Today (March 10), the duo premieres their debut Homecoming EP with Billboard exclusively. The pair hopped on a quick call to discuss how they came together, their musical background, and what the group wants fan to take away from their music.
Get more familiar and check out their new EP below.
Where does the name Ambassadors of Earth come from?
Dawaun: When we were thinking that we wanted to think about our philosophies and sensibilities in music. We wanted to be people that represented what the best of humanity was. If they were to send someone from here to represent the music section of what earthlings do, we would like to be part of that group. And so that's what "Ambassadors" stem from. Not just that we hope for now, but something that we aspire to be. That we hope to be worthy enough to be ambassadors.
Walk through the journey of creating this EP. Did you start out with a concept, and build out songs from that or did you maybe start off with a song and say, "We can actually build a whole project around this"?
Dawaun: We knew that we wanted to make a body of work. We didn't know if it was going to be an EP, an album or just a few songs but we knew that we wanted to start in the same room by building some music, playing and jamming out. We took about two months and we went into a really cool studio that had a bunch of instruments. We just played all the instruments and recorded. Then Phil started to get some ideas, and started to go into his cave and writing.
Phil: Yeah, it was a really good way to start the record. We started together and pretty much built from what I ended up completing in my room. Usually how it works is I'll take the basic outline of the song that we built from the ground up and start writing lyrics to them. Whatever the emotion or the mood of the music, I let that inform me as to what kind of lyrics I'd be writing for it. From there, it was just a race to the finish line.
Going back a little bit, how did you two come together? When did you meet and how did you decide to come together as a duo?
Dawaun: We both went to Berklee College of Music. and it was there that we made mutual friends. So a few years ago out here in L.A, there was a birthday party and we ran into each other. We knew each other but hadn't really spoken. And there's always an instrument around at a Berklee party so there was a keyboard around or a piano or something. I heard Phil play a couple of chords, and just right away, I knew that he had ears. that he had talent from just the style of what he played. That's when we just connected and it was like let's get together, and play some music sometime. Once we realized we were both so similar on that end, it sprung from there.
In a world where people sometimes learn from the school of life or school of hard knocks, why do you feel like traditional music education is important?
Phil: Well, I think our backgrounds definitely inform us in the way we approach music. We both had some background in jazz, international music, Brazilian music, all this other kind of stuff we just really love that made us fall in love with making music. So when Dawaun and I got together, we were able to really geek out about that stuff in a way I wasn't able to with a lot of other people. So to me, our backgrounds in education was something that bonded us, made us closer together.
Dawaun: Definitely. For me, going to Berklee was invaluable. It was the first time I was around so many people who loved the music as much as I did, and I was exposed to so much music I hadn't heard before -- things that I thought I was familiar with that I really wasn't familiar with. That really informed me a lot to when I started working out here in L.A. and then definitely when I connected with Phil. We were able to communicate really easily. The very first song that we made together, a lot of the edits and things we were able to do over the phone because I could say "the second chord" and we knew what we were talking about. Just that ease made me say, we are going to be able to do another song easily. And then the next song, even more easily. So I would say that [musical education's] had a tremendous impact in my life, and also I always push it and recommend it to anybody who's considering music. I say you know you can get a deal without going to school, but studying your craft in some way and perfecting it is only going to make you stronger.
Dawaun, how does your background in hip-hop production, working with Aftermath, inform your contributions to AOE?
Sonically is probably what I say is the biggest thing. I've been viewed with a standard working with Dre all those years that I was able to. [The music] was able to knock a certain way, for it to be a certain clarity, for the sound to have a certain level of professionalism. And I think that I've learned things about space, and production as a whole that I hope carries over and informs what I do now. But musically, I try to start from a really fresh place. There's not really a lot in a musical direction, or a motif choice I'm trying to carry over. We're really coming from a completely open mind whenever we can. It can start with a core progression. It can start with a drum loop. It can start with Phil singing something. We just try to go where we feel the music and the vibe is leading.
I went to AOE's show last week at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles and saw the whole set-up. Between each of you, what instruments do you play?
Dawaun: Let me go first since I only play a couple. I play keys basically as my main instrument but drums is my first instrument. There's a track on the EP, "Gone" where I'm playing a live drum set on that but those are my two instruments and that's it.
Phil: You vocalize as well. You rap. Dawaun's got a really nice singing voice actually. When you catch him in the studio and no one is listening. I sing, I play keys, trumpet, and a few other things like programming, guitar, bass.
Dawaun: He's playing all those things on the record. He plays violin.
Phil: Violin was my oldest instrument. My mom gave a violin to me when I was four years old. It was literally a wooden spoon with a string on it. We call it a fiddle stick. So I played the fiddle stick for the year, and then they graduated me to a small violin. I played violin for 13 years, and kind of moved to trumpet and piano before heading to Berklee. Those were kind of my instruments of choice at the time.
What kind of milestone will make you feel like AOE has arrived?
Dawaun: There's been some goals we have been able to achieve, believe it or not. Really, someone saying that the stuff is dope and acknowledging that is really so much of the battle. That's how hard we are on ourselves and how seriously we take the music. The fact that we were able to get a deal and be signed to what I think is arguably the greatest rap label of all time is a great testament to us that we're on the path that we're supposed to be on.
From then on, I kind of been wanting to keep my expectations open and not have any particular set of things because the times change. Before, a few years ago, you wanted to sell a certain amount but there wasn't streaming then. Now with streaming, you're willing to sell only this amount and that's considered great. It's all different styles so just us being acknowledged and able to move forward, and have one more fan than we did the day before makes me feel like we are on the right path.
Phil, what do you want people to take from your music, specifically this EP?
Phil: I think the message is don't be afraid to look inside. We were on this mission to find the newest sound and to explore, and to look for things we haven't heard before. Really, the EP is a collection of experiments after having come out of that place where we really tried to analyze what was going on emotionally, our social environment or lack thereof. We kind of trickled down into our unconscious and what music that would make. A lot of the songs are kind of pleading just to be okay with yourself, to be okay in your surroundings so if anybody connects on that level and feels like they are a little strange in the world, maybe there are some allies out there with them, some other aliens that they can relate to. I think that's pretty much all I could hope for.
Dawaun: I think that people in society have a tendency to look outward for answers to try and find solutions to problems or the truth or to improve -- and we got to look within ourselves. The answers are here -- the answers aren't out there -- and that's kind of like what we've learned and the conclusion we've come to with homecoming, and that's basically what the EP is saying.