Cheat Codes’ New Single, “Heaven” is out via 300 Entertainment

Since emerging in 2015, Cheat Codes has undoubtedly proven they know how to craft hit after hit. Whether releasing massive singles with a diverse cast of top musicians or adding a unique touch to their widely popular remixes, the LA-based trio hits a sonic sweet spot that makes their music irresistible crossovers among radio, dance floors, and across the globe.

After amassing over 4 billion streams and releasing two EPs, the multi-platinum group – consisting of KEVI (Kevin Ford), Trevor Dahl, and Matt Russell – is laying the foundation for an epic debut album. Having already dropped “On My Life,” and “No Service In The Hills” with blackbear and Trippie Redd, the DJs are continuing to present their compelling new approaches to music while honing in on their signature sound.

Ahead of the release of their new single, “Heaven,” I connected with Matt Russell on working with Dan Smith of Bastille for the track, a future release with Wiz Khalifa & DVBBS, and details surrounding their upcoming 3-part album. Read on below.

cheat codes interview
Cheat Codes (Photo: Grace Rivera)
This year has really taken the world for a ride. How has quarantine or general changes to the norm affected the way the group is creating music this year?

MR: There was a good chunk at the beginning, where we didn’t even see each other. There were maybe 2-4 weeks where we weren’t around each other, so it was just a lot of doing stuff on our own and sending things via email. Trevor did a few Zoom sessions, I haven’t done any of those, but yeah, typically we’re playing 2-3 shows a week, and that went from 2-3 travel days to 0. So it’s nice to be home and not burning it at both ends, but after a while, you get a little stir crazy.

Have you absorbed any new inspiration or faced any challenges while creating during this time?

MR: Honestly, the main thing has just been learning new skills. I feel like I’ve been taking this time to learn a bunch of things that I didn’t know how to do video editing. I’ve had this cinema camera for years that I never learned how to use because I’d always just have a videographer use it, whether we’re playing a show and he’s filming us, so I just had so much time on my hands being bored that I’ve been learning new skills.

We’ve done a couple of live streams with different partners, like MTV and Billboard. People probably don’t realize, but especially for a lot of these DJ ones, it’s a lot to set up because you’re trying to set up all of the DJ equipment. You’re trying to run the audio so that it’s high-quality audio, while you’re live-streaming, then cameras, and maybe you want to add a green screen. So all of that is something I never thought I’d have to learn how to do on my end. We created a whole virtual show, and we just did it in my apartment. Just trying to figure out all of that stuff, you have to be flexible, and you have to be willing to adapt and learn. For me, I always like learning and view it as a challenge, so that was fun for me.

Even with everything going on, you’ve recently shared two great tracks, “No Service In The Hills” and “On My Life.” How does the diversity in sound of those releases relate to what we can expect from a larger future release?

MR: We’re actually working on an album, and just you like mentioned, these songs have very different vibes. We’re going to have a 3-part album, and each section is going to be its own vibe. Something we’ve always wanted to do since the beginning was make an album, and one of the reasons we created this group in the first place is because each of us brings different musical influences to the table. It always kind of expresses itself in different ways in the singles we drop. So we wanted to kind of put it into one project that expresses what Cheat Codes’ sound is with all three of us together but also highlighting the individual influences and inspirations that we bring. That’s kind of the idea, and we’re about to drop another song called “Heaven,” and it’s a little more pop-leaning. We worked on it with Dan from Bastille. He’s a great writer and vocalist, so we’ll see how it works out.

So, the three-part album, is that a continuation of Level 1, Level 2, and possible Level 3, or something separate?

MR: Completely separate, and none of those songs from those EPs will be a part of this project. It’ll be all new music and a lot more music. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this because we’ve typically done singles and made those first two EPs, but we wanted a chance to be able to drop a lot of music at once. I think a lot of artists shy away from doing albums, or they just try to create songs that get the most streams or get featured on the right playlist, and that’s cool, but the way we grew up and consumed music was by buying CDs or vinyl. Some of my favorite songs from back in the day, they weren’t the singles, they were track #8 on the album and just became my favorite. We all just kind of felt this itch for a while, and we wanted to be able to have those kinds of tracks that just exist.

Even with the Level 1 and Level 2 EPs, we encountered that with a lot of fans at our shows where they’d say “Balenciaga” is their favorite song, which is a song with 10, 20 million streams versus songs we have with 600+ million streams but that was their favorite song. That wasn’t a song we wrote or created trying to make a single or get featured on specific playlists; we just thought it sounded cool. So, we wanted to make a lot of room for that on the album. So right now, we’re dropping the singles and different sections of the album, and then once it all comes together, it’ll kind of make a little more sense.

But yeah, if you’re just listening to each single, you’d probably think “No Service In The Hills” is a dark emo hip-hop/pop song and “All My Life” is more of a dance-pop vibe, but it’ll make more sense once it’s all together.

Is there anything new you’re experimenting with on this upcoming debut album that you haven’t tried before?

MR: I think “No Service In The Hills” is a good example of something new we’ve been experimenting with, as far as the production. When we first started, we used to add a lot of live elements like live guitar, live bass. On “No Promises,” I played bass guitar, did a little slap bass on that record, so with “No Service,” and we have a lot of records that will be on that section of the album, it’s kind of hip-hop beats with live guitar, a little vibey, that kind of style. That was definitely a new sound we never really made before that we experimented with. We’ve kind of been doing the pop and dance stuff for a while now, so that’s probably the newest vibe as a group.

As you mentioned, tomorrow, you’re sharing an energetic song called “Heaven.” Can you tell me a bit about the theme and its creation?

MR: So, Dan from Bastille showed us the song. He was the demo singer on it, so we thought it sounded amazing. I’m sure you can envision what his voice would sound like on there. We definitely had to make it our own, and Trevor sang the vocals on it. I think he did a really good job, and then we did probably ten different versions of the production until we finally got it right. We’ve had the track for a while have been experimenting with different vibes. At one point, there was a 4-on-the-floor dance drop version, so there have been so many different iterations, but I think that just goes to show how quickly music changes and what’s going on with everything. You have songs blowing up on TikTok now, you have people that aren’t really working or having to commute to a job, so radio play is also different. There’s a lot of stuff going on.

A lot of times, we’ll do the production and then sit with it, especially if it’s a vocal and song we really like, and say it’s a month or two later if it feels outdated or just doesn’t feel right, we try again. So, this is one of those songs where we just kept updating it until it felt right.

“Heaven” will be released with a lyric video and will soon also have an accompanying music video. Is there anything you can tell us about it?

MR: We filmed the music video a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of places and things are still locked down, especially in LA. I don’t know the exact rules, I know they’re about to reopen film productions, either they just started or are about to, so we had to get creative with filming this. We actually shot all of our parts separate, so all of the parts you see me in the video actually have my girlfriend starring in the video because she’s the person I’ve been quarantining with, and then you see KEVI and Trevor in the video.

So all of that was done separately, and then we worked with a team that has half of their members based in Barcelona, so a majority of the narrative pieces were shot there. It was cool to work with that team. They’re called CANADA, and we’ve wanted to do a video with them for a while. We’re happy it turned out because we didn’t want to do another quarantine, lockdown video. There’s only so many of those you can do before you feel like you’ve shot every cool spot in the apartment. So, we’re just happy that we were able to do a “real” music video with a narrative and tell a story. I think it relates to what is going on in the world today, where the idea of it is just that if you had one day left to live, how would you make the most of it?

There were times during the first week of lockdown where I was scared. I live in Hollywood, so I wasn’t really sure what was going on. People were stealing toilet paper and whatnot, so I wasn’t really sure what was going down. I think a lot of people are scared right now, or not sure what’s going to happen in the future, a lot of uncertainty, so the song is kind of about finding the little things in life that you enjoy and focusing on that.

With so many concert and festival cancellations, is there anything in the latter half of the year that you’re most excited for fans to experience?

MR: Yeah, so we’re dropping this song and music video. After that, we have another song coming out with the homies DVBBS and Wiz Khalifa, which will be cool. We’re excited about that. So yeah, we’re just finishing up a lot of music and finishing up the album. We’re also doing a podcast since we’re stuck at home and needing to do something to keep our minds right, so we had a couple of friends on the podcast. Chad Tepper, he’s a big social media guy, he’s really funny, and we had the homie DVBBS, too, we talked about the new single and their new single they just put out with blackbear & 24kGoldn called “Tinted Eyes.”

So, yeah, we’re just trying to keep busy with – you know how it is – working from home and doing anything you can to maximize that. It’s definitely a weird time with your schedule when you’re used to being a certain way, and then all of a sudden, it’s completely different. I’m actually going to be leaving LA for the first time since everything locked down, so I’m anxious to see how flying, and everything goes.

I flew out of state recently, and it was weird to see the changes in air travel and everything going on.

MR: I just started going back to the gym because I go to 24 Hour Fitness, and I guess it went bankrupt, so they were a little late to the party with gyms reopening. It went from it being so packed to where I could barely even workout, and I’d have to wait to get on a machine and spend two hours to get a decent workout to now where you have to reserve time and schedule it. In a way, it’s kind of better. I can work out in peace and not have to worry about anything or be anxious. Things are just weird and different right now.

I know you’re working on the album and have already worked with so many cool artists in the industry, but do you have any dream collabs for the debut album?

MR: It would be cool to do a song with Tiësto or someone like him!

Do you have an idea of when you’re planning to release the album?

MR: I think the idea is that we’ll release it in phases, so one section at a time. We’re hoping at the beginning of 2021, that would be ideal in my mind, that way we can maybe center it around playing some shows or whatever ends up happening with that. I just saw some other DJs are playing shows in Germany, and they recommissioned their arena to make it a corona-proof arena where it’s not people standing on the floor or in a pit. They just each have their own sections that are sealed off with plastic barriers. A couple of DJs have been doing drive-in raves, so we just have to adapt. It might not be back to normal all at once, but I’m sure there’ll be some cool, fun things we can do.

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