Chromeo wants to write you a TV theme song, girl
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There are several layers to every track by Montreal-based electro-funk duo Chromeo: On the top, there’s the silky smooth voice of David “Dave 1” Macklovitch, who drops loverman come-ons and unsubtle double entendres over throbbing beats, movie-soundtrack guitar, and the spiky keyboards of bandmate Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel. But dig deeper, and you’ll find a music geek’s paradise of pop references that endures through countless spins. The duo’s forthcoming Business Casual adds considerably to this musical vocabulary, taking an extended detour through some of the softer contemporaries to past Chromeo touchstones like Rick James, Jimmy Jam And Terry Lewis, and Hall And Oates. Before Chromeo comes to Stubb’s Aug. 24—with signature light-up-leg keyboard stands in tow—Macklovitch spoke with The A.V. Club as it took a pop-surgeon’s scalpel to some Business Casual highlights, touching on recent collaborations with Solange Knowles and Daryl Hall, and why Scissor Sisters have him scared to put out a record in 2010.
The A.V. Club: References to nighttime and the dark run throughout Business Casual—would you say that this is the most nocturnal Chromeo record so far?
David Macklovitch: You can see that with the videos too—the “Night By Night” video was dark and smoky. The ambience of this record is more that the lights are dim and it’s time to put on a couple candles. It’s a bit of a “grown and sexy” feel that we brought into this record.
AVC: “Night By Night” has a cinematic feel to it, so it makes sense that it would get a music video to accompany that.
DM: Yeah, [especially] the guitar solo. With [2007's] Fancy Footwork, we just wanted to make pop songs that sounded good, and had a big sound. I think this record sounds even bigger, but I think there’s more of a cinematic flash—even like a TV theme. With certain songs, I wanted them to sound like the theme from The Love Boat or something.
AVC: After some heavier, funkier cuts, Business Casual smoothes out on its second half. Did you feel like you were taking chances with those songs?
DM: I think so. I mean, we’ve never done a seven-minute song before, we’ve never done a ballad in French. Even the last song, the Billy Joel-sounding one [“Grow Up”]—nobody’s doing that. That’s still super-uncharted. That’s just as uncharted as when we first started doing Rick James funk records.
AVC: With “You Make It Rough,” that seven-minute song, were you trying to capture the feel of a 12-inch remix? What was the driving force behind recording such a long track?
DM: That song is kind of bare-bones, with just a drum and a bassline. So instead of building it synchronically, so to speak, I just wanted to build it diachronically. And then when we finished putting all the demos together for the record, we just felt like it missed a little something weird. So we were like, “Well, that song is the perfect one to take somewhere else later on.” So then we added that Dire Straits drum solo—like a reference to the beginning of “Money For Nothing.” And then very Andy Summers guitar chords, and then those African chants I did. We wanted to have fun with it. If you listen, at one point there’s a free-jazz saxophone coming in for like, five seconds. It’s really low in the mix.
AVC: It’s so brief, it makes you want it to come back.
DM: I wanted people to wonder if they heard it in the other room or something.
AVC: In making references like the ones in “You Make It Rough,” do you and Patrick want to remind the listener of a song or sound they already know? Or do you choose a texture like that out of a desire to pay homage to Dire Straits or Andy Summers?
DM: I think that it’s a re-contextualization. I mean, we just think in those terms because all we do is listen to that kind of music. Everything for us is a reference. But I think the fact that we’re just combining it all now, in this syncretic kind of way, and the fact that we’ve got those quirky lyrics, and those catchier choruses, and more hip-hop personality—all that gives it a new context. Everything we do is an homage, but it would be boring if it were just that. I hope that the way we put it together gives it a new direction.
AVC: Did you always have Solange Knowles in mind to do the female vocals on “When The Night Falls?”
DM: [Gemayel] wrote that chorus, and it was either going to be really, really falsetto, or we were going to get a girl to do it. And I was like, “You know, we don’t have a girl’s voice on this record, so let’s get a female vocal.” And Solange was a natural choice because we’re friends with her—my brother [Montreal DJ A-Trak] is really good friends with her. And she just killed it. She ended up giving it like a Chaka Khan thing.
AVC: Speaking of collaborations, Chromeo played with Daryl Hall at Bonnaroo this year, and on his Live At Daryl’s House web series as well. What was it like to hear your words sung by one of blue-eyed soul’s most powerful voices
DM: It’s ill because when we wrote them, we kind of imagined him singing them anyway. So it’s like they’re back to where they belong.
AVC: What have you guys been listening to lately?
DM: The new Scissor Sisters record [Night Work]. I’m not going to lie to you, the production on that record kind of makes me want to cancel my album. It’s too incredible. [Night Work producer] Stuart Price is the fucking man. He’s the Don. P and I, we’ve been listening to that—it’s been a while since we heard a record that raised the bar in terms of [being] close to what we’re doing. They’ve got a whole other dimension to their topics and their aesthetic, but I just listen to it for the drum sounds, the bass sounds, all the stuff that’s going on on the production level—it’s mind-blowing.
AVC: Is it giving you some inspirational push for the next record?
DM: Yeah, yeah—I got a million more ideas now that I heard that.