When Chromeo played Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom back in September, band members P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel) and Dave 1 (David Macklovitch) used a dizzying area of sounds to bring their electrofunk show to life.
“Our setup is a combination of electronic and live instruments,” says P-Thugg, writing over e-mail a few weeks after the Nashville show.
Onstage, each song usually begins with a drum track, which P says is triggered from a Mac Powerbook running Ableton Live. “Pretty unoriginal, but effective,” he quips, noting that, with all the other instruments he and Dave are playing live, they can’t possibly pull it off without backing tracks. But, to “spice things up,” he adds, “we each have a set of percussions that include agogos, blocks, cow-bells, and mini-timbales.” The band also use the DJ’s best friend, Akai MPC500, to trigger other sound effects.
One of the most beloved Chromeo features is P’s talkbox – that whacky frequency-shaping effect popularized by Peter Frampton in the ‘70s, and also used by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd. In Chromeo’s case, the talkbox gives their songs a slinky, tongue-in-cheek ‘80s feel. As for his setup, P says he uses a Yamaha DX100 synth to send sounds to his Rocktron Banshee talk box. “[It’s] then projected into the tube and then my mouth, where I shape the words I need to sing,” he explains.
While Chromeo may seem like electronic gearheads, Dave and P-Thugg also have a strong affinity for real instruments. Throughout the night, Dave often plays his Gibson Les Paul, while P-Thugg picks up a Fender Jazz Bass when he has a string craving. They use mostly Boss pedals for effects like phase Shifting, distortion, chorus, and delay, and also use one RAT Distortion pedal. “The guitars are going into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe tube amp, with nice and warm 6L6 tubes inside,” says P with a true guitar geek’s fondness.
Chromeo are also known for their dedication to analog synths, in the studio and on the road, and P lugs no less than five of the workhorse ‘boards around the world with him. In his synth lab on stage left, P uses a Moog Voyager and Korg MS20 for bass lines and solo leads, a Nord Electro for Wurlitzer and clavinet sounds, a Nord Modular G2 for polyphonic pads and chords, and a Moog Sonic 6 for sound effects.
One thing that truly sets Chromeo above the other ‘80s-inspired groups that are popping up these days is their theatrical live show. How just two musicians translate the expert studio albums into a thrilling live show will always remain a bit of a mystery, though P gives us a few hints.
“When we decide to take a song to the live setup, we [try] to have as much vocals and talk box interaction as possible so we interact together, which is the most fun part of playing live. Then if the song doesn’t have enough talk box compatibility or potential, I replace as many synth parts and sounds from the records as I can physically play [to] complete Dave’s work, which is mostly playing guitar and singing. Whenever either of us has a second with nothing to do on stage, we keep busy with the percussions and MPC sound effects, or I get busy tuning my analog synths between songs. They can be very moody, especially when they just came off a flight and have jet lag.”