[4 June 2014]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
There’s a good chance you know the work of André Allen Anjos, even if you can’t quite place the name. It’s OK: he’s used to it.
You see, Anjos is the mastermind behind RAC, otherwise known as the Remix Artists Collective, which has been an active concern since about 2007. Born in Portugal, Anjos has a deep-seated love of pop music, and his electronics-heavy remixes remain remarkably skeletal in structure, often stripping things down to their very basic elements before giving ‘em that nice melodic amp-up that all good remixes do. When not tackling reworkings of indie stalwarts like Bloc Party, Tegan & Sara, or Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, RAC was also shoring up support from the nerd contingent by being the guy who totally nailed what makes a video game theme remix actually work.
While Anjos has experimented with original songs before, his two-part debut album, Strangers, is pop music at its most essential: it’s dance-pop without any unnecessary ephemera. By utilizing the skills of his numerous guests (including all of the folks listed above) to give flavor to his minimalist production work, Strangers proves to be a one-of-a-kind pop album where melody absolutely rules the day, each hook carefully crafted and instantly memorable. PopMatters is stoked to premiere the lyric video for what may be the album’s out-and-out highlight, “Cheap Sunglasses” featuring Matthew Koma:
Of course, while Anjos and his RAC moniker are only now starting to get wider recognition, Koma is no stranger to addictive pop songs either. He was one of the co-writers of Zedd’s monster EDM radio hit “Clarity”, as well as the chief sonic architect of Carly Rae Jepsen’s breakthrough album Kiss. Although his own solo career has yet to find its proper audience, Long Island native Koma has been slowly refining his skills through his work with everyone from Tiesto to Ryan Tedder to the Far East Movement. Now, with each new guest vocal he records, he seems to be increasingly comfortable with his frontman role, and between him and Anjos, these two boys are proving to the very people who are defining what pop music is in the Aughts, offering a crispy, slightly indie-bent alternative to the big-budget work of Max Martin and Dr. Luke.
Yet for as great an earworm as “Cheap Sunglasses” is, the only thing that might be more delightful is the responses Anjos and Koma gave to PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing the emotional depths of Coolio’s cookbook, using That Thing You Do as a pop-music Torah, and which philosophy of Warren Zevon is most applicable to all our lives ...
* * *
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
RAC: I lack the ability to connect with movies and books at a level that would make me cry, but I’m drawn to the craft of it. Mainly the storytelling and cinematography. Recently, I really enjoyed Under The Skin. It had an effect on me that only Kubrick had had before. I just read David Byrne’s book How Music Works and it was quite fascinating. I’d recommend it to anybody, even non-musicians.
KOMA: Cookin With Coolio: Five-Star Meals At a One-Star Price—it’s emotional on a few levels: his Crazy Pollo Salad serves “4 Crazy Mother******s”. Touching.
2. The fictional character most like you?
RAC: Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) from Prison Break. Look up a picture, it’ll make sense.
KOMA: Bill Murray in What About Bob? I frequently stalk my therapists on vacation to cope with my separation anxiety and learn how to sail.
3. The greatest album, ever?
RAC: Paul Simon’s Graceland.
KOMA: Tie: Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run or Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True. I could go on for days about both of these records and why they’re the greatest for me ... but it’s always hard to define the “greatest” album or “greatest” song because it’s such a personal experience. It’s more than just the actual music: it’s the time in your life, how you hear it, when you hear it, what it pushes you to do, what’s happening around you, what it’s the soundtrack for. For me, I remember hearing My Aim Is True and blasting it on my stereo system for the month to follow; through my Aiwa Stereo in my bedroom—playing my brother’s Wayne’s World model Strat to every song, wanting to be in a band. I remember hearing Born To Run and it holding me responsible to find what would drive me to say something that honest and relevant—or at least strive for that and find myself years later still on that search. They were the greatest albums because they spoke to me the loudest, and still do. They still mean something different every time I hear them; they grew with me and I grew with them.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
RAC: Star Wars, even with Jar Jar.
5. Your ideal brain food?
RAC: Video games. I use it as a way to turn off the creative side of my brain. This is important because there’s a balance to be had. Creative urges can be overwhelming and if I don’t distract myself from time to time, I get burned out.
KOMA: I’m a bit of a loner when it comes to feeling creative; and there’s a literal food element to the answer. Coffee is a big one for me that at least makes me think the ideas I’m having are good ones ... but usually it’s a drive. I write a lot in the car, driving around seems to spark ideas because I’m not sitting there focused on “writing” or “creating” something. Its a bit more organic for me to just be struck by something and being around any sort of scenery usually triggers some sort of idea. I kind of prefer “living life” as a brain food. I absolutely hate sitting in a studio or a room writing a song with any sort of intent. It’s better for me when it just happens.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
RAC: I tuned Bono’s vocal. Sorry Bono.
KOMA: Because it isn’t easy to hold your breath under water for 45 minutes while singing the entire Craig David debut album backwards in French ... obviously. In all seriousness though, having the chance to play “Clarity” with Sting was one of the biggest moments for me. I’ve always been someone who romanticizes those kinds of things; when you get to meet a hero, when your hero thinks what you’re doing is half-decent. Those have always been the events in other people’s lives that make me feel good and excited—so experiencing the tip of that hat from Sting and having him sing my lyrics and melodies with me, was just mind-blowing. It’s humbling and surreal to experience something like that via avenues you never would’ve expected to lead you there.
7. You want to be remembered for ... ?
RAC: I have some semi-embarrassing ambitious life goals, but the most obvious one is that I’d like to change the course of music. Acknowledgment of this is mostly irrelevant, but I’d be pretty happy if at the end of it, I could hear my influence on other people.
KOMA: I don’t know yet to be totally honest. I know I’ve dedicated my entire life to writing, playing, creating music ... so I know I want that to be a significant part of my footprint, but I’m not sure why or how yet. I think I’m still discovering what it is I’m here to do, who exactly I’m speaking to and how to maximize that in a meaningful way. I definitely don’t want to be remembered as a subpar sushi chef. Okay, I do.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
RAC: Anybody that creates something of value out of thin air. That is true power.
KOMA: For me, I’m a sucker for two things, people who reach far beyond their resources and create a reality for themselves that they’ve earned / built from the ground up, and people who have a way with words. I remember seeing a film a few years back called God Grew Tired Of Us I don’t want to say too much, but that’s inspiration in a nutshell for me. In the most human sense of the word ...
In the “what makes me need to write” respect, lyricists who say things in a way they haven’t been said before. Leonard Cohen, Costello, even more recently I’m obsessed with Taylor’s writing from the band Dawes; they all speak from a real perspective, so it’s a genuine, true extension of themselves and it’s so tailored and unique. I envy that kind of honesty and identity. Something that emotionally connects in such a direct way, without being obvious. That inspires me to find that, to write another song better than yesterday’s, to maybe effect someone 1/10th of the way those writers effect me.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
RAC: “Avril 14th”—Aphex Twin.
KOMA: Pretty much anything to do with architecture that stretches from the norm—it’s so far out of my skill set that it literally seems like an impossible feat ... I’m in awe of it. Traveling around the world and seeing things like Gaudi’s work in Barcelona? Can you imagine being able to say that was your brain child? That was your vision? It makes writing a love song seem awfully silly.
Now that being said ... there’s about a billion songs I wish I written and would give up my entire catalog for a part in any one of them. “Thunder Road” by Bruce, “Cruel To Be Kind” by Nick Lowe ... I can’t go down this road, the list won’t stop. I’ll stick with Gaudi. Dr. Seuss agrees.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
RAC: Call of Duty. I can utterly destroy most 12 year olds and laugh at their weak KDR.
KOMA: Then they wouldn’t be hidden ...
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
RAC: On the subject of entrepreneurship, somebody once told me that I have two options in life. Live your passion part-time and comfortably, or pursue your passion full-time and struggle with it. I chose the latter and I think I’m much happier. Especially in the earlier years, not knowing if I could pay rent that month was quite the motivational tool to get work done.
KOMA: My father and I always found meaning in the Warren Zevon philosophy of “Enjoy Every Sandwhich” he spoke about while he was sick. I think it’s a painfully real perspective; life’s about the little moments. I try to look out the window a bit more often while it happens now ... it’s easy to get caught up and “busy” and forget to take pause.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
RAC: When I was 14, I bought a box of cereal that came with a music recording program. My life has never been the same.
KOMA: That Thing You Do: Deluxe Edition. It was bought—and then everything in it was borrowed, stolen, and applied to life. It’s my Torah.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
RAC: I get some kind of weird satisfaction boarding a plane before the usual old white males in suits. The look they give me as I pass them wearing a hoodie and jeans is pretty priceless.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
RAC: I’d probably invite Elon Musk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Steve Jobs. I like people with big ideas.
KOMA: Buddy Holly to see if I could join the Crickets. William Rosenberg (founder of Dunkin’ Donuts) just to ask him why he’s so awesome. Robert Wadlow (The World’s Tallest Man) to have a jumping contest. Jessie Camp of MTV fame. Kevin Spacey. Kelly Kapowski to sit next to me. Johann Verheem (inventor of the Shake Weight, but only if he shook the Shake Weight). Aldi Rizal (the Indonesian two year old who smokes 40 cigarettes a day, he gets a + 1 for parental supervision). Rio & Taka from my favorite sushi restaurant to cater the event. At least one person who lifts weights outdoors at Muscle Beach to ask “Why?”, and Allen Ginsberg to recite “Howl” while George and Charles Page (Nestle) serve us hot chocolate and stroopwaffles.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
RAC: I’ve spent more time thinking about this then I’d like to admit. Ideally, post-singularity and after humans have populated the galaxy. A whole lot of time on my hands and lots of stuff to see. Traveling to the past seems kinda boring.
KOMA: 2003 to the time I decided to die my hair white ... and tell myself, no.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
RAC: Finding a quiet place with minimal distraction is my go-to stress reliever.
KOMA: Are all three available?
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
RAC: I drink way too much coffee. I keep going through these cycles of drinking too much, building a tolerance, then taking a break, then coming back to it.
KOMA: Coffee. And sugar.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
RAC: I recently went to Iceland with my wife and it was incredible. Almost complete isolation and the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. It’s ruined road trips forever. Nothing will ever compare.
KOMA: I’m applying for that Mars trip that’s all one way and stuff ... less competition.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
RAC: Why didn’t you reply to my Twitter DM? :(
KOMA: You are handsome and I’m very glad you’re a Springsteen fan.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
RAC: I’m working on my second album now. It’s the fun part.
KOMA: This second? Finishing season two of House Of Cards. Way behind. Embarrassing.