It's been a big year for Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo. Formed in 2002, they already had four studio albums out prior to the release of Head Over Heels in June, but it's this recent effort that has earned them their first Grammy nomination.
The critics are, as ever, divided, with Pitchfork describing the new album as “distasteful,” but these things are always subjective. One aficionado's trash is another's treasure, and David Macklovitch, aka Dave 1, is delighted with the response that Head Over Heels has received.
“We performed the album all of last year, so what we noticed mostly was how quickly the songs connected with our fan base,” he says. “It was awesome to see everybody sing the choruses to 'Juice,' 'Must've Been,' 'One Track Mind' and 'Don't Sleep.' In terms of the critics with Chromeo, some people like us and some people don't like us. That's been the case since the beginning. So we take everything with a grain of salt. For the first time, we got nominated for a Grammy.”
Yes, they did. And while musicians (and most artists, to be fair) seem to downplay the meaning of awards and nominations, Dave is delighted with this honor.
“For us, especially to have it on our fifth album, it feels good to finally have that recognition,” he says. “I'm not gonna lie. We're thrilled and honored, and we can now say that Chromeo is a Grammy-nominated group. Head Over Heels is a Grammy-nominated album. We're happy with that accolade.”
Head Over Heels came four years after 2014's White Women and marks a steady progression. For Dave 1, it was about making the biggest, most polished version of a Chromeo record.
“That's what we set out to do, and that's why we worked on it for so long,” he says. “We had our own studio, so there was no real time limit. That was the intention. We spent a ton of time on the production. I'm sure you can tell that it's very detailed.”
Fans will quickly notice that the duo have used more live instrumentation on this album, and less electronica than on previous efforts. This, Dave 1 says, was a big decision.
“The first thing is that electronic music itself is more live and more of an open category than it was before,” he says. “Even in terms of tempo. When you've got groups like Flume, Odesza and Rüfüs Du Sol, they mix live instrumentation with electronic music all the time. LCD Soundsystem is a great example of somebody who's made a career out of mixing electronic music with instruments. So we wanted to try our hand at that. When we listen back to some of our older stuff, we felt that some of our grooves were a little bit stiff. So we wanted to have a more human feel.”
It's worked, too; Head Over Heels is a delightfully human album that captures the joy and frustrations of relationships. The Grammy committee were clearly sold, as were a number of publications.
“Pitchfork did not like this album,” Dave 1 says. “I'm not really mad because we had other people who love the album. I understand their point of view. It's the most over-the-top Chromeo record. Lyrically, the humor is in your face and every song has got a chorus that almost reads like a slogan. More to the point, [it's] more concept-heavy, and definitely heavy on the humor but also on the neurosis. We're always trying to talk about the ups and downs in relationships in a quirky, relatable way.I don't think that's gonna be the idea with the next record, because I already have other themes I want to talk about or think about.”
The cover features Dave 1 and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel wearing short skirts and heels, showing off their legs, after a few albums that prominently featured female legs. Dave 1 says this was P-Thugg's idea.
“P's been wanting to do that for a long time,” he says. “For us, the legs things was a way to go full circle from the early days of us using that imagery, and contextualizing it in a way where we take responsibility for it. It's about us, and it's the most balls-out Chromeo statement. But it also allows us moving forward, now that we've gone full circle. It's funny but serious in the context of what we live in now. Tasteful but also a bit distasteful. That's the fine line we ride. Those are the challenges we give ourself, and we're aware that it's a thin line.”
The Montreal band are based in New York and have been since the start of the previous decade. That's where they cut their teeth and built their fan base before exploding nationally. That said, they have a love for the West Coast because of the deep funk culture.
“A lot of the funk groups we love come from the West Coast, groups like Lakeside,” Dave 1 says. “A lot of the hip-hop music we listened to as teenagers came from the West Coast, and that's how we discovered funk, through Snoop, Tupac and Warren G. A lot of our fans on the West Coast, their parents or uncles listen to funk, so there's a deep connection there. There's also a really cool electronic music history in L.A., so playing L.A. is always special.”
On Jan. 18, Chromeo will play a DJ set at the Exchange L.A., and Dave 1 believes that the pair have found a way to illustrate the Chromeo sound while spinning.
“I don't know why it took so long, but now it feels like I can play an hour and a half of funky house music and house-y disco music and funk edits, all things funky,” he says. “Of course, a ton of Chromeo remixes, too. We've found a good pocket to play in an electronic club but with a sound that really reflects Chromeo. That can make people dance but has elements of disco, funk and the electronic music we like.”
2018 was indeed a big year for Chromeo, but the story is far from over. Maybe they'll win that Grammy in the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical category. They'll certainly be releasing new music this year.
“We're also producing stuff … for up-and-coming artists that we like,” Dave 1 says. “We want to start mentoring new talent. After you've put out five albums, it's not just about you anymore. We have an amazing studio in LA, and we've been enjoying having people come over and producing tracks with and for them. So between that and new Chromeo music, and a bunch of new projects that I can't talk about just yet, we have a busy year ahead.”
Chromeo perform a DJ set at 10 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, at The Exchange L.A.