THE JUAN MACLEAN Interview by Matteo Quinzi – L-Ektrica Fanzine n°1 October
You are one of first artists who signed for the DFA in the far 2002. In these years a lot of things are changed and grown up around and inside the label. Would u like to explain us how was the atmosphere in those days and why you are still with them? The friendship with James Murphy is one of the reasons?
My friendship with James is inseparable from my relationship with DFA. I have known James since about 1990. For many years he was the live sound engineer for my first band, Six Finger Satellite. So we spent lots of time together touring around and talking endlessly about music and music production, engineering, that sort of thing.
Around 1997 I quit the band and dropped out of music altogether. James was very instrumental in getting me back into it. When we finished my first 12,” By The Time I Get To Venus, there was no DFA yet, and we talked about various labels that could release it, including my old label, Sub Pop. Ultimately, James and Tim Goldsworthy decided to start their own label in order to release my record and the Rapture stuff. It was a heady time. None of us knew where it was going, and it was pretty exciting because we had nothing to lose, we were just doing whatever we wanted, trying to do whatever we thought was cool. Electronic music was pretty lame at the time, so it really felt like we could do something different.
It seems to be one of the trend of the new millennium: many musicians that in the ‘90ies played rock/punk/hardcore now playing electronic/dance music. You are one of them. Why this radical change of music style? Personal or artistic demands or a matter of musical trend?
For me it was not such a radical change. Six Finger Satellite was a sort of post-punk guitar band with a lot of disco influences. We listened to disco constantly, and we were using a synthesizers and drum machines at a time when it was pretty taboo to be doing such a thing in an indie rock band. So for me it was more like a switching of the sides. The Juan MacLean is a dance music group with punk rock influences, sort of a reversal of the Six Finger Satellite aesthetic.
With SFS you played the guitar. How was learn again to play, compose and produce music with the new digital tecnologies ? Is changed your way to compose? Or do you still write your songs in a traditional way (voice plus guitar or keyboards) and than use “the machines” to put new clothes and sounds on the tracks?
I was as much an engineer/producer as I was a guitar player. I recorded all but the earliest Six Finger Satellite in my studio in Providence, Rhode Island, which was an entirely analog studio with tape machines and lots of vintage outboard gear. So the engineering part is something I have always had. In terms of learning new technologies, the biggest hurdle was mastering Logic, the recording and sequencing program we all use at DFA. Back in 1999 it was much more difficult to make it all work than it is now. In general, however, not much has changed, as I mainly use the computer as a tape recorder. I still use lots of outboard gear. I have a huge synth collection. I don’t use any software synths or anything like that.
Your new album, “The Future Will Come” is more focused and ambitious than is predecessor – that it sounded more like a single’s compilation- a very intriguing collections of modern dance/pop songs with retrò echoes. I found a lot of influences in it, from Moroder to Talking Heads, but always with a personal touch. I really think and hope that it could have the same success of last albums by Hercules And Love Affair or Lcd Soundsystem. What do u think about it?
That certainly nails down some of the influences. It was a direct attempt, in the tradition of artists like The Talking Heads, Giorgio Moroder, The Human League, or New Order, to make a more pop song oriented album using dance music production techniques. This is very similar to what the Hercules and Love Affair album accomplished. I definately had Hercules and Sound Of Silver in mind when I was making this record, hoping that it could stand alongside those albums and make sense. But in general, I think DFA can be loosely defined as a label that wears it’s retro influences on its sleeve while adding a distinct personal touch to it.
About vocals in your songs: at the moment your only featuring is the one by Nancy Whang. Are there some artists, male or female, which you would like to collaborate?
I’m not really interested in bringing anyone else into the mix to sing in The Juan MacLean. It’s always been me and Nancy, and I’d like to keep that consistent. However, I might start accepting production offers from other artists. I recieve them pretty regularly, but I’m just too busy to work with other people. However, it is something I am becoming more interested in. I was an engineer with my own studio for many years, and I just got so tired of the hours and recording terrible bands that I swore I wouldn’t do it again.
Your songs are remixed by a lot of producers and musicians, most of them are collected in your only digital release “Visitations”. Besides i remember your interesting remixes for Air, Chromeo and Chicken Lips. Which is your approach and opinion about the “remix world”?
My philosophy has always been that remixes are specifically to make a song suitable for dj’s to play. It’s to make a song work better on the dancefloor. So for me, when I do remixes, that is my main concern, so I tend to do a lot of my own production on them. For example, I just finished one for the Midnight Juggernauts, and I ended up using only the vocal and then building up a new track underneath them.
You alternate dj sets and live acts. Two different ways to express yourself and your music. Which are the best and worst parts of the two dimensions?
I love both dj’ing and playing live, and I would be hard pressed to decide which I enjoy better. However, dj’ing can be a pretty lonely existence. When I go away for dj tours for a couple of weeks, I’m alone. It’s an odd thing, because you spend all day and night alone, travelling, and then for 2 hours you are the center of attention at a crazy loud party.
When playing live, it’s like travelling around with a group of your best friends, a mobile party. The downside of that is that it is a tremendous amount of work coordinating a travelling band. We have a lot of equipment, and a lot of it is old analog stuff that breaks pretty easily.
Classic last question: Do you have new releases or projects on the horizon?
I have a dj mix coming out on the DJ Kicks series next year, I am very excited about that. It’s my first commercial dj mix. Aside from that, I will be releasing a new 12” that is not from the album, it will be a new track.