Chromeo’s Funkified Vision of the Future
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On the drive ” CoachellaYou may have noticed a billboard On one side is a man wearing chunky black specs and a well-tailored suit; on the other, a woman in a patterned shirt and leather cap. Two chrome guitars, and a giant “GO FUNK YOURSELF” between them. No other context is needed — simply put, nobody’s doing it like the Fundlordz.
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David Macklovitch (also known as Dave 1 or P-Thugg) and Patrick Gemayel from the electrofunk duo, were seated in the heat of the afternoon just before they performed their first Coachella set. ChromeoThe polished influencers around us are not able to match our effortlessly cool style. These guys are dressed in Cuban gold chain necklaces, and no one would bat an eyebrow if you told them they spend a lot of money on Windex to clean the chrome stage. Macklovitch grins immediately when we mention the Billboard. “Make sure that makes it in the piece.”
It’s clear why they’re proud. The duo’s fifth appearance at Coachella featured an all-new stage design — including four strikingly huge custom chrome modular synth towers. Inspired by Stevie Wonder’s TONTO synth, 1984 Bang & Olufsen speakers, and Seventies space age furniture, “we were really able to marry form and funk-tion,” Macklovitch told Rolling Stone. But they’re not simply blinded by Eighties pastiche — that attention to detail in live production parallels their studio work, with reverence and callbacks to the slew of musical masterminds who have come before them (their latest single “Replacements” with La Roux is mixed once again by disco and house legend Morgan Geist).
Chromeo performed a legendary song during their Coachella set La Roux herself, whose surprise appearance included not only her iconic hits (I’ve never seen a crowd quite lose their collective minds all at once like they did to “Bulletproof”), but also the premiere of “Replacements”, a thumping, synth-laden anthem that feels like a hard left away from tight, shimmering grooves of typical Chromeo fare.
“For our second single, we wanted to take a 90-degree turn,” says Macklovitch in a statement. “The groove stays, but whereas ‘Words With You’ feels loose and organic, here we let the keyboards and drum machines do the talking. We’re an ELECTRO-funk band after all, and this record contains little nods to the 2000s indie dance sound that’s so dear to us (fuzzy bass = instant HypeMachine time warp). It was a combination of sweaty dancefloor power and sincere emotions. It’s the duality in our name: Chrome, the shimmery electronics, and Romeo, the heartfelt romantics.”
“Replacements” follows Chromeo’s first official single since 2018, “Words With You,” but it’s been hard to stop the duo from jamming. In the five year interim, they’d been busy with creating their own label Juliet Records, producing for other artists including Omar Apollo, Blu DeTiger Ric, Wilson, and combining a Covid-themed novelty album at the height of lockdown (with a memorable track about “being your Clorox wipe”). But for the next era, it’s clear the two aren’t resting on their laurels — if Coachella was any kind of a preview, Chromeo are going bigger, bolder, and chrome-ier than before.
Chromeo sat with us to discuss their upcoming album. We also discussed the fine line that separates a cringe-worthy lyric from a corny one, as well as the balance of making anthems they hope will never be seen.
Congrats on your new single “Words With You” — it’s contagiously funky. I know you’ve said as your first official single since your last studio album, it’s a bit of a statement, a mix of something new and familiar. Do you want to elaborate further on that?
Macklovitch: You spoke very well. You said it really, really well. It’s something to just jumpstart the new era. We’re going to put out five singles before the new album. There’s going to be a lot of different little musical statements. We started with some horns, light drums and fun. We wanted our core fan base to know that we were returning with the The fusion of funk and a sonic device is called a ‘funkifier..
You have always paid respect to your funk masters and kept funk alive. But you also pay it forward to the new generation, like recently working on Ric Wilson’s CLUSTERFUNK. I’ve heard that your jam sessions include discussions about everything from socialism to democracy.
Macklovitch: Yeah, he’s amazing.
What are you looking for in a jam-making partner?
Macklovitch: With somebody to work with, we’re really just looking to get along with them. Compatibility. We really clicked with Blu DeTiger. Omar Apollo was the same. We had a lot of fun with the people we hung out with at our studio for a few days. We don’t care if it’s stylistically similar to our work. It’s actually kind of cool when it’s not. We have a song that we actually sing. Mitski — god, I hope it comes out one day. We felt great about her but we never finished the project. So it’s like, why not experiment?
That’s so interesting, especially because studio mixing is so important to you guys, like finding the perfect heavy bass sound for Wilson’s “Pay It No Mind“. How do you know when you’ve got it in the pocket and stop yourself from over-mixing?
Macklovitch: Listening and talking together is important.
Gemayel: Distancing yourself from the track a bit is also important. To get a fresh perspective, you need to distance yourself from the track a little bit, because when you’re too close to it, you lose that perspective. You usually take a short break and return to the track. Your first impression will usually be correct.
Macklovitch: Listen to it again with new ears.
It’s a lot like writing.
Macklovitch: You know, when you say it’s like writing, that makes sense, because the way we work is very methodical. But when you’re writing something, you don’t want it to show that it was methodical. Because if somebody can tell, it’s going to sound stiff or academic. The same with our music — we put a lot of thought into it, but then it can’t show. No one is interested in seeing how the sausage is made.
Many of your songs begin with spontaneous jam sessions, or a chord progression or riff. Then you add the lyrics. Your lyrics are full of clever phrases. Do you have “aha” moments where you’re purposefully trying to be funny, or do these come naturally?
Macklovitch: We are often approached by them. We’ll have the music, we’ll have some idea of the lyrics. Then I’ll show specific lines to Pee and if he laughs, then we’ve got it. If doesn’t, I’ll change it. He’s my sounding board like that. Usually it’s just me going, ‘Is it funny? Is it funny? Is this funny? Is this cringe-worthy? Cringe? Is it funny? Is it catchy? Is it funny or not? Is it funny? Yes. No? Yes. No. Yes. No.’ Right? That’s about how it works.
Because sometimes there’s a fine line between corny and cringe. We take great pride in writing, but it’s all about the balancing act.
In that same vein, what’s a lyric or part of a song that you’re particularly attached to in one of your upcoming singles?
Macklovitch: I can’t say the title of the new album yet but, but there’s a song on there called “BTS”. But that stands for “Better Than Sex”. The chorus sounds like this: [sings] “Came home from a long week / Put a movie on, sit down / We don’t need to speak / Because I want you so bad, but I need to confess / Sometimes rest will be better than sex“. It’s a song about taking a night off — or a week off! What you want.
These organic moments of relationship remind me of Quarantine Casanova.
Macklovitch: [laughs] Oh my god. It was our comedy record. Pee was dying, so I had to come up with many of the lyrics and he was the one who was able to provide the majority of the music. We didn’t work, rework it like we normally do. We didn’t overthink much. I had just the freestyles. Both music and lyrics felt very spur the moment — no editing, because we just wanted to put something out right away. It felt very much like, ‘you’re in your home. What else are you gonna do?’ You just gotta like, word vomit.
So you said that this Coachella set is kicking off a “new chapter in chrome”. What can we look forward to from this new chapter of chrome?
Macklovitch: I’m glad we’re playing at night. Because there’s a lot of lights and it’s very electronic. In fact, it’s a whole new design, and it’s the first time we’re playing with it. I don’t know what to expect. I just don’t want anything to break [laughs]. I’m nervous. I mean, what do you say, Pee, you’ve been working on it, too. What would you call it?
Gemayel: We’ve been doing a lot of either big, giant theatrics, or very electronic events. This is the first time we’ve combined real modular synthesizers with huge stage-sized instruments. Our previous setup was a huge set of ridiculous KISS-esque light-up stairs.
Macklovitch: It was almost like a TV!
Gemayel: The instruments were small. Now we’ve just expanded it into huge theatrics. Black Sabbath-type, Ozzy Osbourne-type theatrics.
Macklovitch: Especially for their instruments. That’s a good point. I mean, finally we were able to marry both form and funk-tion here. I think that’s so fantastic.
Then, I saw it on your Instagram that you have a daily budget you’re spending on Windex. What is the price? What’s the cost?
Macklovitch: Tell ’em, Pee.
Gemayel: $17 per day.
Macklovitch: It’s not a bad idea to have a sponsor. We’re ready, Windex. Are you ready? Windex Tour 2023 [laughs].
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