Montreal duo Chromeo have adopted a do-it-yourself approach to their music career since the start, and though they headline major events like Coachella, taking the stage after acts like Outkast, the electro-funk duo stay true to the game with their ambition, involvement and reinvention
Dave 1 and P-Thugg recently released their fourth album “White Women”, which debuted at #1 on iTunes and their current single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” is flying up the dance charts, making top Songs of Summer lists and garnering their largestradio airplay to date. Their impressive tour schedule this year includes Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Made in America and more.
The guys waited nearly four years since the release “Business Casual” to put out new music that includes their most collaborations yet. Ranging from South Carolina DJ/producer Toro y Moi on the instant synth-funk favorite “Come Alive,” Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and repeat offender Solange whose “Lost On The Way Home” offers an emotive, deeply beautiful R&B vocal complementing Dave 1’s falsetto. Other notable tracks include the bass-heavy classic 70s track “Over Your Shoulder,” the bouncy, whimsical, mostly ironic “Sexy Socialite”and the nostalgic, 80s banger “Old 45s”.
Chromeo’s DIY train has not stopped since premiering the firstever music video on Shazam for “Come Alive”, and alerting the announcement of “White Women” via a Craigslist “missed connections” of the new record and artwork. YRB sat down with Dave 1 prior to Chromeo’s set at Sweetlife Festival in Maryland to discuss all things music and make a reality check that beyond all the glamour musicians work really hard.
YRB: What did you do to prepare for today?
Dave 1: I’m pretty fucked today. We had a gig last night in Detroit. I flew in this morning and crashed at my hotel for a few hours and came here. The rest of the guys took the bus so they drove all night and have been putting the stage together ever since. P supervised all the people because he likes to do that. We’re both very involved in different aspects. I hold it down in meetings with the labels.
YRB: When you play at festivals do you get to schmooze with the artists and see their sets?
Dave 1: It depends if it’s a rough day or if it’s a chill day. If we have time we’ll hang out, but most of the time we gotta set up. We have a DJ set tonight in DC so it’s a little bit more involved.
YRB: How did you guys team up with Toro y Moi on the new record?
Dave 1: First of all, I didn’t know that much about him, he’s dope. He’s kind of like a post-J-Dilla producer, like beats dude, and he sings over his shit. So it’s kind of like beats, atmospheric, very low-fi stuff. I didn’t know much about it either but all the girls that I hung out with were like “Yo, Toro y Moi, Toro y Moi”. I looked him up and I was like this kid is ill, he would be a great guest on the record. We reached out on some fan shit and he was like “I love you guys” and so we linked up.
YRB: “Come Alive” was the first music video to ever premiere on Shazam proving Chromeo are early adopters. Would you say new media is a part of Chromeo’s story?
Dave 1: We consider ourselves very much like a blog band. We came up with music blogs and when traditional media was sort of reluctant to cover us, blogs gave us love. So whatever we could do with these kinds of forward thinking platforms, we jump to the occasion. This whole album was premiered through a series of quirky, cool little online things. We did the video on Shazam and announced the album cover and the release date on Craigslist. It’s just a bunch of little inside jokes like that, but then the next video we straight-up premiered on BuzzFeed. When we announced the album back in September of last year, instead of having a press release, to detail all the features on the album, we did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), and we basically spilled all the beans about the record there. All press outlets picked it up from the AMA. It’s our thing to just do a bunch of cool, social media, blog-centric things. We’re that kind of band, we’re not a top-down, goes-to-radio and then people learn about it type of group. Bloggers supported us so early and what’s fun is that now a lot of them are in powerful positions, they’re like editors now and they still rock with us.
YRB: Chromeo still seems very much to be on the cusp of something bigger. Having played Coachella, and other festivals like Sweetlife and Primavera Sound coming up in Spain, are you content with where you are right now?
Dave 1: We’ve been doing this since high school. The thing about this band is it’s a healthy growth. We try to make it interesting with every record. Most people’s attention span doesn’t last three or four albums for a band. We’re on our fourth album now and people still want to interview us. People still talk about us
like we’re a new band because we’ve managed to reinvent ourselves. We take cues from bands that have had this really long kind of lifespan. On this album “Jealous” is the first Chromeo record that got any kind of radio play. I mean hopefully that opens the door for us to do more. For us it’s like, imagine you just got two choices you get dealt, you either blow up right off the jump or you just sustain something. To do that on a fourth album is a lot of work for a band, and we want to put in that work cause we want it.
YRB: Falsetto is making a huge comeback, it’s been a signature element in your vocals for a long time, wouldn’t you agree?
Dave 1: You see it more on this new album actually. I do ten interviews a day and this is the first time somebody mentioned that. I actually made a deliberate choice on this record to write hooks that went up in falsetto. For “Come Alive” and “Jealous” they’re both proof in falsetto. It just lifts. I can’t keep it through a whole song, so usually what we do like on this record, I’ll just sing like normal voice and I’ll go into falsetto voice for the hook. It just lifts the hook.
YRB: Is it safe to say your album title “White Women” could be interpreted in a multitude of ways?
Dave 1: Nobody knows where to go with it. We figured we needed a crazy title for out fourth album.The title came from photographer Helmet Newton, the guy that shot all the classic Yves Saint Laurent shit and he did a bunch of stuff in the 80s as well. He has always had an influence on our album covers. I went to one of his retrospectives and they had all his book titles and his first book was called “White Women”. I called P and I was like “Dude, wouldn’t that have been a perfect Bryan Ferry or Roxy Music album title, or like a Bowie record or even The Strokes record with the hand on the ass?” He was like “yeah totally.” I said we should call our next album that and P said “dude you’re crazy.” I was like no one will take it as a race thing and even if they do we’ll play around with the signifier so much that it will kind of be a mind fuck. He was like “let’s do it, it’s album #4, you do whatever the fuck you want”.
YRB: Solange is someone you’ve already collaborated with. “Lost On The Way Home” is such a special song, how did you guys first meet up?
Dave 1: A-trak introduced us. On the last album, she just sang a hook on “When the Night Falls” but between the last album and this album Solange the solo artist totally blossomed so I was like I want a piece of that. I reached out to her again and I was like we need you on this record again. I’m really happy with it. It’s a bit of a departure for us, it’s deeper and it feels like there’s more substance to it.
YRB: “Hot Mess” featured Elly from La Roux on the last album “Business Casual.” Is there a process for you to find collaborators or is it organic?
Dave 1: Organic. Elly used to write me on MySpace before she was La Roux and I just kept a relationship with her. It always has to be organic. One thing on this album is that we’ve had more collaborators than ever and we learned that it’s something we want to keep doing. It’s really fun and fulfilling for us to collaborate with other artists and I think from a fan and a journalist perspective it’s totally unexpected because we’re such two oddballs that people coming into our cipher are just like “What? Really? OK!”
YRB: For those who are only familiar with Chromeo recordings or your DJ sets, would you say you really vibe a lot off the energy when you play live?
Dave 1: I hope we get all our shit to work because every festival is a cluster-fuck. Our set-up for this album cycle is a pretty involved, very choreographed live set, which means we don’t really jam out much, and the songs are very different from the record. The songs seg into each other in a different way, but it’s really tight. We’re not indulging we’re giving shit back to the fans to enjoy themselves. We’re suffering. We’re shlepping, we don’t do it for us.
YRB: Has the act of maintaining your Jewish and Arab backgrounds been intentional?
Dave 1: We kind of joked about it too. It’s our shtick.
YRB: Do you feel like your mindset has changed working together as the sounds have changed in popular music?
Dave 1: No, we’re just influenced by good music whatever it is. There are so many elements from different periods in our music, it’s a dialogue between 80s influence and a contemporary sensibility and a hip-hop attitude and classic rock artwork. We just have that vantage point where we can pick and choose different elements from different periods. Chromeo does something really specific and we just use all our broad interests to inform it. What’s dope is that after working for so many years in our little bubble, more and more people are paying attention, and it feels great.
Story by Michael Menachem
Photography by Tim Saccenti