Justin Bieber’s appreciation for R&B is palpable; it always has been, especially since his 2013 album Journals, an enduring critics’ favorite. There’s a force that’s been fueling such love — and assisting with Bieber’s evolving R&B sound — and that’s smash songwriter and producer Poo Bear and production duo The Audibles. Together, they’re the dream team behind some of Bieber’s biggest hits, including the recent Hot R&B Songs No. 1 “Intentions” featuring Quavo. The Las Vegas-bred Audibles, consisting of Dominic “DJ” Jordan and Jimmy Giannos, have been working with Bieber for seven years, across three projects (Journals, Purpose and now Changes).
With the chemistry they’ve built from years of collaborating and their shared love for the genre, The Audibles have crafted addictive beats for Bieber to turn into hits — as is the case with Bieber’s fifth full-length studio album, Changes. The Audibles have been working on Changes for “probably a year,” says Giannos. The creative process is seamless at this point, and with that comes more instant moments of realizing that they have a hit (or hits) on their hands. The week Bieber released Changes, The Audibles talked with Billboard about the making of the album, their long-lasting working relationship with Bieber and Poo Bear, and their own upcoming album, Do Cool Shit with Your Friends.
How was the creative process behind Changes? Did you hit the ground running when you knew there was an album to work on?
Jimmy Giannos: That (Changes) was our main focus right when Poo Bear was starting to work on it, and Justin was ready to work on it.
Dominic “DJ” Jordan: We had a general idea of the direction that Justin wanted from us. Poo Bear would say, ‘Let’s make this type of record’ or ‘this type of record,’ and we’d just cook up and submit it to Poo and Justin, and they’d write to them. They would have a board, a pin board, [where] they’d put the songs that they cut and the songs they really loved. Old songs would be taken off, new songs would be put on.
Giannos: This project…it’s always so easy to work on these projects. We just make what we love. This is our favorite type of music: R&B. And we all have such good chemistry. They usually love what we love.
What was the guidance or direction that Poo Bear gave you?
Giannos: We just do the type of music we love; after working with them for so many years we all are on the same page on our love on R&B. What we’d submit, they’d love from jump.
DJ: We’d typically make five beats. Say they want something uptempo, we’d make five beats and the first beat they’d be like, ‘Load it up. Put it on.’ It’s always been that process. Whatever we’d make, they love.
What were some memorable moments from making the songs that made the cut?
Giannos: I’d say on “Intentions”…The feeling we all got when the song was finished; we all knew it had single potential. It was a really exciting moment.
DJ: We made the record — the drums and everything stayed the same, but Justin came back to us and said he didn’t like the main identity. We had to go back in, and it was crunch time because he wanted it in an hour or two. We drove back to our boy’s, Trent, house in North Hollywood. We had our speakers set up on his kitchen dining table. We made the melody part of the beat for that song and submitted it as quick as we could. He ended up loving it, and that’s what stayed for what “Intentions” is now.
Travis [Scott] was on tour at the time. Poo had to fly from Morocco to London, and basically be with him the whole time to get him into the studio, because he was so busy.
Giannos: While in L.A., he (Travis) was supposed to come through and record the verse; he kept getting busy. Poo happened to be working in Morocco, and he (Travis) happened to be performing in London. Poo Bear had to fly there and stick with him all night. Poo was joking, saying he had to kidnap him and stay at his show and take him back to the studio.
DJ: He even said was under the stage, where you pop out. He [was] hanging out under there until the show was done. [Laughs]
Were you guys in the studio or a part of the recording of other songs with featured guests?
Giannos: Quavo happened just before the release. It was an unexpected last-minute thing, because the song didn’t have a feature or a spot for it. It was after [our] change.
DJ: The production and songwriting side is a major piece of the puzzle, but as a producer it doesn’t stop there. We have to make sure it’s mixed properly. I want to shout out Josh Gudwin, who was working hours, tirelessly, on the project. He works out of Henson Recording Studios. He called us to give us some last-minute notes. You can tell he was going so hard, every single day. Jimmy, Josh, and I sat there doing last-minute tweaks on the album to make sure everything was just perfect. It literally came down to the point where the album needed to be turned in the next day, and Josh was sending us records to fix with his final notes. [On] “Running Over,” for instance, there was a weird sound he couldn’t figure out. He sent us the “Running Over” song to try to figure out what was causing this weird buzz, and we also told him that we wanted Justin’s vocals a dB louder. He’s like, ‘Bro, the album needs to be turned around tomorrow and I want to get everything right!’ He had such passion for the project. Thankfully we were using the same speakers; it’s like driving the same race car. We’re able to listen to the same things, [because] we’re using the same tools.
A lot of last-minute touches. You did say though that you knew “Intentions” was a hit right when you finished it. Were there other moments like that?
DJ: All the beats that made the album, we felt were special. Before we actually submitted them to Justin and Poo, we knew in our hearts [that] these were the songs we wanted to play first.
We made a batch of four or five that we’d bring to the studio; the records that you hear on the album were the first beats we played. As soon as we played them, the eyes in the room lit up. You know, when you’re making a beat you have to listen to it hundreds and hundreds of times. It’s on loop [while] you’re working on the sounds, the drums…the sonics of everything. If it gets old and you’re tired of hearing it, there’s a good chance that it’s not amazing. If you can listen to it over and over again and think it’s not getting old, or falling on deaf ears, then you can gauge that it’s a great record or going to be a great record.
Giannos: I have another story. We had just finished one of the songs while in the studio, and Poo was on his way out to a meeting. We happened to put on the “Come Around Me” beat. He was like, ‘Damn,’ cause he had to rush out the door. He liked the beat a lot and he literally wrote that song in 15-20 minutes. He was recording it and rushing out the door. Justin came in later and added his parts to the bridge and finished the ending. That was pretty crazy for me to watch.
We’re so much on the same page. Since 10 years [ago], it went from us having to play five to eight beats to find that one, to now it’s damn near the first beat that’s the one. We know what everyone likes.
How’s it been working with Poo Bear, specifically on this album?
Giannos: He’s our favorite person to work with; even after all these years, watching his work and putting his magic over our beats is a special feeling.
DJ: He’s a genius. Justin and Poo Bear together, they just get each other. They bounce ideas off one another. They have great chemistry on the writing side. We’re huge fans of R&B, and since we’ve known Justin we’ve always known he’s loved R&B also. He’s a big fan of R&B. We like the same songs. We like the same artists.
Any type of R&B you were listening to or inspired by when making Changes?
DJ: Mainly ’90s R&B. That’s our go-to for inspiration.
Giannos: Journals is more ’90s influenced, but on this one we tried to make a new kind of R&B with newer sounds and newer bounce. A little more out-of-the-box R&B.
How’s Bieber’s growth looked like from your perspective? You’ve been working with him throughout his career.
Giannos: He keeps getting better. I think he really shines on many songs on this album. His pitch, his runs…he just keeps getting better.
DJ: You can definitely tell from Journals to Purpose to now that his sound has elevated. He continues to elevate. His pitch, his feelings on this record are out of his world and his pocket.
Giannos: Especially on songs where there’s no drums. That’s where you can tell if someone’s a good singer — if they can kill the record with only the piano or guitar.
Were there any songs that you produced that didn’t make the cut that you can talk about?
Giannos: I don’t think we can give titles, but you might end up seeing some of those records in the future, on possibly some of his later projects that come out in the future that necessarily didn’t fit this tracklist.
What are you trying to achieve with what you’re currently working on?
DJ: We want to push the culture forward, not just in R&B, but in all genres. We’re working on our own album. It has a plethora of different genres that are incorporated in who we are and our expression of music. We don’t just make R&B or hip-hop; we’ve produced a full-on reggae album that [was] up for a Grammy [for] best reggae album (Common Kings’ Lost in Paradise). We’ve done country records with Zac Brown. We’re working on our own project that I’m so proud of. I know Jimmy is as well. [We’re] trying to bring something that hasn’t been heard in a while.
We’re making what we love. Music has no boundaries. Society has to put sounds and songs into boxes, but to us music is expression. It’s [about] how you’re feeling at the time. Just because a certain cadence or certain drum patterns or tempo or certain sounds are used, people like to put it in some genre. If we love music, there’s only two types of music: good or bad.
Are there any challenges in creating your very own project?
DJ: Definitely not. When you’re the deciding factor — me and Jimmy are the deciding factors — the only obstacle we have is that we want it to be perfect. This is our first project that’s going to showcase who we are as creators. We want the world to understand that we love all genres, we’re trying to bring something fresh and new that people aren’t hearing. It’s easy in the sense that we’re creating what we love, but more so the only obstacle that we’re having is that we want it to be perfect. We want people to be blown away and ask, ‘Who are these guys?’
Giannos: There’s no label deadline. There isn’t anyone else to worry about besides ourselves making the best music we can.
If you guys are bringing in collaborators, are you bringing them in as you’re creating or waiting after most of it is done?
DJ: We have our go-to guys that we work with like Poo, our artists that are signed to us. A couple other people we’re going to gun for as far as features, besides our go-to guys, like Tone Stith who is out of this world, amazing.
Should we share the name of the album, Jimmy? It ties with the concept of what it’s all about. The title of the album is called, Do Cool Shit with Your Friends (well, Do Cool Stuff with Your Friends). That’s what we do all day, we do cool shit with our friends. If people love it, we make money off of it.
Giannos: We’re also working with one of our artists, LAZR. He’s a rapper, songwriter. We’re really excited about him and his project. He wrote a lot of songs on our upcoming project, as well as he’ll be featured on it. [LAZR’s single “Cash App” will be coming out this spring, and his album Blawsome later this year.]