Oregon alt-pop trio We Three – the siblings Manny, Bethany and Joshua Humlie – have already built a passionate global fanbase with their anthemic, emotive and life-affirming songs: they have over a million TikTok followers, an audience they cultivated during the pandemic, and their music has received more than 250 million streams. But upcoming fourth album Love Me is their richest, rawest and hardest-hitting work yet. For frontman and primary songwriter Manny, the album title is a "small phrase" that gives a "huge insight" into the record's themes.
"There are love songs on the album, but none of them is a perfectly happy love song," he explains. ‘Love Me In A Circle’, on which Manny pleadingly sings "just love me, love me, love me, love me, love me...", is very much a case in point. "I wrote that section of the song after I had been drinking a bit and felt ready to try something different," he recalls. "The next day, I thought it was going to sound too crazy, but even sober me was like: 'There's something about this, because that sense of desperation was coming across.' And that is an important theme on this record."
Manny believes this theme is one that many, many listeners will connect with. "You know you shouldn't be begging for love in that way, but it's like you can't see past that in your moment of desperation," he says. "It was actually Bethany who first suggested that we should call the album Love Me. And I was like, 'That's so cool, because "love me" can be taken in so many different ways.' Like, are you saying you should love me? Or is it more of a question – like, 'do you love me?'"
‘In Therapy’, the first track to be shared from the album, harnesses this sense of desperation into a tender expression of romantic insecurity. "I'm a jealous little piece of shit," Manny sings after telling us that he saw The 1975 live and couldn't help wondering whether his partner liked Matty Healy more than him. For Manny, ‘In Therapy’ is the perfect first single because it's an almost painfully up-to-date reflection of his headspace. Like so many songs on Love Me, he was still working on it right up to the album's final due date.
"I've just started therapy in the past two months so it's something that's very present to me," he explains. "You know, I think it's very important to make sure that you are releasing stuff that can hopefully do well commercially – you know, stuff that people want to dance to. But I also think it is important to release stuff that is so, so genuine. And with a song ‘In Therapy’, it's like: 'This is really where I'm at right now.'"
Manny also believes that ‘In Therapy’ offers a snapshot of the "very intense" tracks that fans will discover elsewhere on the album. The devastating opening track ‘Hell As Well’ sees him confront the "biblical abuse" he experienced as a child raised according to the strict code of Evangelical Christianity. "Even as a 10-year-old, I didn't understand why I was being told that women weren't allowed to speak in that community – and I still don't understand that now," he says. ‘Hell As Well’ is firmly rooted in Manny's own experience of the church, but also contains lyrics that reference the sexual molestation suffered by one of his peers.
"That isn't my story, but it felt important to include it in the song even though I was a little scared to do so," he says. When some of the people on the band’s team felt the idea was "too intense" to sing about, Manny stood firm. "At the end of the day, I'm not going to dilute something that's intense just to make someone feel comfortable," he explains. "If you feel uncomfortable listening to this song, that because it is uncomfortable. And if people don't like it for that reason, I can live with it."
All three band members are completely candid about the challenges of recording and touring with your siblings. "For a while, we were so toxic to each other," Manny recalls. "Nothing was said out loud – it was all passive-aggressive comments. And finally, we got to the point where we were like: 'If this shit is going to work, we have to be straight up.' And so it turned into us being very, very brutally honest with each other, even if that hurts a bit sometimes." Bassist Bethany agrees that in We Three, honesty is definitely the best policy. "I feel like we don't try to change each other anymore," she adds. "We all know who we are and what our role is."
At the same time, Bethany points out that one aspect of being in We Three has never changed – only now, she views it as a positive. "When it comes to choosing songs, choosing an album title, choosing the artwork – any creative thing, really – there is zero structure," she says with a laugh. "And it never happens the same way ever. But I'm not freaked out by that now, and I'm an adaptable person. With this band, you can't force the art side of things and it's been the same way from the beginning." In the past, We Three's team have even tried setting them "fake deadlines" in a bid to speed up the creative process. "But we caught onto that pretty quick so it didn't really work!" adds drummer and keyboard player Joshua.
We Three are now a globally popular act who have recently completed a tour of New Zealand and Australia. But like so many bands, they started out gigging in and around their hometown – McMinnville, Oregon, a small city 40 miles southwest of Portland. They first came to wider attention in 2018 when they entered America's Got Talent and stormed all the way the semi-finals. Their performance of ‘Heaven's Not Too Far’, a beautifully poignant piano ballad inspired by their late mother, who had died of cancer three years earlier, moved judge Mel B to tears.
We Three used America's Got Talent as a springboard and never looked back. They have since released three previous studio albums – 2018's We Three, 2020's Dear Paranoia, Sincerely Me and 2022's Happy – and built a reputation for singing sensitively and insightfully about difficult topics including mental health issues. ‘Sara’, their most streamed song to date, is a haunting portrait of a young woman struggling with self-harm, substance abuse and depression.
At a recent gig in New Zealand, the trio saw just how powerful this song can be. "After we played ‘Sara’, everyone was crying: you know, it's a heavy song," recalls Joshua. "But then this woman came up to the stage – she was probably in her mid-to-late twenties – and asked if she could say something. And so she said: 'If there are any Saras out there, just know that it gets better and the world is a better place because you're here.' And then she said a phrase that means 'keep fighting' in Maori." When the audience roared this stirring phrase back at her, it was a real jaw-dropping moment according to Manny.
Love Me is packed with big-hearted songs that will provoke similarly strong reactions. ‘If I Loved A Boy’ is inspired by the upbringing that Manny is still grappling with, one he describes as "very religious and very loving – as long as you fit the mould". He says of its unflinching lyrics: "It's almost me doing my 10-year-old self a favour by asking all the questions I wanted to ask back then. Like, would you still love me if I loved a boy? Would you still love me if I didn't enjoy being married? I hope it's an anthem for everyone out there who didn't get to ask those questions or asked them and didn't get the answers they needed."
Elsewhere, the super-catchy future single ‘She's Got That’ is a gleaming example of the "not totally happy" love songs that populate the album. "She'll get a new tatt and then you'll wanna get it too," Manny sings playfully, sketching out an attractive character with a keen sense of her own self-worth. "I guess it's my toxic trait, but I'm very much drawn to confident, sassy people in my romantic relationships," he says. "So with this song, I made a decision to really indulge and explore that. Even if some of the things [this woman] is doing aren't great, I'm really going to the best part of my fantasy."
As for the band's collective fantasy: it's simply to continue their forward momentum. "This project feels more special than any other era," says Bethany. "I feel a new energy and a new level of hard too, because as a protective older sister, I know how personal these songs are for Manny." But of course, it's this deeply personal quality that makes them so resonant. "I always want us to move to a bigger level while staying genuine," Manny says. "I want us to grow and I believe this album has the songs that will help us do that."