Photos by Erez Avissar
It is one of those comically beautiful afternoons in May when the sidewalks of Manhattan are drenched in gold and somehow don’t smell like piss. Even the two chronically grouchy men outside a corner store in the East Village have uncrossed their arms and are smiling at the stream of sun-drunk pedestrians walking byincluding Krewella bandmates and sisters Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf, both dressed in body-hugging, all-black outfits from a recent shopping trip to VFILES. Aged 26 and 24 respectively, they’ve just stepped out from the shadows of a restaurant next door, and are scanning Avenue A for a scenic spot where our photographer can take some pictures for this interview. Suddenly, Yasmine’s eyes light up.
“Tompkins Square Park! It’s like the Mumford and Sons song!” she says, pointing at a metal placard with a hand covered in snaking tattoos, her brown eyes wide with childlike glee. Without a hint of self-consciousness, she starts singing sweetly, “Oh babe, meet me in Tompkins Square Park…” Jahan, whose angular cheekbones stands in contrast to Yasmine’s baby-faced features, joins in with a sardonic grin: “I wanna hold you in the dark…” Clutching each other’s elbows, the sisters double forward in contagious laughter.
Learning to laugh at themselves hasn’t always been easy for Jahan and Yasmine, who for the last two years have been subject to intense online scrutiny due to a highly publicizedand very uglylegal battle with former bandmate Kris “Rainman” Trindl, who left the group in 2014. (Trindl and Jahan also dated from 2006 to 2011.)
Back in 2012, Jahan, Yasmine and Kris were the new faces of the burgeoning EDM movementcharismatic poster kids for rolling face to nasty dubstep drops, thrashing your wet hair against thousands of sweaty strangers, and giving in to every impulse. The Yousafs acted as the group’s vocalists and songwriters, while Trindl produced the beats. Together, they developed a trademark sound that hijacks every nerve in your body and blasts you into a confetti cannon of mindless euphoria: sweet and synthetic pop hooks floating over chainsaw basslines that sound like Transformers kicking each other in the testicles. The video for one of their early hits, “Alive,”which currently has 53 million views on YouTubefollows a group of hot teens hooking up amidst an apocalyptic demolition derby. It perfectly sums up their visual brand: dirty, playful, sexy, unstoppable.
After winning an International Dance Music Award in 2012 for “Best Breakthrough Artist,” the trio headlined major festivals like Ultra, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Stereosonic. Their 2013 debut album, Get Wetwhich mixed hardstyle, electro, and dubstep with stadium rock, and featured guests like Blink-182’s Travis Barker and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stumpreached #1 on Billboard’s US Dance charts. At a time when main stages were dominated by Tiesto, Hardwell, Martin Garrix, Zedd, Avicii, and Disclosure, the Yousafswho proudly talk about growing up in a Muslim family with a Pakistani fatherfelt like refreshing outlier next to the brigade of bland white men in black V-necks. They were also one of the few female-fronted acts in a male-dominated scenelike Nervo, but more raw.
Krewella’s fiery rise sputtered out in March 2014, when Trindl missed a flight to headline at Electric Daisy Carnival in Mexico City. According to Jahan and Yasmine’s countersuit, this final straw prompted them to stage an intervention in an attempt to curb a drinking problem they said Trindl had developed in tandem with the band’s rising profile. Per court documents THUMP obtained, Trindl refused to enter a treatment program, and in September 2014, he sued Jahan and Yasmine for $5 million, alleging that he’d been unfairly removed from the group and cut out of his equal share of their future revenue. In the transcript from his lawsuit, Trindl admitted he drank to deal with the pressure of success, and accused the sisters of not being supportive of his sobriety following an earlier stint in rehab in 2013, stating that they “didn’t like the new, sober Kris” and “thought he was depressed.” Trindl also claimed that the girls only wanted him to check into a facility so so they could establish themselves as a duo, squeeze him out of the group, and make more money for themselves going forward.
In November 2014, the Yousafs countersued, claiming in their lawsuit that it had been Trindl’s choice to resign. They also noted that Trindl had refused to learn how to DJ for their live shows, wasn’t holding up his end of production duties due to missed studio sessions, and had acted belligerently on tour due to his alcohol abuse. The spat quickly got messy after the court documents circulated by the Hollywood Reporter. The media started obsessively scrutinizing every new development in the story, with TMZ salaciously reporting that Trindl had been “forced out” for “being too sober.” At one point in 2014, the fallout became the number one trending topic on Facebook. Deadmau5 jumped in with a sexist Tweet, advising would-be trios like Krewella not to “fire the guy who actually does shit.”
In December 2014, Jahan penned an op-ed in response to Deadmau5’s tweet, writing, “It’s almost as if being the female in the group, it’s assumed that you are purely there as a puppet and completely void of any musical abilities, creativity, or vision… I am asking for everyone to think about girls who are looking at this public reaction who might now be discouraged to pursue an authentic place in a male-dominated industry.”
However, other than the op-ed and their first single as a duothe not-so-subtly-titled “Say Goodbye,” where the girls sing, “Read my lips and shut my face/Maybe you’re the one to blame… The truth is going to find you”the Yousafs refrained from commenting further on the breakup. In fact, they practically disappeared from the limelight, taking a hiatus from their (normally very active) social media accounts. They declined interview requests from the media, including my own attempts to find out their side of the story, explaining via their publicist that they had been advised by their lawyers not to talk about the ongoing lawsuit.
In August 2015, both sides reached an undisclosed settlement. Meanwhile, Trindl had embarked on a solo career, releasing music on Borgore’s label Buygore with Grammy Award-winning rapper Sirah in March, followed by a mini US tour that spring. The Yousafs were also planning their own comeback, and in May, they dropped an EP as a duo called Ammunition, to rave reviews.
In late April, a publicist from Sony Music reached out to me, saying that the sisters were finally ready to tell their side of the story, with the hopes that this would help both themselves and the public to move on. We arranged a Skype interview from their home in LA, and a few weeks later, when the girls were in New York for a press trip, we met in person for a second conversation.
Which is how I found myself walking around the East Village with Jahan and Yasmine that afternoon in May. Earlier, leaning across the wooden table over a brunch of scrambled eggs and beet salad, with their Sony Music publicist and manager Nathan seated across the room, Jahan had explained why it’d taken them so long to open up: “I wanted to make it seem like we were just having fun, because we didn’t want to disappoint our fans, she said. “But it’s like living a lie, and when the lawsuit happened, it all unraveled. To fans it seemed like something new, but this downward spiral was something we had been dealing with for years.”
She held my gaze and continued: “I’m going to say it point blank: the truth is very ugly. We don’t want to make him look badwhen someone is dealing with a mental illness, you don’t want put them in a situation where they feel like they’re being attackedso we’ll try to put everything in the nicest way possible.” In the following interview, which combines our Skype and brunch conversations and has been edited and condensed for clarity, Jahan and Yasmine discuss what they experienced behind-the-scenes during the fallout, their tearful last encounter with Trindl, and how they’re reinventing their sound as they return to the spotlight, this time on their own terms.
THUMP: Let’s start with your matching tattoos “6.8.10”the date you guys took an oath to dedicate your lives to the band. Can you tell me more about what those early days were like?
Yasmine: June 8, 2010 was a couple of days after I graduated from high school. Kris had already dropped out of college, and Jahan had decided not to go back to college. The four of us, , and produced it out with our buddy Chaz.
Jahan: Michelle, there will always be another project. Yasmine and I will never stop working. The work ethic Kris set up for us is still in our bonesI feel like it’s in our musical DNA.
Ammunition is out now on Columbia Records
Michelle Lhooq is THUMP’s Features Editor. Follow her on Twitter.