Back in April I was sent a preview copy of The Juan MacLean’s latest offering called, The Future Will Come. The album, I’ll be honest, blew me the fuck away. I had gone in with zero listening expectations and came out a huge fan, even going out and picking up his first effort Less Than Human.
For those following The Juan MacLean, you know that for this second album The Juan MacLean has undergone some changes in the band and the over all sound. John MacLean enlisted friend and LCD Sound System band member, Nancy Whang to join The Juan MacLean full-time. She agreed and the rest they say is history. By now you’ve probably read or heard about John MacLean’s past drug use, his former dance-punk band Six Finger Satellite, but what you may not have heard about is the process and makings of this latest album, the current tour, inspirations and who he would “marry, fuck or kill”.
KB:…So let’s talk about how this tour is going so far, You guys started in late March early April.
JM: Ya, we went over to Europe and the UK for a little more than 3 weeks in the end of March to early April. We came home for about 5 days and then left for this tour with The Field. It’s been really good, it’s a good combination, cus those guys are much more ambient. It just makes for a really interesting night where things get, start off sorta slower in rep, but as the night goes on it gets really good.
KB: Have you found that there’s been a difference between the European and North American audience in terms of reception of your songs?
JM: I think in Europe and in the UK they much more respond to the electronic elements of everything and they seem to understand, especially from their radio standpoint, they see what we’re doing as a reference to very poppy kinda synth pop music and they can place the references very easily. Whereas in the United States I think it’s a little…they don’t get it as quickly in that way or if so it’s not perceived as much a mainstream thing which it is over there surprisingly.
KB: Hmm…that’s actually kinda interesting but like you said not too surprising.
KB: Your last album, Less Than Human, came out in 2005, when did you start coming up with ideas for The Future Will Come? Was it at all during Less Than Human or was there a break?
JM: No, the big thing was that after Less Than Human came out I started playing with a live band and when I made that album no idea that I would ever have a live band. It was only after I had made the album that I started thinking I would do it going forward. So it was kinda done retroactively, figuring out a way a live band could play those songs and then we went on tour for like a year and half. Then I immediately got back into DJing again and so I was just gone for like 3 years and was not in the mindset of making music at all.
Eventually it just occurred to me that I had better start thinking about making another album or else it would have been a really long time before a new one came out. So it was a pretty deliberate process, probably a year a half ago I just said alright I’m gonna start writing a new album and just did it.
KB: …not to mention you had done a shit load of remixes as well.
JM: Ya, remixing as well. That was all I was doing, DJing and when I was home I’d be doing remixes and it just soaked up so much of my time that it got my head out of the game of like playing live or making music again.
KB: This latest album definitely has a different feel than the previous album in that it has a lot more vocals and is a bit more pop. Was that something that you had intentionally conceptualized before going in?
JM: Yeah for sure. The biggest difference between the two is there’s so much more live playing on this album and the vocals as well. Both of those things came from my experiences of going on tour with a live band and a singer. Realizing that when you’re playing a live show how important vocals were in the presentation and just wanting to go in that direction much more.
In terms of making the album, it’s just much more interesting to have vocal oriented things as oppose to just instrumentals which can get boring over the course of an entire album, so before I made any of the music I knew two things 1. I would use my live band to record the album, which is why it sounded so much more live and 2. It would be very vocal oriented and that’s when I approached Nancy (Whang) and said “look instead of being a guest vocalist on this why don’t you just be a full-time member and then we just kinda went from there.
KB: So was she (Nancy) someone that you always had in mind?
JM: Yeah. It would always be her. I never considered anyone else.
KB: What about her voice made you realize that she definitely is the one?
JM: Well it’s kinda funny, she started singing with me and LCD Sound System, it wasn’t like she was a singer that had done anything before or like an accomplished singer, it wasn’t her career path or something. She was just a friend of ours and James Murphy and I were like yeah do you just want to sing on this track, my second 12-inch. She came down to the studio and did it and it just worked out really well and from that point in time I just thought she had this really quality. First of all not being a diva-style singer, which there is always (that) dominant female vocals in that genre. Also she just had this real knack for sounding both happy and sad, at the same time like being able to ride that emotional line, which is really a difficult thing to do and she just has this really endearing quality in her voice.
KB: You talked a bit about recording with a live band, what was that whole process like for this album?
JM: Well, generally I had written the songs at my home studio and came up with rough outlines for songs and loops. Then took the band to this pretty remote studio in Woodstock, New York out in the woods. Basically it’s a house with a studio built into it. So we all went out for a couple weeks and then it was basically a process of taking the songs I had written and then playing them live and recording it live in that studio. Then I took all that stuff home to my home studio and edited it all back down, sorta like making your own samples basically, and shaped it back into song formats again. Nancy and I went back to that same studio for a week just she and I recorded vocals. The final stage, I always mix at our DFA studios in New York with James Murphy.
KB: So how was that writing process because the songs do have that call-and-response vibe? Did you write together?
JM: Yeah we would actually make it a point to do this. We would be sitting on the couch next to each other with a notebook and pass it back and forth and write lines back and forth with each other. Even for songs where there was only one of us that sang we would help each other out as well with pieces. We intentionally went away to the studio alone, I actually engineered the session, which is quite difficult to do when you’re recording your own vocals, but yeah it was all done intentionally to set this mood of writing back and forth.
KB: With the success of Less Than Human, did you ever feel that pressure while creating this album?
JM: I think the sophomore album is always the litmus test. It’s where so many people fail, especially being on a label like DFA where there’s a lot of critical attention paid to it, it (DFA) gets written about a lot and there’s a pretty high standard, so there’s a little terrifying to start making a new record. That was part of getting out of the city and going to Woodstock, let’s just go where you don’t have to think about of this stuff and get away to do what we do.
KB: Changing topics, recently heard you guys teamed up with Nooka Watches and you guys created a mascot?
JM: Yeah I actually have one of their watches on right now. With our friend Mike, the graphic designer for all our DFA stuff and Pat Mahoney from LCD Sound System, whom is an old friend of mine going back, but he’s actually a toy designer and so they built this little robot out from scratch. It’s actually really cool.
KB: Does the robot represent anything to the band or is it purely for entertainment?
JM: Not really, it’s just something cool. Visually it makes sense, when you see it you would be like “oh yeah that would be a Juan MacLean type thing” and I really am into the watches.
KB: Yeah it does seem like quite a unique partnership.
JM: Yeah definitely. A lot of us at DFA have this kind of thing with like clothing designers or graphic artists or visual artists. We have a lot of friends in all those different worlds so we’re always looking to do different things.
KB: Will the robot have a role in the live aspect of the show?
JM: None more than sitting out in club. It sits there and lights up and everything.
KB: Talk about the live show aspect, what fans can expect to hear or see when they come to The Juan MacLean show?
JM: It’s pretty live for one thing. It’s definitely a reaction to see electronic shows where it’s just someone on a laptop or a few devices. DFA has a pretty high standard of live acts, like with Hercules and Love Affair, Hot Chip, LCD Sound System. I feel like we’re the most dance of all those things, so it’s attempt to play live dance music basically. The only thing that’s sequenced is the baseline and we all play around that.
KB: In making this album, what were the influences? Everyone knows that there’s the connection with Human League, but for example the first track “The Simple Life” sounds like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”.
JM: Yeah that’s actually what it was. It’s kind of funny, whenever I first write up a song I usually give it the name that I was ripping off and that was originally called “I Feel Love”, Georgio Moroder was on the production for that song so he’s a big influence. Others include New Order, Grace Jones, Kraftwerk as they usually are. I had also just gotten back into listening to ‘90s piano house; there are a lot of house elements as well.
KB: What kind of experience or emotions do you want fans to take away from listening the album from start to finish?
JM: Well, we tried to make it so there was a narrative arch to it, on loosely this relationship between the two people and I still sequence albums in terms of vinyl. So we made it so that the other side of side 1 kinda ends on a positive uplifting note with the song “Tonight” and the other side of side 2 ends on a positive note with “Happy House”. Each side is meant to tell a story of a relationship between two people which more often than not is going wrong on this record.
But we definitely wanted to have more transcendent moments especially with those two songs.
KB: Was that intentional? Making things go wrong as you said.
JM: Well what was intentional was that Nancy and I decided that we were going to write very honestly and sincerely about our personal lives basically. Doing duets, it naturally became this thing that we went to instantly which was like this back and forth telling the two sides of relationships gone wrong. I think a lot of it came out of how our lives had been for the past 5 – 6 years and us playing in live bands and touring. That lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to relationships really. It felt like a document of the past 5 years for the both of us.
KB: Okay so one last thing before we end this interview. Not sure if you’ve ever played this game or heard of it. It’s called “Marry, Fuck, Kill”
Basically I’m going to show you three pictures and you have to pick whether you marry, fuck or kill that person. To make things interesting, because this is the first stop in Canada, we’re playing an all Canadian edition.
JM: Jesus I love her (pointing to picture of Elisha Cuthbert), she’s on 24. I’m not sure who she is (pointing to Emmanuelle Chriqui).
KB:…yeah and the final girl is Scarlett Johansson.
JM: JESUS, what is that picture.
JM: Wait do I have to assign one tag to each girl? Oh man.
KB: Base it purely on looks.
JM: hmm…Marry Scarlett Johansson, Fuck Elisha Cuthbert and Kill Emmanuelle Chriqui….but this Scarlett Johansson picture, where is this from do you know?
KB: I actually have no clue. I just downloaded off of the internet before I came here, but you are welcome to keep that picture if you want.
The Juan MacLean “One Day”