With an attention-getting sound that's equal parts electro-funk and yacht rock, Patrick Gemayel and David Macklovitch are fulfilling a destiny that was set in motion when they were just 15.
The masterminds behind the Montreal-based Chromeo subsequently began making a name for themselves in 2004, remixing singles for Australia's Cut Copy and later fellow Canadian Feist, back before most of us had even heard of those artists.
But the duo — whose bio jokingly refers to Chromeo as "the only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture" — really started making waves with their 2007 sophomore album, Fancy Footwork. Employing the less unwieldy stage names P-Thugg and Dave 1, they indulged their love for '80s music with an unabashed enthusiasm that's become increasingly contagious.
Revering the "blue-eyed soul" artists who dominated the decade's charts, Chromeo recently got a chance to work with the blonder half of Hall & Oates, jamming with the singer on his Daryl's House webcast and then performing with him again at this summer's Bonnaroo Festival.
Old school ties
Gemayel is quick to rattle off a nonstop laundry list of the Hall & Oates hits he first heard on his father's car radio: "Kiss on My List," "Family Man," "Method of Modern Love," "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," "Rich Girl," "Maneater." But it was actually through hip-hop that he was introduced to most of his other yacht-rock heroes.
"I grew up with hip-hop during the first part of my life, and that's really where you learn about older music," he says. "You get curious at some point, and you want to know where all the samples come from. Like Warren G coming out with a Michael McDonald sample in the mid-'90s, and you're wondering, 'Who really wrote that song?' And then you find out about Michael McDonald's 'I Keep Forgetting,' and you're like, 'Whoa, this is heavy stuff!'"
Of course, not everyone may think of the soft-rock icon's music as heavy stuff, but Gemayel did have the benefit of hearing it outside the context of the more regrettable easy-listening exercises of Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross.
"I was born in Lebanon and I moved here in the mid-'80s, so I kind of missed all of it," says Gemayel, who has gone on to amass a collection of 6,000 meticulously alphabetized vinyl records. "You know, nobody was listening to Michael McDonald in Lebanon."
Chromeo's third album, Business Casual, is scheduled for mid-September release. If its two pre-release tracks are any indication — and Gemayel says they are — the group's talent for creating melodic hooks and infectious rhythms has become all the more sophisticated. The videos are also pretty brilliant, from the roving eyeballs that float through "Don't Turn the Lights On" to Macklovitch's surprisingly smooth Flashdance moves on "Night By Night."
But beneath the polished aesthetic veneer, keyboardist Gemayel and guitarist-vocalist Macklovitch are still the same music geeks they were as teens. "You need to have a partner in crime," says Gemayel of his high school days. "People just think you're weird, like, 'Why do you like this old music so much? Black Eyed Peas are great!' So you need someone to be in your little delirium with you."
Not all of the duo's musical references are of the blue-eyed variety. Gemayel is obsessed with bands like Cameo (which is reflected in their name and logo), Midnight Starr, SOS Band, Shalamar and Rick James.
"We started adoring Rick James," recalls Gemayel, "before Dave Chappelle started his Rick James skits and people started making fun of him. And we're like, 'No, just listen to Rick James' music, it's amazing. Do NOT make fun of Rick James!'"
Like their musical tastes, Chromeo's studio gear is decidedly old-school.
"At home, I will never use anything other than analog synths," vows Gemayel, who also employs the kind of talkbox that Roger Troutman used in Zapp. "I have a collection of 30 synthesizers: Moogs, Oberheims, Korgs — the old series MS-20 Mono/Poly — Sequential Circuits. Sonically, analog's much better, more warm. You know, it sounds full. You can never achieve that with a plug-in or computer-processed sound."
Gemayel is especially enamored with the Oberheim OB-X he found eight months ago for $6,000. "Yeah, it's not a steal, but it's worth it," he insists. "That's the sound we're going for, so you need the original stuff."
As our interview draws to a close, I ask Gemayel how this whole "Arab/Jewish partnership" thing is going.
"We grew up in a very diverse city — it was a big melting pot — and we've never had any problem with that, ever," says the musician, who's surprised at how often the subject comes up. "It's so insignificant to us that we took the luxury of putting a little joke in the bio. But I think it really struck a chord with people, and it just stuck for some reason."