Chromeo's Dave 1 introduces Head Over Heels

Ahead of fifth album Head Over Heels, Chromeo's David Macklovitch – aka Dave 1 – talks collaboration and curation on the band's love letter to funk

Feature by Peter Simpson | 12 Jun 2018
  • Chromeo

“Funk forever, motherfucker.” That call-out from producer DJ Quik around a third of the way through Chromeo’s new album Head Over Heels is actually a pretty good explanation of the Montreal duo’s gameplan. David Macklovitch and Patrick Gemayel – better known by their stage names of Dave 1 and P-Thugg – have been throwing out synth-loaded jams since the early 2000s; as the seasons change around them, Chromeo have stayed sleek, shiny and ready to party.

The duo’s latest album is a noticeably more human affair than the clipped, chirpy electronics they broke through with, and sees Macklovitch and Gemayel progress with the more collaborative vibe that began on 2014’s White Women. “I guess we wanted to up the ante from the last record and maybe challenge ourselves a bit more,” Macklovitch tells us. “Also, it was our fifth album; we’ve done so much in the past in our idiosyncratic way so we wanted to change our way of working, and that’s why we wanted to make this album more collaborative than ever before.”

And so Chromeo decamped to Burbank, Los Angeles with their vast array of gear and built up a studio with a view to bringing in as many other musicians as possible. The band are joined on Head Over Heels by an impressive roster including D.R.A.M., Stefflon Don and French Montana, with collaborations guided by the duo’s constant research. They started with The-Dream – “we’ve always been obsessed with him” – and D’Angelo and Q-Tip collaborator Raphael Saadiq, then things snowballed from there as the duo would hear more new music and call up its creators.

“I had a couple of names on the hit list,” Macklovitch says, “but after that we were just curating and adapting as we went along.” The goal, he says, was to “try and create a polyphony of different voices and make this kind of ode or homage to all the different genres of funk music that have influenced us.”

The result is an impressively deep dive through the annals of funk. Hearing Macklovitch rattle through a potted Head Over Heels track-by-track that name-checks everyone from The Rolling Stones and Steely Dan to 60s funk pioneers The Meters – via Mark Morrison’s mid-90s R’n’B banger Return of the Mack – is to understand two things. These guys love funk, and they’ve done a hell of a lot of background reading. “I didn’t want to do a genre study,” Macklovitch says, “but there’s all these sides of funk that we wanted to integrate in this album, and make it almost like a love letter.”

We compliment the natural, full-band bounce of recent single Bad Decision, and Macklovitch’s enthusiastic perfectionism comes through loud and clear: “Do you know how hard it is to have that natural bounciness, by the way? Unless you have the world’s best drummer, unless you have Prince and the New Power Generation playing with you it’s so hard to achieve. We worked on that song for a year, just to make it sound natural. It’s about moving every single element off the grid so it feels just loose enough.”

Of course, slap on the radio and it becomes obvious that Chromeo aren’t the only ones who love a big bassline and scratchy guitar part. When Calvin Harris is dropping a whole album named after your chosen genre, it’s clear that the spotlight is on. For his part, Macklovitch’s opinion on funk’s current place in the pop hotseat is a mixed one. “I love hearing things that are well done,” he says. “If I hear a Bruno Mars record and the writing is good and his voice is incredible and the sonics are great, it motivates P and I to go in the studio.

“Sometimes I’m just like ‘eh’. Sometimes I get the feeling that now, having either an 80s funk element or a 90s house element is just the 2018 equivalent to, like, having an EDM drop in a song four years ago. I’m wondering if it’s just ‘the thing to do’ and maybe [soon] it’ll be something else.”

Yet despite their deep love for all things funky, the band aren’t angling for the role of genre gatekeeper any time soon, not least because Macklovitch acknowledges their take on the sound is “completely inaccurate.” He tells us, “I didn’t even know what funk was until Snoop came out, I discovered George Clinton through Snoop Dogg. It’s always through the lens of kids who grew up in the 90s; that’s why we mix and match things the way we do.”

The band’s sense of self-deprecating humour and lyrics focused on the more neurotic and left-field side of romance have long been calling cards – the duo once self-identified as ‘Larry David funk,’ and that’s the kind of soundbite people remember. Their repurposing of the erotic artwork of 70s and 80s rock and R’n’B bands, all long-legged models and gratuitous sexiness, has also been a common trope, but this time round the band have put themselves centre stage.

“This felt like the responsible thing to do,” says Macklovitch of the album’s cover, featuring him and Gemayel in high heels with some impressively well-shaven legs. “We didn’t just want to have another retro image of a woman’s body and some kind of 70s eroticism, I was like ‘I’ve done that.’ We’ve always wanted to be the legs anyway – we always wanted to incarnate and embody that ourselves, and it comes at a time where I think everyone’s a little more socially responsible. You know, we’re grown men in our late 30s and we feel like there’s a responsibility we have with the imagery we use, and this felt like the best way to sort of turn it on its head, and assume control of it.”

Initial live reaction to the immediacy of Chromeo’s new sound has been positive ahead of a string of festival shows across Europe and North America to kick off the summer. The band’s sound is ideally suited to that kind of all-day-and-all-night party, and Head Over Heels-era Chromeo feels like an incarnation that will have at least a couple of tunes for everyone. “We knew it from the beginning when we started this band, you could hear this music at every party, at every wedding,” says Macklovitch. “I was like ‘it’s only a matter of time before people realise this is the music that makes people the happiest.’ There’s really nothing that makes people happier than disco, funk, boogie – it doesn’t exist.”

With that in mind, the band aren’t resting on their laurels. When asked about future plans, Macklovitch is clear that the next new tunes from the duo won’t take a full four years to show up. “I don’t think humanly we could churn out a new Chromeo song every month,” he says, “but I definitely feel like we need to put new stuff out either later this year or the top of next year and just make it a yearly thing. That’s just the way the music industry is evolving and it would be stubborn to not adapt to that. I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice; if we have the resources then why not?” With a kitted-out studio, a bumper contacts book and encyclopedic knowledge of the sound, it looks like Chromeo might just be able to keep that funk going forever after all.

Head Over Heels is released on 15 Jun via Atlantic Records