Chromeo’s Funkified Vision of the Future
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On the drive out to Coachella, you may have spotted a billboard in the desert: on the one side, a man in chunky black glasses and a perfectly-tailored suit, the other in a rainbow-patterned shirt and cylindrical 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.
Sitting down in the midst of a steamy afternoon before their first weekend set of Coachella, David Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel, better known as Dave 1 and P-Thugg of the electrofunk duo Chromeo, have a slick, effortlessly-cool style that stands out even amongst the polished influencer crowd around us. Decked out in Cuban-link gold chains, no one would bat an eyelash to learn these guys have a daily Windex budget for polishing the chrome landscape of their stage. When we mention the billboard, Macklovitch immediately pipes up with a grin. “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).
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During their Coachella sets, Chromeo brought out era-defining legend 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). The idea was to combine sweaty dancefloor energy with 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 and Ric Wilson, and tossing together 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.
We sat down with Chromeo to talk their upcoming album, the fine line between a corny or cringe lyric, and the balancing act of hit-making they hope never ever shows.
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 guys want to elaborate on that?
Macklovitch: You said it really well. 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. The first one was just fun to start with horns and light drums. We wanted to make sure our core fans knew that we were back with the funk.
Keeping funk, as a genre, alive has been consistent throughout your work, as well as paying respects to the funk masters of yours. But you also pay it forward to the new generation, like recently working on Ric Wilson’s CLUSTERFUNK. I heard your jam sessions included discussions on everything from socialism and democracy.
Macklovitch: Yeah, he’s amazing.
What do you look for in a jam partner, then?
Macklovitch: With somebody to work with, we’re really just looking to get along with them. Compatibility. Like with Blu DeTiger, we really just clicked with her, Omar Apollo, really clicked with him. It was just people that we had fun hanging out with for a couple of days at our studio. We don’t care if it’s stylistically similar to our work. It’s actually kind of cool when it’s not. We actually have a song with Mitski — god, I hope it comes out one day. It felt like we got along great with her, we just never got around to finishing it. 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: Lots of conversations and lots of listening.
Gemayel: Also, distancing yourself a little bit. 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. So usually you take a break, get back to it, and then your first impression is usually the right one.
Macklovitch: We listen to it with fresh years.
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 wants to see how the sausage gets made, no one wants to see the seams, right?
A lot of your songs start from these off-the-cuff jam sessions or from a riff or chord progression, and then you sprinkle in the lyrics later. That always strikes me, because your lyrics include a lot of these cheeky turns of phrase. Do you have “aha” moments where you’re purposefully trying to be funny, or do these come naturally?
Macklovitch: Most of them just come to us. 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 this funny? Is this funny? Is this funny? Is this cringe? Cringe? Is this funny? Is this catchy? Is this funny? Is it good? 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”. I mean, the chorus is like, [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! Whatever you want.
Those organic relationship moments remind me a lot of Quarantine Casanova.
Macklovitch: [laughs] Oh my god. That was our comedy album. Yeah, but Pee was dying because I was coming up with a lot of the lyrics, and that one he had a lot of the music. We didn’t work, rework it like we normally do. We didn’t overthink much. I just had 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 expect from this new chapter?
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. How would you define it?
Gemayel: We’ve been doing a lot of either big, giant theatrics, or very electronic events. And now this is combining huge, real modular synthesizers. Our last setup was a giant set of ridiculous KISS-esque light-up stairs.
Macklovitch: It was like a TV set!
Gemayel: But the instruments were still small. Now we’ve just expanded it into huge theatrics. Black Sabbath-type, Ozzy Osbourne-type theatrics.
Macklovitch: For their instruments, especially. That’s a good point. I mean, we finally were able to marry form and funk-tion here. I think that’s so fantastic.
Finally, I saw on your Instagram that you have a daily budget you’re spending on Windex. Is that true? How much is that?
Macklovitch: Tell ’em, Pee.
Gemayel: $17 a day.
Macklovitch: We might as well have a sponsorship. We’re ready, Windex. Ready for the Windex Tour 2023 [laughs].
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