Sexy, neurotic, nerdy
Chromeo channels seductive ’80s funk—and Woody Allen—at the Launch festival
Patrick Gemayel admits he’s pretty neurotic. But here’s the thing, says the Montreal-based musician: So’s his best friend David Macklovitch. And, over the years, the pair’s channeled those shared anxieties and nervous social tics into its band Chromeo, crafting an electro-pop sound that’s danceably addled, agitated and sometimes downright paranoid.
“We definitely have that Larry David/Woody Allen/neurotic-Jew take on funk music,” says Gemayel, the Lebanon-born, Montreal-based Jewish keyboard player better known as P-Thugg.
Well, it’s a half-neurotic Jewish take, anyway. Macklovitch—a.k.a. David 1—is a Montreal-born musician of Arab descent (the friends joke often that they’re the “only successful Arab-Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture”).
On one level, Chromeo is undeniably nerdy. Songs such as “Needy Girl” are built on conversational, lyrical riffs that sound like high-strung and jittery synthesized Woody Allen-esque dialogue. But here, nerdy is sexy, too—the duo’s music pulsates and snakes along liquid bass lines and early ’80s-styled synth runs. It’s buttery smooth, self-assured, downright seductive.
Chromeo gets sexy and nerdy this Saturday as part of the Launch music and creative-arts festival at Cesar Chavez Plaza. Before Chromeo hits the road for its brief West Coast tour, however, they’re holed up in a New York City studio, working on songs for a new album.
The record’s not due out until 2013; it’s challenging, after all, laying down tracks, when the friends live in separate cities. But with Macklovitch, a Ph.D. student in French literature at Columbia University, on break for the summer, and Gemayel taking a vacation from his day job managing Chromeo’s finances and other business affairs, the pair’s set to knock out a new batch of dance-floor-ready tunes.
Those new songs, Gemayel says, represent an attempt to lighten up after 2010’s Business Casual.
“[Business Casual] was moodier,” he says. “We’re writing this one in the summer—the weather’s prettier, and it’s just coming out a little happier, a little dancier.”
As such, expect more retro grooves—think Daryl Hall and John Oates-styled soul, a little Wild Cherry funk, maybe even a touch of Bronski Beat-era electro-pop.
The music represents the friends’ cumulative musical influences: Gemayel grew up on hip-hop, Macklovitch cut his teeth listening to classic-rock heroes such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
Friends since the age of 15, the pair met in Montreal when Gemayel approached Macklovitch to play guitar in his new band.
That particular band was “horrible,” Gemayel says now, but served, invaluably, as the launching point for a lifelong friendship built on trading inspirations and combing through the 50-cent record bins for new favorites, including the funk albums that set the tone for the songs they’d eventually write as Chromeo.
That discovery, he says, dramatically changed his musical perspective.
“[With funk], you could still play instruments but be hip-hop, too,” he says. “I really got into that.”
Gemayel, who studied guitar as a teen and shared Macklovitch’s admiration for Hendrix and Zeppelin, credits classic rock as an important (if not necessarily obvious) songwriting influence.
“Classic rock had incredible balls,” he says. “I love Steely Dan, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac. They were incredible songwriters [in the] way they structured songs. We’re trying to capture that; it’s not just about the funk.”
On paper, the band’s myriad influences may sound like an unholy hybrid of styles, but Gemayel says it ultimately works because he and Macklovitch never try to stray too far from the core of their personality. You know—kind of nerdy, kind of sexy.
“This wouldn’t be too credible if we were just two dudes from Montreal playing ’80s-inspired funk music with classic rock—if we sung these songs in the way our idols were singing about the same subjects,” he says.
“To a certain degree, these songs are a reflection of who we are—the bald neurosis. That’s how we are, that’s how we like to work the microphones.”