Wednesday, May 20, 2009
juan maclean interview pt. 2
Well, onto The Future Will Come. "Happy House" came before it. Where were you when you did “Happy House”? It has this domestic aspect to it...
You mean...why is it so happy?
It’s because of you (points to girlfriend). That’s not true.
My girlfriend thinks it’s about her.
It’s such an ultimate girlfriend song. Actually, three people have told me that they have used it as their wedding song, which is really nice, actually.
“You’re so damn excellent” is such a weird way of saying whatever. Usually, it’s couched in something else.
It says something that people would have a really hard time expressing themselves. Especially if you’re a self-centered hipster. Like we are. You can’t be excited and honest about anything. But I really actually think that’s why it resonated with a lot of people, our peers. And that was…there was a conscious decision to do that, to approach the entire album in that way. In a way that Nancy and I both were like: “We’re going to do a vocal-oriented album, it became apparent that the one thing we had to write about was this very specific thing of personal romantic relationships and uhm…we made the decision to be as honest and sincere as possible, at the risk of sounding trite and especially operating in the hipster world and electronic dance music world where lyrics and vocals tend to be couched in irony or some kind of surface.
Dance music is always very physical and temporal, not emotional and monogamous in relationships. It’s anonymous. To be domesticated is just…
It was the experience…the hipster turning 30 finally kind of thing. But “Happy House” was done at the same time the whole album was done. It wasn’t done before. It’s funny because we had picked…it had been so long since I released anything. What could we put out that’s deeper, won’t be a single, that just gets me back on the radar. I had no idea. I loved the song but I had no idea it would resonate the way that it did, the dance twelve of the year in that world, basically.
And all the financial success that that brings.
That I could kick back the rest of my life, a million free downloads yet again. I didn’t know. It sidetracked things actually, well, you can’t put out an album right after that now. You have to let it play out. It was definitely the theme of the entire album though.
With anyone in mind?
It’s an amalgamation of previous relationships. And Nancy and I have known each other for so long, so well about these things that it was easy. We went to this wooded studio in Woodstock, New York to do the vocals. We would sit on a couch and write back and forth to each other and laugh. So much of it was about our experiences being musicians and living that kind of impermanent, nomadic lifestyle. And you’re not…just personality-wise you tend to be much harder to deal with, very self-absorbed and that kind of thing.
Nancy had a longtime boyfriend who lived in Belgium, Steph of Soulwax. And so…(forgets train of thought) A lot of it, but more so than even being impermanent, which for us is not necessarily true. Everyone around here at DFA is a little bit older and more into being at home. People are married and have kids. So everyone that tours here won’t go away for too long or bring their wives and girlfriends. For me, Nancy as well but for different reasons, it was just about being this type of person who seemed totally baffled by relationships and never having them work out for any long period of time. I feel like on my end of it, it was…some things are very specific for sure.
So what’s specific on the album then?
The ballad “Human Disaster” that’s a very specific thing about a specific person and a situation for sure.
The way it’s set up, it’s a crash and burn and having “Happy House” completes yet re-creates this cycle.
That was an intentional thing in sequencing. The way that we wrote the songs and what songs we picked, it was supposed to tell a story that we had written out.
It was like that Bergman film, Scenes of a Marriage.
That’s what the idea was. The conflict and coming together and that kind of thing. That’s why “Happy House” is at the end, to leave it “happy,” a Hollywood ending. That’s why “Tonight” is the last song on side one, a much more positive coming-together kind of thing. “Happy House” is the last song on side two.
Did you hear back from Dubtribe Soundsystem about it? Did their sample come first?
That was…I actually had all the rhythms written for that song and we wanted to have a piano on it and just lifted the piano from that song. “That goes perfectly on there.” I never tried to find or make any claim that it was anything other than that. It was funny, guys on blogs and messageboards love to point it out. Somehow, this whole culture…I can’t read that stuff it makes me so crazy, that whole culture, there’s this whole thing where people priding themselves on pointing out where you’ve stolen from and that it somehow discredits what you’ve done. Where in fact, since the beginning of pop music, that’s all anyone has done.
Half of Shakespeare is where he took things from and how he put them back together.
Sunshine, the male of Dubtribe, they were hippies. He got in touch with me and told me how much he loved the song. So I’m going to have him do a remix which is a big fuck you to all the guys on the blogs upset. Someone actually wrote me to say “I’m going to tell on you. I’m going to write to Dubtribe and tell them what you did.” And the funny thing about “Do it Now,” it’s literally the piano part (which they sampled) and then the rest of the track is “I Am Every Woman” by Chaka Khan. It’s just those two things put together. (Laughs)
It’s like that Saul Bellow quote: “You’re aloud to steal anything that you’re strong enough to carry out.”
Exactly. That whole culture of…it’s a very American thing, a male thing. It’s an upper-class, over-educated, too much time on their hands, of getting into that world of being an uber-critic. It’s just been a long time problem of hipsterdom. People are so terrified of actually standing for something, being a fan of something. It’s much easier to pan something. It’s the go-to thing for critics of our generation. It’s an easy default. When in doubt, go to the pan. Somehow being negative and critical of something, people think you know what you’re talking about.
Or you could only be enthusiastic about something if you’re a-historical.
This is dangerous territory for me to get into but Hercules and Love Affair, it was my favorite album of the year. But when Pitchfork picked “Blind” as their number one song of the year and much of their dealings with Hercules, it felt like this affirmative action sort of thing. Finally, we can show you we’re not homophobic. Seeee, we like gay stuff, too. That’s a huge element to their approval.
Or like when Pitchfork got into Clipse.
Trying too hard to show that you’re not racist or homophobic. When in that world, it’s always been…racism and homophobia are pillars of rock, of hipsterdom. Of people coming from this collegiate, upper middle-class world. Which is fine. That’s where people have come from. But it’s not fine when it plays out…they’re the first people to say “I’m no racist, I’m not homophobic, I’m not sexist.” But in all of the things that they do, all of those things seem to creep out.
With disco and people discovering disco, James Murphy and I always talked about how disco edits, the whole point is to take out “the gay part.” The gay flourishes are always taken out and you’re left with this very rock thing that’s easy for people to like. DJing, the more indie-rock the audience, they’re so turned off by anything gay. Like, really turned off.
It's like when I wrote about disco edits and talked about how straight and white it has become. No black people, no Puerto Ricans, no gay people, it took thirty years to get white-washed. Back to topic though, was Nancy as big a part on Less Than Human? She seems to be such a big part of LCD.
In thinking about that, she has sung on very little LCD stuff. Little yells here and there and then she plays keyboard in the live band. Nancy is on many songs of mine in the past. (tape cuts off)
Does the relationship play a big part in terms of…?
For sure. That’s where all of this stuff came from. It’s always the most intense emotional things that you’re writing about. You’re not writing about “It was sooo nice when we cuddled on the couch and watched TV.” It’s great but it doesn’t make for compelling songs. The times when I’m most compelled to write is when I’m nearly suicidal probably.
I’m in a relationship now and you have to re-examine your sexism. I’m more in touch with my sexist side as well as my feminist side as now I can see the other side.
I’ve always been into having girlfriends than being like “I’m this music guy on the road sleeping with different girls every night.” Which has made for much more interesting material and references. You figure all that stuff out and it becomes…yeah. That’s what so much…for both Nancy and I.
Is she in a relationship?
I feel like I shouldn’t say. She’s with me on this campaign.
What I like about this album is how, in the past you’ve had this polar thing between human-robot and this time around, the polarity is between men-women. It’s transferred to this other thing.
There’s still robots. I’m taking the position of a super-sexist robot, criticizing a girl for being a girl, falling for typical male tricks. Desire will be your undoing. He’ll treat you like the rest. The relationships remain dysfunctional. For me, it was a clearing out of everything, the last number of years. This is everything that has happened.
Do you work through the crappy bad relationships to purge it?
Well, you linger on the bad parts. Otherwise you keep doing the same things over and over again. It is cool to have this public domain for this art project where you can purge all these things. Now I’m pretty much perfect, I would say.
(To Juan's girlfriend) Do you agree?
I’m like the ultimate boyfriend now...But it’s hard living in the shadow of something like “Happy House.” Like James always living in the shadow of “Losing My Edge.” He goes: "I’ll never make a 12” as big as that."