The Holstee Manifesto said it perfectly: “If you’re looking for the love of your life, stop. They will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love.” The talented husband and wife team, Dria and Chris Thornton embody this perfectly. Better known as The Frontrunnaz, I spoke with the production and songwriting duo about how they were drawn together by their love for music, their creative process, and how their name serves as their personal benchmark for success.
Can you guys tell me a little bit about how you met? Were you a team? I know work together. Were you a couple first? How does that work?
Dria: Actually, we were. He was looking for an artist [to] work with online, and we actually met on MySpace. He was in the Bay Area, and I was in Orange County — Southern California area, and he flew me up and I just started working with him and his production team. We recorded a few songs together, and eventually, fast forward about maybe 3 or 4 years, we ended up deciding to be like a writing team together and that’s where we got our start, which was about 2008. We met in 2004. Then, we became a couple.
Okay. That’s cool. We were just talking — me and some of the team were talking yesterday about MySpace. Our Editor just got a gig at MySpace and we were talking about how we used to meet people up there back in the day. So that’s pretty cool.
Chris: Aye, MySpace set the tone for all the social media stuff.
Dria: It did. It did.
Yes, and it was a mixture of everything. You had the music, you had just the social media, the profiles and everything.
Like you said, it set the tone. It just kind of went into it’s own specialty area after that.
Chris: Right. Right. Yeah! That’s true. It started dividing up. I didn’t even think about it like that.
Dria: Oh yeah, yeah, into separate sections.
It really did. So how did you guys come up with your name? You said you started as a writing team, so how did you come up with The FrontRunnaz, and I guess you can tell me about how you kind of got into deciding to do production together as well.
Chris: Well, I’m a huge Florida fan. Everything that comes out of Florida, I pretty much love. When I really got into music production, I was really into Cool and Dre, the whole Khaled movement. You know, before We The Best was even We The Best — when it was just getting started. One of the young production team that he had signed at the time was The Runners. I loved them, and I’m like “If I’m going to be anything, I’m going to be ahead of The Runners,” because they were so dope. So I came up with The FrontRunnaz.
That is kind of dope. It’s always a reminder of what you’re working towards.
Chris: Exactly. At the time, they were setting the tone. I mean, they were working with everybody that was anybody in the industry. The things that they did, they really performed at a high level. You know what I mean? It was like The Justice League. Them… The Runners… Florida. I love Florida music. I love the production.
Dria: So he came up with the name.
Zuri: And it just stuck, huh?
Dria: It’s become a mentality actually. It’s like okay, “We’ve got to be the best. We can’t walk around saying we’re The FrontRunnaz and everything that we put out is wack. Or we[‘ll] have wack stuff. So, everything that we do, we always keep that mentality. Everything we do has got to be so dope, that people are like ‘Ah man!’
Zuri: It’s got to be elevated. You’ve got to live up to the name from now on.
Awesome! So what’s your creative process? Do you guys kind of work individually and say, “Hey, check this out?” Or, do you sit down and decide you’re going to work on something together? How does that go?
Dria: Um. When we sit down and work on a record, we first listen to the track. We say “Is it a single already?” or “Is it a super dope record already with just the track?” If that’s the case, we say, “Ok, cool. We’re going to write.”
Dria: So then, we start the process off with finding concepts. We both just write down a bunch of concepts in a shared doc and we look at them and keep writing concepts until one of us says, “That’s dope,” and then we both go, “Yeah that’s it. That’s it.” So then, we take that concept. And, usually, I come up with a really dope verse, and he’ll drive and get inspiration from the verse. Then he’ll take it. Usually he already has the pre-chorus and the hook already mapped out. Then he gets the lyrics and he runs with that, and we end up doing the hook. We both kind of piece the hook together melodically and lyrically. Then we go in and record. That’s pretty much half already, then we just take the second half and run with it usually. That’s how we do. When the vibe of the song is super dope, that’s when we can like run through the whole process fairly easy.
Zuri: So you just build upon it, a little bit at a time.
Chris: Yeah. Lyrically, she brings all the meat and the foundation substance. Then, basically I’m the guy that comes in and says, “Alright, we should put some bar-b-q sauce on this.”
Chris: That’s what it is. The pre and the chorus us just like “Let me put a little bar-b-q sauce on this…”
And wrap it up…
Chris: Yeah, wrap it up.
Cool. I guess I really don’t have to ask. It sounds like your passion is in writing. But, I guess even in the process, what do you enjoy more? I’ve heard people say it’s hard to sit down and just write if you’re not upset… if you’re not in love. You know? It’s hard to just kind of just kick stuff out. When you’re in to creating, what do you enjoy most: The production or the actual songwriting?
Chris: See, I personally don’t divide them.
Chris: I personally, don’t. To me, it’s like creating a song. It’s creating a record. You know? I come from the old school mentality. It’s creating a record. Typically, we get a beat nowadays. WE work with a couple of Grammy Award-winning producers that actually sit down and produce records with us, but for the most part, we’re producing the record. So someone sends us a beat, we take that beat, we write to it, we rearrange the beat, we chop it, we mix it, and we send back a finished product. You know? That’s our day-to-day.
Chris: But then, every once in a while we’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be in the studio with S1. You know? Be in the studio with Logic and Six at Visionary Music Group. You know? Being with Raphael Saadiq’s nephews, SMSHNG HRTS where these guys are producers. I mean, they put stuff together. So, I kind of look at them as both. I enjoy them both equally, and I think they’re both hug parts of making a record a success.
Dria: Yeah. I was just going to say for me, writing has already been a super passion for me. So I love, love, love, love, love writing. But over the last few years of working with Chris, I’ve really developed kind of an appreciation for actually putting together a record, like producing records and not just wanting to be in one act of the music business. Being able to branch out and learning how to do vocal production, and learning how to run ProTools, and you know really putting a record together. So, that’s something that I’m really in the process of getting better at for myself, because I’m really, at heart, a writer and a singer.
Chris: And I have to say this. We’re really one of the few songwriting / production teams, male and female, where we both can run a session separately. She knows how to use ProTools and arrange, and do all that stuff just like I do. So, since we’ve moved to LA, we’ve actually divided and conquered. She can go off and do one session, and I can go off and do another session.
You do double the work. That’s important, and also what you were saying about creating a record. When I’m listening to music and I’m listening to something where there’s an artist, but you know they’re a producer, everything goes together.
A lot of times, you can listen to it and you can hear it. You can say “This is the lyrics, and this is the beat.” But when you listen to a song that’s done by a producer, it’s not the same. You can’t have one without the other. Everything kind of goes together, so I understand exactly what you’re talking about there. Can you guys tell me a little bit about what you’re working on now?
Dria: Well, we just through, maybe a couple of weeks ago, putting some finishing touches on Logic’s second album. Right now, we have an artist that we work with. She’s 15-years-old. She’s from New Jersey and she’s like a hybrid of Mariah Carey and JoJo. Who else?
Chris: Megan Trainor and…
Dria: Yeah, she’s crazy. So we’ve been kind of helping with the process of developing her, and developing a sound for her. We’re working with an artist Tanea, who’s signed to YG and 400 Records. She’s like an R&B singer — another hybrid of like Brandy and Keyshia Cole.
Chris: Lauryn Hill…
Dria: Lauryn Hill: She’s super, duper dope. We also have our own artists. We have a rapper named Keemie Davis, he’s from the Bay. He’s like a conscious rapper, super, super super dope. Then we have another rapper, who’s a female. Her name is Duchess Duh. She’s from the Bay also. Then myself, I’m an artist as well. So, I’m pursuing that. What else? We just finished up a song that’s going to be on SMSHNG HRTS’ EP. Chris mentioned earlier, they’re Raphael Saadiq’s nephews, and that’s pretty much each. We work a lot with Sha Money, and J Hatch.
Chris: J. Hatch, yeah.
Dria: J. Hatch with the iStandard circuit. We just worked with some producers that he manages and deals with so that’s been a cool experience. He also signed us up to be a judge on a panel on June 7 for an iStandard Speed Battle.
Chris: Oh. Another thing: We’ve been developing and working on stuff with Focus. He’s out of Dr. Dre’s camp. We’ve been working with him a lot lately, too. We actually got an opportunity to come in and reference and write some stuff for Dre’s project, which was a blast. You do that once man; it changes your life. Going over to Aftermath completely changes your life.
I can only imagine. Then, you’re really going to be Frontrunnaz. You’ve really got to be.
Chris: We can only pray to.
I had another question I wanted to ask you, but I didn’t want you guys to think about it first.
Chris: Oh, ok.
It’s a question that we ask everybody. What do you think about when you hear the name “GrungeCake”? That’s the name of the publication that I write for. What comes to mind when you think of GrungeCake?
Dria: A combination? Like a combination of things. I don’t know. I think of cake, but like a combination…
Chris: I agree. It’s like a cake that you fit everything possible into it. That’s GrungeCake. (laughing)
That is GrungeCake. You get the sweet, you get the dirty, you get everything.
Photo: Kevin McElhannon
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