A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to link up for lunch with Dave 1 whom I’m sure many of you know is 1/2 of Chromeo, the beloved and infectiously dope electro-funk duo pictured above.
I ordered the grilled chicken panini and a diet Coke, he ordered the smoked turkey wrap and an orange juice – Then I pressed record and the following conversation spanning everything from the beginnings of the band to the current state of hip-hop is what transpired…
You used to be a part of the Audio Research record label back in the early/mid ‘90s – When and how did the expansion from hip-hop focused production to the variety of elements we currently see in Chromeo begin?
Um I kinda felt like… it was weird, like different things at once. The audio research thing was a vehicle for some of the stuff I was producing and my brother was cutting on. I guess like maybe in 2000, I kinda wasn’t as prolific in my hip-hop production as much. It was the beginning of keyboard beats and I didn’t know how to make them – and I didn’t really like them…haha. I remember like Jay-Z’s Blueprint coming out and those tracks had samples in them, but they also had tonnes of keyboards and I was like, “Man, should I buy a [Korg] Triton and try and do a Just Blaze kinda thing?” I wasn’t really into it ‘cause my shit was always from the more hip-hop production school of the Pete Rock’s and SP1200’s. Even if you look at the last obscure disorder single, which was our marquis group at Audio Research – I didn’t even produce it. My brother produced it, I was doing less and less and you know, right at that same time the Chromeo deal came about and P-Thugg and I were working on that and I just felt more fulfilled working on that.
It sort of just happened – I moved here [New York], I was getting into different kinds of music. I wasn’t as stimulated by the idea of producing hip-hop as much as the Chromeo stuff. We did one show here that went really crazy and got offered record deals and stuff – so it kinda naturally transitioned. The Chromeo stuff was just more stimulating for me at that point. I mean, at first I had no idea it was going to become my main thing but now I can’t even see myself producing a hip-hop track – even though I still listen to it as much as before. It’s just that the style of production that I know how to do is way too throwback and I wouldn’t really want to try any of the new stuff.
The two of you have been friends since childhood, but when did you start working together musically? What are your particular musical backgrounds?
Our friendship was built around music. We became friends because we played in the same high school band. Ours has been a musically bred friendship. We’ve always been doing stuff. When I was producing hip-hop, P taught me how to use the [Akai] S-950. He taught me how to use a sequencer. He taught me how to use all my samplers. He’d come to all the mixes and stuff too. I mean, even though he didn’t really co-produce anything with me, he was always there in the background and behind the scenes getting involved. So when we started doing Chromeo, it was my idea of like, “Let’s co-produce music together.” It was that simple.
My musical background was more growing up listening to rock and learning guitar and then discovering funk and soul music with P with our high school band. At the same time, we were getting heavy into hip-hop and producing hip-hop. P was more into hip-hop back in the Kid N Play days. He stopped fuckin’ with it around 92 and he got into funk then. Contrary to what people think, P doesn’t really listen to hip-hop.
Yeah, image-wise everyone would probably assume…
Yeah, I’m the hip-hop dude!!…He doesn’t listen to hip-hop.
Alright, so that being said, who usually does what in terms of the production and songwriting process, programming the drums, synths, bass etc?
We both do a lot of that, but it really varies from track to track ‘cause we both can program drums, we both can play synths and bass. We can pretty much play any instrument in our studio. The only thing that stays the same is that I’m more of the songwriting, melody, chorus, song structure kinda guy and he’s more the sound engineer kinda guy.
Like I could play a line, but I don’t really know how to get a good sound on any keyboard so that’s really what he does. All the keyboards are at his house and I’ll be like, “Alright, give me a bass sound like ‘Billy Jean,’” and he’ll do it. And whether he plays the bass or I do, it doesn’t matter. He’s the sound crafter and I’m more of the song writing, lyrics, melody – but everything else we split. It really depends from song to song. Some songs he does almost all the music, some songs I’ll do almost all the music – it really depends.
This is somewhat of a tangent, but I guess since we’re having lunch out here by Columbia University Campus, maybe you can inform those that don’t know why you’re somewhat of a modern day renaissance man?
I’m finishing a PhD here at Columbia – and yeah…haha…you know, studying to become a professor – so hopefully that’ll happen. For the first time, just this year, music has become something that say, if I wanted to not go to school, I could probably just do – but I’ve never wanted to just do music, so school is still my main thing.
Do you lecture at all and have students recognize you or anything like that?
Yeah, I mean, they’re discrete enough to not make a big deal out of it. After class they’ll be like, “Hey! I like this, I like that.” You know, it happens, but it’s never really awkward. Students have always been very discrete and very delicate about it, and so am I.
With you and P living in different cities (P-Thugg resides in Montreal), does it get difficult staying sharp for shows and being in creation mode? Do you go back to Montreal to work on stuff?
Yeah, that’s what I do. Montreal is good ‘cause there are no distractions – you can kinda get into the vortex and just work on music all the time. But yeah, I go up there; we email stuff to each other. It’s been working. It’s a little bit slow, but at the same time it’s kinda become our way of working. So as long as I can go up there and we can block off a couple of weeks to bang out some stuff, we’ll be fine – and that’s what we’ve done.
One of my best memories in music… in my entire life, was December 2006, January 2007. I came up to Montreal and P and I basically were on deadline to finish the Fancy Footwork record. I was living in France at the time and you know everyone around me in France was doing music… really good music. I came home hungry and we just blocked off two weeks and did the Feist remix, “Momma’s Boy,” “Bonafied Lovin’,” “Outta Sight,” “Call Me Up” and the intro. It was wonderful and we were getting along great! I mean, we always do, but we were just really in a great creative state. I’d come home and play the stuff for my brother, play the stuff for my girl – we had no idea what to expect of the record cause we were just anxious. We were like, “Man, we don’t have another ‘Needy Girl!’” But if you look at now when we play shows, “Needy Girl” isn’t even the biggest song anymore!
So with initially being behind the boards for hip-hop production, how big of a leap was it to go from that to singing and performing live? Do you still remember your guys’ first show?
Yeah, I do. Our first show was Labour Day weekend in Montreal at a big rave in 2002… haha. It was pretty awkward. My brother went up and did the cuts on ”Needy Girl.” It was a big transition; I never really wanted to sing. I never considered myself a singer. I mean, we thought other people were gonna sing. We thought it [Chromeo] was gonna be more of a project, like we’d get other vocalists. We got a couple of vocalists and I wrote the songs, but it was never quite right and then we did “Mercury Tears” and I sang that on the vocoder and P was like, “That’s perfect!” Then we did ”Needy Girl” and that was really the first time I sang… in my life. And we just kept it like that, ya know? But it was a big transition – like the first shows you know, they were awkward and we’re still a little bit… no we’re not haha… but I mean, I don’t know, it was a big transition. For years, I hated touring; I’ve only started to kinda enjoy it now. For the first few years I hated it.
You mean it was physically draining or you just weren’t into it?
Well ya, we just weren’t into playing the same songs over and over. Keep in mind, this is at first – we’re playing mostly crowds who weren’t so into us – things only started changing with this one [Fancy Footwork]. It was always a bit of a struggle at first, like a long uphill climb.
The first show we did in New York was one of my craziest memories.
It went off really well?
Yeah, it was crazy – like no one knew us, but they got all the references. It was at the Bowery Ballroom. We weren’t the headliner or anything. We were opening for that guy, The Streets. It was crazy.
You guys played Coachella this year and it seems like you guys have quite a few other large festival performances locked down. Compared to the more intimate shows full of solidified fans, how different is it playing to a crowd that could consist of some people who may not be completely familiar with your stuff?
It’s like that at festivals. You come and you play to people who are there sometimes to see you, sometimes not. Its good, ‘cause you know, we don’t want to get spoiled by hard-ticket shows like the Commodore in Vancouver, where everybody is there to see us already. But at a festival it’s like some of them just stepped in and some are there for us. You can’t really tell in the whole tent who’s really a hater or not – but its good. It keeps you on your toes and forces you to really step your game up. At a festival, you never get to sound check and there are other bands, so it’s competitive. It’s good. It’s a healthy way to put what you have to the test.
Coachella went really amazing. What’s crazy is that we had huge sound problems for three songs and people didn’t notice! The next day, we kept getting comments and comments on how amazing it was. But like, the first three songs, I fuckin’ had a hernia cause the sound problems! Luckily, it got fixed!
When it comes to your guys’ music videos, along with a lot of other electronic-ish artists, you seem to constantly set the bar in terms of creativity – How active are you in the actual creative direction and production of them?
I stay very active, I mean, in the band we split duties. P does all the accounting, business managing and tour managing himself!
Yeah, he’s very hands-on like that. He’s got formal training as an accountant, so I trust him more than anyone. I’ll take care of a lot of meetings with the record labels and being my manager’s sidekick a little bit. The videos are a lot of what I do as well. I stay involved, but I also know how to delegate to directors and trust them. The problem is, we always have such small budgets…
Well, from a completely objective perspective, they’re all done really well, regardless of budget constraints.
Yeah, but it’s always a struggle. It’s always a fuckin struggle. And looking back, it’s really… they’re always a nightmare. It’s hard, man! There are not that many videos I see from other bands that are, you know, phenomenal. So it’s hard to kinda fight for that spot all the time.
I don’t know… there are some, but they’re few and far between, ya know? We should be getting the “Momma’s Boy” video next week. It’s all hand drawn animation, black and white -very different for us.
So you have the “Needy Girl,” “Tenderoni,” “Bonafied Lovin’,” “Fancy Footwork” and now “Momma’s Boy,” but there are quite a few amateur ones on YouTube that fans have done too.
Yeah, but we’re really into that.
People interpreting your music?
Yeah, whenever we get emails like, “Can we use a song for a school project or video?” we always say yes. Another thing we do is, we gave out a bunch of acapellas, and that’s why there’s like hundreds of remixes, unofficial ones. But some of them are great! Some of them are better than ones we paid money for.
I remember as a hip-hop producer, how happy I was when I’d buy a 12-inch and there’d be an acapella cause I could put it over my beats, ya know? And I wish things were as interactive back when I was producing hip-hop like they are now. So I just try to encourage any kid that’s on the come up. We’ll give ‘em our parts and be like, “Have fun, go crazy.”
How did the relationship with Surface to Air come about?
Well, the relationship with them came about when I lived in Paris. When I moved to Paris last year, I was going to help them launch Vice [magazine] in France ‘cause, you know, I’ve been working for Vice… Well, I stopped this year, but I was working for Vice for like 10 years almost. So I was gonna help them launch it and the publisher for Vice France at the time was the boss/owner over at Surface to Air. On top of that, he was also an old friend of my boy Willo who used to be my art director and business partner at Audio Research. So I kinda knew him and we clicked and I was like, “I’d love for you to do the album artwork.” He was really into the idea and it was a phenomenal thing. He’s one of the only guys whom I’ll let dictate a concept. It’s the first time we weren’t really hands on for a project with that cover [Fancy Footwork] and we were thrilled with how it came out. It actually felt great to be able to delegate and get results that we love. Then we did the “Tenderoni” video, and now, we’re actually doing a clothing project with them.
Other than the “Tenderoni” video and Fancy Footwork album artwork, what else is in the works?
I don’t know if you saw, but they just did the leather jackets for Justice…
Yeah, those turned out dope.
Yeah, we’re doing the same.
Your younger brother A-Trak (who is also Kanye’s Dj) is now quite heavily into production and really building a following for himself and the Fool’s Gold camp in that aspect. How much overlap do you see in your fans now that you’re a bit closer in terms of the style of music you guys are both producing?
That’s a good question. A lot now, I feel like… man… It’s hard to evaluate, but I feel like most of his fans now are into us as well. I mean, my brother is constantly switching and constantly building.
It kinda reflects back to his ability to go from playing a show with Kanye and then the next night rocking a big ass electro crowd.
He does both! Real talk, my brother is the only guy in the world that Kool Herc is gonna see and give props to, and the next week, he’ll be chilling with Steve Angello in Ibiza, or the Ed Banger dudes and then the following week, he’ll be with Jay-Z. That’s his life. The pictures on his blog prove it all. He’s really the only kid that can do that.
Yeah man, he’s been credited with introducing Kanye to a lot of shit.
Yeah, that’s true! You can tell… everyone can tell, but not taking anything away from Kanye because Kanye is open. But yeah, that’s what my bro does. He bridges the gap. That’s what his label does. It bridges the gap between dance music and hip-hop music.
And by the way, that’s nothing new!! Because if you look back at AV8… I remember when I had a record store I thought AV8 was wack. Remember those party records?
Yeah, the party break records, right?
Yeah, that label was founded by Armand Van Helden, that’s the “AV.” I thought that label was wack ‘cause I was such a hip-hop purist, but they were really like dance meets hip-hop. And even that label Nervous put out dance records too back then.
And they were doing all the Boot Camp Clik stuff at the time too.
Yeah, it’s nothing new but you just gotta stay in touch and reintroduce it to the new generation.
Do you and your brother ever holler at each other to get opinions on what each of you are working on?
My bro? He’s like the third member of Chromeo. He’s the first to hear absolutely everything we do. We’re extremely closely involved. I speak to my brother five times a day – everyday, and I’m also the first to hear anything he does.
Have your parents had the chance to see you two rock shows together?
Not together, but there’ll be a show with Kid Sister and us, for example, and my brother is involved, etc.
One thing that was cool in January is that my brother and Kid Sister played a show here at the Natural History Museum and then two days later, we had our headline shows at the Bowery Ballroom two nights in a row. My parents flew down. They went to the Natural History Museum and saw my brother and Kid Sister and then Kanye came out!! And then, they came to our shows too!
Any potential for a Chromeo/Kid Sister collaboration in the future?
Well, I’m involved in her record but more on the behind-the-scenes tip.
Kinda like exec producing the album?
My brother is doing that but I’m helping him. I helped him pick a lot of the beats. It’s actually gonna be a really good record. She’s good, she’s a real rapper and she can spit. And that’s important now, man.
I’ve been listening to hip-hop as my main thing since ‘92 or ‘93 – since the Pharcyde’s first record, or Tribe. And now is the first time I’ve seen, more than ever, that there is a real fuckin’ generational crisis! A generational turnover in hip-hop. All the guys I grew up listening to feel old, left out and disconnected and they can’t connect with a new generation. And there’s a new generation that doesn’t give a shit about them. I mean, you saw on YouTube – that’s really what was at the root of the whole Soldier Boy and Ice-T thing, ya know?
Well yeah, its one of the only genre’s of music that doesn’t always hold all the artists of the past in high regard. Like the Rolling Stones get a lot more love than any act of relative significance in hip-hop.
I know, yeah, but at the same time, I think part of what defines hip-hop is that it’s this sort of youthful thing. Like punk music, I don’t know punk well aside a few more commercial bands, but for example, bands like Green Day were really cool when they were really young and then they kinda became older and more…you know, corny. In hip-hop, it’s gotta stay young!!
I remember being like 19 and Nas was 24-25 maybe, and he was like the older brother I never had. Nas, Q-tip and Buckshot: They were like the older brothers I looked up to. I admired them. But if you’re a kid who’s 15 now, 50 cent is like 35! You can’t relate to him! Like who is he, your step-dad? You can’t relate to that dude.
Haha… Yeah, no doubt.
So what’s happening now is, you have 100,000 kids that related to fuckin’ G-Unit ‘cause they look like a bunch of bodyguards, but there’s a 1,000,000 kids that related to Weezy cause he’s like your fucked up older brother if you’re 16!! You know, he’s 25 and you love him!
I think that’s a really interesting thing that’s going on in rap music right now – this generational crisis – and it fascinates me. On the Ice-T and Soulja Boy thing, I was riding with Soulja Boy all the way… and I grew up on Ice-T! I don’t even like his music but Soulja Boy is so much smarter.
The kid’s definitely got some hustle.
It’s not even about hustle, though! He made it work for himself using the technology that all these old fuckin’ has-beens don’t even know how to work! And he connected with all these shorty’s and he’s the man for that. And you know, Kanye’s still connecting and Weezy too. That’s why Weezy’s album sold like that. The kids picked it up.
The only dude who’s been around – and that’s why Kanye said he’s the greatest of all time, which I’m really starting to believe now, is Nas, man. He’s got the secret to eternal youth.
Yeah man, he’s still so dope and relevant!
Yeah, but it’s not only that. I know it’s a superficial thing to say, but he still looks fresh. Like Jay kinda looks corny now, but Nas looks as fresh as when he first came out… He looks 21! And what’s dope about Nas is that he does his own weird thing every time, and it’s so hit and miss – but it doesn’t even matter anymore. He kinda invented his own genre of music and now whenever there’s a new Nas album, I’m like, “Oh cool! New Nas album!!” I always buy it ‘cause there is always weird shit on there. He’s like a fringe artist now, but that’s longevity. Nas is the greatest.
Ah man, I can’t even count how many times I’ve had this debate! But yeah, agreed. I know a lot of people who would definitely choose Hov between the two – but not me. Nas has had his questionable moments but never supremely wack or anything. Stillmatic was crazy to me.
Yeah!! Stillmatic was incredible. I was thinking about it, and like, Stillmatic was crazy, but Lost Tapes… remember that? Insane!
Yeah man! some amazing shit on there.
The only wack album was the double one.
Street’s Disciple? Yup, too much filler.
Yeah, but it had “Just a Moment,” that joint with Quan, and dude’s got some classics… “Made You Look” is a fuckin classic!
On his last record, I didn’t really like “Hip-Hop is Dead,” but I loved that song about the old school, “Where are They Now.”
Did you hear the remix he did with everyone on it?
Yeah, but they were so wack…haha.
Yo, but you gotta give it up for him putting that together! He went and got dudes like Positive K and Das Efx…
Ya! Like where does one find Positive K nowadays?
Haha! This is true!
When he mentioned Red Head Kingpin, for someone like me, that’s like the best feeling ‘cause I know.
And I love his new joint, “Hero.” He’s spitting hot shit on there, and the “Sly Fox” one too. I love him. I’m a Nas fan, man.
Alright alright… haha, back to the questions. Your hometown of Montreal is considered somewhat of a creative breeding ground for music and has spawned some of the most progressive and successful acts out of Canada and North America for that matter. What’s your explanation for that?
To me, it’s good karma; I don’t really know what happened. But to be fair, a lot of those dudes you’re probably referring to are not originally from Montreal, like Win Butler from Arcade Fire. He’s not from Montreal he’s from Texas. But still, it’s a gorgeous city with cheap rent. It’s easy to live and blossom in, and you can get the government grants and stuff.
Yeah, it’s an environment conducive to a developing artist’s lifestyle. You can work on your stuff and still live relatively comfortably.
Yeah, straight up and down, it’s like Berlin.
I did an interview with your Modular label mates Cut Copy and asked them the same inevitable question to wrap the interview up: What’s your take on the current state of the music industry?
Cut Copy? Those are my boys, man. I like those dudes.
But yeah, I think it’s great. I think it’s the best. I’ve never been more proud to be part of the music industry. I’ve been doing music my whole life and I mean, it’s a bit of a cliché, but now all the labels that used to bully and jerk artists, they’re all getting jerked and they’re all getting bankrupt and everybody is getting fired! They’re all going under and losing their jobs, and I can just sit back and laugh and make money off shows.
That’s always how artists signed to labels have really made their money.
Yeah, it’s all from touring, it’s not from record sales. I don’t know anyone that makes money from record sales, but it’s better that way, it’s becoming increasingly artist controlled, and there’s a shift in media. I really can’t wait to be older in 20-30 years from now and tell people that I lived through such an important paradigm shift. It’s fascinating… It’s fuckin’ fascinating!
Its like, I’ll be at my lawyer’s office and we’ll talk about certain deals, and I’ll be like, “Well, why don’t we do this?” And for the first time, the lawyer will be like, “Yeah, why don’t we?” There’s no precedent anymore. We can do whatever we want; there are no rules anymore.
No doubt, the Cut Copy guys mentioned it’s like the Wild West now, but if you can hold your own and push your own stuff…
Yeah, or even work with the label in a very cooperative kinda way.
Yeah, like, still own your masters and let them do the distribution.
Yeah, exactly. That’s a great idea.
Alright my man, I think we got some good stuff here.
Was that good?
For More on Chromeo see:
And be sure not to sleep on the Chromeo’s jam session with Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates to be aired August 15th. Go *here* for more.