Thought Catalog
May 15, 2014

Small Titties, Critical Theory And Love Songs: An Exclusive Interview With CHROMEO (OOOH!)

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Few bands are as sure of themselves or for that matter seem like they’re having as much fun as Chromeo, the Canadian retro funk outfit made up of the über stylish Dave Macklovitch (Dave 1), who so happens to have a Ph.D. in French literature from Columbia, and talkbox master Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg).

White Women, Chromeo’s fourth studio record out now on Atlantic Records, has a title that might make critical race scholars clutch their pearls, but relax: it’s taken from the photographer Helmut Newton’s 1976 book of the same title. Here, the band pulls off some awesome collaborations and builds on their funked-out palette of catchy hooks and cheeky lyrics while spicing up the traditional love song.

“In most songs it’s kind of a Lothario figure that talks to girls and either seduces them or brags about his exploits. In our songs we’ve got castrated, powerless schmucks,” Dave 1 told me. Cool!

I caught up with Chromeo on the night of a sold-out performance in Detroit just days before White Women hit the shelves. We talked about small titties, Craigslist, and why Chromeo is a blog band above all else.

Buy on Amazon
Buy on Amazon

You’re definitely not going to remember me but we met many years ago when I was close to choosing Columbia for the French Studies Ph.D, the same Ph.D. program you were in at the time.

Wait a minute…maybe I do remember. I used to have a good memory for that.

I doubt you remember! What was your field?

I came in 20th century doing only literary criticism, but then I got convinced to go early modern so I ended up doing quite a bit of work on the cusp of the 17th and 18th centuries, but always through the prism of modern literary theory.

Do your interests mid-century design, that retro sound and literature and theory from 300 years ago impacts the type of music you make?

I think the approach is imminently modern in that you have a vantage point that allows you to have a syncretic enjoyment of different pieces from different periods.

A syncretic enjoyment! I have just learned a brand new phrase.

We really like late 70s and 80s music, but that doesn’t mean that that music bleeds over into other interests. You can like that and 90s Herb Ritts photography and mid-century design and 17th century rhetorical theory. I think it’s this kind of postmodern Tumblr vantage point where you basically pick and choose and you’ve got a bricolage of different focal points that don’t necessarily have to make sense with each other. My music is one thing, but our interests are broad and varied and they don’t necessarily inform the music. They’re just there.

 Tim Saccenti
Tim Saccenti

Chromeo has been around since 2002. How do you guys keep things fresh and interesting for yourselves creatively?

We really wanted to challenge ourselves with this record, spending more time working on it and setting these goals for ourselves to work harder on the song writing, work harder on the lyrics, work harder on the recording and the production, collaborate with other people. We did a lot of unexpected things setting up this album.

Like what?

Anything from like the really, really slick trailer that started everything off in September to the art show we did with Daniel Arsham of Snarkitecture at Milk Studios to playing on Jimmy Fallon with Death from Above, coming out with a Toro y Moi song, coming out with the “Jealous” video with A$AP Ferg in it, and announcing the album in Craiglist Minneapolis.

Wait, what? That’s amazing! And on Valentine’s Day and as a missed connection, no less. Did you get some crazy email responses to that? Maybe a couple triple X pics or something?

Chromeo
Chromeo

That actually went to my managers email, but yeah he got a bunch of weird stuff. All of that stuff led up to our Coachella performance, which we felt converted a lot of skeptics as well.

As a fourth album, what kind of record is White Women for Chromeo at this stage of the band’s life?

When I was a kid I was a big Chilli Peppers fan and I remember when Blood Sugar Sex Magik came out — you could start being a Chilli Peppers fan on that record, even though they had put out three or four record before that. With a song like “Jealous,” that’s what happening is that new fans are coming around to us. With this album they have everything they need: diverse musical and emotional palette, but at the same time all our signature sounds and tricks are there.

And how would you describe those signature tricks to all your fabulous new fans?

A lot of analog synthesizers, a lot of vintage drum machines, a lot of hopefully catchy hooks, a lot of cheeky lyrics, and concepts that are meant to turn the clichés of traditional love songs on their heads. In most songs it’s kind of a Lothario figure that talks to girls and either seduces them or brags about his exploits. In our songs we’ve got castrated, powerless schmucks. That’s “Jealous.” Or we’ve got ailing cougars, that would be “Old 45S” — 45 year old women that are still single.

I think it’s this kind of postmodern Tumblr vantage point where you basically pick and choose and you’ve got a bricolage of different focal points that don’t necessarily have to make sense with each other.

Speaking of which, some of my favorite tracks on the record are “Old 45S,” “Sexy Socialite,” and “Over Your Shoulder.”

“Old45s” is the one that keeps coming up the most, I’m glad you like that. Thank you.

“And even though you’ve got small breasts, but to me they look the best,” as you sing on “Over Your Shoulder”!

Yep! It’s our highbrow/lowbrow thing, you know? You’ve got lyrics like that that are almost “Weird Al” Yankovic, but then you’ve got some really slick musical arrangements. The idea is to kind of have both. You want to have stuff that’s like almost vulgar — you just mix the sacred and the profane.

There are some pretty awesome collaborations on White Women, too. Toro y Moi, Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, Solange, Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem. How do you choose your collaborators?

In most cases it’s a personal relationship that’s already there. In other cases, like with Toro y Moi or Pat Mahoney, it’s just us being fans and floating an email out there like, “Hey, we like what you do, would you be on our record?” But it’s gotta feel organic and we’ve got to be together in the studio. It can’t be telephoned in.

One thing I love about Chromeo is that you’re such a fun band with a strong, interactive social media presence. Do you think about Tumblr or Instagram or blogs at all when you’re making a record?

I think it depends. You’ve got people who don’t need it. You have people that sell so many records that they don’t need it. Eminem doesn’t need to Tweet. Sade doesn’t need to Tweet. Maxwell doesn’t need to be on Instagram. For a band like us, we came up without any radio support and with very, very limited means. So obviously social media was a huge tool for us. More than anything it allows us to maintain a dialogue. I always say that we’re a blog band. We’re a band that’s always been championed by blogs when traditional media shunned us. That’s where we thrive. We make our music thinking about bloggers and we organize those moves with bloggers in mind. They’re our virtual interlocutors. TC mark

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