The Montreal-based electro-funk duo, Chromeo, was born through a shared love of vintage drum machines and gleamingly plastic synth tones. Developing a sound reminiscent of ‘80s funk and radio RnB, David One and Pee Thug, the geniuses behind this unexpected duo, take influence from Prince and Zapp.
Paying homage to some of the greatest dancefloor pop around, Chromeo’s sound has grown increasingly refined as the years have gone on. Now on their fifth studio album Head Over Heels, we caught some exclusive snaps of the duo before their London show, we chatted their hiatus from music and their desert island album.
You were over in London last week, how was your Printworks show?
We loved it. The space was somewhat unusual, but the sound is truly amazing in there. We’ve played so many of the more traditional concert venues in London – like Roundhouse and Shepherd’s Bush Empire – we wanted to try a different experience this time around. The crowd was beautiful too!
Talking of the crowd, is there a noticeable difference between the crowds over in the UK compared to the States?
Hard to tell because even within the States there’s a bunch of differences. But our UK crowd is always very loud, very engaged and very musically in tune: they respond to every single nuance. What we’ve always loved about playing out there is that there’s very much a funk, boogie and disco culture that’s still alive. You can hear Patrice Rushen on the radio every day! So our music can exist in that reality as well as in the electronic space.
And how would you best describe your live shows?
Dance parties, sing alongs. Lots of lights. It’s entertainment. Pee and I are there to make you happy. We’re at your service. Although we’re currently working on a live band version of the Chromeo show, which will be a different concept entirely.
You recently released your latest album, Head Over Heels, how has that been? And can you explain a bit about the concept behind the album?
After 3 albums, which were very much done in isolation, with 2014’s White Women LP we slowly started to open ourselves to collaborations. On Head Over Heels, we pushed that to the max. That’s what we wanted to try out this time around: set up a studio in Burbank and invite other writers, other producers, our favorite session musicians from the 80s and our favorite vocalists from today. We also wanted to see how far we could polish an album…it was almost a Steely Dan fantasy, you know? All the songs have a clear intention and concept. All the hooks feel muscular. What really surprises us is how well the songs go over when we play live.
But, we’re already thinking about the next project…we’re going to have some new music out next year. And now that we’ve gotten all this collaborating out of us, we sort of want to get back to our isolation bubble again, haha! We’re also producing a few projects for other artists.
And can you explain the iconography of the album artwork for Head Over Heels?
Well the idea was to take the iconography that we introduced with Fancy Footwork and flip it on its head, er, heels, rather. Instead of using women’s body parts, using our own legs. Reclaiming that symbol and taking responsibility for it. It’s something Pee wanted to do for a long time actually. Our last album was named after Helmut Newton’s first book – obviously he’s a huge influence on our visual language. This one actually recalls a photo of Helmut with shaved legs and pumps, sitting down. He did it first.
This album was the first release in 4 years, how it been to release such a large body of work after this hiatus?
It was a relief because Head Over Heels was very much laboured over – we had all the time in the world in our own studio and definitely put in insane hours paying attention to minute sonic details. We had to get that out of us. But now we’re like “ok no more waiting 4 years between albums anymore.”
A lot has changed in music across the four years since you released White Women, how do you think your music fits in to the scene now?
It’s hard to tell! Not even sure what scene anymore. We first started when groups like The Rapture and Bloc Party were popping. We became popular alongside Justice and MSTRKRFT. We blossomed alongside the likes of Cut Copy and Flume. More recently, we played festival slots before Flume and Disclosure. It keeps evolving. At this point, we just focus on carving our own path. We were never big on fitting in anyway.
I’m interested to know how you guys found your particular sound? And how you think it has evolved since you released your first album?
Basically, when we were teens, we discovered funk music through hip-hop. By figuring out all the samples in the song. And we fell in love with it. Later, we got into 80s funk because it combined the pop elements I loved with the synth drum machine experimental elements that spoke to Pee. And almost nobody was referencing it. It wasn’t considered cool. People thought New Order was cool, but not Rick James. So we started Chromeo.
We mixed the 80s synth influence with modern electronic sounds and a very personal, quirky lyrical sensibility…something to anchor 80s influenced electro funk in a post-Seinfeld world. A way to make it totally true to us. Album after album, we just tried to keep polishing our craft because keep in mind that at first, we had no idea what we were doing. Needy Girl was the first time I sang into a microphone. 5 albums later, here we are.
And finally, you’re on a desert island, what’s one album you’d have to have with you?