Chromeo are a highly intelligent duo from Montreal that make highly danceable electro-funk and soul pop. P-Thugg and Dave 1 have a sound that's analog, '80s, and new. They're beat smart (and book smart) with a crafty ability to frame an older sound in a current context. They refuse to be a throwback band. Their 2007 album Fancy Footwork saw them break into some big time. Remixes for Cut Copy, Lenny Kravitz, Feist, and Vampire Weekend grew their spotlight. In June, they performed at Bonnaroo with Daryl Hall; in September, they will release their third full length, Business Casual, which is primed for worldwide big time. Dave 1 spoke from Detroit on the eve of playing Lollapalooza. He was taking a break from his PhD studies in French literature. (See, book smart.) Yes, I said PhD.

You guys will be playing all Soundgarden covers at Lollapalooza, right?

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Yes. Yes we are. It's the new us. The new Chromeo sound.

Totally brand-new. Chromeogarden. You can sing the hell out of some Chris Cornell.

I get by.

How do you work on a PhD and do all your music?

I tour in the summer when there's no school. My studies started before the band did. I've been doing the PhD a while—eight years.

So you're talking a bunch of Rimbaud and Baudelaire?

Not so much. That's what I teach. I work on more obscure authors, literary theory, and rhetoric.

What is literary theory?

That would be too long of an answer. You got eight years? It's like the philosophy of literature. There are many, many schools, but basically, it's any sort of metadiscourse on literature itself.

How's Rimbaud for you? Illuminations? Get at that for me please.

Rimbaud is hard to read. He's one of our harder poets. Very high-caliber. Not many people can wrap their heads around that.

Define rhetoric.

There are many cogent answers for that. I'd say it's the art of persuasive speech.

Do you employ rhetoric in your lyrics?

Not at all.

Are there ever times when you wish you weren't doing music and school at the same time?

It is a lot of work for sure. But I was doing the PhD before the band, so for me, it's how it is. Now, it's just a matter of me finishing the degree.

Where do you teach?

Barnard College in New York.

I'm going to sign up for your class. Are you hard on your students? I want you to flog me.

I'm strict, yeah, but I'm not unnecessarily hard. I won't flog you.

Is it difficult to switch modes from school to music?

It's definitely a challenge, yeah. I try to fulfill my obligations the best I can.

Who's a French author we should read?

Proust. Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust. French literature doesn't have a Shakespeare. There's not really one author that hovers over the rest embodying the entire literary tradition, but I guess Proust would be the closest thing.

Your album Business Casual is almost out. How did the single "Don't Turn the Lights On" come together? I'm surprised it doesn't sound more like Soundgarden.

That's a song that came from one of my demos. I came up with it in a hotel in San Francisco last November. I had gone over to my brother A-Trak's house and looped some drums, added the bass line, a piano, and sent it to P with some of the melodies on it. I knew I wanted it to have a stack of harmonies in the choruses. Then when we went back to Montreal in December/January; we worked on it there. I had an inkling that it could be a cool first single. The drums are from the MPC. We sample and chop up drums in there, like hiphop producers do. We sequence on an old '90s Cakewalk sequencer. For the bass line, we used a Sequential Circuits Pro One. For the chords we used a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, which is one of most classic analog synths as far as polyphonic synths.

The thing on this album for us was to learn how to layer sounds and create an atmospheric soundscape without losing the funk and without losing the groove aspect of our music. We wanted to maintain the candid, quirky, humorous side, but we wanted to have something that was more rich and textured.

Next, we added a layer of Juno chords that come in when I sing "Then the moment starts to fade." We also wanted to add a more modern sound to what was going on, because you gotta mix the vintage synths with the modern synths—otherwise it becomes uninteresting throwback music. So the Chaka Khan–sounding bits are a newer Prophet 8. And there's another sound there that's a Nord Electro. I think it's a nice mix of vintage and new. When the chorus comes in, there's guitar and another stack of Juno synths, and there's a melody that comes in that's a Korg Mono/Poly, which is one of our favorite vintage synths.

We sort of had a verse/chorus structure, and for February, March, and April, P moved the studio down to New York where I live, and we recorded it for real. When we recorded vocals, that's when we sequenced the song and did all the little breakdowns, and drum fills, and all that. P spent a day with it and added that key change at the very end that we use as a vamp for the last chorus. I think that makes the song take off, and it adds a layer of sophistication to the whole thing. I worked on the sequence of the track and laid down the vocal in New York, finessing it, and then the last thing was the synth solo, which I think P did on the Prophet 5. He did it like the day before we mixed it. He played it for me over the phone while I was on the way to the airport to fly to Paris to mix the album with Philippe Zdar.

Throwback music is boring?

If it has just that one dimension, it can be boring. We try to always have a dialogue going on between the old and the new.

Is Chromeo working on any new remixes?

We just finished something for Aeroplane. It was kind of a swap. They remixed "Don't Turn the Lights On," and we did something for them.

What music are you digging right now? Who's floating your boat?

I'm really digging the new Scissors Sisters album. And the new Roots album. And the new Rick Ross. The new Ariel Pink is great.

Any older stuff that you've recently discovered?

Heaven 17. They're early-'80s British synth pop.

The video of Chromeo playing with Daryl Hall is incredible.

Thank you. That was incredible for us, trust me.

I'd like to see more of that. What about a Chromeo, Hall & Oates album? It would be like Crosby, Stills & Nash, except not like that at all.

We'll see. After our Soundgarden album. Gotta get that out of our system. recommended

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