TAMPA — André “Dre” Gainey and Vonne Parks sway in the crowd at Hooch and Hive, nodding slowly to the fuzzy guitar riffs pouring from the band in the corner of the bar.
It’s a Thursday night in October, and right now the pair are spectators in a crowd of 60 or so. But in a few hours, after the punk bands on the bill have packed up their instruments, the two halves of They Hate Change will get their turn.
Gainey and Parks came early to support the opening bands and greet friends they haven’t seen since returning from a festival tour through Europe. But in between all of the hugs, there’s an air of business as they break away to hash out the final details of their DJ set.
Parks is determined to hunt down the sound person — for the second time.
“It could be better,” Parks said before slipping off to the back of the venue.
After growing up in Tampa Bay’s DIY music scene, both members of the experimental hip-hop group still like to be hands-on, even at a weeknight DJ set in a cozy hometown bar. Never mind the fact that they’ve spent the better part of the year opening sold-out club dates and festivals in multiple countries. Or that they share a label with Angel Olsen and Bon Iver. Or that Pitchfork awarded their debut album on Jagjaguwar, “Finally, New,” an impressive 8.0 out of 10 and Rolling Stone labeled them “the ones to beat at SXSW 2022′s official Music Opening Party.”
They Hate Change is home for now and ready to rage.
It’s hard to categorize the pair of self-titled “bedroom rap all-stars,” whose extensive catalog blends jungle, Chicago footwork and UK grime influences with regional subgenres from across Florida and the South. Gainey and Parks think of themselves as producers before rappers, though they do plenty of bar-spitting.
Their lyrics delve into topics from gender identity to the struggle to cut through politics in the music industry. They include many references to their obsessions: vintage fashion, film cameras and, most of all, the community where it all started. They Hate Change have become musical ambassadors for the Gulf Coast, and more specifically, Tampa Bay, which they reference proudly in their lyrics, album covers and music videos.
Beginnings of a band
Gainey and Parks, both 28, have been friends for half their lives. At 14, Parks (who uses they/them pronouns) moved into the same Oldsmar apartment complex as Gainey. Soon the pair were shooting hoops together after school. During bus rides to East Lake High, their conversations bounced from sneakers to music history. Both especially loved nerding out on hip-hop.
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Parks had grown up in Hillsborough’s Palm River neighborhood, rapping at local teen clubs since age 12. These nights were filled with regional sounds like Tampa jook — a type of local club music derived from Miami bass, but cleaner (think “My Neck, My Back,” by Tampa’s own Khia). Or krank music, slowed down and loaded with beat breaks and samples.
Gainey originally hailed from Rochester, New York. Parks introduced him to local sounds, bringing him music each morning from artists like Yung Fetti, Tom G. and Tampa Tony. Sometimes, Parks would sneak raps of their own in, too.
“You’d hear this obscure voice like, ‘Who is this?’” Gainey said, laughing.
It wasn’t long before the two started making instrumental music together, looping bass lines and drum beats like the Jet Age of Tomorrow or Daft Punk records they loved.
They Hate Change was born.
“It was really that time where we’re feeling like we’re trying to do something alternative,” Parks said.
“We’re punks,” Gainey added.
“So nobody’s receptive to the punk thing we’re trying to do,” Parks said. “‘They’ is everyone else, and we’re ‘change’ and everyone hates us.”
Students of the scene
It wasn’t enough to produce music in their bedrooms and scour local record shops for new bands to debate. They Hate Change would have to become students of the local music scene, showing up to as many live gigs as they could. They observed courtyard performances behind the Bricks in Ybor City and thrashed alongside punk and noise bands inside St. Pete’s former Local 662 and Town ‘N Country’s now-defunct Sunny Fluff Skate Shop.
“It was like, if we want to be a part of this, let’s also be in it as well,” Gainey said. “You have to be a full-scene participant.”
By 2015, the duo started playing their own shows at Sunny Fluff. One set might be all instrumental, mashing together synths and samples. The next would feature a rotation of remixes with live rapping layered on top.
They played Crowbar, the Orpheum, The Bends, Emerald Bar, Anchor Skate Supply. Then in 2016, Tampa musician Betty DawL asked the pair to DJ her Halloween house show.
The house lost power. Someone called the cops. And somewhere during that marathon six-hour set, something clicked.
If they approached a live performance like a DJ set, it didn’t matter who the audience was. They could find a way to hook listeners in, then play them the songs they loved.
“That was the first time where we were like, ‘Oh, here’s how you put all of that together,’” Parks said. “There’s a way that you could rock a crowd or a way you can keep a party going with all of these things next to each other.”
Kyla Fields, Creative Loafing’s managing editor, met They Hate Change at a house show she hosted.
“One of the first things they said to me was, ‘When can we play here?’” she said.
She remembers watching the pair roll up in matching hazmat suits to rap in her backyard. It didn’t matter that they were the last band on the lineup and that some of the crowd had started to trickle out. Peering down from a makeshift stage of recycled pallets, Parks addressed the remaining audience with an unwavering stare. It was immersive, and intense.
“Even then I knew they were going somewhere,” Fields said. “They performed on that stage made out of trash the same way they perform on a festival stage.”
Parks and Gainey stepped off the pallets and crossed to the middle of the crowd. Inside a circle of bodies, they faced each other and started rapping.
“If you ‘bout a dollar, holla ‘change over everything.’”
“Change over everythiiiing,” the small but fervent crowd screamed back.
Fields started booking They Hate Change at more gigs around town. It could be hard to find a spot for them.
“I’ve literally had venue owners or promoters be like, ‘Oh you have rappers on here? This does not fit, I’m canceling the show,’” she said.
They Hate Change was too eclectic for typical hip-hop shows but didn’t really fit with indie rock bands. Fields ended up putting them on bills with the latter anyway. They’d end up winning over the crowd, then moshing and dancing alongside them.
By that point, there were years of songs to pull from. They Hate Change had released the “Cycles” EP in 2015, “Meters” in 2017, “Now, and Never Again” in 2018. A chat with Robert Gallardo, who worked as a creative director for A$AP Rocky, gave them a kick in the pants to release even more music in 2019. They put out three EPs that year, just a few months apart: “Clearwater,” “Juices Run Clear” and “Maneuvers.”
2019 also marked the beginning of They Hate Change spreading beyond Pinellas and Hillsborough. Fields booked them a tour in DIY venues across Florida. It was a success, big enough for them to start dreaming about leaving the Sunshine State. Their next tour would cut across the South, up through California to Vancouver — starting in March 2020.
As the pandemic dashed those plans, Los Angeles-based label Godmode approached the duo about an EP. Even though the band was itching to put out a full-length album, they figured the exposure would be worth it.
Pinellas County got some exposure, too. The band named the project “666 Central Ave,” after the former address of Daddy Kool Records in St. Petersburg. They shot both the album cover and a music video for the single “Stunt Cams” in the parking lot of a Pinellas Park pho spot.
It wouldn’t be long until the band got their wish for a full-length record. That EP, and all of the genres it referenced, caught the eye of Eric Deines, director of A&R and communications at Jagjaguwar.
“I think we were all in from the beginning in some way. But especially so after we had our first Zoom conversation with them,” Deines said. “That solidified some things I had intuited from listening to their EP, about them being true heads of all different scenes.”
After almost a year of negotiations, they came on as one of the label’s first hip-hop and electronic acts.
They Hate Change has remained hands-on, especially for their May 2022 LP, “Finally, New.” The pair compiled a dossier for their debut album including their ethos, their influences, photos to reference and their story so far.
“Pretty badass,” Deines said. He was also impressed by how they managed to get booked on shows throughout the states without a U.S. booking agent. (The band now has someone to coordinate shows in Europe.) Deines still tells people about a performance they did at Rockefeller Center’s Rough Trade record store. During their first song, the sound cut out.
Parks and Gainey kept rapping over the silence.
Everyone stopped shopping to watch.
‘Change’ is coming
There was plenty of local fanfare for the release of “Finally, New.” They Hate Change played a free show at the Floridian Social Club, where they used to watch bands play when it was the State Theatre. Bandit Coffee Co. hosted a listening party a few days before the official release. Daddy Kool Records stocked an exclusive “Florida orange” vinyl variant.
Delays in vinyl production pushed the album release to May 13, 2022, which also happened to be Gainey’s wedding day. He and his high school sweetheart, Bryanna Joslyn, got married at Kapok Special Events in Clearwater (where they’d attended prom together.) Parks was there, of course, and in the wedding party.
“It’s about time the hard work and dedication is paying off,” Joslyn said. It’s been tricky at times, she acknowledged. “At the same time they’re taking off, we’re getting settled.”
Along with the LP, 2022 marked their first national tour, opening for English post-punk band Shame.
“The first show we were in Vancouver and the lead singer [of Shame] is on top of the speaker,” Gainey remembered.
“With his shirt off, going crazy,” Parks added.
Despite being far from Florida, and on much bigger stages, these shows weren’t that different from playing back home.
“We’re opening up for this punk band, which we did here,” Parks said. “And [in front of] this crowd that doesn’t know us, which we did here. And now we’re going to convert them. And we did it, like every night.”
They opened for Toro y Moi before spending a chunk of the summer in Europe, first opening up for the Avalanches and then sticking around for festivals in Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany.
They will end 2022 with more touring around the United States. There are also more Europe dates ahead, including Pitchfork Music Festival in London and Paris.
The goal is to keep converting listeners while making music that doesn’t compromise their vision. Their plans range from whipping up new merch designs to writing film scores. Gainey and Parks both hold down remote jobs, which gives them the financial support and flexibility to travel. Neither plans to quit anytime soon.
As thrilling as the tour life has been, they relish coming home to their own beds and partners and dogs. They stop for sandwiches at Lorene’s Fish and Crab House and visit friends in between planning their next releases. Even when they aren’t together, they’re calling each other, dreaming up concepts, lyrics and beats.
And even during their downtime, they play shows in the same DIY community they came from.
At Hooch and Hive, They Hate Change started a little after 11 p.m. The same crowd they stood among earlier, once solemnly head bobbing, broke into a groove, everyone moving: hopping on one foot, forming a dance circle, twirling, flailing, pumping arms up and down underneath the swirling disco ball.
“That’s what I like to see,” Parks said into the mic.
Gainey leaned down low, chin almost touching the table in front of him as he pumped his first. Parks marched in place, high-knee hopping. The beat got faster and faster. They started rapping original lines: “Gulf Coast, Cuban toast, guava cheese, palm leaves.”
By the time the set was over at 12:35 (half an hour after the bar closed), the crowd had dwindled to about 15 — mostly the bands they played with, and the friends they came with. The remaining fans kept dancing until the music stopped.
Neither Gainey nor Parks looked surprised.
“We got the Gulf Coast crew,” Parks said.