Take two talented songwriters from the Virgin Islands, add in the charismatic frontman of one of the world’s most recognisable bands and you get ‘Locked Away’, one of the biggest chart hits of 2015.
That frontman we speak of is, of course, Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and those two songwriters are Theron and Timothy Thomas, better known to us as R City.
Though they may be relative newcomers to the charts as the headline act, Theron and Tim are responsible for a catalogue of smash songs that would make anyone green with envy.
In Australia as the support act on Maroon 5’s national tour, we touched base with the siblings to chat about their new album, their hit single and to find out what they’ve been up to while they’ve been on our shores.
“These Maroon 5 fans have been showing us so much love and embracing us and we appreciate it so much,” Theron says of their time here. “Aside of that, we were in Brisbane and we got to go to Lone Pine Sanctuary and were able to take pictures of us holding koala bears (sic) and feeding kangaroos. It’s been really, really cool.”
“It’s still surreal,” Timothy continues. “We come from a small island; St Thomas, Virgin Islands is two square miles in the Caribbean and for our music, our song to bring us to places such as Australia is beyond unbelievable, you know what I mean?”
Named “Rock City” (aka the nickname for St Thomas, Virgin Islands) but performing, for legal reasons, under R City, as songwriters the boys have amassed a pretty impressive back catalogue of hits, including the Pussycat Dolls’ global smash ‘When I Grow Up’, Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop’ and Usher’s ‘I Don’t Mind’. They’ve also penned songs for Justin Bieber, Jennifer Hudson, Rihanna, Nicole Scherzinger, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and our own Iggy Azalea. We ask them which of their babies they’re most proud of. Theron maintains they’re proud of them all.
“We come from such humble beginnings,” he explains. “We grew up in the slums of St Thomas and we literally came from nothing. We started out as artists, performing around the Virgin Islands, chasing our dreams to be successful as artists one day and then ended up landing ourselves in the seat of being able to write songs for other artists, which was a blessing that came out of nowhere.
“So to be able to write songs for Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Brown, Usher… it’s a blessing and a dream come true. Still to this day, it’s very surreal and it feels very humbling. I still call my mom and say, ‘mom, we were just in the studio with Kanye West and he loves our music’ and it’s crazy, because these kind of opportunities rarely happen to people like us, especially coming from where we come from.”
“We always knew that we were going to make it. Honest. But we still don’t feel like we’ve made it yet. Because you have some artists who put out a great song and then after that song, you never hear from them again,” he says.
“We try our best to hopefully make more great songs such as ‘Locked Away’ that the consumers love and appreciate, but we definitely don’t want to be big-headed, thinking that we made it, we’re popping now. We still have a long way to go and we’re ready to put in all the work that’s necessary to get to the next level. And again, we’re still go grateful and so thankful for all the love we’ve been receiving.”
The fact that the boys are incredibly grateful for the attention now shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. They’ve experienced plenty of knocks along the way, including the time a label wouldn’t allow them to release one of their own songs, even though Theron and Timothy knew it was a hit. That song was called ‘Replay’.
“If you’re familiar with an artist from the British Virgin Islands by the name of Iyaz,” Timothy begins. “‘Replay’ was originally our song and the situation we were in as artists at the time, they didn’t think it was a hit. So we were stagnant and we felt that as songwriters, this is how we pay our bills and take care of our family, so we’re not just going to sit on a song that we feel is a hit.
“And to prove to them how much we knew the song was a hit, we were willing to give it to a new artist and watch it become a hit around the world. And so darn it, Iyaz’ ‘Replay’ was a really successful song.”
But that doesn’t mean they always know a hit when they’ve written one, because, as Timothy suggests, “we all have different opinions, we all love different styles of music and different things.”
It seems, however, than in ‘Locked Away’, they’ve discovered a combination that works. The track, featuring Adam Levine on vocals, has been a global smash, hitting the top ten in the US and the top five here and in the UK. Its success has taken the brothers by surprise.
“It’s surprised us how fast the song grew and how big it got so fast,” Timothy admits. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think nobody’s in the studio purposely wanting to make bad music, we’re definitely in the studio trying to make good music. And we believe we had something special with ‘Locked Away’, but this special, this fast? You can’t predict this kind of stuff.”
“I think Caribbean culture has always been embraced by pop culture. It’s always been embraced by international waters,” Theron continues. “I feel like it’s a real subject, something that a lot of people could say, ‘I’ve been through this, I’m going through this’.
“The relatability of the record is very important and very cool and the melody is really catchy. Whether you speak English or you don’t speak English, everybody knows the hook. Adam Levine’s definitely a big, big part of it, so I think it’s a combination of things that make the record special. We’re just happy that it’s our song this time and it’s our face in front of the record.”
Timothy tells us how Adam came to be involved in the project.
“Dr Luke was working in the studio with those guys on ‘Sugar’,” he explains. “And while working with him, Dr Luke had the idea to ask him to do a song with us, given we’re signed with Dr Luke’s label. And Adam said he’d heard of us and that he though we were really talented.
“He said, ‘I don’t mind working with them, but I’ve got to hear the record. I can’t say I’m going to do something and I haven’t even heard the music’. So we sent Adam the record, he loved it and the rest is history. There you have it.”
R City today releases their new album ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’. Listening to the boys’ stories, it’s not difficult to ascertain how they came to decide upon their album title. Or, for that matter, its cover image.
“You see a picture of me and my brother at the ages of three and four with microphones in our hands,” Timothy reveals. “This is a dream we’ve been chasing since we were three and four years old.”
But it’s more than the shiny picture on the cover that’s personal.
“You can expect stories about our lives,” Theron continues. “You can expect songs that are very relatable to you and I’m sure it’s relatable to something you’ve experienced in your life. We’re not making music for ourselves, we’re making music for the people, so we put together a body of work that hopefully can just inspire people, make them feel good about themselves and help them get through the day.
“So expect fun, energy and, again, stories about our life. It’s Caribbean, it’s hip hop, it has big melodies. It’s just great songs that we put together to share with the world.
“We always wanted to do this, but even though we believe in ourselves, never in a million years did we picture this. It’s a great, great moment. We’re embracing it, we’re happy and we’re so grateful. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Rock City.”
R City’s single ‘Locked Away’ (featuring Adam Levine) is available now.
The new single ‘Make Up’ (featuring Chloe Angelides) is coming soon.
R City’s new album ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ is out today.