In 2018, there’s almost an aura of nostalgia when speaking to YouTubers and R&B duo Ar’mon and Trey. Not because their music is outdated, or because they’re that much older than when they began, but because it’s hard not to think fondly of their viral covers that have garnered the brothers 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube and 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
Despite flourishing on the YouTube scene, the pair has expanded their portfolio from covers and mashups of radio hits to original songs and are set to release their first-ever six song EP Long Story Short on Friday. And while the two have held onto their smooth swaggers (they refer to their wildly devoted female fans as “girlfriends”), Ar’mon and Trey are also decidedly grown up.
Ahead of their debut EP, the boys spoke to Billboard about connecting to their aging crowd without abandoning their younger fans, individualizing themselves while remaining a pair, and also some of their musical influences.
What’s it been like working as siblings — have there been any big fights, any moments where it’s too much, or has it always just worked?
Trey: Like any other siblings, ya’ll are around each other a lot, so of course you’re gonna argue and bicker. But when we don’t agree on something, we always try to hear each other out. We’d never not wanna work as siblings.
Early on, most of your recognition thus far has come from covers, but at what point did you start making your own music?
Ar’mon: We had always been writing our own music, like when we were younger we had songs we had been coming up with, but we started really doing our own stuff when we got signed to the independent label we were signed to. We kinda got away from writing originals when we started to do covers, but in the midst of covers, we were still kind of making our own music. So we had always been making our own music.
Were you guys at all nervous that fans wouldn’t react as positively to your original songs as they had to the covers?
Trey: I think when it came to our very first original song, we were definitely a little bit nervous, like how would they take it? I mean, I know I was nervous about it because we had been doing covers for so long, so we was hoping they’d like our original stuff as much as they’d like our covers, and it actually was a really good turn out. They liked it just as much.
As Vine artists originally, a lot of the people watching your videos must’ve been fairly young. At 19 and 21 years old now, do you feel like your audience has grown with you?
Ar’mon: To be honest, when we look at our analytics, it’s always like 15- to 25-year-olds, or something like that. So we had a young crowd, but they wasn’t too young. Everybody is growing up with us at this point — all the 17-year-olds are 20-somethings now, so it’s not too much of an issue.
Trey: We do also have a lot of kid fans as well, but we have a decent amount from an older crowd. And once the EP drops this Friday, I feel like it’ll help us gain even more older listeners as well.
With songs like “Drown,” you’re obviously appealing to the older side, but you can’t hold back a song like that just to appease the younger set.
Ar’mon: Nah right, like that’s exactly how we feel.
And speaking of, I know you guys call your female fans “girlfriends” — can you tell me a little bit about that?
Trey: When we first did that, the response we got was crazy, so we just kept doing it. Not only that, but I feel like that makes them feel special — like they engage more because they really feel like they our girlfriends.
Right now on YouTube, you guys do pranks as well. Were you at all concerned about fans potentially losing focus on the music, and seeing you only as vloggers/YouTubers?
Trey: For the three of four years that we had been on social media before that, we had never showed our personalities or who we really were. They wanted to watch us sing, like we couldn’t really post about ourselves, and if we did, they’d be like ‘Where’s the new song?’ or ‘Where’s the new mashup?’ They were in love with our music, but they weren’t really in love with us and our music. So we actually started doing the pranks to really show that side, and let them get to know us.
We share accounts, so they never can tell who was tweeting or who captioned a certain picture, but now they we started showing our personality, now they be like ‘This is Ar’mon,’ or ‘I know this is Trey.’
How are your personalities different?
Ar’mon: I describe myself as playful, like I play a lot. To be honest, I have a hard time being serious. I play every time I open my mouth, like it’s always a joke coming out, or me messing with someone. I’m just childish, I guess. That’s what makes me me.
Trey: To be honest, I’m almost the same way. I think that’s why people love us, we’re both goofy. But he play a lot more than I do. I play, but I’m a little bit more serious.
And speaking of individualization, how do you divvy up the work in the creative process, or is it all done together?
Trey: Sometimes one of us will come up with the melody, but we always bring it to each other, help each other out, and see what the other one might have to offer. Because two minds is just always bigger than one.
How do you plan on building an audience that stretches past just your YouTube audience?
Ar’mon: We hope and know that doing music is going to expand our reach anyway. We’re gonna keep on grinding with the supporters we do have, and they gonna keep taking us to the next level. Our supporters now — Instagram, YouTube, whatever — they take us to that bigger audience.
Now let’s talk about the EP — was there any reasoning for staying away from collaborations on this?
Trey: Nah, It wasn’t no reason behind it, we was just grinding. We really wanted to hit the ground running, like we wanted to do it ourselves. We really just wanted to give our fans all of us at this point in time. On this album we don’t have any, but we gonna get into it. We were so focused on getting our music done, so we were in the lab just establishing ourselves first.
There’s definitely some heavy R&B influences on this. Who were some of your biggest inspirations when making this?
Trey: We have so many different artists we love — Trey Songz, Usher, Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston — they all play a part in what we keep up with now. They’re artists who we’ve been listening to for so many years, and I feel like we take a lot from a lot of different artists, and we make it our own. We were inspired by quite a few, but we do have our favorites, which for me, are Chris Brown and Beyoncé.
What are your hopes/goals for this project?
Ar’mon: Our hopes and goals are that the world ends up hearing it, and that we become bigger on bigger platforms and a bigger level. We just want people to know that we work hard at everything we do — even if people don’t like it, we want them to listen and be like ‘I don’t like it, but I can’t tell they’re putting their all into this.’ That’s the most important.