Chromeo: Back For The First Time

07.10.2014

MUSIC

David Macklovitch (Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) are Chromeo – an electro funk duo that reminds me of school days. Figuratively, they are the guys who went through that awkward phase in high school, but turned out to be quite handsome and exceptional adults owning their respective fields. Even Dave 1 states that he and P ‘”came into themselves” musically as of recent. This is manifest in the duo’s latest album, White Women [released via Big Beat Records], which debuted at #1 on the iTunes charts.

Truthfully – and admittedly with bias – Chromeo stole my heart with their single “Tenderoni” released in 2007. Although the guys dropped their first album 10 years ago, White Women serves as a new beginning – same packaging, but a new gift by way of collabs and fluid storytelling. Proving true to Dave’s words, “it’s a new album in a fresh cycle.”

In reflection of their decade as Chromeo, Dave cites their latest work as one of their most proud achievements. “I think setting up this album, to me, has been the most gratifying thing because it really felt like I resurrected this band. We weren’t dead or anything, but we still didn’t have the whole Chromeo sound figured out,” Dave adds before tossing in a series of thinking-out-loud interjections about media influence. “You’re a journalist and you know how jaded journalists are.” Valid point made. Dave laughs and rhetorically asks, “Why would you write about Chromeo when you could write about FKA Twigs? I love Twigs. I would write about Twigs! She’s new, right? Plus, she’s a homegirl. Really, I would write about her.” Speaking in behalf of journalists that double as Chromeo admirers, we write about the duo because they bring a sound that’s distinctly theirs – funk driven electro (and vice versa) complemented with quirky creativity.

Life+Times: I was looking at some interviews that you and Patrick did. What I thought was really interesting – and also very commendable – you brought out that with this latest album, White Women, you felt like you guys were learning to be better singers, songwriters, and producers. It takes a lot of humility to actually admit to that. So, what obstacles do you feel like you encountered with this album versus the past releases?
Dave 1
: You know, I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t obstacles. All we needed to do was put in more work. We never had any blocks in the making of this record. We just worked harder and longer hours, but I know it sounds cheesy to say, but it was actually more fun. We never had so much fun making music. It really wasn’t about overcoming anything. It was just about being more focused than ever and more ambitious than ever and having more time and saying, ‘You know what? We think this song is finished, but we really can rework it and make it better and maybe I can re-record it. Maybe I can hit that note better…’ That was our mindset.

L+T: Cool. No, I don’t think that’s cheesy at all. When I talk to some artists they’re like, “Oh god, I slaved over this for months or years. It was so much work and challenging.” It’s great to hear you had fun with it. I know you’ve been friends with Patrick for years. What would you say is something you’ve learned from him as something new and different to add to the creative process?
Dave 1
: I think one thing that kind of I’ve learned from P is just the fact of that question of improvement. When I met P and we were like 15-years old, he could barely play an instrument. Now, he taught himself and he’s actually really advanced in musical theory and stuff. He gives me lessons on some stuff. It’s really the fact that like, yeah, some people are born with it – but honestly I don’t really believe in that. I think it’s 90 percent how clever you are and how ambitious you are. Listen to Kanye on his first record, his first album. You could barely hear his voice on the mic. He improved so much not only as a rapper, but an artist. We just look at people like him and it’s really about creating a story for your fans – the way they see you progress and they see you improve. We’re never satisfied and we just stay humble. I remember when P could barely play and now he’s killing it. P probably remembers when I didn’t know how to sing and now you hear a song like “Jealous” and it’s playing on the radio. It totally came around for us. I think more than anything it was the results of us being super motivated and wanting to prove something to ourselves and to fans and to the media.

L+T: And that’s true. As an artist and even as an individual it’s important that you grow and evolve. You guys have definitely done that. I remember, god, in 2004 when you released She’s In Control. You’re still both really true to your sound – still very much electro funk. However, in terms of storytelling with the album – it’s evolved.
Dave 1
: Yeah! We sort of came into ourselves. I think we’re lucky to have had that curve because a lot of bands blow up on their first record and it sort of gets less interesting from there. For us, we really want to keep improving and making it interesting for people who follow the curve of our career to be like, “Oh man! What are they gonna come with next?” For that, you have to really feel like your band is pushing harder and that they want it – and we really do. So yeah, we stay super humble about that and we feel like we put in more work. Even the live show, the stage design, we just sort of always had different layers of videos and all that we want to give back to our fans. We just want them to see that we’re putting in this effort to keep making things entertaining for them. They really could just listen to whatever new band just came out, you know?

L+T: Yeah, it’s true. You brought up a point that I planned on asking you about. With the tour, unfortunately I haven’t seen the set live yet, but from YouTube, I noticed the stage design is amazing. Who are you guys working with? Did you have a chance to put feedback into it or was this pitched to you?
Dave 1
: No, we do everything ourselves. It’s so funny because our music can seem light-hearted and kind of just like party music, but the whole artistic process it goes into there’s some really serious head scratching going on. We found this weird French contemporary artist based out of Paris and he had done the stage design for some other really underground French techno dudes that we like. So, we approached him to develop the whole chrome concept of this new stage design…We spent months. By the way, we spent all of our record company advance on the live show.

L+T: Really? Wow.
Dave 1
: Yeah. Then, we spent two weeks before tour programming the show. We were doing this with the whole technical team. So, we’re super involved and making sure there was sort of a narrative to the live show. In a way, I wish we’d known how to do that before, but we just have the means and the resources to do it better now. Our show is cool now – it was cool before – but now it’s very on another level. We’re just gonna keep improving it. So yeah, we’re super involved…We want to be involved from the jump. It’s just like when we shoot videos. We usually co-write the treatments with the director. In the case of the “Jealous” video, we wrote the treatment. We get a director that can come in with his vision – or her vision – in a total collaboration. That’s kind of how we do.

L+T:Yeah, the music videos are always so much fun. I still remember – and it’s still one of my favorite videos – “Hot Mess.” I love that video!
Dave 1
: Yeah, the Police Academy one. That was a classic. It’s weird because there’s all these hidden things in that video. It’s a fun video. It’s like a hysterical kind of ‘80s spoof comedy video. At the same time there’s some shots in that video that are exact replicas of some shots from Apocalypse Now.

L+T: I love it. Another thing I found interesting was Oliver’s involvement with the album. They co-produced some of the tracks on there. How did that collaboration come about?
Dave 1
: I’m so happy because I don’t get to talk about those two dudes enough – the two Oliver guys. They put out some music on Fool’s Gold, which is my brother A-Trak’s label. Actually, A-Trak had worked with them as well. So we were like, ‘Okay, let’s try.’ It also came from the fact that we kind of wanted to revamp our sound a little bit on this record. So we were like, ‘We should get other people involved.’ Then, it was perfect. They come from a same background as us. We’re all former hip hop kids. We all grew up in hip hop and then we branched out to other styles of music. At the end of the day, we always just nerd out about old ‘90s hip hop videos and stuff like that. So, they totally come from the same scene as we do – where you start with hip hop and then you start buying old records and learn about old music, pick up instruments, and start doing other things. So, it was a natural fit and we wanted to get them involved on the record as much as possible. I think the whole sound benefited from that. After three albums of just P and me in total isolation, we just felt like it was cooler to have a more territorial approach where obviously it’s still us writing everything and overseeing everything, but we can totally integrate other people.

Chromeo kick off the second leg of their tour on July 26th in Seattle, WA. Click here for tickets. Chromeo will be performing at the Budweiser Made in America Festival (Philadelphia) during Labor Day Weekend. Click here for tickets.

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