We got the (electro)funk: Talking with Chromeo's Dave-1

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By Molly Freedenberg

You'd think a writer living in Tech Central and a musician who works almost exclusively with electronics would be able to figure out how to have an international conversation. But somehow, Chromeo's Dave-1 (who was in London at the time) and I couldn't get that archaic piece of equipment (you know, the telephone) to work for us. So we turned to ye olde computer. Below is the transcript of our email interview, emoticons and all (who knew Dave-1 uses smilies?). I'll let y'all know if we actually talk face to face after their show at Mezzanine on Monday.
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San Francisco Bay Guardian: So first of all, I love the new album. How was making this one different from making the first?

Dave Macklovitch: Well we took a while because we really wanted to come up with the catchiest songs. We took our time. We wanted this to be a more sophisticated record. We polished the arrangements, the mix too. We got Philippe Zdar to mix it, actually. And then it was also really important for us to put the emphasis on the lyrics this time around. So you know, that explains everything from "Bonafied" to "Momma's Boy"...

SFBG:I know you didn't know much about electronic music when you formed Chromeo. Is that still true? Either way, who's been influencing you (or who have you been excited about listening to) in the past few years?

DM: I mean, now we're up on all that stuff. All the Parisian stuff, London cats like Switch and Sinden, German cats like Digitalism and Boys Noize, we like all that. But we don't come from that world. We discovered this through Chromeo and everyone who's supported us over the years...

SFBG: I've read you tend to like rock n roll, Pee tends to like funk, and you both like hip hop. But your music has such a clear 80s pop sound - from Prince to Michael Jackson to Sheena Easton to, of course, Hall& Oates. Were the 80s a heavy influence on either of you?

DM: Yeah of course. Huge influence. I grew up on MTV. I used to watch Billy Ocean and Huey Lewis videos at a super young age and want to be those guys. I got my first erection watching David Lee Roth's "California Girls" video. Robert Palmer, I thought that dude was so cool... I just remember learning their songs by heart and thinking those cats were badass.

SFBG: Speaking of Hall & Oates, how do feel about being compared to them?

DM: Best compliment ever. We're the thugged-out Hall & Oates.

SFBG: OK, let's talk about this irony issue. You've said before that Chromeo is absolutely, 100% not ironic. But it's pretty clear you both have quite a sense of humor. Particularly considering your hip-hop backgrounds, it seems hard to imagine Chromeo is completely serious.

DM: Look, we totally have a sense of humor. We understand that people might look at us and laugh, or listen to our music and laugh. That makes us happy, actually. It's a compliment. But we're not ironic in the sense that what we do isn't a parody or a pastiche, in which you have an underlying contempt for what's being imitated. In our case, there's actually the most sincere admiration for our sources of inspiration. But the fact that we recontextualize them makes it funny. And we're aware of that. We embrace it. Actually, this time around, we don't even care if people find us ironic. They can interpret us any way they like, as long as they enjoy the music.

SFBG: Speaking of which, how the hell did you end up making this kind of music anyway?

DM: I have no idea. We got our deal before making a demo. We didn't know what to do. Pee started buying vintage keyboards and I started writing songs with lyrics. We did "Mercury Tears" first, then "Gangsta". Then Pee forced me to sing "Needy Girl". Then it was on. Also, we were hip-hop producers, so we always had a ton of records. We had sampled all the 60s and 70s ones, and we kept the 80s ones to listen to. They became our Chromeo muses.

SFBG: What's your favorite song on the new album, and why?

DM: "Momma's Boy", because it's a new direction for us, and I think it came off. "Bonafied" and "100%" I like as well.chromeo may truong 1_1.jpg

SFBG: What's your process for writing songs? Do you have clearly defined roles (someone writes lyrics, someone writes melodies), or does it change? And does the process change? (e.g. how did “Needy Girl,” or “Momma's Boy,” or “Tenderoni,” evolve? Words first? Music first? Beats first?)

DM: It depends. Sometimes Pee comes up with a demo of the music, like a groove and a keyboard riff, and I'll add stuff to it, structure it and write lyrics. That's what he did for "Roni", where he actually already had the hook in there. Other times, I'll lay down a rough demo, a verse melody and a chorus, and Pee will add his ideas to that. That was the case for "Needy Girl". Then we always get together to finish the songs off.

SFBG: Who do you find your biggest fans to be? (What age, where are they from, what are they like?) And how does the hip-hop community treat Chromeo?

DM: Our fans are usually young Myspace kids and it's dope. We love that. Some hipster kids, some more nerdy ones. We love them all. It's the Chromeo army, ya heard? ;) It's funny because we're just starting to get attention from the hip-hop community now. Like, when we started this project, we didn't tell any of our hip-hop friends about it. And now they're all coming around. I just did an interview for allhiphop.com the other day. And that's the only website I ever go to religiously.

SFBG: Do your students at Columbia know who you are? How do they treat you? Or do you lead some kind of professor-by-day, rock-star-by-night double life?

DM: Some do, some don't. It doesn't matter; I don't really talk about it. If they address it, then cool, we laugh about it or whatever. No big deal.

SFBG: What's the ultimate best thing that could happen to Chromeo?

DM: Maybe a big radio record in the UK? Or a big synch? Or simply, people continue to enjoy our music. And we stay inspired.