In this millennial era, we've grown accustomed to sharing almost every detail of our personal lives. It's become so embedded in pop culture that we almost expect our favorite artists to be vulnerable immediately out the gate. But Emotional Oranges, a Los Angeles-based R&B duo on the rise, aren't playing into that mentality.
Comprised of male singer/audio engineer "A" and vocalist "V" (full names aren't essential for them), the pair met in 2017 at a bat mitzvah and discovered their mutual love for classic R&B artists like Lauryn Hill and Sadé. From there, they formed Emotional Oranges all while keeping their identities anonymous -- wearing headgear and often being shrouded in fog onstage. That mysterious factor led to the duo's allure, shifting the focus from what they look like under those masks they don on stage to their sultry R&B tunes.
The duo released its debut EP The Juice Vol. 1 in May, which dives into the complexities of the male vs. female relationship through blunt lyricism and honeyed, late-'90s-inspired production. The EP's drop created almost instant buzz, with fans flocking to the duo's sold-out shows and social media direct messages.
"In the beginning, we made a commitment to respond to at least 40 or 50 people on Twitter or Instagram every day," A tells Billboard of the close connection. "If they're taking the time out of your day -- especially when we only had two songs out -- the least you can do is engage and have a dialogue."
Emotional Oranges continue to quench their fans' thirst with the upcoming release of The Juice Vol. 2 (out Nov. 8). The follow-up project builds upon the pair's signature groovy melodies and emotionally unguarded themes. Below, A speaks to Billboard about the throwback influences behind the new EP and the meaning behind their hidden personas.
Take me back to the beginning: How did you first meet?
My best friend and roommate at the time was dating V, so being around her and seeing the work ethic she had and hearing her voice I was really inspired. She set us up with a writing session and it went really well. We made "Unless You're Drowning" off Vol. 1 in like 30 minutes, and that was the starting point. It was really smooth and organic, so we just kept going with it.
What is the reason behind keeping a low profile?
Identity is typically associated with your name and face. We wanted our identity to be the characters that we've created a world for -- the lyrics, production, art, the way we roll out music and engage with the fans. When you come to the shows, you get to experience our personalities a bit more, but we want to save that for the Emotional Oranges family.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of keeping a secret identity?
It's been pretty cool. You get to live a pretty normal life: go shopping, hang out with your girl, get dinner with your family. Then 3-4 months out of the year, you go on stage and tap into that superhuman. [Laughs.] Believe it or not, we've been able to watch our opening act Chiiild from the audience and no one had any idea that it was me and V.
Ever feel anxious that someone might let it slip? That must be hard to maintain.
I think some fans began to figure it out because my personal page is getting requested. If you go to the song credits on Spotify and Apple, you can see our first names. Luckily we give our engineer and guitarist credits, so it feels more of a collective in the shadows as opposed to just me and V's names. The urgency of hiding our names isn't as important as our identities. Like I'm never gonna take my page off of private, and we're never gonna do on-camera interviews without our aesthetic. It's going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
I read that you still have day jobs. How do you balance normalcy with your rapid rise?
To be completely transparent, music is now the only thing that we do. But even before this, one of V's main jobs was being a writer. For me, it was a writer and producer. We've been able to focus on our passion full-time.
So you're not going back to the 9-5 any time soon.
Hopefully not! [Laughs.]I mean, I've worked at Panera Bread for a really long time and V worked at TGI Fridays and Bubba Gump Shrimp. We've definitely put in our 30,000 hours.
How did you guys end up choosing the color orange?
I think orange is the most underrated color. It's the most vibrant and it feels like the calm before the storm. As far as orange the most important aspect to us was the layers and being able to pull that back. As we continue to put more music out, people will feel like they're getting to know us more. So those two things were definitely key in picking the name.
You’ve gathered a core fan base in such a short period, how does that make you feel?
In this social media world, it's really exciting to see people connecting to our art and even having the attention span to do so and spending their hard-earned money to see us and buy our merchandise. Seeing all these people come out to support us has been so encouraging. I remember when I was in high school, it was really difficult to check out the Kanye West or Drake shows, they were really expensive tours. So we're thankful.
Speaking of social media, your Instagram page is so well-curated to reflect your aesthetic. You've built a connection with fans that way.
In the beginning, we made a commitment to respond to at least 40 or 50 people on Twitter or Instagram every day. If they're taking the time out of your day -- especially when we only had two songs out -- the least you can do is engage and have a dialogue. It started to pay off when we'd do meet-and-greets, people that we've been chatting with for months realized we remembered them. That's when you started to see [the fans] really cared about us. There was a couple that came from Toronto to New York to Chicago on this tour -- it was nuts. We felt a really tight bond with them. They had all our songs memorized and we sent them an early link to Vol. 2. They told us where we should go next, because who better to give you feedback than your closest fans?
Can you discuss your male vs. female dynamic with V?
I'm really lucky to be able to be in the presence of someone who is so secure, confident and truthful in her art. V was a theater major, so I've learned from her by being on stage. I write these records and she's brought them to life in a totally different way -- not just helping me write them, but actually act them out and teaching me the importance of character development.
“Don’t Be Lazy” is this quintessential "cuffing season" track. What are your thoughts on the rules?
Wow, you really got that track! [Laughs.] It's funny, we were writing that record as I was going into my current relationship. It's basically like, "It's getting cold out so it's time to settle down." You gotta know who's really with it. That record is kind of provocative: I gave it to you and now it's my turn, so don't be lazy.
"Your Best Friend Is A Hater" is such a relatable track. How do deal with those who just can’t seem to mind their business?
We made an anthem for them, you know? We were listening to a lot of late '90s/early '00s R&B, especially Donell Jones and Avant, and you can catch the groove of [the latter's 2002 single] "Makin' Good Love" if you really play the songs back to back. We did our best to give you that same bounce and something you can yell at the shows. We wanted more of that family energy, where the guys and girls feel like one. We got lucky because this one has been going off crazy.
Your music has this encapsulated late '90s feel, and "Iconic" really embodies that effortlessness.
This project is pretty risky as we're drawing from multiple styles. On "Iconic" we try to flip underground Miami club music from the '90s and turn that into a song about seduction. A lot of our references are more late '80s/early '90s: Sadé, Michael Jackson, Prince, Janet Jackson. But production-wise, I've been really inspired by the Timbaland and early Kanye West eras, so you have that melodic element to it. I've also been able to learn from one of my mentors, Dante Jones from [R&B duo] THEY. His groove, drum patterns and the way he understands rhythm is something we strive to incorporate in our music.
Speaking of groove, I wanted to talk about “West Coast Love." It sounds inspired by DJ Premier -- did you have him in mind?
Believe it or not, DJ Premier is the only producer that we worked with. He did a remix for [Vol. 1 highlight] "Built That Way." After we got that back, we got super inspired and felt we needed to do an ode to hip-hop. V is from New York but found love on the west coast, and I'm from L.A and always loved '90s hip-hop. So that was the best of both worlds for us. When you come to the cookout and try to find someone, [this song] tells that story.
You guys have solidified a loyal fan base, but how do you plan to capture a wider audience?
I think people are going to see some really exciting stuff from our live shows come festival season next year. In terms of Vol. 3, to give you an exclusive sneak peek, I've been talking to Slim from 112 and Matty Healy from The 1975. I'm not saying we're going to have all these people on the project, I'm just saying we're talking to some exciting people that have incredible perspectives. So if we're able to mesh those worlds, that's the goal for Vol. 3.