Interview by Nicole Hanratty
November 8, 2012
Britroyal “Unfinished” on YouTube Music Videos
“It’s taken us a long way to get here,” Mazin starts off and he doesn’t just mean the distance between their hometown in London to where they are sitting with me in the States. His twin brother Kais nods in agreement, “Taken us a long way to get here. A lot of hard work.”
“So tell me your story,” I say. And it all unfolds. The heartache of losing a father at a young age, being sent off to boarding school where they met The Queen, battling depression, working night shifts and secretly building a repertoire of music during the day. Pushing. Working. Coping. Writing. Creating. These boys have the hearts of lions something it seems quite clear they’ve inherited from their remarkably supportive mother. Kais and Mazin Oliver overcame adversity, persevered and are on the brink of landing themselves a music career by a stroke of hard work, luck, genius and fate.
“You’re a good storyteller, Mazin,” says Kais and I recognize that the communication and interplay between the twins has a frequency all its own. They finish each other’s thoughts and sentences making it obvious to me that they are naturally a perfect singer songwriter team.
Mazin: It’s always been in the pipeline to do this. We always wanted to do this. But my father died of cancer when I was four–when we were four–so our mum was always like, “Go for your dreams, push for your dreams, I’ll try and help you.” We went to boarding school, but we always loved music and singer-songwriters. One of our favorites was Richard Marx. We grew up listening to people that wrote songs and we were just intrigued by how they translated how we’re feeling into a song. We just related so much to everything they were writing, and so we said, this is the career we want to have. …But our mum said always have a backup, you need to have a backup …
Kais: We always know it’s one in a million that make it. I think that’s the industry we’re in, you know? You don’t have guarantees. You could have great songs but you might not connect with an audience, or you might not be lucky. So we said, right, we’re going to go to university, get a good degree behind us, something to fall back on, and during that time we spent learning how to write songs.
It’s during their university years that their story begins to unravel. Mazin and Kais began to teach themselves how to write songs. Neither of them played an instrument, (although they are both learning now), and they spent hours in their room practicing the art they so badly wanted to learn: songwriting. Explains Kais, “We would sit in our bedrooms while everyone else was out at university partying…and we would just write and write and write and write…” And no one besides their family knew what they were up to. “We told nobody that we were doing this, apart from our family, that was it. …Our mum was the only one and she was like “Keep doing your thing, keep doing it,” Mazin says.
Mazin: We came out with really good degrees actually from university and we were really happy with that, and then we said, right, full focus now is on the music. We said right, we’re going to move on to record these songs, but how do we do it? …We sent emails out to lots of different producers, like producers in London, saying that we have these songs we’ve written…
Kais: They were quoting us–we didn’t know what the money would be–ridiculous prices, like 50,000 pounds to make a demo. We said, listen, we just want to make a demo.
Mazin: Anything you do is not going to be cheap, so we would work like from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. just to make money for the demo.
Nicole: What were you doing?
Mazin: Supermarket jobs, stacking shelves, early morning, no one there, the sun rising.
Kais: It was a good opportunity because it gave us the whole day to work on our music and then in the evening we’d go and earn the money that’s going to go toward making the demo. …It’s better money in England if you overnight.
Mazin: It was a horrible life and it was exhausting, but it was all towards something, so that’s what we told ourselves. I don’t really want to go in and stack shelves for the next eight hours while everyone’s asleep…but it’s to achieve something, so let’s do it.
But then depression hit not one but both of the boys. They credit Dishwalla’s “Until I Wake Up” by J.R. Richards as helping them through. The lyrics reveal Kais and Mazin’s struggle: “Nothing in motion, and I’m satisfied — No disappointment ’til I wake up — Don’t want to wake up.” Mazin explains, “It’s like everything’s great until I wake up…” “That’s the thing about our depression,” Kais says, “it was like heaven when we fell asleep. We didn’t worry.” Kais and Mazin talk about the fears that overcame them that prevented them from leaving the house for months. They were at their lowest point just as they were about to create their original demo.
Kais: We said we can’t really get any lower than where we’ve just been. You know, we have this dream, you know, let’s just go for it.
Kais: I think the music kind of saved us as well. It gave us something to go for.
Nicole: It’s quite common for people who are highly creative to suffer from depression. It’s sort of a swing…It’s an inward energy that you can pull from to write and creatively draw out of. Do you think that you still kind of pull from that energy to write?
Mazin: Yes, all of the time.
Kais: The song “Ordinary,” I remember writing those lyrics, the opening lyrics and the idea of the hook. In my darkest, deepest, worst days I remember writing that, and it’s one of the most positive songs that we’ve written, and I think it was. Some people are saying it’s an amazing inspirational song. Actually my mum thinks it was fate that I suffered–we suffered–depression to be able to write something like that because I probably would never have written a song like that, emotionally personal, and she thinks and I think it made us stronger. If we hadn’t of gone through it, and [gained] the strength to go say look just go for it, I really don’t think we would have been here.
For Kais and Mazin, here is a very good place to be. After hanging up their supermarket job, gaining a little financial help from “mum” and throwing every moment of their lives into writing and recording, the brothers compiled a nine song demo with local London producer Anthony Galatis. With tangible proof of their finished product in hand, they finally decided to share their music with their best friend which turned out to be a very good idea…
Mazin: …I remember the day we took him to the restaurant, and we said, “We’ve got something to show you,” and his face was just like a picture. It was brilliant. He was like, “Wow, this is amazing.”
Mazin: It was our friend actually–his name is Ross–he was emailing different people and got an email address saying you should contact this guy called Mark Mazzetti. Here’s his email address. He’s very well established, A&R man, who’s looked after Janet Jackson, Sting, huge artists. See if he’s interested. And I think Ross sent him our stuff. Ross contacted us and said, I’ve just had an email back from this guy Mark Mazzetti. We’re like, “Wow…”
Kais: I remember the day we got the email because Ross forwarded it. We went to see OneRepublic play live in London. We went to see them and we were like dreaming, they’re so good, they’re amazing. And as we’re leaving the concert the email came and it was Mark. We’re like, “Oh my…hold on a second…”
Nicole: Did you want to kiss Ross?
Kais: (laughs) Yeah. We’re like, wow dude … this is amazing. It’s incredible.
Mazin: Mark immediately came back and said, “I really like it, but I don’t think the songs are strong enough. I think you’re great singers, great vocalists, but you’re not singing in the right way. I think I can help you come to the next level.”
Nicole: That had to be an amazing validation for you.
Kais: We had no idea that he was going to respond. We were like, this is just a dream.
Mazin: He was what we knew we needed, we needed someone who was realistic, who was going to say it’s not good enough. You need to go further. We knew that.
Their world began to take twists and turns the likes of which they never dreamed possible. Mark told the boys he could make them better and that working with better producers would get them to the next level but that they would have to come to America to do so. Mark asked Kais and Mazin to give him a list of the top eight producers they would work with in an ideal world. The guys say they created an “unrealistic” list that had Mikal Blue (OneRepublic, Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz, Five For Fighting) right at the top. But when you’re working with music industry great Mark Mazzetti, nothing is unrealistic as they were soon to learn.
Kais: We never thought in a million years any of the eight would even consider us.
Mazin: And then [Mark] Skyped us and said, “You won’t believe what happened to me today.” I said, “What?” He goes, “I was at the Grammy party and I heard my name being shouted across the room saying, ‘Mark Mazzetti A&R guru.'” And he turned and it was Mikal Blue.
Mazin: Mark said listen, “I’ve got this great band I’d love to send to you.” He goes, “Send it to me Mark, send it to me tomorrow. I’ll listen to it.” We were on tender hooks, like oh my God. But we said listen, he’s probably going to shoot us down, let’s live that way. If anything great happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
Kais: So I remember Mark sent it in the morning and he messaged us back and goes I sent them but he hasn’t got back to me yet, and I don’t know if he’s really going to like it. So he goes I’ll message him, and he messaged him and he got the text back, he’s like, “I guess you didn’t like the guys?” He goes, “No, completely opposite. I love them. I was about to call you straight after lunch because I want to speak to you personally and set up a meeting et cetera.”
A virtually stunned Kais and Mazin met with Mikal and unbeknownst to them were there on a bit of a trial basis / audition. Mikal wanted to test the waters and had let Mark know but Mark kept that from the guys so that they wouldn’t be nervous.
Mazin: [Mikal] said, “why don’t we go and write a song in the piano room, or work on a song you’ve been working on?” We’re like, okay, you know, we don’t mind. And it was the song “Still Life in Us,” and we started doing it, and I think we’re 10 minutes in and we were singing and coming up with hooks with Mikal, and he was like this is really great, wow. Then he walks out the room and came back 10 minutes later and says, “I just called my lawyer, this thing is happening. This deal is happening.” We’re like, “Wow, this is amazing.”
Kais: We got in the car and I remember straight away as we left that building, got in the car, we said right, now’s the point you’re either nervous or you just say look, put it all on the line and just go for it. Do not be nervous. Just get in there and do everything you can.
Kais and Mazin completed four songs with Mikal Blue, “Unfinished,” “This Will Hurt In The Morning,” “The Feel Of This,” and “Still Life In Us.” Wanting the guys to work with more than one producer, Mark Mazzetti made their next “unrealistic” wish come true. The guys put all of their trust in Mark and opened up to him about the depression they had recently suffered. Kais and Mazin told him that there was one band they listened to on repeat during that time. Dishwalla. Kais and Mazin told Mark they wanted to work with J.R. Richards. Once again, the jackpot bells began to ring.
Mazin: He’s like, “Hello!” He’s like, “I signed Dishwalla originally. I’m the guy that signed Dishwalla. I’m great friends with J.R.”
Kais: So the next thing you know Mark is on the phone with J.R.
Mazin: We’re huge fans of J.R., like he has the most incredible voice I had ever heard in my life, and he’s an incredible songwriter. So the next day I’m getting a phone call, Mark’s like save his number. I’m thinking like he’s never going to call. It comes up J.R. Richards. We’re throwing the phone to each other, like I’m not picking up. You pick up, I’m not picking up!
Nicole: Stop it! You were throwing the phone back and forth?
Kais: Yeah, yeah. I was like I’m not picking up, you pick it up.
Nicole: You were nervous.
Mazin: Too nervous… This guy’s a hero to me. So he’s [points to Kais], like, “Hey just take the call!”
Kais: Mazin is there on the phone. I told him you have to do it. You have to take the call.
Mazin: He said, “It’s nearly rang out, it’s nearly gone to voice mail.” I was like, “Hello?” He’s like, “Hey guys it’s J.R.”, and I was like oh my God. But, the nicest man in the world. Completely felt at ease. He said why don’t you come up tomorrow? …We’re like, “Wow.”
Kais: Straight away we’re at ease. We clicked straight away.
Mazin: J.R. is the most incredible man I’ve ever met in my life.
Kais: He’s one of our best friends now, which is amazing as well.
Mazin: He’s practically family to us.
Mazin: My God, the most humble person you ever met in your life. He just thinks those songs are just songs. I’m like dude that helped me through my depression, like that pulled me through. Like “Angels or Devils,” the acoustic version, wow dude, that’s like got 19 million hits on YouTube, like people literally say they come out of suicide for that, and he’s just so humble like, “I think it’s a really cool song, you know, I’m really happy it helped you.” I’m like wow dude, you’re amazing. You know?
Kais: So he said, “Let’s get to it. What songs have you got? I heard some of the early things, stuff you’ve done with Mikal, it’s great. I see the direction you’re heading in. I feel that we can do some good stuff.” And I said, “Well we kind of have this song, “Ordinary,” we don’t know how, we don’t know if it’s good …We like it, but we have no idea if anyone else will like it. Just lyrics and melody, then we have an idea the way we want to do it.” Then, he goes, “Okay, let’s do it.” He got on his piano and he goes, “Guys, start singing your melody.” … I remember the thought in the back of my head is, “I’m singing a song that we wrote in our bedroom back in England, to the guy we love that’s our hero, and he’s singing some of the lines back to me, playing on his piano.”
Mazin: He was singing with us. We’re like, “Oh, my.” I had goose bumps. It was incredible. He’s like, “Guys, this is a brilliant song.”
Kais: Literally within an hour we’d written most of the verses and the chorus. It just came out between us.
Mazin: To this day, J.R. says it’s one of the best songs he’s been a part of, “Ordinary,” which is amazing.
Kais: These songs are all completely written in America, non-demos.
Nicole: Made in America?
Kais: Made in America. J.R. and Mark were like, “This is so impressive because you do work away from the studio, which we set time to write, but we never really wrote in the studio.”
Mazin: We said studio time is studio time. …So [J.R.] said, “If we can get the mixer Brian Scheuble,” (LeAnn Rimes, Zac Brown Band, Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Train, Five For Fighting, Dishwalla, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Nine Inch Nails), ”he’s done everything…he did the original Dishwalla record – if we can get this guy–he’s expensive, like, crazy, twenty grand a song–but if we can get this guy at a cheap level, he will make your stuff sound phenomenal.” They sent Brian, “Ordinary” to review the song, and within ten minutes Brian was like, “I love it, let’s just do this. I don’t care, let’s come up with a price, whatever they can afford. I love it. I want to be a part of it.”
Kais: He was just loving the songs, loved working again with Michael and J.R. We’d go travel down to L.A. together and sit in the studio. It was just a great time.
Now with Britroyal’s first record completed–available for purchase on iTunes Britroyal “Unfinished” on iTunes–they are working on their live show and busy taking meetings to launch a record deal, which is likely to happen sooner than later with Mark Mazzetti, Mikal Blue, J.R. Richards, and Brian Scheuble all on a growing team of people that believe in Kais and Mazin Oliver.
BRITROYAL ON THE WEB
MORE ABOUT BRITROYAL:
Q: If you had to pick one song title–any song–to describe your personality, which would it be?
Mazin: Emeli Sande, “Clown” because I’m a joker. I’m an absolute joker. I love to have a laugh and joke and have a good time. You never know. Today could be your last day. That’s my philosophy.
Kais: I’ll go with Daughtry, “Start Of Something Good,” because I’m always looking forward and never looking back and being upset. Just looking forward to good things happening.
Q: Whose on the top of your
playlist these days?
Kais: We love an artist called Emeli Sande.
Mazin: She’s Scottish.
Kais: She just won Brit awards in England. She is incredible.
Mazin: And Chris Mann. He was on The Voice, but we knew him before The Voice. I listened to him before The Voice.
Kais: We love OneRepublic, Coldplay… Daughtry…He’s a brilliant guy.
BRITROYAL ON CHARITY:
Mazin: “My dad passed away, he got cancer–lung cancer–and we were just literally four years old. My sisters were teenagers, and my mom, it was a very hard time.
Kais: Two years, every day she nursed him.
Mazin: So he could at least see us grow up a little bit. It was tough. Then he passed away from cancer, and ever since that day, we have been huge campaigners for cancer.
I was like, “If I ever do anything in my life, I’m going to make a huge – if we ever do anything in music, I’m going to make a huge thing doing cancer research, cancer, cancer everything.”
Britroyal “Wasted I Love You”
BRITROYAL ON LOVE:
Kais: I think people relate to heartbreak songs more than love songs.
Mazin: In my opinion, people are more emotional about pain than they are about actually being in love. When you lose something or you break up, that hurts a million times more than the beauty of being in love, in my opinion.
Kais: Not always true.
Mazin: That’s my opinion. When you’re in love, it’s amazing. When you’re heartbroken, to me that’s a ten tons worse emotion. My opinion.
Nicole: Well, definitely worse.
Mazin: Definitely worse. Stronger. It’s like, “Oh, my God.”
Nicole: It’s more intense.
Mazin: Much more intense, yeah. Like, “Wow.”
Nicole: Okay, but then maybe you haven’t properly been in love.
Mazin: Maybe never been in love.
Kais: I’ve never been in love.
Mazin: I’ve never been in love. There’s a scoop for you. Never been in love.
Nicole: “They’ve never been in love, they just wasted, “I love yous…”
BRITROYAL ON WORKING WITH MIKAL BLUE:
Mazin: So Mikal’s thing is he works with artists that he thinks could become big, could become established, like Colbie Caillat. He heard Colbie singing in a…
Kais: It was like an office or something.
Mazin: I think it was her dad was part of the record label, Ken Caillat, and [Mikal] heard Colbie singing walking through the office, and he said that voice is brilliant, and he took her under his wing and started tutoring her. Then he finally got her discovered seven years later. He did the same with OneRepublic. He heard them. They couldn’t get a deal, he helped them get a deal, so he’s known as the guy that takes people to the next level, so I was like wow this guy would be amazing.
Nicole: He’s who you needed.
Mazin: He’s who we needed. Out of anyone, he’s the one we needed.
Mazin: The first day we arrived, Mark goes, “Go and meet Mikal.” We turned up at this huge studio. Mikal arrived in his Bentley Continental, we’re like oh my God.
Kais: You know, we’re two guys from our bedroom, it’s just like we’re shaking …like this guy’s got the most amazing car.
Mazin: You open the door and you see this five million dollar studio.
Kais: You just see like photos of Colbie one million records sold. We’re like, do we really belong here? It’s a bit daunting. He’s got OneRepublic made, like he’s got a row of records on the wall. We’re like, “Wow.”
Mazin: He’s English and he moved over here like 25 years ago, so straightaway we had a connection with him.
BRITROYAL ON WORKING WITH J.R. RICHARDS:
Mazin: When Kais wrote “Ordinary” in his bedroom, I promise this is a true story, we said who could produce this, who could make this amazing? We’re like, there’s only one guy, it would be J.R. Richards. He’s the King of Ambiance.
Nicole: What? (laughing)
Mazin: (laughs) We call him the King of Ambiance, like his beautiful sounds.
Mazin: So we get to studio with J.R. and we’re so nervous. We’re like, so amazing to meet you, we’re like overly complementing him.
Kais: He gets his guitar out.
Mazin: He’s like chill out guys. C’mon let’s write a cool song.