Aspen Times Q&A: Chromeo’s Dave 1
If You Go …
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Dec. 30, 10 p.m. & Saturday, Dec. 31, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
Chromeo, the Montreal-based electro-funk duo, is back in Aspen this weekend for a two-night stand celebrating New Year’s Eve at Belly Up.
With Dave 1 on guitar and lead vocals and P-Thugg on keyboard and talk-box, the self-proclaimed “funk lordz” helped resurrect the fun, danceable sounds of ’80s funk with tongue-in-cheek songs like “Jealous,” “Sexy Socialite” and “Fancy Footwork.” They’ve also become local heroes in the past two years, bringing their witty, winking pure entertainment to Belly Up last New Year’s and to the X Games.
Aspen Times arts editor Andrew Travers had a wide-ranging conversation with Dave 1 during the band’s swing through town this time last year. These are edited excerpts of that interview.
Andrew Travers: How did you end up coming back for New Year’s Eve after your X Games show?
Dave 1: It was such a blast that I was like, ‘All right, I want to come back for New Year’s. It was our idea. We pitched it to (Belly Up). That’s how much we wanted to come back.
Usually, as a band, you have to play on New Year’s. But you’re always in a random city away from your friends. … We were like, ‘Let’s go somewhere that we’d rather be, lets have fun and stay a few days.’
I can’t remember a New Year’s that I haven’t played. This is making the most of it.
Travers: Until recently you were pursuing a Ph.D. in French literature at Columbia University. Is there any crossover between your work in Chromeo and your literary criticism? I’m wondering whether the band emerged from a deconstruction of ’80s pop music and electro-funk.
Dave 1: In general, semiotics is the study of signs. I always felt like ’80s funk music was a really cool sign system. And I knew that all of the signs in there are things you’d get a kick out of seeing again. That’s why we went that route, but then we recontexutalized it and we blended it with other specific signifiers, whether it be a neurotic Woody Allen-esque persona singing the lyrics or classic rock artwork or a tough guy hip-hop sensibility. All of that. I guess there was always an analytical eye to it, and drawing inspiration from a specific body of work — what in academia we’d call a ‘corpus,’ a primary text. We knew what our canon would be: it would be this funk music from the late ’70s into the ’80s and we studied what was used to do it, what the tropes were. And we wanted to subvert it, to make it sound like they were done by two goofy kids from Canada, which we were. We always felt like it was a pastiche. Now, you hear something and you say, ‘Oh my God, that sounds like Chromeo,’ ‘That has a Chromeo vibe.’ We added a layer to it.
Travers: When you guys started out, there weren’t a lot of bands mining that terrain. I doubt it was clear that there was an appetite for an electro-funk revival. But a lot of others bands have picked up in it since you did.
Dave 1: It was never a secret. At every wedding and every bar mitzvah in the last 20 years, they’ve played Michael Jackson and Kool and the Gang and Prince. And in every dentist’s office across the universe they play Hall and Oates and Phil Collins. So it was only a matter of time before people went, ‘Hey, this is universal music that everybody likes and that’s fun and kind of quirky and also genius!’ Maybe we were part of the first generation of bands that drew influence from it, but it was no secret. People didn’t copy us. Maybe they just got the memo a little later. But it was hiding in plain sight. You just had to go to a wedding or bar mitzvah.
Travers: I’ve got to ask you specifically about Hall and Oates. John Oates has lived here in Aspen for 30 years. What does their music mean to you?
Dave 1: He’s a legend. For us it was inspiring because what they were doing was like a hybrid reappropriation of black soul music. They blended it with their distinct voices and their local Philadelphia tradition, and with other influences like prog and folk. So it turned into this delicious pop music. That inspired us in many ways, because we saw we could stay true to the city we come from — Montreal — and we could blend other influences, as well, whether its classic rock, hip hop, and pay this honest and earnest tribute to a music that is different from where we come from. But if you keep it genuine and do it with a lot of respect, it can work. And the other thing about Hall and Oates that’s been inspiring for us is that they’ve had a really long career that really blossomed into pop stuff in their second decade. We flirted with pop and the mainstream on our fourth album, on ‘Jealous,’ so to see a band like Hall and Oates do it that way — where in the first decade you cultivate this cult, purist following — that’s when they had the pure pop songs like ‘She’s Gone’ and ‘Rich Girl,’ then it’s in the second decade they come up with all the popular stuff. It’s inspiring in that way.
And then, in terms of production, there are some bold choices, some avant-garde production. I’m glad they went from being an underrated band to a celebrated band. I’m really glad that happened.
Travers: ‘White Women’ seemed almost like a capstone record for Chromeo, distilling the stylistic homage, perfecting that pastiche approach you mentioned. What’s next?
Dave 1: We want to draw from other influences, too, and keep mining different corners of the funky ’80s stuff. But also right now it’s like Chomeo is self-generating. We can do a song that sounds like Chromeo. We don’t have to sound like Hall and Oates anymore. And I think now is the time to make the quintessential Chromeo songs. We’re our own reference now, and its time to make them bigger and more ambitious than they’ve ever been, but also sweeter. We’re working on that now, we’re collaborating with more people than ever, being more experimental than ever.
The demos that I’m rejecting this time around, those would have been keepers on the last record. Our standards are much higher. We’ve got to make it challenging for ourselves. We’ve got to keep raising the bar. I can’t listen to ‘White Women’ anymore — I hear too many mistakes.
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The annual budget-friendly and hyper-local “Small Wonders” holiday art sale opens Friday at the Aspen Chapel Gallery, with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Local artists are also in the spotlight at the Red Brick Center’s resident artists show.