“What is music?”

This was the question written in black marker on the whiteboard brothers Keaton and Wesley Stromberg (16 and 19 years old) and lifelong friend Drew Chadwick (20) kept in their Huntington Beach crash pad. This whiteboard had served as an artistic nerve center for the trio, on which they had plotted out songs, set goals and wrote mantras of inspiration. They were brainstorming for a new band name, and the word “Emblem” immediately struck the trio as something classic and symbolic, eternal. They had cycled through almost dozens of names in their time together; as Emblem3, they knew they had something definitive.

It’s also the question that has guided the young trio’s winding path from tiny Sequim, WA to the precipice of Hollywood stardom. Music has always meant more to them than simply being a song on the radio or a means of selling a product. Music changed their lives. Music saved their lives. And music gave them a new life, the one they always dreamed about.

Their lifelong friendship has already proved more eventful and momentous than bands a decade their senior. The Emblem3 story begins in Sequim, nearly three hours away from Seattle. Separated by a grade, Drew and Wesley were living parallel lives: each was the quarterback on their respective football teams, playing guitar in separate bands. Despite having so much in common, they were initially rivals. As Wesley admits, “we really didn’t like each other, but the whole time, we wondered ‘what if we were friends.’” Meanwhile, the younger Keaton was already becoming a home recording prodigy and would sit in on Wesley and Drew’s sessions. As a 9-year old, they weren’t ready to let Keaton in the band yet, but these early sessions would prove to be crucial in forming the bonds.

Barely into their teens, music took precedent over everything else, and Drew spent high school moving up and down the West Coast. His difficulties inspired a tremendous artistic and spiritual change. “I just had this epiphany, why was I trying to be dumb when I have this world full of potential?”  Inspired by Eminem, Drew started writing poetry in the form of raps and would test his skills at parties and at shows.  His favorite line – “I like my women like I like my juice – naked” – ended up in the first song they wrote where they knew they had something truly special, “Sunset Blvd.”  

Eventually, Drew took a leap of faith and moved to California and joined Wesley. In Huntington Beach and Long Beach, Emblem3 started to take shape in every way. Drew and Wesley started to get heavily involved with the local extreme sports scene, taking up surfing and snowboarding. They challenged each other to expand into both singing and rapping. Upon seeing the potential of what Drew and Wesley were doing, Keaton was finally convinced he needed to head to California and join his friends while enrolling in a nearby art school. Likewise, the music was starting to reflect their journey: each of three members had become adept multi-instrumentalists who were able to synthesize the melodic and emotional tenets of pop while incorporating Drew and Wesley’s raps, Keaton’s increasing facility with ProTools and the influence of Long Beach’s legendary Sublime.

They were playing to intense and adoring crowds all over the Sunset Strip, and had won the top prize in Rock N’ Road’s Orange County Battle of the Bands. But the ambitious trio, looked at a blank white board and their dwindling bank accounts, knowing they needed a bigger break. They were given one with an audition for X Factor, where they wowed Simon Cowell with their original performance of “Sunset Blvd.” – no easy feat.

But as Emblem3 progressed through the show’s process, they once again sensed that they were being misunderstood and molded - as three young men who could easily be seen in teen magazines, Emblem3 could easily feel the push for them to be seen as a “boy band.” Their unwillingness to compromise may have cost them in the short term; they failed to make the finals of X Factor. But having amassed 15 million YouTube views and an international fanbase, they were clearly the show’s breakout band. They signed to Syco Music and Columbia Records, with award-winning songwriter and producer Savan Kotecha (Maroon 5, Usher, One Direction) serving as their debut’s executive producer. It serves as a culmination of their long and arduous journey as well as a celebration. In April, they kick off their highly anticipated “Goin’ Back 2 Cali” tour, a series of free, fan-driven shows that is quite literally “by popular demand.”

To bring their creative vision to fruition, the Stromberg brothers and Chadwick worked with a veritable dream team of the top songwriters in the industry: Joel Madden of Good Charlotte, Jack Antonoff of Grammy-award winners fun., Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha collaborator Kool Kojak. As voracious listeners and true polyglots, Emblem3 show their astounding range in positive, empowering and catchy singles such as “XOXO,” “Just For One Day” and lead single “Chloe (You’re The One That I Want).” But working with the industry’s elite songwriters hasn’t intimidated Emblem3, not after how far they’ve come. Drew boasts, “Sometimes, we’re with these amazing songwriters and they ask us to bounce ideas. Nothing even planned. That’s how we came up with ‘Chloe’.”

It’s fitting: nothing’s ever been planned for Emblem3, and things always seem to take an unusual curve. But it always ends up in the right place.