Inside Grey's 'Starving': How a Cold Email to Skrillex Spurred a Dance Hit With Hailee Steinfeld

Billboard

It was merely a year ago when a friend gave Grey, otherwise known as brothers Kyle and Michael Trewartha, a mystery email address. They'd just began collaborating as a production duo and one of the first songs they concocted was a remix of Jack U and Justin Bieber's smash, "Where Are U Now."

"Our friend said, 'If you ever have anything really good, send it here,'" remembers Michael from Grey's home studio in Santa Monica, California. "We had no idea who it was, but decided to send our Jack U remix." Two hours later, they improbably received a reply: "Hook me up with a download link! You got anymore? -Skrillex."

"Excited doesn't even begin to describe it," Michael explains now, considering the amount of music the famed producer has hurtling towards his inbox on any given day. "It's still crazy to us how lucky the whole thing was."

It was that chance reply that launched Grey from being just another act seeking a break to a major label player with a smash of their own. "Starving," their collaboration with Hailee Steinfeld that features Zedd, has been a breakout hit since its release this past summer, becoming an inescapable radio anthem thanks to its irresistible melody and catchy chorus courtesy of Steinfeld. After 13 weeks on the charts, it's currently sitting pretty at No. 14 on the Hot 100 with no signs of slowing down, and it continues Steinfeld's run on the charts since her breakout track of her own, "Love Myself."

"We really didn't know what to expect," Michael explains, still seemingly in shock. "This was literally the first original song we ever put out. It's hard to describe how exciting it is for us to see so many people enjoying something we made in our room."


The duo's current radio success is a far cry from their humble beginnings. Growing up south of Los Angeles in the sleepy Orange County surf town Huntington Beach, they mainly listened to prog metal. "Stuff like Dream Theater," explains Kyle. "I started playing guitar when I was around 12 and became obsessed. Michael was more of a listener back then, so he spent most of his time skating and being more active." The closest they came to collaborating as kids was when the two were in their high school's drumline together.

Before long, Kyle began playing guitar for a fledgling Orange County-based rock band -- and budget constraints spurred the origins of his interest in production. "My band wanted to record our EP in 2009, but we didn't have enough money to go to a real studio," says Kyle, who instead downloaded a copy of Audacity and decided to figure out the software on his own. "It sounded absolutely horrible at first, but I slowly started learning production techniques." Later, he switched to Ableton and once his former band disbanded, began spending more time on the craft of production. "It was always way too fun to be called 'frustrating,'" he says, over time becoming more and more addicted at making beats and tracks. "It's definitely a really slow process, but being able to convert your ideas into an actual audio file is one of the best feelings I can describe, even if it sounds like trash at the start."


Slowly but surely, Kyle began to stray from his rock roots and transitioned into electronic music, releasing tracks online under the moniker Singularity and finding success in the genre, winning various remix competitions (his first was of Martin Solveig's "Hello" for Big Beat Records) and garnering an online fan base that led to plum spots at the Electric Daisy Carnival and opening up for Steve Aoki. In 2013, Michael took notice and started to learn how to produce as well. "I was doing unofficial remixes… it wasn't anything serious. I just saw how much fun Kyle was having with it and I wanted to try it out." The brothers eventually teamed up in 2015, a natural evolution for the two, and decided to name their joint project Grey. "My hair was grey, and when Kyle and I got started together we were talking about it and both thought, 'Hey, that's actually kind of cool. Grey.' It was something we could build a brand around."

Zedd's A&R Dave Rene sent the brothers some toplines from Los Angeles songwriter Asia Whiteacre. They took a liking to one in particular, a demo called "Starving." "We got the vocals and had a version by the next day," says Michael of the future hit's birth. "When we played it for Anton [Zedd], the first thing he said was, 'This is the song of the summer.'" A few days later, Zedd texted Steinfeld. "He said, 'You have to come to the studio right now, I have your next single.' She was really into it and tracked the vocal that week… We were blown away by how quickly the whole thing happened. Usually things move really slowly in the music business."

Now, the brothers say they're ready to continue to make waves. "We have another single that we are beyond stoked to share with everyone. Unfortunately we aren't allowed to say much more than that, but we're definitely counting down the days," explains Michael, just as energized as when he received the email from Skrillex, which he of course he's saving. "Honestly, we just look at everything like a stepping stone. Having something you made do well just gives you the opportunity to try something bigger next time, so we're just really focused on the future and where we can go from here."

Start the conversation
Sign in to post a message.