Funk runs in the family — at least if Dave Macklovitch, better known as Dave 1, one-half of Chromeo, and his younger brother Alain Macklovitch, better known as superstar DJ A-Trak, are any indication. The former is gearing up for the May 12th release of White Women, the most ambitious album yet by the impish electro-pop duo (he’s joined in Chromeo by Patrick Gemayel a.k.a. P-Thugg) while the latter is juggling several high-profile collaborative projects, including Duck Sauce with Armand Van Helden. Plus, he’s got his Fools Gold label to run and shares that he’s preparing to conference with Kanye West about the follow-up to Yeezus. But should either of the Montreal-bred musicians need a shoulder to lean on or a discerning ear, they’ve got each other.
“People don’t realize how much we’ve been involved in each other’s music over the years,” A-Trak, 32, explained during a late April interview at the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, outpost of his Fool’s Gold record label, where Chromeo was prepping for a photo shoot. During downtime, Dave 1, 35, joined his brother to consider the pros and cons of the family trade, the possibility of future collaboration and their upcoming work.
The odds of two brothers finding the success you both have seems awfully low. Did you grow up in a musical family?
Dave 1: No, not really. Our dad listened to a lot of music, and I listened to a lot of music, but nobody played any instruments. And I guess I was the first one to play an instrument, and then I got my brother started. When I discovered hip-hop music, I got him started as a DJ.
A-Trak: Dave started playing the guitar when he was nine, and for a couple of years I wanted to have my instrument. He had bands all through high school with his friends and I played the piano for a little while but I wasn’t very good. He had a friend who was a scratch DJ and once I had a knack for that he really encouraged me to keep it going. We’re so close, that’s how we ended up having careers in music.
Dave 1: The rap was almost my way almost of rebelling against — not really rebelling, but doing something different than the environment that I grew up in. It was sort of like, regular middle-class Jewish family from Canada. Hip-hop isn’t the most obvious fit, so I discovered that and I became obsessed. I wanted to produce and make beats and Alain was kind of like, oh man, [turns to Alain] I just had the image that you could be the youngest, best DJ ever.
A-Trak: When I wanted to get my first turntable, I was thirteen and I had to get my parents permission to even spend my money. So Dave was the negotiator. My dad was like, “You’re not buying a turntable, they don’t make vinyl anymore.” And Dave was like, “You don’t understand, he does this thing called scratching and he’s really good at it. Let him give it a shot, I think he has potential.”
How do your parents feel now about having their sons in the music business?
A-Trak: The funny thing with our parents is, when I was living at home, my dad’s a very quiet person, he doesn’t like noise, he used to force me to practice my DJing with headphones on. He just wasn’t particularly interested in the music that we were making, but especially that I was making, at first, because it wasn’t his taste, you know? And especially since we both moved out, he’s turned into a fan. It’s bizarre more than anything, but it’s really touching. My dad on his lunch break every day just googles A-Trak and Chromeo, and he’ll say, “Did you see this?” So seeing him be so fulfilled by the stuff Dave and I are doing is a constant reminder that they’re proud.
Your parents must be proud of what comes up on those google searches.
Dave 1: We never feel like we’ve made it. We’re very grateful for everything, but we still feel like there’s so much more to accomplish. For both of us, longevity is the greatest challenge. Bands and DJs feel so disposable. There’s such a turnover these days. People’s attention span is so short. The idea is to stay interesting — to evolve and to feel stimulated making music, and feel hungry making music, and to give new audiences something fresh. What are audiences looking for and how can we feel authentic delivering that? With Chromeo it’s a very specific brand of music, and with Alain it’s a very broad brand of music.
Do you feel like, because you’re brothers, you are able to say things to, or pull things out of each other, that others might not be able to?
A-Trak: I think we find the best in each other.
Dave 1: We’re critical.
A-Trak: There’s a type of selfless, completely impartial and sometimes brutally honest feedback that we can get from each other. You can’t really find that in someone outside the family.
Dave 1: Or borrowing money. [Laughs, asks in French for a few dollars]. But we definitely pull stuff out of each other. Like, if he hears a Chromeo song that needs more work, he’ll tell me. He’s always the first to hear our stuff and push us, and I’m the same with his songs.
Is it hard to flip the switch between business and brother modes?
A-Trak: Yes. The thing is, Dave and I are so close and we speak many times a day every day. I don’t think there’s ever been a day when we haven’t talked, ever, in the history of life. It’s not as if there is music time and brother time; it’s always entangled.
Dave 1: We always want to talk about work stuff.
Is there an extent to which you’ve piggybacked on each other’s success?
A-Trak: Completely. In the earlier days of Chromeo, our scenes were more separated. But when they were getting remixes, a lot of time they would reach out to some of my friends to get themselves remixes that were a bit more DJ-friendly
Dave 1: And now we’re completely in the same scene. It’s all become one. And even when, when Alain switched over to a more eclectic electronic thing, it became closer to Chromeo. Even when Fancy Footwork came out [in 2007], it might have been a stretch for you to play with us? But it really converged.
Is there any sense of competition between the two of you?
Dave 1: No. On the contrary, we both get frustrated when we’re not doing everything we can do. Everything is together.
Do you plan on ever formally putting out anything together?
A-Trak: People don’t realize how much we’ve been involved in each other’s music over the years. Dave’s helped me write so much of my music, it’s just that we don’t always go and write the credits in full, especially in the remix culture that I’m in. But we’ve both been talking about it lately, that it’s probably time to do more straight-up collaboration. He’s on the Duck Sauce collaboration, singing as an alias. And let’s not forget that I scratched on the first Chromeo album, under an alias as well.
Dave, Chromeo’s forthcoming album has a provocative title: White Women. Where did the name come from and what’s the intention behind it?
Dave 1: White Women is the name of a Helmut Newton book, the photographer. He had a retrospective in Paris a couple of years ago and I went, and he had a display with all his book titles and they were all hysterical. So I saw the title, White Women, and I immediately thought of that first Strokes record, with the hand on the butt, and I thought that would have been so funny for that. Or it could have been a great Bowie record, or a great Roxy Music record. So I called P and my brother and I said maybe we should call our record that. At first P was like, dude you’re crazy, and so we sort of shelved it. But Alain was the one that said you guys should use that for the title. It’s cool because, yes, it’s provocative and it’s humorous but it’s a gateway to talk about our influences outside of music.
Do you mean for it to speak to race or gender issues?
Dave 1: Not at all. But yo, L.A. Clippers, America’s racist, so let’s just talk about it. First of all, there was racism in the way people treated black eighties music when we first came out. Journalists were racist when they were saying, like, oh, Duran Duran is cool but Rick James isn’t cool. Depeche Mode and New Order are cool, but Cameo is not cool, Cameo is funny — that’s racist. We fought for those eighties black bands because they were our heroes and we thought they were geniuses. And we thought that Snoop and Dre were geniuses for making us discover that. But semantically and semiotically, we had fun with [the title]. It allowed us to have fun with all those tropes.
A-Trak: For a long time, institutionally, people didn’t want to take Chromeo seriously. So whether it be a statement like, this is a band that deserves to be on the main stage at Coachella, or, this is a band that can backup a controversial album title, lately there’s been an opportunity for them to rise to the challenge. And it’s working.