They’re making ’80s electro funk cool again for the ’90s babies who dabbled in it, the older crowd who lived and loved it and today’s kids who can’t catch the reference. But it doesn’t matter who’s listening, the point is, they’re all listening. Chromeo’s fourth and newest album, “White Women,” is bringing the duo behind the music to another level – one where they play DJ sets on a Sunday afternoon in a Chicago arcade to brunch-going, dance enthusiasts. Before they did, we stole a moment with them at Cerise, Virgin Hotels’ rooftop bar.
I hear you guys say it’s either lowbrow or highbrow, but nothing in the middle.
Patrick: It’s a way of life. It’s really important.
What does it mean?
Dave: Well, like, a Chicago hot dog is amazing, but you don’t need to get the crazy gourmet version of it. You can go somewhere very traditional – a blue collar place. Then, at the same time, obviously you have really fine cuisine. There’s nothing more annoying than something mediocre that pretends to be good.
Patrick: It’s either a dingy burger or gourmet cuisine, but not a fancy burger – that’s middlebrow.
Dave: We’re not big Shake Shack fans. We like In-N-Out [burgers] because they’re $3. If you want to make this insane bison burger like the Black Label Burger at Minetta [in New York], that’s cool, but not an $11 burger that claims to be this and that. I’d rather have three In-N-Out burgers for $9. I’m just saying, the middle sometimes tends to be very pretentious.
Patrick: More pretentious than the high.
Dave: The high is fancy. You can’t really say anything about it. It forces you to educate yourself on the finer things and also accept the very simple things that everyone has access to.
Patrick: You have to appreciate, but not be a slave to the higher things.
When a song is almost done, do you go through a checklist to make sure it has certain elements?
Dave: We always ask ourselves, “Does it have some deep, hidden element that all of our music nerd friends are going to respect?”
Patrick: Again, “Is it high-low?” We need something for the nerds, like highbrow music – referential dork shit – and then lowbrow enough for everybody to like it, even if you don’t understand music or theory.
Dave: [That’s true] especially now. We had a Top 40 song on our last album for the first time in our career. Obviously it’d be great to have more like that, so we’re creating music with a broader audience in mind. A lot of our fans are much too young to know Hall & Oates or Prince, or whatever. They don’t need to. But if you’re 35 and you know who Boz Scaggs is and you get that we reference this part or that, you can also [connect]. Like P said, the goal is to make music that everyone appreciates and that the critics, snobs and music nerds can also chew on. Like, what if we put in this specific drum machine or if P took these chords and made them really weird and subtle without anyone noticing?
Patrick: It’s just for the peers to understand. We’ve built a whole career on cred[ibility] for the last 15 years and now we need to keep that mystery, but still please everybody else.
Gosh, 15 years. Do you feel like it’s flown by?
Dave: It’s not 15, yet. You kinda scared me [for a minute].
Patrick: We’ve been making music together for 20 years, so 21 or 22 together? The lines have blurred [since Chromeo was formed in 2002].
Has it felt like a long road?
Dave: It’s been a long process but, like with the last album, it was really a new beginning. We’re very much rookies in the game in certain aspects, and then in terms of touring, we’re seasoned vets. But in terms of radio or song writing with other people or making really polished music, we’re new. So it’s challenging in some aspects.
Do you think that having an underdog mentality and being so hungry is what makes people become really successful?
Dave: I think so. For us we still have it because even on The Pitchfork Review — I read all the reviews and memorized them — they gave us a great review on the last record, but they said something like, “Chromeo’s never had ‘the song.'” We didn’t take offense to that. That’s why we keep making music. We haven’t had that moment yet, but we can say we played Lollapalooza three times.
Patrick: We were on the main stage.
Dave: We had an amazing spot last time; we were right under the headliner. It was amazing, but we still have so much to prove and that’s what keeps us going. I think sometimes that’s also very easy to misinterpret. I think Kanye is very misunderstood because he is still so hungry and ambitious and motivated.
Hasn’t Kayne said he still doesn’t feel like he’s made it?
Dave: Some people perceive him as this celebrity who has everything, but in his mind, he has more to accomplish. Sometimes he doesn’t express it in a way that’s easy to understand, but essentially the idea is that you can’t rest on your laurels and there’s always more to do. When you’re one of the biggest artists in the world, or maybe the biggest, you have to word it in a certain way. We don’t have to worry about how we word it.
Was there a moment where you two looked at each other and said, “Okay, this is actually going to happen”?
Patrick: There were two milestones – a lot of headlining, a lot of festivals, on that main stage at Lolla, Coachella. We just looked at each other and thought, “Oh, that was something,” but we were stressing a couple times. And stuff like doing Daryl Hall’s show. That was another milestone, like “Oh, the press is actually looking at us now.”
Dave: Once people come to your first show then you think, “Wow, people care.” We did it for four years playing for like 60 people and then at one point it was sold out and we were like, “Oh, cool.”
When you’re running on empty, what’s your go-to pick-me-up?
Dave: Massages are good.
Patrick: A good burger.
Dave: Good food. We’ll look up good restaurants when we can. P goes shopping like crazy. P gets vintage Ed Hardy.
Patrick: [I did that] when I visited Chicago on the last two tours.
Where do you shop here?
Dave: He goes to some vintage store downtown where they still sell things on sale. P does a lot of shopping. The tour bus is full with his stuff by the end of the tour.
Patrick: Record shopping, clothes, vintage clothing. I leave with half a suitcase and I come back with four. I’m a hoarder, so I’ll just stop everywhere. When I have two hours I don’t want to sit on the bus.
How do you unwind at night?
Dave: Listen to music or watch movies. We’ll watch a good documentary.
Patrick: Music documentaries.
What music documentary would you recommend?
Dave: “Steely Dan”, [part of] the VH1 series.
Patrick: Or the Eagles one.
David: The Eagles one is phenomenal. A lot of people hate The Eagles. They’re not popular or cool. Well they’re the most popular, but not among young, hip people. But they’re actually incredible; we’re huge fans. RIP to Glenn [Frey], what a genius. They’re a group that does super lowbrow, redneck music that’s beautifully complex and subtle. They haven’t gotten their credit as a really refined musical group. Their documentary is crazy cause it’s real life Anchorman with the same characters as Anchorman but in real life. It might be on Netflix. Then they have the second part, which is like their ’90s comeback and their outfits… the denim is out of this world. What else is good?
Patrick: I mean, you go on YouTube and search for Rudy Collins and there are a lot of funkadelic documentaries out there. They’re amazing.
Dave: We watch a lot of those. They’re great. Then, you know, “Making a Murderer” [came out].
Do you guys watch that?
Dave: Yeah, we did. I haven’t finished it. I can’t, it’s too depressing. I said to P on the last flight, “It bums me out too much. Can you just give me a condensed version?” And then I just watched it.”
Patrick: There’s a really good documentary on Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on YouTube.
Dave: P knows the dark corners of YouTube.
How has your friendship evolved over the years?
Patrick: It’s always the same. We still make music, we still listen to records, and we still laugh at record covers.
Dave: Yeah, it’s pretty similar, I would say. We’re lucky to say that music didn’t mess it up.
What do you think is it about your relationship that made you guys able to work together and stay friends?
Dave: I feel like our roles are clearly defined. That’s one thing we did early on after a couple of difficult first years where we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We had no idea what touring was and how it worked and all of that. We basically defined the roles within the band according to our strengths as people and what we both liked to do. I think that carved out areas where P could do his thing and I could do my thing and not be in each other’s way. Then we’d consult each other and have checks and balances between the two areas. We separated spheres in our areas of expertise, and I feel like we avoided conflict.
Patrick: The personal dynamics were out of the way. We weren’t like one of those bands that formed later in college where everyone’s gotta learn how to deal with each other.
Dave: I sort of took the lead in terms of when Chromeo got started. I gave P a call and was like, “Yo, we’re gonna start this band. It’s gonna be you and me. We’re doing it.” I’m lucky that P trusts me. P always tells me, “Look, Dave, if you tell me tomorrow we’re going to do a cha cha cha record, I trust you.” And then I know he’s going to make the best cha cha cha beats. There’s a mutual trust that we have together. There’s no ego. When I’m recording and P’s like, “Your voice sounds whack,” I say, “Okay.” I’m never like, “Nah, dude, I wanna keep it.” It’s really a marriage. It’s a total, total marriage.
What’s your favorite memory from when you guys were younger?
Patrick: College shows.
Dave: Man, I don’t know. I just moved three days ago, so I was emptying my storage and I have everything from when we were kids. I have like the piece of paper where P first gave me his number, in 1995. I have everything.
Patrick: No, I have that – the little green note thing with the sticky, when I first took his number. And it’s not even Dave, it’s David.
Was it a house phone number?
Dave: Yeah, of course it was a house phone with no area code. It was my parents’ house number. Seven digits.
Patrick: You have all of the original artwork that you did by hand for our first high school band record with picture cut-outs, before Photoshop. Before computers.
Dave: Before everything. I was looking back. I think it was a hard time… teenage years. We were always a little dorkier and different. Trying to start a band wasn’t easy at first. We were really cutting our teeth. It’s not like we look back fondly. We look back fondly on stuff that happened last year – the last festival that we played. I always say that we really are the band version of the girl who got cute in college.
You don’t want to peak in high school.
Dave: Yeah, I mean, I hope we haven’t peaked.
Patrick: Cause then what’s left? What do you do? What’s the gourmet version?
How do you stay grounded as you get more successful?
Patrick: Even if we do get successful, I don’t think it will register. We still don’t really register most of the things.
Dave: Also, there’s always one festival where we get booked where it’s kind of a stretch. Maybe it’s this crazy EDM festival where people would much rather see Calvin Harris. Then we play and it’s not the best show of the year and we’re just like, “Okay, we still have a ways to go.”
Patrick: There’s always that one. You only need one a year to be like, “Oh yeah, I remember that eight months ago.” It keeps you grounded.
Dave: The YouTube count for what I thought was our best video is [thumbs down motion]. I’m like, “Man, this is the best thing we’ve done. What the hell. Why aren’t people watching?” There are always these things that don’t quite work out the way you want and I guess that keeps us humble.
What’s something that you do that reminds you of where you came from?
Dave: Chilling with family.
Patrick: Family. Holidays are really the only time where you get to go back home to your old friends.
What would your family members say are your most annoying habits?
Dave: I don’t want to know.
Patrick: Surprisingly, I’m always late for family events. I’m not the best.
Dave: I’m the same. You don’t want to go. Fundamentally, we don’t want to go.
Patrick: I’m always on time with the band and pro[fessional] stuff, but when it comes to family, my mother tells me to be there at 7 p.m., and I’m [getting] out of the shower at 7 p.m. Or I’m in the basement doing something else, and they’re waiting at the table.
I read your dad googles you and your brother [A-Trak] and then will ask, “Oh, did you see this?”
Dave: I just saw how my dad googles. It’s crazy. I don’t know if anyone knows this old search engine called “Ask Jeeves.” It’s crazy. We’re talking Internet 1.0 era, pre dot com, bubble-bursting Internet. So my dad used to use that, and he loved it. He loved that he was asking some dude. That’s how he googles still. He pulls out his Android and he’s like, “Okay, Google. In what states is marijuana legal, question mark.” I’m like, “You don’t have to do that. You can just say, ‘marijuana legal.'” But he asks a full question in the form of a sentence. He googles everything about us. P’s mom trolls all of our Instagrams too.
Patrick: My mother googles Google. My mother’s on Google and she googles Google to find Google.
Dave: That’s another level.
What are their most proud moments as parents?
Dave: We grew up in Montreal. Montreal is very insular. We had a couple of those parent moments in Montreal. The jazz fest there is a big thing, and we headlined that.
What’s the last feedback your brother [A-Trak] gave you that you really took to heart?
Dave: Oh, dude. I got super sick in December; [it was] awful. It ruined my holidays, and then the day I got better, my brother wrote me this email saying, “This is what I think you could change in your relationships with others.” I’m like, “You’re kidding me right now.” And he goes, “I wanted to wait until you felt better.” I’m like, “Let me enjoy life for two hours before you hit me with this thing that’s going to send me to psychotherapy for seven years.” Anyway, there’s this whole email I’m still plowing through. My brother’s real. He’s also a music vet, even more than we are.
How important is fashion to music?
Dave: Style. Not fashion, style. Fashion is an industry; it’s commercial.
Patrick: Fashion is a wave you have to follow in order to be included. The code changes and you have to follow it. Style is a personal thing you either develop or you don’t.
Dave: Style is individual, it’s personal, and I think that’s cool. I think style is really important when you make music, when you’re an entertainer. Not to sound superficial, but when you make music it’s part of the total package including artwork, stage design, logo, personal style and the aesthetic of what you sound like. It all blends together to give the consumer or the fan an experience.
Patrick: But also if you’re just in everyday life, it’s not about the expensive clothes. It’s about what you choose to wear and how you feel every day. It could be Birkenstocks. It could be anything.
Dave: It’s just a way of expressing yourself and your individuality and making a statement. It’s personal expression.
What’s lowbrow and highbrow about your outfits today?
Dave: P’s got a lot of lowbrow going on.
Patrick: This is the perfect example of high-low. This started off highbrow. This was really expensive when it came out.
Dave: But that didn’t make it highbrow. What makes it highbrow is the fact that if you look at the mood boards for all the new fashion stuff this year – even the pants that Kanye was rocking last week – it’s all an Ed Hardy reference. That makes it super pretentious and fashion-y, but yet P bought it from like Vin Diesel on Miami Beach in 2006. That’s super high-low.
What’s the best party you guys have ever been to?
Dave: No more parties.
Patrick: We don’t like parties. Parties are boring.
What about house parties?
Patrick: House parties where you play charades. Now that’s a party.
Dave: The time in 2005 where a bunch of frat dudes invited us back to their frat house to play beer pong after a show with 75 people. That was the best. Nothing topped that party. We’re so French Canadian that we didn’t even know what beer pong was. All these frat dudes were teaching us how to play.
Do you still play beer pong?
Dave: Well, now I’m a professional.
Out of all your shows, what city do you think knows how to drink and party the best?
Dave: Partying has to be anywhere in the UK. They hold that crown. Over there, the drinking is part of their cultural fabric in a way that’s so well-oiled.
Patrick: It’s not even a competition. Puking in the street is part of their culture.
Dave: If you’re shitfaced and you can’t talk, it’s funny. It’s not even like, “Oh, my God. I was shitfaced.” You’re not embarrassed. All your friends just laugh. It’s just part of the culture in a very cool, endearing way.
Do you guys cook at all?
Dave: P, yes.
What’s your go-to recipe?
Patrick: Italian, Lebanese, those are my favorite, but, mostly pasta. I make a great penne vodka. On the road it’s hard. If you don’t have the right ingredients, it can ruin everything.
How do you guys maintain relationships when you’re gone so much?
Patrick: That’s hard.
Dave: Communication. FaceTime. Skype. Calling a lot. Also, air miles help.
Patrick: A busy girlfriend.
That’s not like sitting around waiting?
Patrick: Yeah, going nuts in her own little bubble waiting for you to come back.
Dave: I like a girlfriend who has nothing else to do but to talk to me. That’s really cool, because I’m like, “We’re in Wisconsin right now. Someone talk to me. I’m in a weird hotel room.” I mean, everybody’s gotta have a life, but if I can say this in a not macho sounding way, I’d like someone that’s available in many ways.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Dave: I would have loved to have a drink with Umberto Eco. He just passed away two days ago. He’s this Italian intellectual, university professor. I was an academic, right before this, and he was my idol. He was really the one guy that I would have loved to see speak or have an interaction with.
What would you have talked about?
Dave: What’s cool about him is that he wrote fiction, but he was also a really high-low kind of dude cause he wrote police novels – very pulpy police novels, but they always had this academic background. He was also a pretty amazing academic, so, I don’t know, aesthetics, semiotics.
You got your PhD in French lit, right?
Dave: I haven’t finished yet, but I was doing it. I didn’t think we were going to be musicians, so I was always an academic and French is my first language. I just kept going with it. What about you, P? Who are you having a drink with? My dad?
Patrick: I can do that any time. His dad is the funniest person on earth. I would have to go with Bill Evans – one of my favorite pianists and music theoreticians.
Dave: He’s a jazz God.
Patrick: I studied harmony a lot, like advanced jazz harmony and he’s the godfather of reinventing harmony. And it’s not just piano harmony but how you think about music and harmony in general. I would just nerd out on questions.
What does your ideal Sunday look like if you have it off?
Dave: I just can’t wait until we set up our studio – spend a Sunday working in the studio.
Where are you going to set it up?
Dave: In L.A. We’re moving this week so it’s crazy. From New York to LA.
Patrick: A sunny Sunday. Wake up. Practice piano.
I know it’s a ways down the line, but where would you want to retire?
Patrick: Where would we retire? I think Miami. Post 75 years old? Ft. Lauderdale.
Dave: For me, I’d probably go somewhere like Malta. High-low, right?
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