Chromeo's Dave 1 On The Power of ZZ Top and The Allure of Pop.
A month and a half out from the release of his band's fourth LP, Chromeo's Dave 1 is — perhaps just a little — starting to feel some pressure.
Hey, the guy had his reasons. For one thing, at 35 years old, he's not getting any younger.
But, more than that, the man born Dave Macklovitch knows what's at stake with this upcoming album. For the first time since he and his partner-in-Chromeo-crime P-Thugg formed their electrofunk group in 2004, it seems as if, finally, there's a potential breakthrough lying around the corner for their music.
Listen: It's not like Chromeo hasn't been well-received in the past for its always-energetic and decidedly clever take on funk; they very much have been. But, for the most part, this positive reception has come almost exclusively in the more savvy underground.
Massive popularity has always eluded Chromeo — a band that, both in sound and personality, has forever appeared custom built for it.
Now, though, armed with a poppier-than-ever sound on the group's White Women LP, which is set to earn its release on May 12, Dave 1 thinks there's a chance for his music to really reach a wider audience. Or so he proposed when we caught up with him late last week in advance of his band's show at the House of Blues in Dallas tonight.
Dave 1 was rather forthcoming in our chat, too. He spoke about the difficulties of balancing humor and chops in music, about the very ugly racial realities still present in modern-day America and about the difficult nature of getting a song some spins on FM radio.
Check it out below.
So you've got this tour that's bringing you to Dallas coming up. Where are you at the moment? Are you at home?
We are in Sycamore, Illinois.
Yeah. Nobody knows where that is, and neither do I. We're at a rehearsal space — a big production facility where we're rehearsing for the upcoming tour and putting our music together with the lights and such.
So plotting the stage and getting everything properly situated for the road?
I mean is there anything you can tell me about that set up?
I don't know what I want to reveal. I mean, it's an entirely new stage setup so…
Lights, though. You did say lights!
And this tour runs through the album's release on May 12?
Yes, it will, yeah. It's actually gonna end right when the album is released.
That's kind of an interesting thing that you guys do. When you put out Business Casual back in 2010, I remember you toured in advance of the release then, too. You guys always seem to tour before the album, which is maybe a little bit different than some other acts do things. Is that on purpose?
We do before and we do after. But, yeah, we like to do a set-up tour. But, in this case, four songs from the album are out already. We're gonna play those four songs and one other one. So, I mean, yeah, it's not like we're just touring our new material. There's only one song that we'll play that the crowd won't know.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about that: Four songs coming out in advance of a new LP is kind of a lot. Is that just the new process these days?
It's all a new process for me. We just thought like this album needed to have a long setup.
Any particular reason?
We had been gone for a while, so we kinda wanted to, y'know, progressively reintroduce ourselves.
How would you classify this new stuff? I've seen in a couple publications saying you’re going for an even poppier sound. Is that fair?
Yeah. It is certainly poppier. But I still think it's got all of the Chromeo elements. And, y'know, I don’t think “Over Your Shoulder” is poppier. I think in many ways, “Over Your Shoulder” is more soulful than we were before. I wouldn't take offense if you say “Sexy Socialite” is poppier. “Socialite” is weird; we recorded the song in, like, six minutes at like 140 beats a minute. “Come Alive” and “Jealous” are a little poppier. But I think there's a lot of weirder stuff on the record, too. It shows a new side — and perhaps there's a broader appeal — but the album does have all types of stuff.
Is there anything you can share about that weirder stuff you mentioned?
There are a couple of really long songs. There's two songs that kinda switch over into like another interlude toward the end. There's two kind of soundtrack-y, atmospheric ballads. And then there's a lot of different textures for us.
“Jealous,” in particular, has been called out as way poppier for you guys. Rolling Stone compared it to a Katy Perry track.
I was actually the one that started doing that. That's all from us. I said that first. When it first happened in the writing process, I was like, “Man, that's a real Katy Perry sound, right?” But also it sounds like Phoenix's “1901” a little bit. And also it's just something else. At first, I really wasn't sure about that opening, but then it grew on me so much that I changed the track listing on the album and put that first.
So “Jealous” is the kickoff to the album?
Yeah, yeah. Actually, the way we did it is, if you pre-order the record, you get all four already-released songs. The four songs are back to back. It's “Jealous,” “Come Alive,” “Over Your Shoulder” and “Sexy Socialite” up front. It's kind of like a mini EP with our album.
Was going poppier always the plan?
Y'know, it just shows kind of a growth, I think. When we actually do it, if the whole album was three-minute songs with first chorus, reverse chorus and a solo bridge chorus, then, yeah, we'll have to change the formatting. But there's this seven-minute weird soundtrack song on this. The last song is like the really, really long, mystical track with this live orchestra and all that. The record's got a variety of tunes. It's, like, a most varied offering. I wouldn't say we're going more pop on this one. I would say that, with a song like “Jealous,” there's a movement in that direction. But there's still all kinds of Ghostbusters synthesizers everywhere. There's a bunch of different things on it.
Well, this is your fourth LP, too. It's natural to maybe wanna try some new things with the fourth one. And it's been four years since the last one. Those are some pretty substantial milestones.
Yeah, and I think it's helping us hit stronger. There's more buzz for us about this record and more anticipation about this record than any other previous record. So having it being kind of like a steady growth? That's a huge blessing. But I think, if I may say so, it's a testament to how hard we work and how humble we are when it comes to improving and reinventing.
It definitely has seemed like a constant, progressive rise for you guys from the very beginning till now.
Yep, yep. That's the price it took.
I will say, though, that for all the new, poppier elements, there remain some obvious Chromeo touchstones that you alluded to still being around. I think that the most obvious one is that you guys never seem to take yourselves too seriously, at least musically. Is that just a forever element of Chromeo?
I mean, look at a band like ZZ Top. If you're a real guitar player, then it's no joke, right? But, at the same time, they've got a song like “Tush” and a song called “Cheap Sunglasses,” y'know? And I'm not only saying this because I'm talking to a guy in Texas, but they really are our heroes in terms of, like, the tone of their music and the fact that they can be very, very credible and also playful at the same time. They're not a joke band; they're not Tenacious D. If you're serious about what you do, good. But it became imperative that we have an amount of humor and playfulness. We've always wanted that to exist with our music. I think, on this record, that still exists. I mean, the album's called White Women.
Is that a tough thing to balance, serious music and a sense of humor?
It's the hardest thing in the world to balance.
Can you talk me through kinda how it goes? I mean, do you come up with these weird lyrical concepts first?
After. But it's like, every song has to have like a humor element hidden somewhere. If you read that Nile Rodgers book, it's funny because he talks about Chic. Nile Rodgers comes from, like, a really vigorous jazz background. And when he started making these Chic records, he was all like, “I have to keep stuff in there so that all my jazz friends would still respect what I do,” And, in fact, when you look at Chic's music, the chords are extremely complicated jazz chords. There's stuff in there that you would never expect and that you'll never find in that kind of music. With Chromeo, the idea's to balance cool textures that have never really been used before in the same way — and then have that so that all of our musical friends or all our siblings or fellow producers will listen to our music and be like, “Oh, man! That's crazy!” At the same time, they're also hopefully cleverly written.
Yeah, and it's not just outlandish like Tenacious D.
Yeah. I mean, like, it's true. I like Tenacious D, though. I'm not dicking around, just be frank. But it's not Lonely Island, where we're on a boat or whatever. I mean, Lonely Island are geniuses, too. I'm a huge fan. But, with their stuff, comedy is the main purpose. With us, comedy is not the main purpose. It kinda just comes within the whole package. I think our sensibility is closer to ZZ Top.
But it is important to keep some of that comedy in there, you think.
Yeah. That's always been our style. I mean, there are songs on the album that are like super, super deep. But even in those songs, I'll always use a word that's a bit out of place. It'll be like a little phrasing that kind of makes you smile. Even “Don't Turn The Lights On,” the idea's still funny. There's always that element. But it's the hardest thing in the world. Y'know, I think it's balancing humor and credibility and, specifically, balancing the high-brow and low-brow that is what I'm most proud of. And there's moments where we really nail it and those are, like, my proudest accomplishments. For instance, y'know when we did Jimmy Fallon with Death From Above 1979? That was, like, one of my proudest accomplishments because we did a song called “Sexy Socialite” on network television with a gospel choir. I just feel like all the levels that are mingling there is something that is truly Chromeo, and that I'm real proud of.
So the new album is called White Women. What's the impetus there?
It's a homage to Helmut Newton because it's a title of his book and we're pretty big fans of his photography. And I thought the title would be a kind of funny mindfuck because, y'know, P Thugg and I are like really ambiguously ethnic dudes making the kind of music that's basically a tribute to black music. And the girl on the album cover isn't white either. But she is wearing a white wedding dress. I just felt it was funny and put a lot of stuff at play and also gave us a chance to talk about our influence outside of music — like our photography friends.
But you also recently brought up race in another interview. You described the reaction to Beyonce's Grammy performance as racist.
Racist. Yeah. Racist. That's one of the ugliest moments I've ever witnessed. It just shows you how conservative the media in America can be. And how those ancient associations with black music and lascivious tendencies of sexuality are. You know how, like, back in the day they couldn't watch Elvis dance because that was like the black way of doing it? Like, that's still alive. Look at all the racism that came out when Kanye had the Taylor Swift thing. Look at the names that people called him. Under any circumstances, you shouldn't be using those words — ever. Like, no one in America should be allowed to even say that. Ever, ever, ever. I mean it's so appalling.
OK, but how do you balance that with putting race so front and center with your album title?
That's what happens, right? Hopefully our fans know [where we're coming from]. Sure, they listen to Chromeo as, like, a party band as far as to laugh at or whatever. But it just serves as a reminder that there's still serious issues. I don't have to be heavy-handed with it. I don't have to sing about it. But it's still part of our conversation, and there's still political consciousness. And, for me, with my fourth album, in my mid-30s, it's important to integrate that in my endeavors as well.
So much for Chromeo being all jokes.
But it's never just jokes! I mean, always, the best comedy always has tragic undertones, anyway. Right? Listen to all of our music — the funniest stuff is also kind of tragic. Like “Momma's Boy” is about like this kind of tragic Oedipal complex. “Jealous” is about a guy that's, like, castrated because he can't express his feelings of jealousy.
Yeah, he's doubly insecure. He's insecure about his insecurities.
Exactly, yeah. And that kind of clever meta level that we put into that song is what makes it something I'm proud of. Because, on the one hand, it's the first song ever that we pitched out to radio. But, on the other, it's got that kind of very meta thing about it in the lyrics that you know you don't hear on the radio a lot.
It's interesting that you bring up radio. It's kinda the final thing I want to talk about. It does seem like radio might be more ready than ever before for the Chromeo sound given the kind of disco revivalist thing that's going on between Pharrell and Bruno Mars and everything else.
It's much harder for a new band. Like, Pharrell? Pharrell has a lot of traction. Radio people know him. We're talking about a 20-plus year career, killing it. But we're a new band so as far as radio's concerned. We're a new band.
You really consider yourself a new band?
As far as radio's concerned, yeah, we are. They've never heard of us. They haven't. Y'know “Jealous” is the first song we'll ever bring to that.
You guys have never pitched a single to radio before?
Never. We never pitched a song to pop radio before.
But you guys have had MTV airplay and things like that in the past.
Yeah. But it was very sporadic. And, y'know, it was all accidental. Yeah, we've had support, but never any kind of real record label campaign. I really don't know where it's gonna go. I have no idea. But I can say that the song that we're bringing there is something that's all ours and that I'm really proud of. And wherever it goes I can still be proud of that. It's entirely us.
Are you at all nervous about that? I guess you're kind of putting yourself out there in one regard.
I mean, it's out of my hands. That's one thing that's completely out of my hands. I had to deliver the song. I had to deliver, like, the killer remix package, which we have, and I have to fill in the best video possible, which I did. Now I gotta let better people do their jobs with it. You know, I've got a show to build.
Right, which is why you're in Illinois.
Right. Sycamore, Illinois.
Chromeo performs tonight at the House of Blues.