Chromeo has been at the music thing for about ten years now, pumping out one synthy, upbeat and dancey track after another. You might think it's effortless for the duo. But according to the group’s lead vocalist, Dave “Dave 1” Macklovitch, Chromeo’s aesthetic isn’t effortless at all. He and the other half of the group, Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel, spent much of the beginning years in Chromeo with no idea what they were doing. Dave talked with us — in a suave, confident voice, naturally — about the evolution of the duo, about watching their songs grow and change, and about how on earth it’s possible that two guys could basically pull a successful music career out of their asses, sign with a major record label and establish that signature Chromeo sound — and now perform with, of all horn sections, the Dap-Kings horn section, at, of all places, Red Rocks.
Westword: Having been in Chromeo for ten years now, have you seen an evolution in your old songs as you perform them over the years?
Dave "Dave 1" Macklovitch: Definitely. It’s just cool to see them live. When the record is fresh, the songs are ours. And when the record has been out for a while, they’re not ours anymore; they’re just out there. They’re in people’s memories, in people’s computers and we just gotta keep giving fans that feeling when we perform them live.
One way that you keep your performances fresh and evolving is by adding different elements to your set, including the addition of the Dap-Kings horn section to this year’s Funk on the Rocks performance at Red Rocks. Are you excited about the collaboration?
I’m super-excited. They’re the best horn section in the world. They’re legendary! We’ve actually never collaborated with them before, but we’re bringing a different stage design than the past two years at Red Rocks, and I think that’s going to add a whole other dimension to the show, both sonically and visually. And since we’ve never collaborated with them and it won’t happen again, that’s all the more reason to come and see it.
You’ve had a lot of performances in Denver. Do you feel that you have a strong fan base out here?
I mean, we sold out the first two Funk on the Rocks events. We’ve sold out the Ogden a bunch of times. I think we’ve got a good crew over there. Colorado likes to get down. It’s a very beats-driven scene. Everybody likes the funk in Colorado.
Chromeo has a very specific, powerful aesthetic. Is that something that came naturally to you and Patrick, or something that you had to cultivate over the years?
Nothing was natural with Chromeo! Making music wasn’t natural for Chromeo. Our first album, we had no idea what we were doing. I would have loved to have been one of those bands that comes out and everything is perfect from day one, but that was not the case. We were definitely learning as we went along. When we came out ten years ago, it wasn’t all dialed in, but over the years I think we’ve really solidified something where you can say, “This looks Chromeo” or “This sounds Chromeo.” Now, when you think about us, you have an image of us. It took a while to perfect that and lot of work. We’re still improving. I just feel like we’re always giving ourselves new challenges, and I’m really not shy to say that there’s a ton of our previous work that wasn’t accomplished or wasn’t perfect yet.
So what did Chromeo look like on day one?
We didn’t know how to write songs. I didn’t know how to sing.
So why become musicians? Why not go into finance or something?
We thought we knew what we were doing and we had some ideas. “Needy Girl,” which was our first big song, is still great! But we were just learning as we went along. It's not that we’re not professionals, like we’re just two shmoes — I feel like it always had something, but it just got perfected over time. We had our biggest song on our fourth album. Every album got bigger than the last, and that’s the kind of evolution that I’m trying to maintain.
One thing that Chromeo has maintained since its beginning is a sort of lighthearted, dancey element with a touch of comedy. What do you want fans to take away from this aspect of your work?
I want them to have fun. I want them to not take themselves seriously, and to feel a kind of sexiness that emanates from our music. I want them to feel that our music is rooted in a tradition in that it pays homage to great music that came before us. And if they want to nerd out, I want our music to give them material to nerd out over. So, let's say you’re a photo nerd and you want to look at our cover and see Helmut Newton references or references to ’70s and ’80s calendars, you’ll find them, ’cause they’re there. If you want to geek out on what kind of synthesizers we use, or what kind of vintage equipment we record all of our albums with, you can. It’s there if you really want to go deeper. You don’t have to. You can enjoy Chromeo without it, but if you wanna get nerdy with it, you can. But otherwise, it’s gotta be fun, it’s gotta be visceral, it’s gotta be lighthearted, as long as it’s intelligent, as well.
Chromeo performs Thursday, June 2, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, 720-865-2494, with Jamie xx and Four Tet.