INTERVIEW WITH RAC + LADYGUNN TV ACOUSTIC SESSION
story / Jordan Blakeman
photo + video / Mallory Turner
You’d be hard-pressed to find a festival lineup without these three letters on the list: RAC. Short for Remix Artist Collective, RAC was founded by André Allen Anjos after toying with the idea in college with friends Andrew Maury and Karl Kling. They remixed groups like Bloc Party, Ra Ra Riot, and Tokyo Police Club, quickly finding their place in the indie rock subset. Five years later, after gaining a sizable following, RAC’s remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans” and first original song release in “Hollywood” with Penguin Prison catapulted RAC from being mostly known by the music obsessed to on everybody’s summer playlist. He’s since taken his music from the decks to the stage, performing live versions of his remixed music alongside original work starring a variety of collaborators including Kele, Body Laguage, and Tegan and Sarah. We caught up with Andre to chat musical growth, cannibalism(!), and get an exclusive performance of “Cheap Sunglasses” with Matthew Koma.
A lot of your music is collaborative. Do you usually have something in mind when you plan to work with somebody or is that something that happens organically as you come together?
Yes and no. What I do is I write a lot of demos, a lot of just basic idea. A lot of little snippets, maybe about 30 or 40 seconds long. From there I’ll do like 45 of those and send them all to a vocalist or somebody that I like. At first, they’re probably overwhelmed by the sheet amount of tracks that I’m sending them but the idea is that hopefully they like one or two of them or they feel drawn to a specific song and they’re inspired by it. That’s sort of the idea. I don’t necessarily do it with a specific person in mind but I make it so broad and I give them so many options that hopefully they find something that they really like. That’s how it worked on the past album.
I was wondering how that happened since you haven’t even met in a lot of cases.
Yeah, exactly. Even to this day there’s a lot of people in this album that I still have not met. Even Kele from Bloc Party which I feel like I have been working with that band in some way or another for probably 10 years. I just have not ever met him.
Are there any artists you did get to meet with and collaborate in person?
I’ve met Amanda, MNDR, she sings on that track with Kele. We’ve toured together, we’ve played a million shows together. My wife is on the album so clearly I know her very well. My good friend Karl [Kling]. One of these tracks we do with Speak who we’re on tour with now. It’s kind of a mix of complete strangers and people that are very close to me. It’s a bunch of different things.
What’s your musical history before your RAC days?
I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve played in metal bands, I’ve played in wedding bands. I’ve played in a jazz trio thing. I’ve been DJing for a long time as well. I’ve sort of been involved in music and music recording since I was about 15 years old. I’m about to turn 30 so I’ve been doing this for a while now. I have even done tv, film, and stuff like that that isn’t really related to RAC but it’s been an interesting ride.
Can you tell me about any experiences in these other bands? The jazz band and all that.
No matter what it was, it was always a learning experience. For example, in the jazz band, learning how to improvise is something that’s really important as a musician. Learning how to be able to adapt to any situation that you’re thrown into where you’re definitely out of your comfort zone. I valued that. When I played in metal bands, we were all about being very technical and being very proficient musicians. It wasn’t even about the music, it was about the playing of the music so that’s sort of what I got out of that. Later on, everything else like writing for film or whatever, it’s a very different kind of writing. With film, they send you the scenes and you’ve got to write something in the same tempo so when it hits this certain point it does something. There’s a lot of other factors that go into writing music that you learn by doing all these random projects.
Speaking of film, you worked on the movie Holy Rollers. How did that come about and are there more plans to do more film work?
I would absolutely love to. The opportunity hasn’t really come up again. That one came through a music supervisor friend of mine called Scott Vener. I worked with him on the tv show Entourage and he sort of brought me into that project. It was cool. It was Jesse Eisenberg who was pretty new. I think when he actually shot that film Adventureland and Zombieland hadn’t come out yet so he was still pretty unknown and then all those movies came out at the same time so I sort of benefitted in some way from that.
What prompted you to give remixing a shot in the first place?
I got into it because I can’t really sing. It was a practical thing. I found the acapellas for like Madonna and for big pop stars and just tried writing my own music underneath it. It was really just for fun. It sort of started clicking and I got used to it and started entering these competitions and stuff like that. I won a couple of them so that motivated me to work a little bit harder on that. Let me fast forward a couple years. In college I was at a point where you start freaking out like, what am I going to do with my life? What is going on? And at that point I started having this idea of creating RAC and doing all these remixes for other artists. I never really thought it would work out but it did. It was kind of just like a trial thing and it ended up taking over my life. It wasn’t like an obvious path for me. It was just something I did that stuck.
What were some of the first things you remixed? Before your first releases.
I won a Chemical Brothers contest so I did that. It was this website I think it was called Acid Planet. This is very old, web 1.0. I did some stuff on that website and won a couple competitions. Other than that it was like Nelly Furtado, Madonna, Christina Milian, just random pop acapellas I could find online and I’d just try to remix it. Or like Jay-Z’s Black album. He put out all the acapellas for that album so I basically did my own version of that too.
Speaking of college, what did you study? Did you have plans for what you wanted to do before that?
Before I went to college I was sort of interested in design so I almost went to school for that. It came to a point where I was either going to school for design or music so I kind of went for music. When I think back on it, I don’t really know why. It was something that I did so I decided to pursue it. I got a degree in music business from Greenville College, Illinois.
How involved are you with your music videos? You’ve had cannibalism and mannequins so far.
The way that kind of works is that obviously I wrote the song but we’ll send it out to a bunch of music video directors and they come back with all these different treatments and these pitches for it. With cannibalism specifically that was after getting maybe 30 or 40 submissions. I was just really overwhelmed and tired of hearing the same ideas over and over again. It was guy goes into a club, there’s girls. Ii was just like, that’s so boring. I don’t want to do that and then this one came in last minute and it was like: cannibalism. Sure, that sounds fun. Let’s see what we can get away with.
How did you and Matthew Koma meet and write “Cheap Sunglasses?”
We met through our label because we’re both signed to Cherrytree Records. He came into the picture and we exchanged demos and went from there. It actually happened really quickly. That song came together probably in a matter of weeks I want to say. I don’t know how long Matthew worked on it but I feel like I sent it out and basically got a finished product back very quickly.
So you’ve mentioned being more into rock and roll than electronic music. Who caused that shift? What made you suddenly think, this is actually worth my attention?
It’s not so much that I got more into rock and roll. It’s more like I got a little bit tired of doing electronic music. I absolutely love electronic music, it’s great, but when you only do one thing, and I think this is true for many things in life, but if you’re stuck doing one things all the time it’s inevitably going to get old and tired. That sort of happened with me so this record and a lot of my other production, like remixes and whatever, is sort of just a reaction to that, just trying to do as much different stuff as I possibly can just for my sheer enjoyment of it. Just so I don’t get bored with it. I don’t have any secret issues with electronic music or anything, it’s just doing it a lot.
You were recently thrown into the studio with The Hood Internet and RZA as part of the Dr. Pepper project. What is it like producing something on your own versus working with somebody else?
It’s been kind of a learning experience because I’ve been so independent and doing everything myself or even if I do something of somebody else’s it’s over the internet. So that Dr. Pepper project and there were some other situations where I was in the studio with somebody and it’s very different. It’s a very different kind of songwriting and it was something that was very nice. Kind of what I was talking about earlier, changing it up really can challenge you creatively. I think it’s always a good thing.
What is your method when you approach songwriting? Do you come up with an idea like I want to take this song and give it this sort of a sound and build towards there or how does that work? For remixing and original songwriting.
With the remixes, it’s all about the original so I’m trying to take that and give it another context, something that makes sense. That line is a little blurry. You can push it a little bit, you can try something that’s a little bit different. With originals, it’s really pretty open. You can try out all kinds of stuff and it’s kind of liberating that way and it’s also sometimes a bit overwhelming. I enjoy both but they’re a little big different in that way.
So this is your third time touring for this album. How is it different from when you first started performing with this live element?
When I was writing this album, it became very obvious to me that it needed to be a live band. I had been DJing for 5 years or so and this music that I was writing was just not dance friendly, it was not dj-able. When we put the band together, I was thinking about all these different ways of doing it and the thing that made sense was just to get a pretty standard rock band. A guitar, bass, drums, and keys and just kind of adapt these songs to that format. For the first two tours, we did a lot of pre-recorded vocals mainly because the remixes you can’t get Lana del Rey to come out on your tour when you’re playing Madison, WI or something like that. It’s just not going to happen. On this tour, we sort of decided to do it fully live. We’re doing fully live vocals. If somebody just showed up to our show randomly, they wouldn’t be wondering why we didn’t have a lead vocalist. It’s come a long way in a year and it’s exciting. I’m having a blast.
How do you play the remixes live?
Well that’s how most people know this project so it just made sense. We had a lot of popular remixes that people probably wanted to hear and we wanted to play them too. It’s a blurry line. A lot of that material is technically mine even if it’s derivative. At this point sometimes it feels like a cover and sometimes it feels like it’s mine. I go back and forth on it.
How was the process of making something from the remixed version to the live version? I know a lot of bands when they’re doing their album version they have to reorchestrate for the live performance.
Everything that I do is never informed by the live set so everything that I’m writing I’m not thinking about it. I’m just writing it because I think it sounds good or something like that. The issue is when it comes time to play live it’s like, well, how do we do this? There’s like six guitar parts. How do you play this? You have to distill it and simplify everything. I think it’s better that way anyway. That’s a long process and a lot of trial and error. Even a couple days ago we were refining different sections of a song that wasn’t really feeling quite there. It’s always a work in progress.
It’s an always-evolving show.
Yeah, it really is.
You mentioned you like working with people who are early in their careers. Who are some people we should be looking out for today that you have on your radar?
I’d like to think that the people that we bring on tour, even the some of them that are soft of established they’re people that I believe in. The goal is also to kind of showcase them because I think they’re great. This band that we have on tour with us, this band called Speak, they’ve been on tour the entire time. Their lead singer actually sings in our band as well. They’re one of those bands and I’m trying to think… I’ve been so out of new music lately.
You’ve been on tour, in this sort of insular world. Speaking of tour, what’s the craziest thing you’ve had happen on tour? I recently had a friend crowdsurf briefly for her first time at Tama Impala recently and made my friend crowdsurf for her first time ever. She wound up on stage in this huge theater for like a minute then dove in.
That’s always really funny when that happens because for some reason with us it always happens during the slowest songs. We’re playing this basically a ballad and people are crowdsurfing during the ballad and it’s like okay, alright, it’s one of those shows. It’s hard to say. The crowds that we play for tend to be pretty lively but it’s always a respectful thing. Actually, something really terrible happened in Philly. I basically witnessed a guy hitting a girl. It took me a second to process it. I immediately stopped playing like, wait, did that just happen right now? We stopped the song and we kicked him out but it was just weird. Who does that? People get drunk, sure, but that’s just completely over the line.
There’s no reason to ever do any of that.
Sorry, kind of dark.
On a lighter note, let’s say somebody wanted to follow your lead and test out doing remixes and do their own kind of solo stuff. What steps should they take?
With remixes, I feel like I really owe a lot to competitions and that sort of thing. It kind of sucks, you’re competing against potentially thousands of people but it’s a great way to get your foot in the door and learn how it’s done and also, really importantly, gain access to files which is something that I don’t think people understand really how it works. You really need studio files from a band and that is not accessible on the internet. You have to ask for it and they have to give it to you and you have to sign an NDA and all this stuff. That’s pretty important. From there start to develop and audience and work on the craft of recording. I feel like that takes a long time. You can’t just learn it overnight.
One of your EPs is called Nintendo vs. Sega. Are you still an avid video game player?
It’s actually something that I tried to do to turn off my brain sometimes. It’s something that you just interact with on a very direct way. It helps me relax even if it’s kind of a hectic game or if you’re playing Call of Duty shooting people. It’s relaxing to me so I do it a lot.