I have to admit, there have been many times when I have been caught dancing at my desk or in my car while listening to Chromeo. I know my seated dance moves are awkward and pale in comparison to the ones I can bust out while standing, but there is something so infectious about the electro-funk the Montreal duo puts forth that my body can’t control itself. When I found out I’d have the opportunity to chat with Dave 1, I was ecstatic to pick the brain of a man that was partially responsible for my seated shoulder roll being seen in public.
Gozamos: I just wanted to start off by passing my condolences on the loss of your friend, DJ Mehdi. Can you tell me a little bit about working with him on “I Am Somebody“?
Dave 1: Sure. Actually, we wrote a little text about it on our Facebook page, if you want to get the full story, it’s on there, with all the details. Essentially, it’s a fairly old song, it’s from 2005. He had sent me the music for a remix, and instead of doing a remix, we just ended up writing a song to it. This was before “Fancy Footwork” was even completed, so this was a long time ago. We recorded the vocals to it in a motel room in L.A. when we were there for a show and sent it back to him. I believe we went back and forth on the mix a whole bunch of times, and that’s it. It was cool because it was like one of the first 12-inchers to come out on Ed Banger, and the video was really cool too. In fact, I remember something – here’s a funny detail – I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the video for that song, but I remember being in France, and the video had just come out, and a friend of mine who works at a record label was like, “Wow, that video is so vital,” and remember being like, what does that mean? What do you mean vital? I had never heard that word. Sign of the times, right?
He was a great dude, you know? It’s a tremendous loss.
It’s always hard losing someone that young, with such a gift.
And his gift was almost as much a social gift as a musical gift. He was the one that built that whole community. He built the family.
I’ve noticed a recurring theme in your album artwork, in the “Fancy Footwork” video, and even the equipment you have on stage. It’s these sexualized women’s legs in stockings and high heels, and they kind of remind me of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video. Is that what you guys were going for there?
Yeah, it’s one of the many references. Did you ever find that offensive by any chance?
You know, I don’t. I feel like a lot of people get offended by sexual things, and I don’t really think that sex is something to be offended by.
I didn’t even think it was sexual, actually. I though it was maybe sensual, but not sexual. I think sexual would be something a little more explicit. I’m not American, so maybe I’m not as prudish. (laughs) I never thought it would be sexual, definitely sensual, definitely sexy, but yeah, for us it was just sort of a nod to a whole universe that encompasses anything from, yes, Robert Palmer, but also 80’s hair metal album covers to 70’s erotic cinema to Helmut Newton photography to 1960’s Pirelli’s calendars. We just wanted to reference that whole constellation of images. The woman’s legs was a cool signifier to do that. For us, it was considered an artsy thing. I hope it’s not vulgar or too sexual. For me, it’s some Helmut Newton shit.
Well I think it’s very identifiable.
Yeah, that too. That’s important too. With Chromeo, we missed the era when bands had an iconography, when bands had a visual universe. The Ramones logo, the Guns ‘n Roses logo, Justice with the cross, Daft Punk with the pyramids, you know what I’m saying, you just need that. Then you have Chromeo with the legs.
Speaking of 80’s artists, you guys recently hooked up with Darryl Hall on his online web series. What was that like?
It was amazing. It’s the overwhelming feeling of being able to get in contact in real life with someone who has been a musical inspiration. I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling experience, and it went pretty well. I mean, there’s no secret, everything that happened you can see on that website. Actually, it was a while ago, I think that was 3 years ago now, and we did Bonnaroo with him last year. He’s been hibernating, because he’s working on his album. We’re going to do more stuff with him, but he needs to finish his album first.
Being so heavily-influenced by the great music of the 80’s, do you guys find it hard to keep yourselves current?
Honestly, we don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I mean, when we make music, obviously we want it to be modern as well. But I think that just the fact that we are who we are, looking like what we look, making the kind of music we make, here and now, that gives it a modern touch anyway. We were some of the first ones to reference this kind of music when we came out. It was extremely unpopular. It was almost a forgotten genre of music. When our first album came out, we used to cite Hall and Oates as an influence. They hadn’t been “rehabilitated”, so to speak. Everybody was just making fun of them. Same goes for Rick James. We took these people that had been left out of musical history, almost, and cited them openly as influences and took that influence and re-contextualized it. So that to me is current enough. Our music wouldn’t have been possible in the 80s. It wouldn’t have stood out, and the modernity of our lyrics wouldn’t have been possible. I just think it’s kind of the magical thing with us.
A lot of the big festivals here in Chicago this summer, like Lollapalooza, which I believe you guys played in 2010, and the new North Coast Music Festival, have moved to more of a dance and hip-hop focus. You guys were sort of at the forefront of bringing dance back into the mainstream. Why do you think it’s become popular again? Do you think its the 80’s/90’s nostalgia?
I don’t know. Those things really come in waves, and I think we would need a musical sociologist to really get to the bottom of why there’s a big dance music craze in America now. It’s strange, we’re kind of at the crossroads between electronic music and indie music. When we play something like Lollapalooza, we don’t play in the dance tent. We play like a band, on the stage. Our live setup obviously has a lots of instruments, and instrumentation, and there’s guitar solos, and so on and so forth. All this to say that our music doesn’t really fit in this whole new dance music craze you have in America, which is very much iTunes Top 10 music. Chromeo is a little more underground than that. And I think we always just do our own thing. I’m happy that we’ve been able to share stages with people as diverse as Justice on the one hand, and The Strokes on the other hand. The fact that we’re able to navigate between the band world and the dance world is an advantage for us.
Your younger brother is A-Trak, who here in Chicago is probably most known for working with our hometown boy Kanye West. I’d imagine being in such a musically inclined family would be pretty fun.
Yeah, not to mention Kid Sister, he worked with her for a long time and signed her to his label too. There’s a strong tie between my brother and Chicago. It’s cool, we work together on a lot of stuff, we’re really close and we just try to keep each other motivated.
I read an article in the Montreal Gazette where you’re talking about the social media-savvy modern day rockstar. Why do think its shifted from the 80’s excess and partying to the more hands-on artists promoting themselves that you see now?
Because you have less of a support system than you had in the 80s. This is how I understand it: traditionally, the music industry was supported by record sales. Records were selling a lot and with record sales, record labels were able to fund artists and support all these excesses that you talk about. Now that records stopped selling due to the Internet, there’s two things that happened. Well first of all, the Internet caused records to stop selling, which I don’t think is a bad thing at all, I don’t really see a problem with that. And secondly, it diversified niches and sub-genres because you have all these kinds of pockets of music that are now available. So you have all these artists that have to make themselves popular and make themselves known without the traditional support of a record label. That causes them to really be online and be sort of promoting themselves all the time. Lil’ B is a perfect example. Lil’ B says he’s on the Internet 22 hours a day. He used to have like hundreds of MySpace pages. My brother has this label called Fool’s Gold and they were meeting with an up and coming rapper about a month ago, and the rapper casually told them that he had 22 Tumblr’s. (laughs) It’s just this new thing. I think it’s amazing. Even if you look at bands like Radiohead, they’re so ahead of the online game. That’s their thing, that’s their hustle. That whole Jay-Z and Kanye West iTunes debacle or success, however you want to call it, that was also another example of one of the most important releases of the year being tied in to online promotion. That’s just the whole new way.
Chromeo plays a sold-out show at House of Blues Friday, 9/30. Tickets are still available for their encore performance Saturday, 10/1.