Brotherly love for music

R. City's Theron and Timothy Thomas draw from their childhood for their debut album

American brothers Theron and Timothy Thomas have long been successful working in the background - writing and producing charting pop hits for the likes of Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus.

When it came to fronting their own songs for their debut album, the duo, known collectively as R. City, took inspiration from their turbulent upbringing in the Carribbean island of Saint Thomas, which is part of the United States Virgin Islands.

Their dancehall/reggae-pop single Locked Away, a Top 10 hit in the US, Singapore and many other countries around the world, was inspired by the time their father was in prison for grand larceny during their childhood years.

"Our father got locked up for five years," says Timothy, 32, in a telephone interview from Sydney, where they were on tour.

"Our mum had to hold down the whole thing. Our parents are still together, they've been together for 38 years - that's really the story that inspired the song."

The younger of the two brothers adds that the single from their album, What Dreams Are Made Of (left), which was released in October, has a positive message about families staying together through thick and thin.

"We write it in a way that even though it's personal to us, we still want to make it relatable to everybody else who may not have had that same experience."

While the brothers sang the verses, the chorus in the song features a guest singer, Adam Levine from Grammy award-winning pop-rock juggernaut Maroon 5.

The brothers say it was the song's producer, fellow hit-maker Dr Luke, who roped in Levine. Timothy says they did not meet Levine in person until much later.

"We were recording the album in Atlanta and Adam recorded his parts in Los Angeles. The first time we met Adam was when we performed Locked Away live in Melbourne, Australia ."

Music has been a big part of their childhood and the brothers started out as back-up dancers for a local rap group. Their album cover shows the pair as children - Timothy at three years old, Theron at four - posing with microphones.

Music was also their way of dealing with growing up in the poor part of town, they add.

The name R. City, or Rock City as they are sometimes called, is inspired by the nickname of their home island, Saint Thomas.

Theron, 33, says: "I think music shaped us and made it fun, definitely made us overlook some of the negative situations as kids growing up in the projects, not having too much, being in our circumstances."

After high school, the brothers moved to Atlanta before relocating to Miami to embark on their music careers, eventually writing songs for fellow American hip-hop/pop singer Akon, and later, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.

Says Timothy: "The artists we work with, talent-wise, are extremely talented. I wouldn't put anyone over the others.

"Personality-wise? Maybe Miley Cyrus. Her personality in real life is everything you see on TV."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Brotherly love for music'. Print Edition | Subscribe