From climbing the multicoloured steps of Batu Caves to visiting an elephant sanctuary in Pahang, American band Why Don’t We got the chance to take in the sights and sounds of Malaysia while in town to perform a show recently.
“We do try to have some fun when we can, ” says member Jonah Marais in an exclusive interview with StarLifestyle. “It’s about finding those moments to be young, to be kids. That’s important because, otherwise, you just go crazy.”
Those moments, unfortunately, are few and far between these days.
The quintet – comprising Marais, 21, Corbyn Besson, 21, Jack Avery, 20, Daniel Seavey, 20 and Zach Herron, 18 – found their lives completely changed since its formation in 2016.
Why Don’t We – that has five EPs and a full-length album, 8 Letters, under its belt – has racked up over 1 billion streams globally in the last three years.
8 Letters peaked at No.9 on the Billboard Top 200 charts last year - a strong effort considering it’s only the group’s first full-length release.
It’s not just about finding time to have fun. The boys’ meteoric rise to fame meant it has only gotten harder to keep their professional and personal lives separate.
“The craziest thing is, with a typical job, you can draw a line between your business life and your personal life. But I feel our business lives and our personal lives are so intertwined that it’s tough to draw that line,” Besson shares.
“There are certain aspects of life that we just feel more comfortable keeping private. Still, right now, I don’t think that’s too much of a struggle, ” Besson adds.
Ultimately, the members feel it’s a small price to pay for the chance to do what they love, with Seavey borrowing a quote from Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The five started out as strangers, each with a music dream.
“My parents were super supportive right off the bat, ” Marais recalls the first time he broke the news to his parents about seriously pursuing music.
“My dad loved music too. It’s always been in my family and a passion of mine. It wasn’t like all of a sudden, I went, ‘Guys, I want to do music.’ So it was an easy transition.”
All except Seavey (who began as a contestant on American Idol) got their start through social media, singing on live online broadcasting platforms like You Now, each drawing a massive fanbase.
As their Internet fame rose, the boys made appearances at meet-and-greet tours (an event for fans to meet their favourite social media stars), which was how they first met.
The founder of one such meet-and-greet tour mooted the idea that they should form a band together and before they knew it, they were on a plane to Los Angeles, chasing after their music dreams as one, Why Don’t We.
Naturally, with most of the members being only in their teens then, moving to Hollywood and being away from their families must’ve been a daunting experience.
“What was cool about it, was we moved out there and we had each other’s back right off the bat. So it wasn’t like we were going out there alone and had to find a group of friends, ” recalls Besson, who was born in Dallas, Texas.
The members lived together for over a year, which helped strengthen their bond. They live 20 minutes from each other now, except for Besson and Marais.
“We’re buying a car together actually, ” Besson reveals his plans with housemate Marais. “The moment we get back to LA, we’re headed straight to the dealership.”
Marais, who hails from a small town in Minnesota, Stillwater, says LA serves as a fertile environment that helps them thrive creatively.
“Most people in LA are working towards a dream of theirs. You feel that energy in the air and it makes you a bit competitive, ” he says.
Marais takes us through Why Don’t We’s creative process: “In terms of writing and producing, sometimes it comes from a few of us, sometimes it comes from all of us, sometimes it comes from one of us.
“But at the end of the day, we won’t release something unless all five of us agree on it.”
Herron chimes in: “Very rarely does it happen when we don’t agree on a song. We’re usually on the same page.”
Besson remembers the band’s early days: “It was gradual. We started playing in little clubs for 20 to 30 people. We went on tour in the winter in a little van and we all got the flu.
“So with every new tour, it’s been a bit of a step up. There’s been new music, we’ve matured, and the show has gotten bigger.”
The band talks about making the transition from social media stars to artistes. With social media enabling more and more talents to get discovered every day, setting one’s self apart can be difficult.
“I think the biggest thing that started to change the outlook on what we were – musicians or social media users – is originality.
“Right from the start, when we became a band, we didn’t have covers, we started making songs. I think that was huge, ” says Seavey.
Why Don’t We is gearing up for the release of its sophomore album next year, and if the success of its past releases are any indication, the group may have another hit on its hands.
On navigating the craziness of stardom, they’ve gotten some useful advice from a fellow former social media sensation turned pop star.
“We had a talk with Shawn Mendes, who’s at an even crazier point, and he kind of nailed it on the head. His advice was, the one thing that’s keeping him sane through all the insanity is that he loves music, ” Seavey says.
“That’s 100% how we feel about it too. If you don’t love music and you’re in it for the fame, you’re going to go crazy.
“With music, you’re not reaching for some goal.
“It’s not competitive. It’s just something you love to do. It’s a hobby you get paid to do.”