Motel 7 is the duo of Dylan Jagger Lee and Anton Khabbaz. The Southern California couple – Lee is in Malibu, Khabbaz in Calabasas – had no plans to announce themselves musically to the world yet. But the world had other ideas.
“Motel 7 was truly the biggest happy accident in the world,” Lee said of the video and single “Are We There Yet”. “Motel 7 came to put a song on SoundCloud, a few people liked it and we were like, ‘Whoa, that’s weird. This song has 100,000 plays, we might as well put it on Spotify. “Then we say, ‘Oh shit, there are over 100,000 plays on Spotify.’ It’s just started to get crazier and crazier and no one knows who we are yet. So it’s this weird anonymous vibe. that was never really intentional. “
Now, ready or not, the duo are here with a quintessential summer anthem and awesome video, previewed here today. The clip, directed by their friend Paris Brosnan (yes, Pierce and Lee’s son is the son of Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee and actress Pamela Anderson), is a joyful and light day at the beach capturing the fantasies of freedom during the pandemic.
I spoke with Lee and Khabbaz about the making of the video; the artists they rehearsed during the pandemic, from Harry Styles to Bob Dylan, and why, for their dream concert, “Are We There Yet” has to be played on a beach.
Steve Baltin: “Are We There Yet” is really a song about PCH, road trips, that quintessential California experience.
Dylan Jagger Lee: It’s an escape song. We’ve all been trapped during COVID, we’ve all had those wild moments of “All we wanna do is just go, be free, be wild, do our thing. To have this moment of pure happiness, and I feel like none of us had that during COVID. So it was almost like writing a song for when these moments happen. My girlfriend said to me, “Can we just take a road trip to Big Sur or something?” There was that “I wish we could do that” moment. So writing the song, it felt like we were doing it. It was a way to go on a road trip without going on a road trip.
Anton Khabbaz: And Dylan has a girlfriend, I was very alone at home. So when we traded the idea, I was like, “I think I’m just going to do a script like I’m in New York with a girl in a car.”
Baltin: Did you feel like the song was a bit prophetic and now you see it come true as things open up again?
Lee: Yeah, life is definitely back. I feel like we are in this moment now like “Are We There Yet?” (Laughs) So realistically if you look around you start to see things come to life. And I feel like by the time the song comes out and climaxes, we’ll be in a really good place. It will be summer, people will start over. It feels good. So I think it’s kind of coming true, I feel like.
Khabbaz: We wrote this song right in our rooms and when we were in that car on PCH on a sunny Saturday blowing it up on a Beats Pill, we were having a great day. It was so much fun.
Lee: Yeah, it felt good.
Baltin: From what I understand, there’s more music coming in September, isn’t there?
Khabbaz: Yeah, that’s the game plan. It’s an EP, a bunch of songs that we wrote at the height of the pandemic. We just continued to exchange ideas via voice memo and text and completed some songs virtually.
Lee: Yeah, all those songs, I feel like it’s that moment of everything that happened in COVID. So these are the times when we want more, when we are sad, the times when we ask ourselves “Why can’t we do this?” So PE is like everyone’s COVID experience. No one was happy all the time, no one was sad all the time, everyone had these ups and downs. So I have a feeling it will be fine. Listening through people will be like, “Wow, I can relate to all of these songs in the last six to eight months.” Because everyone I feel like I’m going through the same thing and it was a very interesting time. I feel like the music will make sense because of what we just went through.
Baltin: Take me back to the start of Motel 7.
Lee: Motel 7 was truly the biggest happy accident in the world. Motel 7 came to put a song on SoundCloud, a few people liked it and we were like “Whoa, this is weird. This song has 100,000 plays, we might as well put it on Spotify.” Then we say, “Oh shit, there are over 100,000 plays on Spotify”. It’s just started to get crazier and crazier and no one knows who we are yet. So it’s this strange anonymous atmosphere that was never really on purpose.
Khabbaz: There was a week where we started writing nonstop because we were so excited to make music. Some of the songs in the project definitely came out.
Baltin: Now that the tours are back, what’s the perfect place to play?
Lee: We would love to go on tour, we would love to perform like the Greek Theater.
Khabbaz: With “Are We There Yet”, I specifically thought of a certain festival that takes place in San Diego on the beach (CRSSD). Anything on the beach, “Are We There Yet” just needs to be played on the beach someday, break the drums, break the guitar.
Lee: It will also be fun because Anton can play the drums. I didn’t even really know it. We went to the Guitar Center one day and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” He shreds the drums, it was like crazy (they both laugh).
Khabbaz: So Dylan told me I had to play drums in the video and we got a drum set on Craig’s List for $ 200 and spray painted it with our buddy Paris.
Baltin: He’s the director, eh?
Lee: We all co-directed it, we were all very involved. We just got a whole bunch of buddies together, got a whole crew together, and filmed it. It felt like it was free and it turned out we had a solid budget. But there it was DIY.
Khabbaz: Dylan was standing on the car, I was going about 55 miles an hour and he wasn’t even strapped on. I was like, “Dear God, please don’t let him die. At least let’s release the song first, come on” (laughs). I remember Paris was pushing us to do certain things that we wouldn’t do, like get in the car and everything.
Lee: He was like, “F ** k it, just jump in the pool.” He turned out to be really nuts. When we saw the edit, I was like, “Damn, DIY stuff, that was fire.”
Baltin: What were your songs on repeat during the pandemic?
Lee: The Harry Styles album got me thinking for a minute, I love that stuff. “Cherry” and “Golden” off this record, so many good records. But I’ve always been a fan of a lot of my friends. A lot of my friends made music and I loved the music that was made during the pandemic, there was something special about it.
Khabbaz: For me, I really listened to a lot of old songs. Like Bob Dylan, there’s this one song called “Fourth Time Around”. The arrangement on this song is like everywhere. This is not your classic song arrangement and I like to refer to strange songs in terms of inspiration. The Smashing Pumpkins siamese dream, I refer to a lot of electronic guitars on that one for “Are We There Yet”, a song we do called “Messing With Fire”. And Oasis, we watched a documentary recently and it was super inspiring.
Lee: I feel like Oasis, these guys are our biggest idols. They’ve definitely influenced a lot of our stuff.