Behind the Beat: Lee Mvtthews unveils their latest album, 'Exit', along with their NZ tour

Starting on April 20th at the Great Hall Wellington, Lee Mvtthews launched their Aotearoa tour, celebrating their newest album, 'Exit'. Spanning three consecutive Saturdays, the dynamic duo has already performed two electrifying shows from Wellington to Christchurch, with their grand finale set to shake the Auckland Town Hall on May 4th. 

Remix had the chance to catch up with Lee Mvtthews and delve into the story behind their newest album. This collection of tracks, crafted and refined over three years, is essentially a love letter to drum and bass, coming straight from the heart of the duo’s love for the genre. In addition to chatting about their new album, Lee Mvtthews also treated us to some insider details about their upcoming summer tour across Europe and some fruitful advice for anyone looking to chase their dreams in the same lane.

Who have you worked with on your latest album, ‘Exit’?

We handled all the production, mixing and mastering but that wouldn’t be complete without the amazing vocalists, Ella Monnery, Amila, Mikeyy, Tiki Taane, Degs, MC Phantom, Rachel Leo and Christina Harrison. Our wonderful manager Fenella Stratton at Twice The Hype helped orchestrate the release with AEI Music in the UK. All of the incredible designs and artwork were done by Ricky Bannister at Keep It Creative.

The biggest inspiration for where these songs/tracks came from?

The album was written roughly over four years, each track was made at different times, and with different mindsets, so it’s hard to pinpoint, but we think this led to a really unique product. ‘Kick The Doors Down’ for example, we started in 2019, whereas ‘Ripple’ was our New Year’s intro in 2022, although it didn’t have a drop until 2023. If we were to make a blanket statement, we take inspiration from the likes of Sub focus, Wilkinson, Grafix, Metrik, Camo & Krooked, Mefjus, Teddy Killers, Pola & Bryson, Delta Heavy, the list goes on.

 Tell us, what does EXIT mean?

We decided to call the album ‘Exit’ as sort of an easter egg for ourselves, we didn’t think too much about whether people would ask the meaning behind it so the reason might sound a little corny but we like it. It’s really hard for Kiwi artists to break out of New Zealand as we’re so far away from the rest of the world. The talent pool overseas is so much bigger, so unless you’re really making waves, such as The Upbeats, or State of Mind, getting that chance is beyond imaginable. Calling the album ‘Exit’ was us almost manifesting that this would be the catalyst in taking things to the next step. Is it wishful thinking? Quite possibly. Are you going to think of us every time you leave a building? Definitely.

Runaway ft. Amila - Did you guys write lyrics and music together for that collaboration? Tell us a bit more about that

We actually got Amila in to feature on ‘Circles’, after putting out the call for vocalists on Instagram. We already had the lyrics and the melody, but were looking for a very specific tone. She was exactly what we were searching for and managed to smash through the recording in about 30 minutes. Having booked out a studio for the whole day we tossed up what else we had that we could collaborate on. ‘Runaway’ was started in 2021, and was in relatively good shape as far as demos go, so we thought let’s write something while we’re here and see if it sticks. All three of us put our heads together, came up with the lyrics and the melody, and recorded it that same day.

 We saw that you’re taking Europe for a Euro Summer tour! What have you got lined up so far and where are you both most excited to play?

Yes, we’re so excited to head back over to Europe, we had such a blast last year. First up we’re off to Nijmegen in the Netherlands to play with some of the Worship crew. From there we’ve got two gigs that haven’t been announced yet, one of which is a festival in Belgium we’re super pumped for. Then off to Let It Roll, which is Drum & Bass Christmas. It’s the absolute who’s who of the genre, every year the lineup is insane, so we’re very honoured to be a part of that this year and another two shows following ‘Let It Roll’ that aren’t announced. It should be an incredible summer over there, and our agents are looking to get us on some more shows as well, so fingers crossed.

 How do international crowds compare to NZ crowds?

Crowds are different everywhere you go, you don’t know what to expect until you’re in the thick of it. Other pockets of the world respond to styles and subgenres differently. With America for instance, while there has always been a scene for Drum & Bass, in the last 12 months, it has truly catapulted into the mainstream, and there are a lot of new fans of the genre. You have to consider that when preparing a set for those audiences, things that are routine here or in the UK, might not be so elsewhere. We love the dance floors here so much, the Kiwi crowds go hard - Lots of movement, lots of big energy, big reactions. In Europe the vibe is much different, everyone has space to move, and you can walk to the front with no issue. Do they dance as hard? In some places yes, in others no, so it’s a real mixed bag. Those crowds feel less confrontational if you need to push past somewhere, which we love. NZ will always be our favourite place to perform, but adopting some of that rapport would be epic to see here as well.

 Can you tell us about your journey into becoming a DJ duo? How did it all start?

We met at MAINZ (Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand) in 2012 which offered a DJ & Electronic Music Production course, where fortunately we were put into the same group. We quickly found we had almost identical tastes in music and became close friends. That same year we started DJ-ing and making awful music together, and slowly got better year in and year out.

 How do you typically prepare for a set? Do you have a specific routine/process?

Tom - Graham is the more “DJ” one out of us, he obsessively scours the depths of the internet and prides himself on finding the freshest tracks and undiscovered talent. He curates our sets in Ableton, as we have certain songs we have to play, like ‘Takeover’, and our unreleased songs, so we’ve got content come release time. Of course, we want to splice in the hot new tracks and the deep cuts, so it’s handy doing it in Ableton to ensure we’ve got everything in, and we can listen back to gauge the flow. Generally, if the set is an hour-long we’ll play roughly 60 tunes, but we still want that to feel like a cohesive listening experience. Everything must be in key, each song has to flow from one to the next. Graham will bounce the mix to me, and we’ll both listen in our own time, actively and passively, to what stands out, and what feels right or wrong. We’ll then have a feedback session, apply it, and complete the mix.

 Who are some of your biggest inspirations within the DJ scene?

Andy C, the way he mixes and keeps things rolling is so infectious. It’s like the perfect pace for us, the energy is kept high, the breakdowns hit at the right time to give the audience a breather, and then it’s right back at it with the energy. Kanine is also at that standard, hitting all the marks in the right places. Camo & Krooked are huge for us as well, their ability to blend the most stunning pieces of music with absolute filth is incomprehensible. If it’s a song we’ve heard before, we want to hear it mixed in a way we haven’t heard before, and all of these artists do this so well.

What is your most memorable performance and why?

We’ve been fortunate to have so many stand-out performances. We played at the summit of Mt Hutt, on a boat in Prague, and at Spark Arena for 6 hours straight (all of these sets are on YouTube btw if keen), but the top of the top is Rhythm and Vines the year has just been. The crowd was huge, our set time was perfect, and we delivered our best from a performance standpoint, it was top-tier.

What advice would you give to aspiring DJs?

Apply yourself as much as possible, and keep going. 99% of people we started with, prioritised the wrong things or gave up. Give people a reason to want to come see you, by being an incredibly sick DJ, entertaining on social media, or producing your  music. DJ-ing now is so accessible that every man and his dog have a controller or can mix in some capacity, so it pays to stand out. The best way to do this is by making your music because people connect with it, they listen in their car, at the gym, and pre-drinks. It takes a lot of time and effort, and you’ll suck for ages, but that’s the best way to get people to resonate with you. That’s not for everyone, and you can go far without it, Yung Singh gets booked for being a sick DJ, and DJ Mandy gets booked for her online persona, but if you want that Fred Again, Chase & Status hype, that comes from releasing music.

 How do you balance your regular life with all the madness that comes with being Lee Mvtthews…. IE balancing your time on the decks, producing new tracks & upkeeping your self-promo/marketing?

It’s a pretty full-on job, even though we’re full-time music now and we have a lot of freedoms, we treat it like a 9-5. There’s so much to this that people don’t see from the outside and it can be hard to balance because you don’t switch off when the laptop shuts down. Most days are spent working on music in some capacity, we typically catch up in person twice a week, and the rest we do on our own or online. Tom spends lots of time focusing on mixing and mastering, and Graham tackles all the social media, so we spread the workload out between us. When we’re touring things aren’t much different but we’ll catch up to practice the set in the week leading up. We still retain an active social life and health regime but it can be easy to burn out, the perks of being full-time is that we can take a day or two to reset when we need to.

If you could eternally be stuck in one year’s music scene, which year would it be?

2012 was such an incredible year for dance music, so many emerging genres and artists we fell in love with. Artists like Netsky, Camo & Krooked, Knife Party, Skrillex, Flume, Disclosure, Tnght, Sub Focus, Noisia, Nero, Flosstradamus, Wilkinson, Flux Pavilion was all at the forefront, we had BBC essential mixes, everything on Hospital Records and UKF, even the commercial stuff were great that year, Calvin Harris, Rudimental, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia. Seriously, go check out what iconic songs were released that year, it was insane. That was also the year we met, and started DJ-ing and going to raves, so everything was new and exciting, we were so passionate about all of it.

What do you love most about the Drum & Bass scene?

The music is ever-changing, trends move and evolve every year, and waves come and go, yet it just finds a way to do something new. From blissful euphoria to disgusting bass, the genre is just so broad. The culture around the mixing is so special, you could have heard a song a hundred times but it’s done in such a unique way that it’s always exciting, and that’s something specific to Drum & Bass. There is a sense of community, you can come from anywhere in the world, if you’re a Drum and Bass fan people are warm towards you, it’s class.