Chromeo: In Control

There are two undeniable truths about Dave 1 of Chromeo: he is a Hip-Hop encyclopedia and an avid reader of At first glance, he and his best friend and P-Thugg might not look like your average b-boys. Sure, their electro-rock-funk-soul-(insert another cool genre) band Chromeo is making waves across the globe with their follow-up […]

There are two undeniable truths about Dave 1 of Chromeo: he is a Hip-Hop encyclopedia and an avid reader of At first glance, he and his best friend and P-Thugg might not look like your average b-boys. Sure, their electro-rock-funk-soul-(insert another cool genre) band Chromeo is making waves across the globe with their follow-up album Fancy Footwork. But spend a little time with Dave 1 on the phone, and you’ll soon find that both he and Pee know more about Hip-Hop than your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Chromeo bumrushed the scene in ’04 with their debut She’s In Control. Mixing elements of every genre they could find, Dave 1 and his talkbox toting partner in crime P-Thugg, crafted a style and sound both new and familiar. Their new album Fancy Footwork boasts more than a successful sequel. It’s an evolved shift towards synth-heavy funky rock, or as Dave 1 likes to call it, “The Hip-Hop Hall & Oates.” We caught up with Dave 1 while wrapping up the UK Chromeo tour. He discusses his Hip-Hop roots, his brother A-Trak, and the genesis of the band in formulating their signature Chromeo sound. Alternatives: What is your take on present-day Hip-Hop?Dave 1: I love it. I think it’s better than – well not better than it’s ever been, but I think it’s really really good. People tend to hate on it, but I think it’s great; I think it’s amazing.AHHA: Really, why is that?Dave 1: Because like you know I started off as a Hip-Hop producer – you know my little brother is A-Trak, Kanye’s DJ and all that – so you know me and him, we started off really deep in Hip-Hop. I was making beats, and he was like a DJ. I was making beats and kind of like a pretty prominent producer in the Montreal scene where we were from and all of that. So Hip-Hop was like the biggest thing for us, and it still is. Even though I do this whole Chromeo thing, I still mostly listen to Hip-Hop.AHHA: So you are referred to as the “Hip-Hop Encyclopedia.”Dave 1: I could tell you every record that came out from like ‘93 up to now. I could tell you who produced every song, who engineered every song, and where they mastered it. I mean, I used to learn that by heart, especially before I was really making beats. I would like read every single credit and memorize all the engineers’ names, and all the mastering guys’ names, and all the studios’ names, because that was a world that was so far from me and A-Trak. Two little white kids growing up in Montreal, it was so far to us…that’s what made us dream.AHHA: You linked up with P-Thugg because you were best friends in school, right?Dave 1: It was always like me, A-Trak and Pee. That was always the trio, and Pee was always like laying in the cut. He was the one who taught A-Trak to drive. You know how Fat Joe has got Macho? That’s what Pee was to me and A-Trak. Pee was always holding it down. He’s the one who taught me how to use a sampler to make beats, and he would come to my sessions and like give his input. He was just always there holding us down all these years, you know teaching us about gear and all that stuff.  He was never into Hip-Hop as much – he was always into West coast stuff and like DJ Quik and stuff like that. We’re into that too, but that was really Pee’s stuff. Basically, when I decided to do the Chromeo record, my first idea was to get Pee involved, so you know, it would be something me and him could do. We really hadn’t done music together since we were kids in high school. We really wanted to do something together again, so that was that.AHHA: How did you go from Hip-Hop to the Chromeo sound?Dave 1: I came from a very hardcore Hip-Hop [background]. The last Hip-Hop song I did that came out was “Cult Leader” on Non-Phixion’s first album. Non-Phixion’s first album was like an underground classic. It had [DJ] Premier on it, Large Professor, Necro, the Beatnuts, and this little dorky Jewish kid called Dave 1. After that, I dunno I wasn’t really getting inspired, and a lot of new guys were coming out production-wise, and I couldn’t really do what they did. This was right when the Blueprint came out, and Just Blaze and Kanye and all the chipmunk beats. I didn’t have all the keyboards, and I was like man should I get a Triton? Should I start making keyboard beats? I was kind of at a transition period, because I came out making Black Moon beats, just like Premier-style beats. Then the Chromeo thing came through, and it was like a lot of the records we drew inspiration from.You know when you make Hip-Hop beats, you buy a lot of records; you’re sampling from a lot of records. So we had all the ‘60s and ‘70s records that we used, and then we had all the ‘80s jheri curl records. We never really used them to make beats, because that would be like a Puff Daddy beat, but we listened to them. Those were really fun records to listen to. Plus I’m like an ‘80s kid, so I grew up listening to pop like Hall & Oates and Robert Palmer. So we had all these records. It’s like, we’re not going to sample those, but we’re going to draw inspiration from that music to kind of pay homage to that forgotten ‘80s Black music that was hot when we were kids. So that’s what happened with Chromeo. That’s where the transition came from.AHHA: How did the Hip-Hop world respond to She’s In Control?Dave 1: When the first record came out, we didn’t get much acceptance from the Hip-Hop world. I didn’t make much of an effort to tell all my Hip-Hop friends, because I thought they were gonna be like, “Man I always knew Dave 1 and Pee were gay” …or some bullsh*t. [laughs] I thought they were gonna think it was really fruity sh*t you know? So I was like, man let me just lay in the cut and just do this. Recently, when Timbaland started doing pop music, and the Hip-Hop sound started opening up more, and Pharrell doing what he does, all of the sudden there wasn’t such a big gap between what Hip-Hop sounds like and what Chromeo sounds like. People just started hollerin’ at us like, I see what you guys are doing, and my brother playing our stuff for Kanye, and them really liking it…all that stuff. And we just kept doing what we do. It’s a good feeling to be doing something for AllHipHop. I don’t read electronic music blogs, I just read AllHipHop and Illseed four times a day. So it’s dope to have that world finally take interest in what we’re doing. We’re outsiders in the world we’re in. We’re the only dudes – we don’t go raving and take ecstasy and stuff. I come home and listen to mixtapes with Lil’ Weezy on it. [laughs]AHHA: Is it difficult for you to mold into genres that are constantly changing shape?Dave 1: We’re just basically waiting for people to kind of holler at us, because we could be doing stuff with R&B and Hip-Hop artists out there too you know? That could be a possibility. I think right now it’s more open now and democratic. I remember when Premier did a Janet Jackson remix, we were like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. I don’t know if I like it! Maybe I like it? I like it!” It was very controversial you know? Now it’s like look at me, I’m doing some Robert Palmer meets Zapp records, and I’m the biggest Hip-Hop dork ever. AHHA: Who would you like to hear over Chromeo beats right now?Dave 1: I think T-Pain is very Chromeo, I think that dude is from our world. That dude would sound crazy over one of our tracks, and he’s got a sense of humor about him, which is also a thing about us. Our stuff is not ironic, but there is a humorous dimension, because if you see what we look like and the jheri curl music we make, it’s not exactly the perfect match. It makes it funny, kooky and charming – hopefully at the same time.AHHA: What is your favorite Hip-Hop quotable?Dave 1: I think the dopest Hip-Hop quotable recently was the Weezy verse when he’s like [starts rhyming] “Damn right I kiss my daddy.” That was crazy. I think all time dopest Hip-Hop quotable – [sighs] there’s a lot. I don’t know, it changes everyday…I’m a little biased, but I think Kanye…I’m not going to say the details but, Kanye – I heard his song on his new record, ‘cause you know my brother played me some stuff. Let me just say there’s a couple of lines where he explains his Grammy outfit – what he was wearing that day – ‘cause apparently he caught some flack for it, and those lines are really really dope. All time [favorite quotable] is too hard. I think, actually you know what it is…Prodigy in “Quiet Storm.” That to me is the dopest ever, the second verse. I know that thing by heart. Picture a guy like me…would you really think I know every Mobb Deep album by heart? AHHA: That’s hot though. It’s the mark of a true musician. So, if you weren’t here doing this, where do you think you would be?Dave 1: I’m still in school, so you know that’s like the other half of my life. I’d probably just be working on my school stuff. I’m still in school in New York.AHHA: Where do you go to school?Dave 1: Columbia University. I’m doing my PhD over there. So yeah, I’d be doing that and watching my brother’s stuff too, because my brother’s stuff is popping off.AHHA: How do balance your music and school?Dave 1: It’s hard. It’s a lot of work, but during the summer I get some time where I don’t have to be working on it, so then I tour. It’s a little bit flexible, so I can allow a little bit of time to take care of this new record. But trust me, when I come back to New York in September, I got a lot of school grinding to do as well. Yeah they call me “Schoolly D.”