“Music is coming back,” reads one of the comments on the preview video for No Guidnce’s new song ‘Is It A Crime?’, a velvety smooth, old school R&B track oozing with swoon-worthy harmonies. You can forgive the listener’s hyperbole, given that the track is indeed bringing something back – reviving an unmistakable ‘90s-indebted “emotional” groove that their listeners can’t get enough of right now. “Bringing back R&B groups for real,” the group captioned a recent video.
The band – Kaci Brookz and Zeekay, both 19, Ebubé, 20, and Josh Lomat, 22, who are from all over London – are squashed together on an office couch to dial into their video call with NME, just a couple days away from the release of their first EP ‘Is It a Crime?’. Despite boasting 2.7million TikTok followers and a fanbase that regularly floods the comments of their slick covers by the likes of Usher, Ne-Yo and Drake, which are filmed from a desolate car park with sensational acoustics, the four crooners haven’t shared much about who the boys behind the voices are just yet. But today, they’re cracking jokes with one another, while playfully prompting their fellow bandmates to answer questions properly for their first-ever press interview.
Zeekay and Kaci were on Little Mix’s reality TV show The Search together, which aired in 2020, before they were approached by industry execs about the idea of starting a R&B boy band. They found Josh on Instagram, and later discovered Ebubé on TikTok, the latter being “so perfect, we didn’t need five members,” jokes Zeekay. They refined their sound throughout the summer of 2021, before deciding to start a TikTok account in 2022. After swiftly finding a fanbase online, the group jetted over to Los Angeles to work with singer-songwriter and R&B hyphenate Victoria Monét – who’s written for Ariana Grande and Nas – and recently performed their first live show as a fully-formed band.
With NME 100 2023 acts like FLO and Bellah leading something of a UK R&B revival right now, No Guidnce are primed and ready to join the renaissance by bringing their own brand of boy band nostalgia into the present. “The goal has always been to be the biggest group in the world,” Zeekay says.
NME: What was it like working together for the first time?
Kaci: “Luckily, we all got along. There was no real tension between the group. We were all just quite excited to be working on such an exciting project. We didn’t really sing together for like the first couple months. People just knew we could sing individually, but we didn’t know if we could sing together as a group. And then we started going to the car park and filming little group harmony videos. And that’s what blew us up on TikTok.”
We have to ask about the car park in your TikToks. Is it your main rehearsal space? How do the neighbours feel about it?
Kaci: “We get kicked out all the time.”
Josh: “Security do not like us there.”
Zeekay: “We have our central hub in the middle of London because we all live in separate parts. And the car park is the nearest space we use rent free. And the acoustics are kind of nice! So we ended up doing that for our first couple of covers, and because it started working we just kept going back.”
How have you found the attention on TikTok so far? It’s quite a vulnerable platform to come up on.
Kaci: “I think one thing we’ve learned on TikTok [is] no one’s ever happy. We have given them every cover from everything out there. They ain’t gonna like something. But you have to just move with what you feel is right at the time. We do this thing called ‘stitches’, and they’ll just pick their favourite person, and it’s like, they’re missing the point.”
Zeekay: “At the same time, it can be a level of motivation. If everyone’s happy, then the job’s done. It’s good to see all perspectives, even as toxic as TikTok can be.”
Is writing songs together a very collaborative process?
Zeekay: “We work out of America quite a lot and we have teams of people out there that we work with. For the newest single [‘Is It A Crime?’], we worked with Victoria Monét who reached out to us via Instagram who was like, ‘I’d love to work with you guys’. And we went over to the US. She very much ran with her idea of us, which ended up being very accurate. And we have a team in Miami of writers and producers and those guys are the main team that we use for a lot of our songs. It’s very collaborative with them.”
How did you create your first singles ‘Lie To Me’ and ‘Committed’?
Kaci: “We wrote them with Theron Thomas, they both came quite differently though. The first one, producer JR [Rotem] played us some sample tracks, and we instantly gravitated towards the Spandau Ballet song ‘True’, and we made that song quite quickly. We heard the hook and we knew straight away, ‘Yeah, we’re messing with this one’. And then ‘Committed’ came three days after. That came from us just having a conversation with lunch, talking about relationships and this generation, and we just wanted to be committed to one woman.”
How did it feel to get that message from Victoria Monét?
Zeekay: “I nearly cried. We got posted by Genius, one of our Michael Jackson covers. Our DMs were quite flooded that week, and the Victoria Monét one came through and I just messaged the group chat immediately. And the second message was her saying, ‘I’d love to work with you guys’. And then we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re in business now!’ So immediately we started having conversations about getting out there and linking up in LA, and then it happened and it was amazing.”
“FLO reminded people that they needed R&B groups, and that’s what we’re trying to do as well” – Ebubé
What do you think of the state of R&B in the UK right now?
Kaci: “It’s poppin’ right now. I think people are being more brave with it. I think before it was all one sound, you could go on Spotify’s ‘UK R&B’ and it all sounds the same. But now, with people like FLO, and hopefully with us coming to the scene as well, it’s a more broad sound and it’s more individual to each person.”
Ebubé: “FLO really reminded people that they needed R&B groups, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the male space as well.”
You recently performed your first live show at The Great Escape. How did it compare singing for a relatively small audience compared to the numbers you reach on TikTok?
Zeekay: “I feel like a smaller audience is always more intimidating. When there’s a million faces, you can’t see can’t see any faces. Whereas when there’s 10, you can see every reaction. It’s still one of the things that should be daunting but it’s really not. I feel like at the point we’re at, we’ve been behind the scenes for quite a while, so finally getting out there and performing, which is one of the main parts of a musician’s life, it’s very nice. We had a great time, we loved being on stage.”
What’s something people don’t know about you as a band?
Kaci: “We’re just the funniest people in the world. We’re comedians. I feel like it’s not well represented on TikTok because we’re very serious.”
Ebubé: “We just laugh all the time. The craziest stuff happens. We just went to America for a week and it was like we were there for a month. So much happened, it was just insane. I feel that’s the best way to deal with a lot of stuff that gets thrown at you when you’re doing music. To laugh it away.”
No Guidnce’s EP ‘Is It a Crime?’ is out now