Chromeo In The Studio with Future Music magazine
15th Apr 2013 | 13:04
The funk-fuelled Canadian duo show Future Music magazine how they make their records.
Check out the video above to see Dave1 and P-Thugg of Chromeo working on a track in P-Thugg's Montreal studio. Below you can read their interview with Future Music in 2011 and see a video and gallery tour of their studio.
The duo of Dave '1' Macklovitch and Patrick 'P-Thugg' Gemayel have been best friends since childhood and have made music together for practically their entire lives. Their first album She's In Control was released back in 2004 with their catchy tongue-in-cheek single Needy Girl becoming the catalyst for their career. The track also cemented Chromeo's unmistakable style with P-Thugg's talkbox vocals and Dave 1's cheeky lyrics becoming their musical signature. Since then the band have become internet sensations, had their music featured in videogames, TV adverts and seem to be on an endless world tour.
Before stepping into Chromeo's studio in Montreal we'd already glimpsed at pictures, but seeing the mass of synths, drum machines and more in the flesh was something very special indeed. With Sequential Circuits, Korg, Moog, Dave Smith, Akai, Yamaha, Roland and more all gathered in this collector's cave, it was a salivating sight.
There was even a gigantic and mega-rare Yamaha DX5 propped up beside the sofa beyond the live room. Incredibly, all these synths are still sequenced via the MIDI output of an old version of Cakewalk Studio, running on a Pentium II. As Pee smiled, proud of his studio and synth collection, Dave arrived fresh from New York and we soon settled in for a Chromeo history lesson, synth chat and to find out what's next for the dynamic duo.
What were the first steps for Chromeo?
Dave 1: "Tiga giving us the record deal with Turbo was the first incentive for us to start making demos as Chromeo. Before that we were making music together in different outfits and capacities, but this started with us deciding to do non-Hip Hop stuff for an Electronic music label. Then it took on a dimension of its own with us singing, building up our personas and a musical aesthetic that we didn't really have when we first started."
So how did Tiga sign you if Chromeo didn't exist?
Dave 1: "Well I had a record shop with Tiga here in Montreal and he knew my Hip Hop productions and said, I should do a non-Hip Hop production for Turbo. So I said, can I involve my best friend Pee, as I'd wanted to do music with him again since we had our band at high school. Then Pee brought this whole analogue synth dimension and against my will I began singing and writing lyrics. It became this '80s Pop reference but with a slightly more modern image and sound – a modern envelope I would say."
"We're not writing under a guise. In fact that has been one constant since the first album, to keep things completely sincere."
Was this because this was the middle ground for your influences?
P-Thugg: "No we grew up discovering music at the same pace – we would collect records at the same time and always be playing each other stuff, like 'yo! man check this record out!'"
D: "Yeah, I'd always been into '80s Pop and Pee really got in to the '80s stuff through the synths."
P: "Yeah and so we discovered Funk at roughly the same time."
D: "There were a couple of records like Discovery by Daft Punk and the Darkdancer album by Stuart Price [Les Rhythmes Digitales] that hinted at a re-appropriation of '80s Funk and we really felt that we could take it further, because it hadn't been fully explored.
P: "The machine Funk sound."
When you started to get those first tracks together, did people's reaction surprise you? Because you were making Hip Hop up until then.
D: "Well we didn't play them to our Hip Hop friends at first, and when we eventually did, they didn't understand it. We played it to Tiga and he played it to his friends in the Electronic music world, which was really open at that time to anything eclectic, anything non-Techno with vocals. Everybody was really positive and cool saying 'bring it on, there's nothing else like this'. So we just continued and when we did Needy Girl..."
P: "Yeah we just hit a void with that song and everyone was like, 'woah, thank you'."
Needy Girl really presented the whole Chromeo package with the video and aesthetic all working. When you stepped back, did you realise it had all slotted together so well?
D: "No not at all, because the Needy Girl video took forever for us to choose a treatment that we liked. We wrote the video with the director and decided not to have any girls in the video. We were really struggling still to find our aesthetic. I think everything in terms of our aesthetic really came together between Fancy Footwork and the new album, Business Casual.The girl element, the quirky videos, the love-torn lyrics, y'know. It's all been crystallising and confirming and reaffirming itself over time. It didn't just take shape immediately."
It sort of sounds like you've removed yourself personally from Chromeo though. Are all the lyricsactually personal or are they from Dave 1 and P-Thugg, the characters?
D: "We're not writing under a guise. In fact that has been one constant since the first album, to keep things completely sincere. We've always made sure of that, to the point where things are so candid that people actually thought it was meant to be ironic. But then after us continuing to do the same music, showing this relentless consistency and touring so much I think we're proving to people that this is real."
You even began to get acknowledged by the '80s crowd. I remember the last time we spoke, Daryl Hall had been in touch, which later led to your appearance on Live At Daryl's House.
D: "Yeah, hopefully we're taking that sound further or at least exposing it to a new generation that hasn't heard this sound before."
Tell us how that all happened.
P: "We got an email I remember while we were doing a video shoot. Our manager just got in touch and said that Daryl Hall had been in touch."
D: "No, it was John Oates."
P: [Laughs] "Right, my memory is horrible."
D: "John Oates got in touch first and said he wanted to work with us and he was a fan. Then nothing came of that until around a year later when Daryl Hall's manger got in touch and invited us to do the session at livefromdarylshouse.com."
You seem to have nailed it really because you can't be accused of selling out even though you have tracks on hair gel adverts and have featured on Yo Gabba Gabba...
D: "We've been fortunate enough to achieve that, but we really don't care if it became something else. We haven't yet made an overt effort to get on the radio, or done some sort of marketing move, or collaboration to expose us to a larger audience. We always wanted to build up this cult, solid fanbase and we're grateful that we have these fans."
P: "We have fans that will defend us personally on Twitter and such. We're super grateful of that."
Not many bands get the chance to build their career like you. You've sort of done it in the traditional way, with each album getting slicker in production, shows and budgets getting bigger with each tour...
D: "I mean, the budgets don't really follow. But that's alright..."
P: "Well, for the tour, the budgets do get bigger."
D: "Yeah, that's true. But I think a lot of us having more know-how and reinvesting our own money. Our thing has always been to give back and to reinvest in everything we are doing. I mean, we're not at the level of Radiohead where we can give away an album for free. But we can invest our own money in a video just because we know our fans will pass it around for a week and hopefully laugh and like it. And the live show is as human and as generous as we can make it. We tried working with a full band and it just really didn't sound as good."
P: "I don't think people really care to see us with a band either, they like looking at two bozos jumping around on stage. I think that's a big part of the charm of it."
What were those early days of touring like?
D: "It was hard and then leaving the full band was the step. But, like we said before, it all just sort of came in to itself progressively. Our old-school fans have witnessed it all, but there are a ton of people who only just discovered us with Night By Night or the Fancy Footwork album and they haven't seen us coming of age."
"The UK re-release of Business Casual had the Hot Mess collaboration with Elly Jackson from La Roux. Tell us about that because – to be blunt – it feels like the collaboration was tagged on afterwards...
D: "Yeah it does and, well, it was done afterwards! We did the record and then the label said would you do this with somebody else singing the hook. At first we were like, 'no way, the record is done'. So the label then asked if we'd do it if it was somebody that we really wanted to collaborate with. So we said 'yeah' and suggested Elly, because we really like her and have known her from way back – she used to write me on MySpace. So we all got together at Rack Studios in London and we wrote together, she sang, we picked takes together and it was like an old-school collaboration. It worked out."
Sometimes do you know one person won't like a demo so you don't even bother playing it?
P: "No, with my demos, even the ones I know he won't like I'll still send. He [Dave] always finds something in there that we can use in another track. It's the same thing vice versa where I didn't like the lyrics Dave wrote so we scrapped them. There's no time for baby arguments for the sake of egos."
D: "For instance, even the track we made today [see video above] we might end up keeping the hi-hat pattern or something. Fancy Footwork was one of Pee's demos and Pee had actually recorded a scratch vocal melody. I already had the Fancy Footwork hook in my head and was just looking for something to put it on."
P: "He actually tried to re-record my scratch vocals first but it didn't work. We never usually get that far, but with this record we actually recorded the demo vocal before we realised it wasn't working on the track."
Has it ever seemed like Chromeo couldn't continue? You are huge on the Internet and seem to have an ever-growing fanbase, but does that translate into record sales?
D: "Our records have never really sold big and we're more popular now than we ever were before. Record labels come and go and we'll always find a label. The idea is for us to have interesting deals in place but we really concentrate on making good music and our live show."
P: "Everything in the studio is ours, y'know. I win a dollar and I reinvest it in those synths. I save $5,000 a month from not living in New York and that gets reinvested in the studio too. We just need to keep some money aside to get somebody like Philippe [Zdar] to mix it."
D: "We spend a lot of our own money on Chromeo for sure. I mean if nobody can give us the budget to do a video, then we'll do it ourselves. I think we're still quite big on the Internet and that's still a vitally important echo-chamber for our music so we see the value in investing in it."