The phrase "We on something different" isn't just the slick hook of Why Don't We's rising single, but more of a mantra for the boy band's refreshing, overall approach to the music industry they're keen to conquer.
"There's different ways you can interpret it," Corbyn Besson, the group's overtly friendly 18-year-old blonde, shares of "Something Different" which is currently Top 40 on pop radio. "Obviously the lyrics are about a relationship between a guy and a girl who are kind of on their own wavelength, doing their own thing, and not really caring about what everyone else thinks. Or if you're kind of riding solo, living the single life, you can interpret it in a way about doing you, being yourself; you're unique, who cares if you're different."
"Also, if you're in a boy band," adds Daniel Seavey, 18, who acts a bit like the group's caretaker, always telling my recorder who's speaking. "You can interpret it in a way that we kind of do where we're just doing the music we love and releasing as much of it as we can. It kind of summarizes what we've been doing lately in a song."
After a year together, the band—consisting of Besson, Seavey, Jonah Marais, Jack Avery and Zach Herron—have released four EPs, starred in half a dozen music videos, recorded countless mashups and YouTube vlogs, and embarked on headlining and radio tours. It all marks an impressive, somewhat unprecedented amount of material for an American boy band who typically look to first build an image off breaking one huge single as most recently seen via One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" or The Wanted's "Glad You Came" in 2012, the singles that successfully set the stage for each act's body of albums, tours, books, TV shows and more.
The group says Drake's sound and "philosophy of always dropping music" inspires them, as does trying out different styles atypical to boy bands of the past—recently heard in the guys' rap-style vocals on "These Girls" (below). "When we're bored, we jokingly freestyle," Daniel shares. "And they finally let us put it in a song! I can't believe they let us."
"The tying force is that we all have very similar musical inspirations and aspirations," Corbyn adds. "We like a lot of the same things. Obviously we have our unique differences, but when we came together we got along really well and vibed. It felt like magic."
Shares eldest member Jonah, 19, who acts as a more laid-back contributor but always breaks into smiles from his band mates' jokes: "I remember one of the first recording sessions we ever did. We were listening back to the track after the session and I heard Corbyn's verse, he did this crazy, quivery cool thing he does with his voice, and I was like 'Wow. This is going to be awesome.' I knew then and there."
"We were all friends before this so it was really easy to get along as a group," the quiet-yet-undoubtedly-power-vocalist Jack Avery, 18, adds.
As all five previously pursued separate solo careers (earning about a million followers each on Instagram), the collective mindset is surprising but important in an increasingly unique boy-band scene that's growing more competitive by the day. The guys recognize rivals in the environment (even showing love for K-pop group BTS saying, "They're doing their thing too...we respect their vibe"), but stay focused on what makes them unique.
"Our music and the sound of it isn't what you expect from a typical boy band," says Jonah. "It's got a more urban influence, a little more R&B in there, I think, we're taking artists we're listening to—Drakes of the world, Kendricks of the world—and we put those influences into our music."
“It isn’t what you expect from a typical boy band.”
Those influences can be seen with their increasingly famous, off-the-cuff mash-ups that highlight the group's precise harmonies and varying musical influences. The mashups have earned co-signs from Post Malone, Trey Songz, Noah Cyrus, and Camila Cabello—the lattermost artist's recognition coming much to the delight of Jonah.
"I'm going to speak for Jonah and say that his goal is meet and marry Camila Cabello," Daniel cracks, before his band mate gets to endearingly explain, "I never said marry, but if I met her, I would be pretty happy. She replied to the mashup, added a butterfly emoji, and then she followed us."
Eschewing typical music-industry routes also relates to the dedication to always personally connect with their fanbase as well.
"We've grown up in this digital age where we have iPhones and Twitter and Instagram, engagement for all our fans on all our platforms is super important to us because it's a direct, personal connection with someone out there who's been supporting us and taking time out of their day to help us live our dreams," Corbyn says. "It's super cool to connect on that level."
"It's funny because a lot of people say stardom is different these days bcause now you see the everyday life of that star," Daniel adds. "But I think we've really accepted and love that you can personally talk to one fan and have that conversation with them. It's really humbling."
And it seems that Why Don't We will continue their rise by doing things their way—together. "We've learned stuff off each other," concludes Zach, the band's youngest member who has a sharp attentiveness to everything said during our chat. "We've gotten better at what we do because of each other."