PRETTYMUCH On Boy Band Life & Debut Single “Would You Mind”: Interview
From Westlife to One Direction, Simon Cowell has an impeccable track record of launching boy bands. And the music mogul’s winning streak should continue with PRETTYMUCH. Comprised of teenagers Brandon Arreaga, Nick Mara, Zion Kuwonu, Austin Porter and Edwin Honoret, the quintet is brimming with potential. For starters, there is no weak link. They can all sing (really well) and deliver dance moves not seen since the ’90s. When you combine that raw talent with access to pop’s hottest writers and producers, magic happens.
I recently caught up with the fledgling hitmakers at a rehearsal space in Hollywood and found out more about the audition process and their earliest memories of each other. They also opened up about their love for ’90s R&B, a genre that shapes their ruthlessly catchy debut single, “Would You Mind” (out today). Other topics of conversation include their thoughts on being in a boy band, dealing with high expectations and the fact that Ed Sheeran wrote them a song. Get to know PRETTYMUCH a little better in our Q&A below.
How was the group put together?
Edwin: We were doing our own thing individually on Youtube. Dancing around, just doing our own thing. Sony Music, Simon Cowell scouted us, brought us together and from then on it just clicked. We’ve been homies and that’s how the process started, met each other and that’s the vibe.
Zion: We’ve just been working together for the past year now, just good friends, just making music, dancing.
Do you remember the first time you all met?
Austin: I remember the first time I met everybody. I remember Brandon specifically, just because it was kind of like, we all met Brandon in a sense and then I remember meeting the other guys. Brandon was just really funny to me.
Brandon: My hair… I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was like, “This is kind of cool. I seen this person do this.” I had these rectangle glasses. I had my hair shaped all the way up, super-long at the top and a ponytail. I was wearing a skinny, skinny shirt.
Edwin: I was like, “What is this guy doing?” Once I saw him dance and sing I was like, “All right, we’ll keep him.”
Nick: We all could have used some stylists back then.
Brandon: We look back at pictures and there’s one in particular. Everyone of us is wearing something totally whack. We’re looking at us like, “Who are these guys?”
Nick: Edwin was the first person I met. I opened the door and he was walking in with me. That was the first I heard of him. I saw him and then after that I just vibed with him. Zion, the first thing I remember him saying was how he got in trouble for throwing a party, because his parents weren’t home. He got in so much trouble. Right off the bat I was like, “That’s cool. He’s a dope kid.” Austin, as soon as I saw him I was like, “Damn, where are you from?” He was like, “North Carolina, small town, two traffic lights.”
Austin: Three traffic lights.
Nick: Three? I was like, “Well, I can tell.” Now it’s all cool. We get along just fine.
Edwin: My first impression of Nick was that I had the same shirt he had, it was a vinyl shirt. He had it tied up all the way to the top. I was like, “Bro, why is this guy’s shirt buttoned all the way up to the top?” It was choking him.
Austin: He’s got bigger shirts now.
What was the first song you sang together as a group?
Zion: Well, all of us together was “Hotline Bling.”
Brandon: So here’s the story. The rest of the guys were scouted first. I was supposed to meet with them in New York, but me and my parents thought it was fake. I didn’t end up getting involved until later by luck, because they did one more sweep around the US going different places. After we met, we started working. As soon as we met, it was like, “This is tight.”
What was that first performance of “Hotline Bling” like?
Austin: It was so bad. It actually took us so long. It took forever… like Edwin said, we had been used to doing our own thing. We were kind of finding our way. It was a small adjustment period for us to get used to like, “Okay, we’ve got to blend together. We’ve got to figure out how to look the same when we’re dancing.” For everything, it took a little bit of an adjustment. It also became an advantage because now it’s like, “Oh, now I can rely on each other.” We can lean on each other. Now it’s like super-tight.
Did you always aspire to be in a boy band?
Brandon: For me, I definitely wasn’t looking for a boy band. I don’t think I was closed-minded to it. I just never really thought about it, and so when they told us about it, I was like, “Okay.” Then, when I started thinking about it, I was like, “This could actually be super-sick.” I can’t imagine doing this on my own, it would be so lonely. They’re my bros.
Nick: At first, I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t know what I was doing with myself. I was maybe a year into singing, because I was doing it as a hobby. It was right before I was about to graduate from high school, when I got this call from the workshop. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll try it out. If it doesn’t take me anywhere time to start looking at colleges.”
Once I found out it was a group thing I was like, “Well, I’m used to this,” because I was originally part of a dance group with a bunch of guys. I knew that whole camaraderie, brotherhood thing. At the same time I was like, “Damn, I must have a thing for guy groups, or it’s just meant to be.” Like Brandon said, I’m glad that it’s a group thing, because I don’t know if I would be able to do this just by myself.
Edwin: The guys know, it’s not even a secret, I love The Backstreet Boys. It was almost like I was destined to be in a boy band. I can’t imagine doing this by myself. This is so much more fun being in a group. Even when we’re not working, we’re still having fun. I couldn’t imagine going to rehearsals and then coming home and then being by myself like, “What do I do now?”
Zion: It’s funny. Basically, I used to hate singing because I was the only guy that could sing. I didn’t wanna be the only guy that could sing. I thought people would make fun of me. I’m really shy. I finally started singing, because I realized it could help me pick up girls, so then I started singing a little bit.
Then — Shout out to my boy Justin Bieber — I watched Never Say Never. I was like, “Oh, my god. I wanna do that.” I mean, I didn’t think it would happen at all. I was just like, “How dope would that be.” A couple of years go by. What do you wanna do with your life? I’m like, “I wanna be famous,” as a joke. I didn’t think anything of it. Two years later I’m in boy band. Side note, me and my homies love One Direction. Being in a boy band is dope.
Austin: I was a solo artist, if that would’ve continued… Oh, god I don’t even wanna think about it. It would be bad. When I joined I was crusty. I was the definition of basic, just came out of high school white kid. It was really good this happened to me. Otherwise I just would’ve just been looking crusty.
Zion mentioned One Direction. With Simon being involved, people have really high expectations. Do you think about that?
Zion: It all fun for us. When go to the studio, we’re just vibing together. We wanna make music that people can dance to. It’s not like we’re setting this huge goal, which obviously would be nice. We’re just making sure that when we do what we’re doing it’s to the best of our ability.
Edwin: Obviously success is the goal. You wanna be successful. I mean as long as we’re keeping the fans happy, and we’re doing what we enjoy then, that’s all that matters. I mean, I love One Direction. I listen to their music all the time. Our genre and our style is different. It’s a completely different market. I feel like people are just gonna make the comparison. At the end of the day it’s just great music.
How did you settle on a sound?
Austin: It was a process. We went through a couple of things. A lot of it was rooted in all the music that we enjoy listening to. We have a big pool of music that I feel like we all love listening to. If this is what we all vibe with, it will be reflected in the music we make. We just try to do it in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Nick: Pulling from old influences, trying to add some New Jack Swing in there, just to keep it uptempo and keep things moving. A lot of the sound is making sure that everybody’s up and dancing and having a great time.
It’s interesting that you mentioned New Jack Swing. “Would You Mind” sounds very ’90s. Were you even born then? How do you discover that genre?
Brandon: We have pretty good taste in music. I think a lot of us like different genres. We all listen to a lot of older stuff anyway. Our parents obviously brought us up listening to certain stuff. My dad showed me a lot of Boyz II Men, Bobby Brown, that kind of era. That has super-heavily influenced me too.
Nick: For me, why I’m so knowledgeable of that era is because of my dancing, because a lot of that music was driven by dances too. Bell Biv DeVoe. You play “Poison,” there are certain moves that you would see. Just studying dance you learn so many different genres of music. I think that’s where we get it from, because at the end of the day we dance too. We like to get down. We wanna pull from those times.
Edwin: If you love something you kind of wanna do your research. That’s just another thing that goes into it. At one point we all sat down and watched Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall.
Austin: When I was growing up, I kind of had this weird little epiphany that all music has a place and a reason. I started to go through and listen to lots of types of music. From there I found the types that I love.
My interpretation of “Would You Mind” is that it’s about approaching someone at a club. Was it based on a real-life experience?
Entire group: Yeah!
Brandon: The amount of times one of us have said, “I don’t know if I should talk to her. It’s always…
Nick: It’s that question.
Edwin: You never know the answer. Would she mind?
Zion: No, no, no this is how I think of it. If you see a girl and she thinks she’s attractive you could either go up to her, holler, try to do your thing. And she says, no at least you tried. If you walk away she’s gonna say no anyway.
I heard some of your other songs and they sound very different to “Would You Mind.”
Brandon: We pull from so many different things. We’ve got a communal pool of stuff and just so many other influences. We just don’t wanna be pinned down to just one sound. I think just us five have a distinct sound as it is. The fact that we can do different vibes, I think is pretty special. We just like to try an experiment with that.
Edwin: Also, there are no rules anymore in the music industry. Drake released a playlist. Ed Sheeran had two singles at once.
Brandon: That’s facts.
Edwin: Shout out to Simon Cowell for giving us creative freedom.
You mentioned Ed Sheeran. He wrote a song for you. How did that come about?
Nick: It’s super-crazy. It actually came from our manager, who’s really good friends with Ed. He kind of just put the word in his ear, “There’s this boy band.” I guess Ed said he was interested. The song that he wrote for us came out of the same session as “Shape of You.” That speaks for itself. It’s kind of crazy for us to even think about. We’re just really grateful that he took that chance on us. Hopefully, we can just do it justice.
How did you choose the name PRETTYMUCH?
Zion: So basically, me and my friend we just do stupid stuff. One of my friends just started talking in this baby voice and then we all started doing it. Then when I joined the group, I brought it to them and then me and Brandon started doing it. The word that sounded most funny in the voice was Pretty Much.
Austin: We had thought of so many names. We just said Pretty Much as a joke, because we were talking in voices. Then it was like, “Wait… this could be something.”
Edwin: We were sitting in a restaurant and we were talking. We were just like, “We have to come up with a name, guys.” We were just throwing adjectives and nouns together and then it just became stupid.
Austin: That’s when we realized we were thinking way too hard.
Zion: We love PrettyMuch. It just works.