MUSIC

Chromeo On Going Mainstream, Why U2 Failed And Not Being 'In Music For The Profit'

10/01/2014 11:24 EDT | Updated 10/01/2014 11:24 EDT
Vanessa Heins

David "Dave 1" Macklovitch and Patrick "P-Thugg" Gemayel, a Jewish-Arab duo from Montreal who brought analog electro-funk into our digital age, are perhaps an unlikely success story. Even more so when one considers how un-cool their sound was when they first started a decade ago. Not that they ever cared -- the pair have always acknowledged the potentially comical appeal of their music and then simply transcended it with sincere songwriting.

But thanks to Daft Punk's disco-reviving smash "Get Lucky" last year, Chromeo's old-school sound has gone mainstream and they're currently enjoying the most critically and commercially successful year of their career with a platinum-certified single and major festival appearances.

Shortly before they received a few studio-worthy sales plaques, both fashionable gentlemen sat down to discuss the infamous U2 album release, Gemayel's birthplace in Lebanon, their thoughts on music royalties and Darryl Hall.

What music surrounded you two growing up?

P: I grew up with Arabic music and French singer-songwriter music at home, just because my parents were Lebanese with a strong French colony influence. Growing up, that was pretty much it and then starting to discover music by myself when I was around maybe eight or nine-years-old, when I moved to Canada and discovered hip-hop and I discovered Michael Jackson. That was probably my musical awakening.

D: Bob Dylan, mostly. Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, all of the time. And Leonard Cohen.

P: His father has a great musical taste.

Does your father listen to Chromeo?

P: Everything.

D: Yeah, yeah. My dad is our biggest troll. He just Googles everything. He gets alerts.

P: He goes through the remixes, too.

D: Yeah, he listens to everything.

Is he critical?

P: No, he's good. He's really on point.

Thinking about the terms of the musical landscape -- from what your parents played for you to ten years ago, when you were coming out and then how that has changed since. What has kept you two together through it all?

D: Who knows. We just kept at it. Every band's got its own trajectory and we're just still motivated to keep going.

There's not method to this madness?

P: No, it's just as long as we have something to say and prove, then we're in.

What did having a hit song with 'Jealous (I Ain't With It)' represent?

P: It's just basically putting us in a new step of our career, where we're starting from zero with this new setup in mind and it just pushes us to go further, to work harder, do better. It is a great incentive.

D: What he said.

With that in your catalogue and Tariff 8 a part of the conversation, does success in a traditional sense feel limited?

D: No, because I think for us the point is to give ourselves new challenges and making a record that performs at a higher level but maintains all of the integrity and all of the tropes that we have established with this band, that's kind of like a huge challenge for us. It is not easy to accomplish and that's what we're setting out to do now.

Digital rights placing those restraints on a hit song, it might be out there, but the artists aren't receiving the royalties like they should have.

D: No, we don't care about that. I don't know. We're not nostalgic for anything and we're still able to profit from what we do and we're not even in this for the profit because we reinvest a lot of it into the band anyway. It's not really a relevant thing.

How about in terms of the cultural impact?

P: A cultural impact is much easier to attain today with all of the social media, so for us it is a better thing. I'd rather be remembered as that then die as a millionaire.

D: It lives longer now and makes an impact for us deeper now. I mean, an example for instance is when you take a song like a 'Get Lucky' kind of song or a 'Blurred Lines' kind of song and 'Blurred Lines' is interesting because attached to the hit record, you have the video, you have the rise of a particular model linked to the video, you've got the social media, an acting career of that one model linked to the video and linked to the song and you've got a legal battle, as well. I actually think that stuff is amazing, to think that a song can spawn all of those little nuggets of culture. That's only possible in this age.

It's become more than the song now.

D: Where do you draw the line? the song is the impetus for everything and it just all grows. It just all disseminates from that.

How would you describe a hit song today?

D: There's metrics to define a hit song, I think. You just rely on those metrics, I mean it was always vague anyway. I don't know.

When it comes to someone like U2, doing what they did -

D: I think the thing about the U2 thing is that the music, for a lot of people, was underwhelming. I think the marketing stunt was really cool and I'm pretty sure the reaction would've been different had the music been good.

Have you listened to it?

D: Tried. I mean, I love a lot of U2 stuff and I see what they tried to do, but my opinion is not important in terms of what we're talking about here. I feel like the record was poorly received. The methods are fun, it's cool. If U2 tries to do a stunt, that's awesome! Some people hate on it and some people love it, right? But the thing is, it's a stunt and everybody talked about it for ten days. That's great. That's a win.

The problem is, nobody liked the music. If it had been coupled with great music, right? Let's say that Beyonce's album had come out like that, then you're talking about a huge win! Some people still would've complained, like what's this album doing in my iTunes? But you've got the album of the year on your phone, like "Whoa. This album is so powerful!"

I think one thing is that, in this age of simulacrum, you still can't fool people in terms of quality of the music. Great songs do rise to the top, whether that is a Beyonce song or whether it is Rihanna's 'Diamonds' or Mac DeMarco. Those terrific, terrific songs rise. So you can still be a purist and P and I have this goal of making great songs or trying to learn how to make great songs because we see that no matter how many stunts and marketing tactics and partnerships with God knows how many iTunes programs that you can think of -- a great song will make its way to you.

And the audience has become smarter.

D: You look at ILOVEMAKONNEN and Drake, just a kid from SoundCloud, right? My brother was up on him before and Fool's Gold was trying to sign him before, but I'm just saying, an underground kid and Drake found him, put him on a song and it is a SoundCloud thing. I mean, there was no money behind ILOVEMAKONNEN but it is a great song and it got to all the right people's ears and now it got to everybody's ears.

Speaking of your brother A-Trak, who was it choosing the records that were being played when you were growing up?

D: In the house? My dad. We just kind of went our own direction and started listening to hip-hop

P: And then the basement became theirs.

Worlds apart from that Lebanon musical upbringing. Have you visited since your childhood?

P: I've been, yes, a couple of times with mixed results. Plenty of family. It's good for visiting families. But I had a little problem last time, they wanted to keep me for military service. It's a long story, but it was quite the epic tale. But I don't want to talk about it.

Interview continues after slideshow

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That experience with Darryl Hall at his house, people still tweet about it all these years later. What was that experience like in hindsight?

P: That was crazy. People still talk about it today, every interview! Case and point. It was just a great experience man, hard to put into words. It was just amazing, an amazing experience. We learned a lot, it was quite humbling. A lot of things went on that day.

Have there been anyone like Darryl that you've connected with beyond that musical level

D: Aside from Darryl? Man, Darryl is in another category all by himself.

There was something special there between you.

D: The crazy thing is that you could see it, that's why everybody gravitated towards that show. You could tell that there was a strong kinship that was being forged.

Any of that inverse now -- where you are the elder statesman?

D: We're still cool and that with the up-and-comers, but we're not old school enough to have that legacy

P: Or that mentor status!

D: There's guys like the Oliver dudes that work on our album with us, they're a duo of producers from LA and we've become very close with them and there's a musical kinship there that is really cool.

What was that moment like bringing your songs to your sought after spot on that Coachella stage?

P: It was fun. Coachella was amazing.

D: Highlight of our career. You can't really feel it because you're nervous, not nervous but you're so focused on the show.

P: You kind of have tunnel-vision when you do something of that magnitude.

D: But the second week, we were a little more relaxed and could appreciate it. It was great.

When you've achieved that -- the Coachella stage and when you have that hit song, do you sit down?

D: Get more songs out. Hurry up and get back into the studio. Now is the time to build. We've got to work the hardest that we've worked now.

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