The Stafford Brothers Say 'Hello' to America with Lil Wayne: On Set with the Aussies
The Aussie reality TV stars turn their sights on America with new single “Hello.”
It’s late January on a sunny but brisk Los Angeles morning, and the Stafford Brothers’ rented house in the Studio City hills is bustling. The guys are playing hosts to the large crew that’s shooting the video for their first U.S. single “Hello,” including featured artists Lil Wayne and Christina Milian.
In addition to the cameras, lighting equipment, and catering trucks, there are assorted young people dressed like partiers and skateboarders, practicing runs on the ramp that’s been installed next to the pool. There’s a man in a kangaroo suit and an actual kangaroo wearing a leather-studded bra. Despite having just arrived back in L.A. after an overnight flight from Sydney, Australian DJ brothers Matt and Chris Stafford are chipper exceedingly hospitable to the entire crew, even as a growing crowd of extras and groupies besieges their home.
In one room their manager Nima Nasseri is getting a quick, last-minute haircut. Another bedroom has been set aside and prepared as a hair and makeup station for Milian, who is arriving shortly. Wayne isn’t expected until later that evening, and nobody is too concerned that his call time keeps changing. In fact, despite being a film set, there is a definite party-like atmosphere going. That’s hardly an accident.
“Let’s get a silly house and go a bit large for six months,” Matt Stafford tells Billboard of their first ideas for moving to L.A. “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll go home, but we’ll have had a good time. Nearly a year on and we’re still in the same house and we got Lil Wayne and Christina coming over.”
In the meantime, that house has been a home to the Staffords and a rotating cast of EDM characters, including Chicago DJ outfit Krewella (their manager Jake, a friend of Nima’s, is a more permanent resident), fellow Aussie Tommy Trash, as well as Alex James, Whitney Phillips, and Harry Sommerdahl of writing and production team The City, who wrote “Hello.”
But how does an unheard of DJ invade the U.S. and instantly create a party-hub/dance music epicenter with such nonchalance?
In Australia, the Stafford Brothers are household names, thanks in part to a reality television show about their lives as DJs. Between the TV show, the party antics, and their good looks it would be easy to dismiss them as just a pair of pretty faces, but their musical roots and house credibility are not to be taken lightly. Now they’re leaving Aussie TV behind and turning their attention towards a career in America, kicking it off with “Hello.”
Born and raised in New Zealand, Matt and Chris Stafford grew up in a musical family. “My dad plays guitar and is actually making ukuleles at the moment,” says Matt of his musical provenance. “I also play guitar, Chris plays piano.”
“Come to a Stafford Christmas, everyone’s got instruments out,” adds Chris. “Tambourine Trish is my mom.”
The family moved to Australia when the boys were 17 and 15 years old and had started DJ-ing by the time they graduated high school. But it wasn’t until they won a trip to Ibiza in 2001 that their musical momentum took off.
“We went to Ibiza and we were blown away,” says Matt, citing DJ/producer Roger Sanchez’s “Another Chance” as an influential track. “We were buying vinyl and playing really hard stuff and we just changed to the house side. Chris had been producing for a while at that point, so we just shifted to that style.”
The contest that brought them to the Balearic Islands and Roger Sanchez, also brought them to Australian television for the first time. The premise of the reality TV contest show, as Matt explains, was “two guys, two girls to be taken to Ibiza as Australia’s biggest party animals. You had to send in a video. So we sent in one together and we won.”
Today, the Staffords are Australian EDM kingpins. They own three nightclubs in Gold Coast (the beach city party capital of Oz), run an agency that reps acts like TV Rock and Hook N Sling, and have released a string of singles on labels like Toolroom and Defected. A decade after their party-hard TV debut, Matt and Chris returned to television on their own show, simply titled “The Stafford Brothers.” The series follows the hunky, globetrotting DJs as they contend with their hot-tempered tour manager, Joey, the demands of Matt’s model-turned-DJ girlfriend, Brooke Evers, and the occasional antics of their party-ready parents.
After two seasons, they decided to take a break from the show to focus on breaking the U.S. market. “In Australia we are DJs first,” Chris explains. “The TV show came as a secondary thing. We’ve come over here as DJs.”
Part of that shift in focus includes a new U.S. management team, headed by Nasseri, who leads the new EDM division of the traditionally rap-oriented Blueprint Group (Joey remains a partner in the Staffords’ nightclub ventures) and a new deal with Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint of Cash Money Records. As the first EDM artist on the hip-hop roster, they’re now label mates with artists like Drake and Nicki Minaj. There’s also been a sort of re-branding of the Stafford Brothers experience. Timmy Trumpet, the Australian horn player/hypeman seen playing on stage with the Staffords on the TV show, has stayed behind. In his place is a man dressed in a kangaroo suit, known officially as Party Kangaroo.
“PK was an idea of management,” says Matt of the costumed marsupial. “He said ‘you guys should throw out inflatable kangaroos.’ I thought that wouldn’t be cool because in Australia that wouldn’t be cool. Then it was like, ‘What you should also get is a guy dressed as a kangaroo!’”
Now both inflatable and costumed kangaroos are fixtures of a Stafford Brothers performance, both designed to enhance the party experience to which the DJs are sincerely committed. As Stafford Brothers’ introduction to a truly global audience, the video for “Hello” strategically showcases all of these elements around a romantic storyline between Chris and Christina.
The real-life romance (or bad romance, as it were) that inspired the song came from its lyricist, Whitney Phillips. The demo Phillips produced with The City caught the ear of Lil Wayne last spring, and he expressed interest in doing a verse on it. Eventually, it was routed to Stafford Brothers, and then Milian through Blueprint label head Gee Roberson.
“There are so many eclectic elements in it,” Phillips says of the final recording. “You have an EDM track, with an emotional topline, with a vocal from someone who’s been known as an R&B singer doing a straight pop vocal, and then you have Lil Wayne coming in, and it’s all fronted by Australian DJs. Somewhere it gets its own chemistry.”
The chorus, “I never should have said hello / never should have let my eyes turn back / I was happy on my own,” was inspired by Phillips’ own experience with heartbreak, one that Millian says resonated with her.
“I love that it means something,” she said on set at the video shoot. “It’s not just a regular party song. It’s something I can relate to, and I think a lot of other people can."
“I have had somebody that I wish I didn’t get with,” she continues. “I met him at a party. I was 18 and of course I ended up dating him for 11 months. It was the craziest time of my life with this guy because he was a nutbag. He was one I probably should have passed by.”
The track is the debut release for both Milian and Stafford Brothers on Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint of Cash Money Records. In between filming for NBC singing competition “The Voice,” (on which she has the difficult job of talking with nervous contestants and making tweets sound interesting without being too edgy for quick, perky segments before throwing it back to Carson Daly) Milian has been in Miami working on her next album, which is slated to include “Hello.”
As the headline talent on a talent-heavy tune, the pressure is on the Staffords to take the momentum of “Hello” and make it a crossover hit for Young Money.
But regardless of how the song performs, there is little risk of Matt and Chris cracking under that pressure. Despite how amplified their lives might seem on a day when a music video is filming in their house, they keep things in perspective. “We’re both equally party animals,” Chris says, laughing. With a nod to the Party Kangaroo, he adds, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
It’s just after 10 at night by the time Lil Wayne shows up to the set, at least three hours after he was expected. Nobody seems to mind his lateness, and the rapper is quickly shuttled into place to film his scenes in the video. The Staffords thank him for coming, but he doesn’t stay to party with everyone when he's wrapped.
There’s one more sequence to shoot after he leaves – a festive scene with everyone crammed into the kitchen, jumping around and dancing. Even though it’s past midnight and most people have been on set since at 9 a.m., the partying doesn’t stop when the director says cut. After all, Stafford Brothers are here and they want you to have a damn good time, America.