Latin Grammys 2018

GTA Manifests the Best Possible Destiny on Debut Album 'Good Times Ahead': 'We Are Definitely Artists Now'

Jasmine Safaeian
GTA

Julio Mejia was a bit anxious as he waited in his parents' suburban Miami home. It was so random: He'd only talked to this dude a few times on Facebook, and now he was getting scooped to hang IRL, but his productions were super-clean, and he seemed cool enough. If anyone could teach Mejia to produce rap beats like a professional, it was Matt Toth.

That first day, the two freshly graduated high schoolers just kind of hung out. Mejia picked Toth's brain about technique, between blaring music breaks. It turns out they both loved Pharrell, were both completely obsessed with System of a Down, and both had an interest in the growing dance music scene. They screamed in unison to every word of Serj Tankian's lyrics, they made weird beats, then they did it again the next day.

“We were just feeding off of each other's vibe,” Mejia says. “Every single time we go to the studio, we bounce ideas off each other. It's a very mutual thing, and it's always been like that since the beginning.”

“The only thing that's changed now is the mentality we have toward what we're trying to make,” Toth echoes. “We're not trying to make anything to sound like anyone. We're confident enough in our abilities to just create and not think about what we're trying to do with it.”

Not over-thinking has brought big things to GTA. Mejia and Toth teamed up under the “Good Times Ahead” acronym and quickly became one of Miami's biggest acts. They moved to Los Angeles to chase the dream, and opened for Rihanna's world tour. They've collaborated with Diplo, A-Trak, Laidback Luke and many more. They headlined their first bus tour, and now they're taking their second in support of their biggest accomplishment yet: a star-studded, Billboard charting 10-track debut album, Good Times Ahead.

“We literally did everything that you hear,” Toth says. “We recorded it in our studio, mixed it down, helped write all the lyrics and stuff. We really made these ideas and songs from nothing, and just being able to do that was something we've never done – and doing it in that kind of format, where it doesn't have a crazy build up and festival drop.”

GTA live by the creed “death to genres.” Good Times Ahead lead track "True Romance" opens not with synths or bass or even the sound of space-age lasers, but with birds chirping, a church-bell toll, and a Spanish prayer to a guardian angel. The melody that follows is a wonky R&B vision of love through a psychedelic veil, featuring coy vocals from the classically trained, quatra-lingual singer Jarina De Marco.

“'True Romance' enhanced the whole experience of writing an album,” Mejia says. “You have to really take a leap, and [for us] that was just trying to actually write a song out, arrange it, think about it, and not have it be in a club format. That was actually the first time we took songwriting seriously.”

The second track opens with clacking hand percussion and descends into a dark, off-kilter, experimental beat. If the Twilight Zone had a hip-hop soundtrack, it would be “Little Bit of This.” No wonder Vince Staples signed on to be the song's featured MC.

“We sent an email to his team and showed him the track,” Toth says. “A day or two later, he sent back pretty much all the vocals that you hear on the song. He's such an awesome dude, such a real artist, a really creative dude.”

“The beats that he likes to pick, they're pretty abstract,” Mejia says. “There's always something more to be explored. It was an honor to work with him.”

Good Times Ahead continues down an unpredictable path, with features from fellow dance artists What So Not and Wax Motif, as well as cross-genre guests from Tinashe to Iamsu! The later recently joined GTA on stage for the duo's show at LA's Shrine theater. It was GTA's biggest headlining performance to date

“When you get to work with really creative people, that's what you get -- our album,” Toth says. “We're just so happy and proud of this whole thing that we've done; this whole tour, the whole team, and everyone that we have now. We feel like real artists. We have a bus tour. We have an album. It's crazy. We feel like we are definitely artists now, and it's pretty fucking awesome.”