Chromeo's Dave-1 Explains Their New 'Schmucky And Neurotic' Tracks On Love
It's been ten years since electrofunk duo Chromeo debuted their first album She's in Control. Since then, David "Dave-1" Macklovitch and Patrick "P-Thugg" Gemayel have been riding high in their success with a two-weekend performance at Coachella last month and the release of their fourth album, White Women, out today.
Known for their synthpop sounds and their throwback to 70s funk and 80s new wave, the pair (who hail from Montreal, Canada) bring down the house at their sold-out concerts. (Most notable on stage is Chromeo's symbol—a pair of glowing women's legs holding up their keyboards.) Chromeo's ability to get their crowds busting out moves for their upbeat dance floor jams is pretty amazing. Their lament on love and relationships make them equal parts Casanovas and goofballs, and their tracks deliver a pulsating beat with retro-funk bass. It's a great balance and they've got their style down.
This new album has some big-name featured guests, like Chaz Bundick (AKA Toro y Moi), Ezra Koenig of Vampire Week and Solange.
Talent doesn't fall too far from the tree, either. Dave-1 is the older brother to equally talented house producer A-Trak, who makes up one-half of Duck Sauce. And Dave-1 also put his Ph.D in French literature that he earned at Columbia University to good use when he used to lecture on the subject at colleges.
LAist caught up with Dave-1 to talk about making music about "schmucky" guys, how he's jealous of how women love Bundick and where they got the idea for the keyboard legs.
What's the story behind the name of your new album, White Women?
It was named after Helmut Newton’s first book of photography. We’ve always been fans of his work. His artwork influenced ours. I was at one of his first, big retrospectives which was in Paris a couple of years ago and they had all the titles of his books. I knew all his stuff; I had a bunch of books by him but I had never had the old monographs from the 70s... [There were] his first book, White Women, and... his second book, A World Without Men. The titles were just so good. When I thought of White Women, I thought, that would be such a good album title for rock music, [like] David Bowie. I called P-Thugg and was like ‘Why don’t we call our album that?’ And he told me I was crazy but I finally convinced him.
Do you think some people might mistake the meaning of your album title?
That’s kind of the point, right?—that you just kind of play with the diverse interpretations. Clearly, we would never have a record about race or much less about white people. What could be the symbolic meaning of it? If you look at the album artwork—that kind of wedding theme, like the "white women" can be the brides. And that’s why we have the bridal scene in the video for "Jealous (I Ain't With It)"; and the album trailer.
How do you feel that you guys approach the subject of women and love in a different way than we're hearing on pop radio?
We try to approach it in a different way and from a variety of perspectives because we find that the way relationships are discussed in most pop songs are a little one-dimensional. It’s either ‘I love you so much’ or there are songs about seduction, "come dance with me," or shit like that. Obviously, relationships are more complex and funny and tragic. So, early on in our career our whole idea was to make our music modern by juxtaposing a heavy 80s influence with a totally, post-modern, anti-heroic schmucky, Woody Allen, neurotic standpoint...
But in all those tracks, the male voice isn’t patronizing. On the contrary, it’s the man being patronized. It’s the singer who’s lamenting the fact that he’s so schmucky and neurotic. And I think that’s where the humor in our music comes from.
And another [thing] is, I don’t want our songs to be heteronormative either. I think they’re about relationships in general and it doesn’t have to be about a guy and girl. I think those patterns exist in every kind of relationship. You always have those insecurities, frustrations, jealously, humiliation, spite, rancor—and nobody sings about it, and that’s why we’re here.
What were you inspired by when you were making this album?
By now, we kind of have our sound that’s pretty well-established. So the idea is to go within the 70s and 80s and maybe find some inspiration in stuff we haven’t touched so much in previous records. So, an album like Clues by Robert Palmer, The Look of Love by ABC, some Electric Light Orchestra stuff, some weird ABBA songs.
Honestly, after that, there was modern music. I mean, we happened to be working on a record at the time when all these amazing albums came out. Arctic Monkeys and Blood Orange—you know, all those albums come out when you’re in the studio and it’s so cool, so inspiring.
How did you come about working with Chaz of Toro y Moi on this new album?
Every girl I knew had a crush on him and it made me very jealous, so I had this "if you can’t beat them, join them" attitude. Man, I started listening to his music and was like, "this guy is perfect for us." And sure enough, he was a fan and he was totally down to work and we got in the studio and worked together and it was better than anything I could ever expect. We worked fast. It was the first time he sang on anybody else’s record and we forged a connection.
And I know that you taught literature at a university. Are you still doing that?
No, I actually stopped to work on this album. The deal I made with P-Thugg is that I was going to stop teaching and he was going to come move to New York and we would be together in the studio every single day.
It’s been about 10 years since She’s in Control was released. Do you remember that first moment when you felt that your music blew up?
The first moment when things changed for us was when Fancy Footwork came out and we sold out our first show. Before then, nobody wanted to see us. We worked on Fancy Footwork in Paris and I moved back to the U.S. and we started a tour and then the show was sold out.
How did you come up with the keyboards and legs idea?
So, we work with this Parisian company called Surface to Air. They do all of our art direction and they came up with the idea based on a ZZ Top video called “Rough Boy” which is one of the dopest videos from the 80s you’ll ever see in your life. In that ZZ Top video at one point there’s a table and the table’s got wooden legs and it just walks around and that’s what gave them the idea. We were super open to it because we feel like every band needs to have a symbol.