PHOTO BY TIM SACCENTI
“Chromeo…Oh, Oh! Chromeo…Oh, Oh!” That’s all you could hear as the red neon Chromeo sign flashed above the stage before the eponymous electro-funk duo (with a trio of black-hosed-and-Brylcreemed Robert Palmeresque back up singers) took the stage at Bowery Ballroom last Thursday. The teaser show turned into a full-on dance party–a little taste of the energy Dave 1 and P-Thugg are amassing in 2010. Hot off a ripping set with Daryl Hall at Bonnaroo, they’ll release their third studio effort, Business Casual, next month. Recorded from Montreal to Philly, and mixed by Phillipe Zdar in Paris (they produced Fancy Footwork with him there, too), they got some friends to help out in the studio (Solange Knowles, and bonus tracks with La Roux and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig), while Harri Peccinotti lensed the Pressure Drop-inspired album cover. The take-away? These mid-level Montrealers are vying for the main stage. And just to make that point clear, they’re adding a major disco light component to their legged keyboard set–electro-funkifying that “hot glow of electric sex” idiom from A Christmas Story–to give the new tunes some added oomph. After the set, P-Thugg walked us through the updates to Chromeo 3.0.
MICHAEL SLENSKE: It seems that with Lollapalooza and the new album, this is going to be a really big year for you guys.
P-THUGG: Yeah, yeah. The summer started really good with Bonnaroo and that Daryl Hall thing, and then we went to Europe after that for like a month, which went really well. We weren’t expecting the reception we got over there. We thought people had forgot about us. And then we just started the US tour and we’re going to stop at Lollapalooza, which should be a great highlight. The last time we did Lollapalooza it was amazing, so I can’t wait to get there.
SLENSKE: How did the Daryl Hall collaboration come about?
P-THUGG: Well, he has this web show where he invites guests to his home every month and we did one of the first shows a couple years ago, and I guess the response was great–people were really into it. And, you know, kudos to the promoters at Bonnaroo, who thought about bringing us to do that same show live at the festival. It was a great idea, we both wanted to do it, and it was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, I think.
SLENSKE: So did he know how to play all your music before that?
P-THUGG: Yeah, yeah. He knows all the songs, we played half Hall & Oates songs and half Chromeo songs. I think it has something to do with his nephew, who turned him onto us, or something. And we talk about him so much in interviews, somebody in his band must have caught on. But we got to the first rehearsal and he knew all the lyrics, he knew all the chords, he can play our songs.
SLENSKE: That must be pretty trippy.
P-THUGG: Yeah, it is. Some parts of songs are heavily inspired by his vocals and his production in the first place, so imagine our songs that he’s replaying his own parts on. Kinda weird.
SLENSKE: Tell me about the new album.
P-THUGG: Well, it’s called Business Casual and I think it’s a good follow-up to Fancy Footwork. We just took it a step further in producing and arrangements and just trying to push the envelope musically. You know more vocal harmonies, a lot of attention put toward chord progression and song structures. We actually went out and got a string section to go out and do a couple of songs–”Don’t Walk Away” and another song called “J’ai Claque La Porte,” which means “I Slammed the Door”–which we’ve been wanting to do for a while, and we went all out. And we wanted to make this a step better musically than Fancy Footwork without losing that fun and innocent edge. We went out and recorded the strings with Larry Gold, this guy from Philly, who did all the Seventies stuff for Gamble & Huff. The classic Philly sound, orchestrated funk that originated in the ’70s. We took a lot of time and effort.
SLENSKE: So would you say you were going for a more old school or more modern sound?
P-THUGG: We always try to make it sound old, but I think this one, half of it is more modern than anything we did in the last two albums and maybe the other half is more older sounding because it’s mostly ballads. There’s a lot of albums and stuff like “Momma’s Boy” on the new record, but when we finished the songs and we mixed and mastered them it doesn’t really come out that old, I have the impression that when we’re producing we’re trying to emulate old stuff but it kind of comes out new because all the drums we use are from drum machines and samples and we have a real modern way of recording things with old equipment, so I think at the end of the day it just sounds more updated. I think it will sound more modern than the last ones.
P-THUGG: It’s hard to say, because I’m not really objective. I have all these influences, you know I think about Michael McDonald and Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac and Midnight Starlight, but the reality is that when we’re sitting back and listening to the songs it feels quite modern.
SLENSKE: Is the stage show changing?
P-THUGG: Yeah, the show has changed, we have a new light set up, I’ve got a whole bunch of new synthesizers. There’s three girls dressed as the Palmer girls backing us up. They’ll probably be there at Lollapalooza.
SLENSKE: Who are they?
P-THUGG: One of them was Dave’s vocal coach and she got two other girls. We’re just sprucing up the live show a little bit.
SLENSKE: Yeah, the Bowery show felt like it might fit in at Studio 54 around 1978.
P-THUGG: That’s a good thing. That’s what we want. Actually, it’s getting to be more like a typical rock stadium show, and dancing to songs like Fancy Footwork and they just sing along for the rest of the songs.
SLENSKE: What about all the talk about these Bushmills ads?
P-THUGG: I don’t know. I don’t really care about any backlash or anything. This is where music is right now. There’s no more record companies backing bands up and giving tour support and making shit happen and it’s a great avenue for the companies to concentrate their marketing and go directly to a target audience, which we have. Those kind of sponsorships they make better shows happen. We get money, we can give a better show to the fans, and we can actually go home with a little bit of money to support our career and the next album because we don’t sell albums. Nobody makes albums that sell these days. So there’s a point where the whole industry is restructuring around companies instead of record labels and I think people are just going to have to learn to deal with it and do it with taste. We would never take on sponsorship with a banner on stage, the really invasive stuff. Whatever we did with Bushmills was done with taste, all under our conditions–we chose the artwork, we chose the photographs, we chose the photographer, it has to be non-invasive to our look–and I think everyone is winning off of it. Obviously we’d never do an ad for cigarettes or something. It’s just evolving and people will have to get their old habits out of their heads otherwise there won’t be any shows anymore especially for mid-level artists like us.