The Airplane Boys
The Airplane Boys have landed.
For the Airplane Boys, everything is music. Every movement, every situation, every experience. Our sit down for CONTRA was no exception. Every sentence was beautifully phrased, as if they had been given the questions prior. Everything expressed was peppered with metaphorical meaning. There are so many layers to this duo, and you willingly let them wrap you up. One of the most enjoyable interviews to date. Being around Mannie and J, you want to make yourself a better person. They pull out of you, a feeling that anything is possible, if you set your goals high enough, and reach, reach, reach, no matter what. Feeling it would be a shame to edit too much, here’s the pre-production mix of our conversation.
Welcome to the elixir, that is, THE AIRPLANE BOYS.
“Some people dream about success, while others wake up to reach it..”. – Sleep
Based out of Toronto, Mannie Serranilla [Beck Motley] and Jason Drakes [Bon Voyage] are the enigmatic duo behind The Airplane Boys. They just might be children of the revolution, in planting the seeds of a new sound that challenges the barriers of modern music. If hip hop was stagnate for a minute, it’s about to be revived by young, forward thinking talents like Mannie and J. Putting out their sound means revealing something fresh, creating a smooth and steady ripple. When you hear it, you think, maybe it’s electro-hip-hop-rock. And that’s just fine with them. The Airplane Boys don’t want to be labeled as just one kind of music for one kind of person. That’s because they take something from everything, and work it into their perpetually evolving sound. Captivating synths, experimental drums, varying samples. Whether its a 32 bar or a 16th, it’s got to have meaning.
Photos by Daniel Sanchez
“For us,” says Mannie, “everything is music. Every word, every sound. We try and write down things that inspire us – quotes from films, other artists, musicians, inspirational people. We’ll both be siting there and I’ll just start making sounds, anything, and J will fire back with another sound, and we bounce it off each other.” Adds J, “Creating, doing these things, making songs, it kind of just happens,” Kind of like Mannie’s amazing side-swept afro. As far as musical influences, “we listen to a lot of music,” says Mannie. “Pop music, rock, electro, jazz, everything outside of hip hop, and of course, a lot of hip hop.” The Phoenix. Kid Cudi. The Blueprint III. MGMT, Afta-1. Outkast. Drake. Colin Munroe. As far as creating, J explains, “We take our life experiences, and try to make it as catchy as possible.”
If life experience is the basis for their work, then they’ve got a lot to talk about. In just 21 years, respectively, both Mannie and J have been through a lot, both together and apart. Discovering their passions from early on aided their seemingly quick rise to the limelight. “We hate it when we hear about people that have made it overnight,” says Mannie, “because really, no one has.” The boys can trace their musical journey back to their childhood days.Â “We’ve been doing this since forever, you know,” says J. Back in their elementary school days when Mannie and J met, it was like “hey you know, maybe we could start something. And we just started producing our own shows, we really grew into our talents through talent shows and stuff. We knew we had something. So, from that, it kind of stemmed. Everything up until this point has been a journey of ourselves, and discovering our talents has come out of expressing ourselves to each other, through music.”
The boys have had a few supportive catalyst in realizing APB, as it could be, as it is now, and what it can become.
First up, time. While most kids their age were figuring out how to skip classes without being caught, Mannie and J were busy working on what brought them together. “In those years, not only did our friendship grow, but so did our sound. After a lot of trial and error, when we formed the Airplane Boys, we knew what we wanted and went for it.”
Second, forward thinking. “Which made our style and sound much more progressive and futuristic.”
And last, but not least, family. “Our families have supported us, though it took some convincing. You can’t go into this unless you are willing to be in it one thousand percent. And with that, you have to get through a lot of hard stuff first, before you can actually come out and say hey you know I did this, and recognizing that you are actually making progress with what you believe in.”
Family is something Mannie and J bring up a lot. Not so much in the sense of blood relations – though, Mannie and J are brothers as far as they are concerned – but having people around you that support your decisions, people you can trust. Their team, The BeauMonde Collective lineup includes, Beck Motley, Bon Voyage, Warren Credo and Justin Create of Neon Gorilla, Kenny Sim who has been producing most of the APB tracks, and APB administrator, Corey Yantha. A kick-ass team of like minded creatives. “Working with our team – the BeauMonde collective – and sharing thoughts and different tastes, helped developed this brand or, this lifestyle of The Airplane Boys,” says J. “And when someones not co-operating, when we’re not all on the same page, we got to let them know. And it’s been amazing to have found these people who connect to us in this way, in our life, to be a part of our story and our journey. Whether it’s traveling and meeting record labels, or touring, or working on shoots and video production. Everyone has something to add that makes sense. Everyone in The BeauMonde, our world, is essential.”
Mannie rounds it off, “Beau Monde is our canvas, our creative home, our meeting place. The outlet where we collectively notebook our thoughts and ideas, but most of all, display all our artistic endeavours. The individuals within the beau monde each play a distinctive role and involve themselves in such mediums as music, art direction, photography, design and film. With a fresh mind set, and ideas always growing, we intend on creating original pieces of work, to demonstrate skill, talent, and reach our max potential.”
The website is a documentation of all those things, ideas, projects, shows, and parties, though the boys insist “we don’t go out all the time, but when we work hard, we feel like celebrating sometimes. Some people look down on that you know going out and stuff, like a waste of time and money. But when you can share your good day, like when Escape came out on FLOW 93.5, you know, or celebrating J’s birthday, those personal things we can celebrate with others. It’s that connection with people we appreciate.”
There are lots of family members. Everyone it seems, can be a part of the family. Except maybe the fans.
Mannie explains, “You know, we don’t like that F-word. It’s supporters we care about. It’s those people that are inspired, open minded, that appreciate good art. The fans are the ones that hate, that are looking at us, and will say like, ‘hey Airplane Boys, they make wack music.’ That’s a fan, because they love it, they check on things,Â they’re attentive, but fans want to keep a distance, they don’t want to make dialogue. They forget about you when the next thing comes.”
“A fan, is like, okay, we were at the movies one time” says J, “and homegirl’s cashin’ us out and whatever, and she’s like ‘Are you an Airplane Boy?’ And I’m like, ‘yeah’. Then she recognized Mannie too. And she asked for our autograph. She ripped this receipt paper and she was crazy, she was fanning herself. We’re like, ‘holy smokes! Are you serious girl?’ So, we signed it for her and everything, but that’s not the average fan.”
“But everyday almost,” J continues, “since the track [Sleep] dropped, and Escape, people come up and say, you know, we love the movement. I like what your doing, keep doing it.”
“Yah, they’re not even fans,” says Mannie, “they’re the supporters, those people, like when we’re on the bus, or when we’re sitting down; they take the time to like paint with us, you know what I mean? And relate their art to us, or sing to us, or whatever it is they do, it’s just that. That’s what an Airplane Boy supporter is. Just keeping that intimacy. You see Drake, he’s made it so big right now but still he acknowledges that. He wants to keep it as intimate as possible. That’s when things are just the best, when you can build almost a cult following, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to create a family.”
Even their live shows embrace the family concept. Whether it be an intimate underground space, or a venue like The MOD Club or The Sound Academy, “when we’re performing,” says Mannie, “we’re inviting you to our house. The microphone is like a cup of tea. We’re telling stories, and your dialogue with us is like, you’re saying you appreciate us, it’s just a good big conversation, and if they boo us or they didn’t enjoy it, that means we had a fight in the house. The bigger the stage, the bigger the house, the bigger the family, the bigger the love, the bigger the dream, the bigger the movement. That’s who the supporters are – dreamers. Open minded, driven, positive and forward thinking.”
The Airplane Boys stay just an inch elevated above the rest in the pop world. Easily produced songs and hooks that skyrocket to the number one spot of top 40 charts within a week are en masse. But what then? They are easily replaced and forgotten. And that is the difference between us and them. APB’s stand out rhymes and rhythms give them that edge, the ability to sound different albeit the cookie cutter pop machine. Their electronically inclined sound, phenomenal production and design are the obvious pieces to the puzzle. And even when they all fit, it’s not always known whether or not it will last. But there’s something in APB you feel when you hear their music , see their original album covers, and watch their music videos. You relate.
“We want to be super pop, but also, make something lasting, that it’s like, if someone is listening to our music a few years down the road, they can still relate to the experiences and issues were bringing up,” says Mannie.
Staying relevant in the industry today is probably one of the most burdening challenges to overcome. But we don’t suspect this will be the case for APB. Why? Because their songs come from the heart. There is so much love and honesty in their craft. They are themselves completely, and in sharing with others, those people that will reciprocate are the ones that will not just admire, but be a part of the creation process.
So, besides having the opportunity and the support, really, why music?
“With music,” says J, “you really give yourself. I was acting at one point, I did auditions and stuff like that while I was dancing, but I always loved music. With music you get to tell your story, and be you all the time. With acting, you have to play different characters, and you can still help people and represent, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else you know? It’s just so natural, like a preacher making a speech. For us it’s always about projecting the message and talking to the people. I don’t know how else to do that effectively. It’s just we’ve been born into this. When I met Mannie, he would tell me stories of his past, I would tell him stories of my past, and you start to see things in relation to why we are the way we are, and why we are where we are.”
J once had aspirations of being an engineer, admittedly drawing on every piece of paper he could find. “Looking back I’m thinking what if I never met Mannie? What if I never moved houses or change schools? What if I never discovered and pursued my passion for music? I used to draw cars on every piece of paper I saw. I wanted to be a car engineer. I was also acting and dancing before doing APB full time. What if the auditions panned out? There are so many points where things could have went one way, but they didn’t. I wouldn’t even want to think twice about it! Life is funny. I always had that “there’s more” feel. I still do. I guess that’s why planets align themselves for the events that have happened thus far. You are what the universe receives from you.”
The Airplane Boys know how to take all kinds of cues from many parts of the ‘beau monde’. “We’re immersed in the world of art,” says Mannie. “Weâ€™re really high on fashion. It’s inspiring.” Fashion for them is, as you might of guessed, a lot like music, in that, “it’s constantly changing, evolving.”
“Yah,” adds J, “like Rick Owens. BAPE fashions, styles from Japan, Ralph Lauren, Dior, YSL. Ransom too. We’re definitely conscious of having a distinct style, and being recognized by that. It’s got to make sense for us, and look good, and add to who the person we are. We like to come off as intelligent. Clean, very clean cut. Futuristic to some extent. We throw it back too though. Itâ€™s really a mix of what we see here in North America, and also that European style, you know. Very London sometimes as well. Very fresh.”
“For me,” says Mannie, “it’s like, I’ll wear something, based on how I’m feeling that day. If I’m feeling happy or excited I’ll go with the bright colours like red or yellow. If I’m pissed off about something I tend to reach for black. Just depends on what kind of mood I’m in.”
Jason the taller of the two, has a grey knit scarf piled high around his neck. Mannie is all grey. So is today a bad day? “No,” says Mannie in between laughs and sips of tea. “This just happened. But I do feel a cold coming on.”
“And film too,” says Mannie. “We’re immersed in art in fashion and film. We like it, we dance in it. I went to school and graduated from broadcasting. I was behind the camera, and I directed a lot, that’s when we started really putting music videos into the fold. J was always the actor for my films, like quirky, Wes Anderson type of films. Our current brand director, Warren, helped us become more involved in art in that way. And we’re like ‘wow! this is fun’ We’d be grueling outside holding lamps and equipment being like ‘come on lets get this shot right!’ you know, the whole tedious process – but you know, it’s just the thought that being behind the camera all the time, it’s cool, but when were on stage we’re in the line of fire, that’s who we really are. We live to be in the line of fire.”
Sounds a bit painful, and it very well is. Being a dreamer doesn’t come without a sacrifice or two. Drop the ‘s’ word and we get an “OHHH Man! ARE YOU KIDDING?! If sacrifices was translated into money,” says Mannie, “we’d be millionaires!” Well, we heard somewhere, realizing your dreams can be a bumpy, long, emotionally taxing route. But also, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“We have never felt this good about life,” says J. Mannie nods in agreement. “We didn’t even get to where we want to get ultimately, but what’s beautiful is we know we’re going somewhere. We don’t understand why it’s happening, but things are falling into place. I was telling Mannie in the car on the way over, I’m 21 now, it’s like, the best birthday yet, the best year, the best everything – the team, we know what we’re doing, you know? The last two years haven’t been the best.Â Just learning everything, problems at home, girlfriends, you know. But we’re living what we talk about – being airplanes and leaving things behind – we’re actually doing it. You know, a lot of people don’t find themselves, they’re always searching for what they want and, there’s nothing wrong with that, but we’re blessed to have found it at some early age. We’re on this path. And we’re not gonna crash.”
Advices for aspiring artists? “Take advantage of the best stage for opportunity. Count all of your blessings, and maintain an open mindset. Be realistic. Step outside and look at yourself. Consider all the options, and try to grow as much as you can, from the good and the bad. It’s a tough world. Put together a good team of people who have your interest at heart. Protect your dreams. Maintain the drive and perseverance.”
Whatâ€™s up next for the Airplane Boys? More shows, touring, and traveling. In the very near future, the release of their first LP. In five, ten years from now? We can’t know for sure. “We got big dreams; can we afford them though?” If they remember to, “move forward, stay in your lane…Back into my mind, I’m ready to just drive, vroom vroom vroom…”
We have a good feeling about it.
“…Dream on dreamer..”