivien, when did music become such an important part of your life?

Vivien:
Music’s always been there, in the sense your parents play music on the weekends. I never loved music until I got my Walkman, probably age nine. I don’t even remember what one of my first tapes was but I remember one of my first CDs was Sisqo’s “Thong Song.” I don’t know why my uncle bought me that.

Sait:
[Laughs] Sorry. [Laughs] Sorry, my friend’s in the room and I have to tell him this story.

Vivien:
My uncle bought me that! The thing that made me gravitate toward music, though, was the melodies. Especially in that song, they were crazy. You could just play it again and again and again.

How about you Sait?

Sait:
For me, my dad’s job was a field engineer so that meant he had to drive and go fix cash machines and stuff in big supermarkets. When I went to work with him he used to play music in the car, and he used to pause the music after one line, like, “Do you understand what that means? He’s basically telling a story of this.” Then he’ll play it, then pause it again and explain it. Then we’ll play the song from the beginning and I’d be like, “Whoa, this is crazy.” That’s like Jimmy Cliff and Paul Simon, and I think that’s where my love for lyrics came from. I listen to lyrics before the music if that makes sense. I’m obsessed with lyrics.

Shout out to Paul Simon.

Sait:
Yes, definitely. Graceland is amazing, that means so much to me.

menamongboys2-600x400


When did you both first cross paths? It seems like you guys have a strong friendship.

Vivien:
What happened is, Sait was trying to court me basically…

Sait:
[Laughs]

Vivien:
This is what happened. Basically, we had a mutual friend. I must have followed Sait on Twitter because we both have musical backgrounds from before we started Men Among Boys. We must have followed each other, and one day, I don’t know if it was through DM, he asks me, “Look, we both support Arsenal. We’re both born in February, days apart, how are we not proper friends?” I was like, “Yo, is this guy trying to date me? What’s going on?” [Laughs]. I think that summer we went to Wireless Festival, when Jay Z came over, in 2010, 2009 or something like that. It was with a group of friends, and since then we’ve been proper friends. Five years now?

Sait:
Five years.

Sait, does that all line up? [Laughs]

Vivien:
[Laughs]

Sait:
Honestly…

Vivien:
[Laughs]

Sait:
I’ll tell you one thing though, I wasn’t sure until I found out he loved 808s & Heartbreak. When I found out he loved that record, with no one liking it when it first came out, that’s when we were like, “Yup, this is the start of something really beautiful.”

How the name “Men Among Boys” originate? How old are you guys?

Vivien:
[Laughs] That’s a good question. I’m 24, Sait’s 23. In terms of the name, what happened was, I was working on my own project through last year. That project was called Men Among Boys. Not that I think I’m above anybody, but around my peers I felt like the way I was thinking, it was getting myself ready to become a man. Whereas, a lot of my friends weren’t really ready to do so. They were happy to still be young. I was seeing that I’m 24, I’m going to turn 25, and stuff is beginning to happen. That’s where it came from originally. When we decided to be a duo, we thought of so many names. One day we were just like, “Yo, ‘Men Among Boys’ is right there.” And it fits with both of us. We just ran with it. It works.

Sait:
Sometimes when I see it, it looks really boy bandish. Like Boyz II Men, you expect to see five of us on the stage wearing white, dancing and singing Christmas carols and slow ballads [Laughs].

You guys have a relatively small social media following, but you have all these big premieres. Is that solely the music’s doing? Some people wonder if there’s an industry bigwig, or another artist behind you.

Sait:
I’d say it’s just the music, I’d like to think so anyway. I don’t know what else.

Vivien:
I’m inclined to agree, simply because before we even got posted by Pigeons, it was something me and Sait would go on first thing in the morning. You’ve got your Pitchforks, your Spins, and your Pigeons & Planes that you go on. Once we got posted there, we were like, “It’s gotta be that the music’s good enough because that’s the only reason I go to that website myself. The music’s great.”

Sait:
I can safely say there is no one behind us but us, and a friend who’s like the silent third member. He helps with production. His name is Clixx, so shout him out and go check out his stuff. Besides him there is no one involved. We don’t even have management.

mababamba3232


When did you begin working on the In Reverse EP?

Vivien:
The actual project itself, I’d say once we released “Presence of Man.” Before that came out we didn’t even know how we wanted to release it. “Are we gonna shoot a video? What’s the marketing plan?” So we kind of just put it out and it got picked up. From there, we were like, “Well, people mess with this music, let’s make something.” We’ve always been the type of artists who like projects, more than just the one good single type of thing, but we get how things are right now. People consume music in smaller quantities, so we couldn’t just come out with a full album.

Was “Presence of Man” the first song you both did together?

Sait:
No, the first song was like a disco, dance, upbeat song. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get to hear it one day [Laughs]. No time soon. Very different to the stuff we’re making, but we evolved really fast. I would say that “Presence of Man” was the first time I looked over to Vivien, like, “We’ve got something.” I heard it, and gave him that look. Then when we put the bridge in. I think I gave him a double take. When we got it mixed? I gave him the same look [Laughs]. I shouted it. That gave me the confidence to feel like this could actually be huge.

Do you both always work together in person? Are you in a studio?

Vivien:
Basically, we record in my bedroom. We’re bedroom artists, that’s what we do. Me personally, I just don’t like studios.

Sait:
Same, I can’t stand them. It feels like you’re going to work and you have to produce something in that time you’ve rented it. Whereas in your bedroom, we make something and then say, “You know what? Let’s pause and watch this interview.” It could be an interview with a sushi chef, then we’ll pause that, go eat, come back and make something. The freedom comes from a lack of pressure. That’s the best thing you can have.

How do you each approach the making of “Rivers”?

Vivien:
What happened is, I had a really bad cold around that time. My voice was gone, completely. I was really annoyed because I couldn’t be productive. It was so weird. I had originally started the beat, messing with the 808s, and I decided to move it up an octave. With the atmospherics and the oddness of it, I was like, “You know what, let me try and sing something.” It worked, the balance between my voice being messed up and the 808s sounding wrong. I sent it to Sait, like, “Listen to this, but my voice is messed up so don’t worry about that.” Sait was like, “This is sick. Even when you do the final take, do it with your voice like that.” [Laughs] That’s how that happened.

Sait:
I remember receiving that, Vivien croaking “River” [Imitates voice crack]. It sounded so emotive. The beat took me to a place. I stopped everything I was doing to write to it. It was a special feeling when I got that demo.

Is that your favorite song on the EP?

Sait:
It changes man, it really does. I don’t know if this is how parents feel, but at times you love one child more and you hate—I wouldn’t say hate, that’s crazy [Laughs]—but you like one more than the other, depending on how they’re behaving and how you’re feeling. So I have a different relationship with each song. Right now, “Presence of Man” is my baby. That’s my favorite child.

Vivien:
I have moments I really love on the EP. In the beginning of “Presence of Man,” the 808s sound kind of off. If that’s the first thing you hear, you don’t know what to expect once the drop comes in. I love that bridge, too. Clixx did something crazy with that.

The music on In Reverse is so far from your typical radio record, but your melodies are addictive. How do you view radio down the line in your career?

Vivien:
As much as we love music that’s very left, we also love a cheesy pop song. I think that does go into our music. Some of the structures you hear—like “Presence of Man,” where you get verse, hook, verse, bridge, hook—those are familiar. But we don’t sit down, like, “Yo, we need to make the structure like this for radio.” But we do understand which songs would make sense for radio and which wouldn’t.

Sait:
I feel the same. We never go into making a song with any intention whatsoever. If we do, it’s about a feel we’re trying to achieve. In terms of placement, where we’d expect it to be played, never. We do know the power of radio, though. Here in the UK, Radio 1’s playlist directly correlates with the charts. The most played song is actually number one, the second most played is number two, and so forth. It’s that’s powerful, but we want to do what we love.

Vivien:
In the end, we do definitely want our music to have influence. If that trickles down to radio, and changes stuff around us, that’s a bonus. But for us, we just try to make music that’s not necessarily weird, but different. It’s a feeling. That’s the most important thing for us.

Your music often sounds forlorn, and centered on love and relationships.

Sait:
I don’t think there’s anything as powerful. It’s an energy, man. There’s a reason the best songs of all time are love songs. There’s a reason why we all love to sit down and watch a film based on love. There’s a reason why weddings feel so good. It’s so powerful.

Vivien:
There’s so many different aspects of love that it allows you to talk about so many different things. Family, literally a relationship, or just caring about someone. I saw Interstellar the other week. I came out of that, like, “Yo, this is just the biggest mindfuck.” But when you just sit down and think about it, it’s a love story between his dad and his daughter. And how powerful love can be across supposed dimensions. Even if you have an argument with someone, if you sit down at the end of the day and think about how much you love that person, you fix it.

Sait:
Definitely. I haven’t watched Interstellar yet, but one of the last movies that impacted me was Incendies. It’s like a Lebanese-French-Canadian film. Some of it’s shot in Lebanon, but they speak French, and the director’s Canadian. That’s how I justify that [Laughs]. If I say anything I’ll spoil the story line, but I want everyone to watch that. If you watch that you’ll know what love is. Love is the most powerful thing.