Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Chromeo Interview

An interview with Dave-1 and P-Thugg that I did for


I can still vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Needy Girl’. I was in a bar in Nottingham called the Social at a night called Liars Club that was (and still is) known for chaotic band performances followed by debauched disco parties that would liberally splice and fuse any tracks together that would make people dance. It was basically a massive party and when that tune came out of the mix I couldn’t quite believe it. It sounded perfect. Beyond perfect. It had a timeless quality, a synth hook that could be from the 70’s, 80’s or 2020’s, a filthy bouncing Minneapolis booty-bassline and over the top lyrics about the greatest subject in pop: a girl.

I rapidly discovered that Dave 1 and P-Thugg had a whole album of female obsessed, Minneapolis bass and Jerry Curl funk entitled ‘She’s In Control’. And that they were the self touted “only successful Arab/Jew partnership since the dawn of human culture”. And that they were so serious about the 80’s funk that they so lovingly and reverentially drew from that they had constructed a two whole mixtapes to show the world that what had formerly been festering in bargain bins was in fact gold (‘Un Joli Mix Pour Toi’ and ‘Ce Soir, On Danse’). And that Dave’s brother is hip-hop don A-Trak and he edits Vice Magazine’s hip-hop reviews as well as lecturing in undergraduate French at Columbia University where he is studying for a PhD in French Literature. They were some pretty special guys…

Having toured and partied with everyone from Tiga to Bloc Party the duo have returned with ‘Fancy Footwork’ their second long player which is again beautifully produced by Philippe Zdar. The template has changed little: the beats still sound like they may be stolen from some lost Hall & Oates record, the Moog dances patterns, the bass grooves, Pee sings exclusively through a talkbox and they are still obsessed with girls. But why fuck with a template so timelessly perfect?

Can I ask about the keyboards first, are the legs real?
Dave: Haha, for the cover they were mocked up in Photoshop, but we are gonna have to make ‘em. We are getting crazy responses on those.

So, second record and it still sounds very much like you.
Dave: It maintains the same aesthetic for sure but I think that is something that we are always going to have. We haven’t changed any of the sound radically and the influences remain the same but we have gone for far more of a songwriting approach on this one. Are music is slowly getting further sucked in by the Billy Joel/Hall & Oates axis. We’re not there yet but we’re getting there. There is still the big Prince influence obviously and it sounds way polished as well compared to the first record. That had a real DIY feel to it because we pretty much did everything ourselves on it. This one we had a big studio and a fancy mixing desk.

Lyrically you also seem to maintain similar preoccupations.
David: Yes. Feminine ones. All girls but girls from all different angles. So you have ‘Mammas Boy’ which is an oedipal take on it, ‘Fancy Footwork’ is a dancefloor take on it, ‘Bonafide Loving’ you have your i-D take on it, ‘Tenderoni’ is your Bobby Brown take on it, ‘100%’ is a very sincere take on it and ‘My Girl Is Calling Me A Liar’ is a very self-explanatory take on the whole thing.
P-Thugg: We basically like girls.

Have you ever written a song that did not involve girls?
Dave: I tried it once. I write all the lyrics then Pee validates them. I once tried to write a tune about a car on a kind of Deep Purple ‘Highwaystar’ tip but he nixed it. I guess it was pretty unrealistic as I don’t know how to drive. Since then I’ve just stuck with the chicks thing.

You don’t spend your whole time together like many conventional bands. How does the songwriting process work when you aren’t even living in the same city?
Dave: We have a system. The studio is at Pee’s house, so he has all the keyboards and all the stuff. He’ll usually get a bunch of demos and riffs together and send 'em over. I’ll work out some lyrics and add some melodies and chord changes and before you know it you have a tune.
P-Thugg: It’s pretty simple, he’ll just come with ideas for a verse, a chorus and a melody and we’ll sit down and work it on out.

Can I ask about the mixtapes that you did? They kind of reminded me of the Shadow and Cut Chemist mixtapes but with obscure 80’s funk instead of obscure 70’s funk.
Dave: Sure, well that was the point. Not just to show people our influences but also to show that we are serious about this music, that we have a record collectors background and a real love and obsession with it. Not in a weird way, like going on the internet and trading with Japanese people but we are pretty deep into it, we have a deep appreciation of it. The whole thing is that people like Shadow wouldn’t take it seriously. For a guy like him Cameo is the kitschiest thing ever but we want to treat Cameo with the same level of devotion that he would treat The Metres you know?
P-Thugg: We were hip-hop producers before and we just had all these 80’s funk and soul records that we had been sampling from and listening to them it just felt like an untapped resource, like people just didn’t know about this shit.
Dave: It was pretty perfect for us because we were getting into using the synths and Moogs and stuff and all those 80’s records have a pop fluff but they are played with these vintage instruments that give the whole thing a bunch of depth.
P-Thugg: And that’s where all the machines came in…

Was there a sense then in your minds that initially people weren’t taking you seriously?
Dave: For sure. The mixtapes were kind of like CV’s I guess. Our stuff is so quirky and funny and honest that people might have thought it was some bad taste 80’s pastiche. The mixtape showed people that we were serious about this. This is a serious business. Each one goes deeper too. The third mixtape is real crate digging, dollar records only.

How did you become involved with Tiga?
Dave: He was just someone that we knew and he got it from day one. He has a kind of overseer’s role helping chose tracklistings and remixes. It was good to work with Zdar as well as he is a mixing engineer with a hip-hop background, he did all the old MC Solaar stuff and he did a cool record on Mo Wax, so there is a real depth to what he does. For him to get our music its great.

Although no one else really sounds like you is there anyone out there who you feel has a same approach or method to you?
Dave: I guess Mehdi is the closest but we’re way more Jerry Curl than him. He’s straight hip-hop. I don’t know them as people but Hot Chip is dope, to me the singer guy definitely gets his Hall & Oates. There are a lot of guys out there we like: Phoenix, The Presets, Cut Copy, all the Modular and Ed Banger guys but we were never kind of part of the electroclash scene. We were kind of the anti-electroclash. That music is very white and harsh and we were there playing this very black influenced music with all these lush keyboards.

How was the music initially perceived in Montreal? It strikes as somewhat of a straight-ahead indie guitar band town in terms of output?
Dave: Haha. People didn’t get it at all. We used to have to go to New York to play shows. Montreal has kind of a Berlin thing going on: cheap rents and artsy fartsy's everyfuckinwhere you know? Our stuff was outside of everything really. We were friends with the hip hop community because that was where we came from and afterwards we got to know all the indie bands but for a minute there we were on our own. We used to love The Unicorns though before they split, they were dope. Malajube are OK, they like what we do and we like what they do but in general the indie scene is alien to us. That whole sense of awkwardness and shyness and the notion that being like that would help them…
Dave: ahahaha, yeah. That was alien to us. We just wanted to have a party! That whole idea of cultivating this sense of awkwardness under the pretence of striving for inspiration instead of getting drunk and having a fight, we just didn’t get it. Especially me coming from a hip-hop background and being who I am I had to be extra loudmouth just to get a look in. I was always the extra crazy white guy. I never knew who Jeff Buckley was you know? For me it was straight Mobb Deep. Although I did get into The Cure this year and I do actually think that they have 4 good songs.

Are you disappointed that Prince didn’t ask you to support him at any his six million dates coming up in London?
P-Thugg: We wouldn’t have done it.
Dave: To be honest we would much rather play to a room of 18 year old Myspace kids in Cheap Monday jeans. That is way more exciting to us.
P-Thugg: We can be their Prince.

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