“It was actually on accident,” Dylan Jagger Lee tells me about his band, Motel 7, which he founded alongside Anton Khabbaz. “We put out a song two years ago, forgot about it, and then suddenly it had seven million plays. We always said that Motel 7 would accidentally blow up”. The duo, who hail from Los Angeles, have been creating sun-drenched, escapism melodies from the outset, with infectious tracks like ‘Headphones’ and ‘It’s Alright’. They’re a far cry from what you’d expect from Dylan, who is the son of Mötley Crüe drummer, Tommy Lee — and if anything, it makes Motel 7 even more of an essential listen as we head into the summer months.
Here, HUNGER catches up with Dylan and Anton about the band’s unusual formation and where they go from here.
Congrats on the EP! What was the process of putting it together from a string of singles that performed so well?
Anton: We wrote all of these songs throughout the pandemic. It was so interesting, we explored an entirely new writing process. All these songs came together over ideas we’d send each other back and forth via text and email. We adapted to that workflow pretty quickly. We wrote a lot of these songs in a time when we couldn’t really go out and have fun and see our friends and family as much as we wanted. So the songs are a combination of writing about that feeling but also the feeling that could be if perhaps we didn’t live in a pandemic at all.
Dylan: I was actually travelling most of the time to just get out of LA and the very trapped life we were all living. There was no one there, so it was me working and sending ideas back and forth. It was very collaborative. It was an interesting time to write because there weren’t a lot of real life happy things going on, everyone was in their own little shells. It was tricky too, but we pulled mostly from imagination, tying that in with real life emotion and the feeling of wanting to get away from the lives we were living during the pandemic.
What mood do you want the songs to evoke?
Anton: We want all these songs to make you feel the same way we did when we wrote them. That’s a feeling that can never be re-created. I feel like every artist always knows how the song made them feel the first time they wrote it, and they remember that feeling forever. So I hope our listeners will remember how these songs make them feel — forever.
Your songs definitely have this kind of LA feel. I know you’re both based in California — is the city a source of inspiration for you?
Anton: Lots of experiences in this city for sure. We have definitely seen it all in terms of nightlife and just regular social life. There is a certain energy and aesthetic out here that inspires us. It’s interesting to see how that worked for us with this EP. I feel like as an artist, you are always inspired by the place you are from, and the city you live in.
Dylan: Yeah, of course. We live the life that gets portrayed in the songs, either you’re partying, at the beach, or you’re drinking a cappuccino. There are so many different ways to curate this LA lifestyle. It’s hard to say that the music gets funnelled into this one LA feeling because it’s so broad, there are so many different outlets and crazing things you can do here. But yeah, there’s definitely this feeling of pulling from the lifestyle we’re living.
And then how did Motel 7 form?
Dylan: It was actually on accident. We went to school together and we were both focused on electronic music in a weird way, and fell in love over actually not making dance music. One day we put on some autotune and were like, holy shit, it’s pretty easy to sing. We put out a song two years ago, forgot about it, and then suddenly it had seven million plays. All of a sudden, we were getting hit up by managers and labels. We always said that Motel 7 would accidentally blow up. We were actually anonymous in the beginning — it was a full happy accident and the world, I guess, got hold of the music. That’s my favourite thing, the music did the talking. It formed completely organically. We spent no money promoting the music and now we’re here.
That’s pretty affirming! So you were anonymous for a while. Why did you decide to reveal your identities in the end?
Dylan: The real story was that I was actually in another music duo and we were signed to Sony so I couldn’t do something else. We decided to make it anonymous because it was our first time singing and we didn’t know if it would be cool or not. Is singing cool, or is singing lame? Who knows. Then when it all blew up, we were like fuck it, we’re doing this.
What does your songwriting process look like collaboratively? And where do you draw your inspiration from?
Anton: We are inspired by many different things. We like to pair the contrast between our two tastes. I feel like that’s what makes Motel 7 unique. If we had a similar mindset or similar taste in music and just aesthetics overall — it would be entirely different for us. Perhaps the music we’d make wouldn’t be that good if that was the case [laughs]. But we don’t restrict ourselves, or restrict one another from an idea. We write what we wanna write, and we move on with no second thoughts. I’d say our inspiration comes from our daily life and experiences, and what dream of for the future to come.
Dylan: Our songs aren’t story based, it’s more of a personal feeling based on what the general vibe of the song is. We both take different ideas and tie them together in the hook. It’s very personal when it comes to both of our lives. It’s a very interesting and new style of writing that I don’t think many people do. It’s almost like we write freestyles for every verse.
Who are your biggest inspirations musically?
Anton: For me it’s the OGs like Bob Dylan, Smashing Pumpkins, John Mayer, Coldplay, and Oasis.
Dylan: I mean, we both love older music, like I love Oasis and The Beatles. I love all those guys. Anton listens to a lot of crazy stuff. He’s listening to disco music half the time. We have such a wide range of music tastes that one day we’re making rap beats and the next we’re making pop music.
Could you define your sound in five words?
Anton: Energetic, Melancholic, Free, Honest, and Unpredictable
Dylan: It’s just very organic, careless, meaningful and experimental music. It’s new every time.
What do you do when you’re stuck in a songwriting rut?
Anton: Step away from music, and enjoy life with family and friends for as long as you need to.
Dylan: We’re coffee fanatics. One of the things we do every single day is meet for coffee and just talk about life and figure out what we want to write the next day. We’re big, big oatmeal cappuccino lovers.
What have you learnt from each other?
Dylan: I think we both pull each other in different directions, and we learn different styles of writing from each other. Anton’s very pop and story driven, and if it were up to me, I’d just freestyle. I like to throw out whatever comes to mind, and I hate to sit there are curate big ideas. I think it’s important to just flow and keep writing.
Anton: Dylan taught me how to think less and move off of first instinct more. There was a time when I would overthink production and lyrics way too much, but Dylan was always so free flowing with his art and writing process — it made me be more open to new ideas and appreciate the little imperfections in our work.
What’s next for you musically?
Anton: We hope to play shows soon. But for now, we will be at home creating the best music for you.
Dylan: I think we might just focus on the music in the meantime, and make another really cool body of music for everyone to enjoy.