For Nathaniel Motte and Sean Foreman, co-founders of the Boulder, Colorado-based band, 3OH!3, it was love at first sight. The two then-aspiring artists, who’d already spent years dabbling in making songs individually, met in a mid-level physics class at the University of Colorado years ago. A “bromance” quickly brewed. On that fateful day, Motte had noticed that Foreman was wearing a very obscure but very tasteful band t-shirt and a conversation ensued. Ever since that meeting in class, the duo has created a great deal of music together. First the idea was to mess around and make beats and freestyle but that soon turned into a more realized project. Motte and Foreman, who started 3OH!3 from humble Colorado beginnings, have since collaborated with the likes of pop star Katy Perry and rapper Lil John. This year, the band has released new songs, including the latest single, “I’M SO SAD,” and, they say, a new record is in the works and is expected later this year.
“I looked at this kid sitting there wearing one of my favorite band’s t-shirts,” Motte says. “We locked eyes and never looked back.”
When listening to the often-electronic music of 3OH!3, it’s impossible not to hear the many influences embedded in each of the two co-founding members. They both grew up in basement hip-hop culture in Colorado, influenced by movies like Eminem’s 8 Mile as much as they were by records from their parents’ collections, like the Grateful Dead, the Beatles and Buddy Guy. As a result, the music 3OH!3 makes today bounces from style to style, cadence to cadence. In one moment the band may sound like the elastic emcees, the Beastie Boys. In another, the vibe may be more like the Foo Fighters. Of course, in each song, the duo keeps true to their joyful ebullience. As much as any note or riff, Motte and Foreman care about their fans and audiences feeling invested by simply having fun.
“It’s amorphous in a sense,” Motte says, “in that it draws from our musical inspirations, which are wide and varied. But something we learned early on in the underground hip-hop scene is that shows should be less of a one-way performance. We’re more into rocking a party and making the audience feel as integral as we are.”
One of the ways in which the duo makes sure their fans keep smiles on their faces is by being self-deprecating. The band’s newest single touches on the idea of aging, which can be especially perilous if you’re a pop star (“I’m a middle-aged cliché,” Foreman sings wryly). Yet, the duo addresses it in such self-flagellating ways that they overcome it.
“As a band, we’ve tried to really not be hubristic,” Motte says. “We’re self-deprecating about our own stations in life. It’s therapeutic. In some ways, getting older sucks and in some ways it’s awesome. We’re obviously not going to write the same things now as we did in our twenties. So, we can lean into things that we find therapeutic in our lyrics and find funny and creatively fulfilling to get out.”
Foreman says he remembers his older brother collecting vinyl albums when they were younger. Through their adjacent bedroom walls, Foreman listened to his brother spin records and freestyle with his friends. He was enamored with the elements of hip-hop culture that he overheard, including breaking and graffiti writing. He and his brother would later enter freestyle battles, traveling as far as Cincinnati to do so.
“It was athletic, in a way,” Foreman says. “You were doing it as it was coming into your head, there was muscle memory. There was something really fun about it, and communal.”
Later, as 3OH!3 began to take root in venues around Boulder and Denver and beyond, the duo were forced to make a choice. They’d played sold out gigs and earned popularity with their music on the internet, but would it become their careers? Around 2008, Motte had plans to go to medical school. But it was then that 3OH!3 got an offer to play on the prestigious Warped Tour. They agreed and it was there that they first met and bonded with Perry, who would later feature on the band’s track, “STARSTRUKK.”
“That’s when it started to dawn on me,” Motte says. “That this hobby was transforming into something approaching a career.”
The band is quick to thank Colorado for the rocket fuel for its initial takeoff, which has since brought Motte and Foreman and their plethora of songs around the world to places like Sweden, the U.K. and beyond.
“We owe everything to Colorado,” Motte says.
This year, the band will release its next LP, Need, which is a play off their 2008 album, Want. The idea is to signify a return to its original form but also to heighten the necessity with which the two are making that sonic return. If nothing else, the past twelve months (and twelve years) have taught the band members how necessary music is in their lives. Whether recalling what it was like growing up as individuals, what it was like to first meet one another or pondering what their future might hold, music is the thread that binds each new step.
“Music is a part of the tapestry that defines my experience,” Foreman says. “If I don’t have music on in my house, I’m missing a dimension.”
“Music has become fundamental in my life,” Motte says. “It’s like a long-lost friend.”