Throughout the past few years, it’s likely that you have heard at least a remix or two by RAC, the musical project of André Anjos. However, RAC has released its first original EP, Don’t Talk To, featuring vocals from several guest artists, including Kele from Bloc Party and Amanda Warner from the synthpop act MNDR. Although RAC has predominantly written electronica-heavy remix tracks via computer program sounds, André has found himself revisiting his live instrumental roots, writing original pop and rock-oriented songs for the EP and upcoming album. I spoke with André recently to discuss the writing behind the EP, his experience transitioning from DJ back to live musician, and romantic cannibalism. What is RAC exactly? There’s you, but then there are two other members listed: Andrew Maury and Karl Kling. So what’s the official story?
Here’s the real story. Wikipedia is totally out of date, and there’s some conflicting information out there. But RAC is basically a solo project, which is essentially my solo project. There are obviously other people involved. For example when I DJ, Karl and I, we DJ everywhere, but when it’s a band, Karl also plays in that. And another example is the EP that just came out which was mixed by Andrew. So everybody’s kind of still involved, but officially, it’s just me now. This is sort of something that happened gradually, so understandably the details are a little weird, but officially now it’s just me.
So you’re from Porto, Portugal, and you moved to America when you were 20. You experienced quite a bunch of the music overseas before starting your musical career here. What’s the music scene like in Portugal? Did it have any effect on your decision to become a DJ or a musician?
It’s kind of funny because when I grew up there, it was kind of like electronic music, house music, dance music—that was sort of like the mainstream, and in Europe in general rock music was like the underground thing. And I think in America it was the other way around, like electronic music had no real place in any kind of mainstream. So I kind of grew up not liking electronic music because it was mainstream. I was sort of rebellious in that sense. I was really into rock and metal, so it’s really ironic that I ended up DJing, because at the time when I was growing there I didn’t like it at all because I was like, “That’s what everybody likes, I don’t want to do that.” And obviously I’ve grown up a little bit since then. If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be DJing for a living, or for the past couple years, I’d probably laugh because it’s not something I planned or really wanted to do until I started to get more into electronic music. I think once I understood electronic music and realized the amazing music out there I sort have gained a lot of appreciation for it. About four years ago, I started DJing all over and it was basically just because people asked us. The first gig was in Brazil, if that gives you an idea. So when you get an offer to play in Brazil, then you say yes. It’s just been constant touring since then, and now we’re sort of shifting to a live show.
I’m guessing this live tour might be because of your new EP, Don’t Talk To. There’re still some of the electronica-heavy facets, like the synth elements, but you’re playing the bass, you’re playing the guitar. How does that feel to play that live again?
It’s like a return to my roots I guess, which has been so much fun because it’s the first live tour. I get to play guitar again. It’s so different than DJing, but I’m having a great time. It’s my first “live show” in like six or seven years, where I am actually playing an instrument. I’ve obviously been playing instruments the whole time, but not in front of an audience, so I wanted to get back into that. It took a couple of shows to get back in the hang of it, to be able to move around and keep playing but not mess it up. Remembering all the parts, all the pedal changes, little details like that that are sort of coming back after all that time. It’s like riding a bike. I did it so long as a teenager, and it’s really fun to get back into that. The shift into the live thing was a little bit triggered by some of the original stuff that I was writing, and it sort of felt appropriate, because like you said there are obviously electronic elements but it’s not a dance record at all. It was almost like, “Well we have this new single, but we can’t really DJ with it because it doesn’t fit that at all.”
André Anjos (RAC) – Photo by Michael Dwyer
Like Hollywood? The track seemed really guitar-driven and pop-oriented.
Yeah, it was like a pop song, a guitar-pop song. And I think it threw people off a little bit. The reaction was good, but it was like, “Dude, what? What are you doing?” And that was intentional.
Gotcha, so what was the thought process behind Don’t Talk To exactly? Like you said, you’ve been DJing for so long, and you’ve garnered a kind of household name status pretty much for DJing, and suddenly you’re doing original stuff. Was it just a time and place sort of ordeal?
It was one of those things where I started writing, fully intending to do dance music because, well, it makes sense to do dance music. But the more I started writing, something that I would be proud of and would call my own just wasn’t coming out that way. I don’t know if everyone realizes this, but sometime you just don’t have control over what you’re writing. It sort of just flows out and you’ve just got to go with it. And all the stuff I was writing, it was basically pop music. And that’s what it was. And I kind of fought it for a bit initially when I was initially starting to write stuff. I was like, “I’ve got to try to make this dancier. I’ve got to DJ.” But it got to a point where I was like, “Well, you know what, that shouldn’t be the reason why I’m doing this. I’ve just got to do this the right way.” That has triggered this entire shift—that the music wasn’t really danceable, and it was mostly live instrumentation on the EP. There’s some synth stuff, but it was still played by hand, it’s still live. It wasn’t like I could play all that stuff at the same time, you know. So a live band made perfect sense.
You said it was a pop record, but your roots are in punk rock and metal, back when you were high school. And you’ve been DJing, but what you were DJing was independent music, garage rock and the like. But now you’re writing a pop record. Are we ever going to see the angsty, punk or metalhead side of you again, or is that long gone?
I don’t know. It was just something I was sort of into as a teenager, and I haven’t been into it since then. It’s not that I dislike it. I kind of just got it out of my system, if that makes sense. I’m definitely not opposed to it in any way. I really just like songwriting, and metal doesn’t sort of fit into those kind of parameters. I just kind of did what made sense to me. It’s hard talking about these things because this is all in my head. I don’t really think about these things. It’s just what comes out.
I guess besides fighting the pop-ness of the record, were there any other problems you had recording the EP?
Not really. I guess after all of the remixes and all that stuff, I think I accidentally created a sound and I wanted to kind of take that and shape it into something that would be distinctly my own. With remixes, I sort of do what’s appropriate for the original song. With writing my own music, I sort of define it and define the sound, and make sure it’s something I can call my own. That was fairly challenging. And I think the EP will make a lot more sense because there’s a full length coming, and it’s almost finished. It’s the same exact concept, and the EP tracks are on the record too. I think everything will sort of really make sense when you hear it in the full context, and I’m really excited about getting that out. The EP was kind of like a teaser I guess. Sort of test the water and see how people react to it. So far it’s been amazing, but you never really know.
Well you’ve already got people remixing you remixes.
Yeah, that’s always fun. It’s an interesting shift in dynamics. It’s so much fun to not have to do that. You just write a song and have everyone else do the work and whatever. I always like hearing other people’s interpretations and being extra critical. But it’s nice to just let another person do their thing.
So it’s seems like you’ve been doing a lot prior to your current solo project status, but what’re you going to be doing next? Are you still working with Karl on your side project?
The Pragmatic? No, that sort of fizzled out a while ago. It’s kind of funny actually; no one’s asked me about that in awhile. But yeah, it was just one of those things where we were in that project for a long time. We wrote a lot of stuff, but I don’t think it ever really caught on. Maybe the timing was wrong, maybe the songs were wrong, I don’t know. I don’t try to overthink it too much in that way. We’re all still working together in various different projects. Even the current live set up: my wife is playing keys and singing, so there are three of us from the Pragmatic, with a different drummer. It’s kind of funny how that worked out.
You did a full series of covers with your wife, Liz, right?
Yeah we do those for fun. Basically, Facebook, you know, if we reach like 50,000 fans or something like that we make a cover to celebrate it. Just a kind of thank you sort of thing, and it’s just an excuse for us to work on something and have fun doing it. I think some covers are better than others, but it’s totally casual. I mean we work hard on it, but it’s for our own enjoyment of the process of doing that.
Any chance you can give us a date for the full-length LP?
I wish I could but I honestly have no definite answer. We’re shooting for early next year. That’s as much as I know. It’s going to be a busy year.
Have you guys taken a break from touring? Aside from recording the album?
I didn’t take any time off to record this album. I can’t do it on the road. With DJing you fly out on the weekends and you’re home the rest of the week, so in between those dates and whenever I could, I just fit it in. With the live thing, it’s little more solid blocks of touring which makes it a little bit easier. You spend a little bit more time on the road, but you’re also home a little bit more at the same time, if that makes any sense. You’re not just gone every weekend. It’s a little different, but I enjoy it a little bit more.
Are you still going to be remixing?
Yeah for sure. The reason we’re even talking right now is because of remixes. I don’t think it’d be very smart for me to stop doing that. Plus I really enjoy it. And it keeps me kind of on my toes, especially with recording. It keeps things fresh. It’s like a constant steady stream of work that keeps me active, which I think is really important. You always wonder with bands, when the second record just sucks. I think it’s because they tour forever and don’t stay on it. They work hard on that first record, and keeping it up is like a skill, you got to keep working on it to stay fresh. And remixing helps me to do that; it’s an excuse that keeps my musical juices going. I feel like the more you work on something, the better you get at it hopefully. That’s my approach to it. And remixing is the perfect excuse to keep active in between albums.
Your remixes for Home by Edward Sharpe and Armistice by Phoenix are definitely capturing something that the artist didn’t do. You’re opening a completely different view to the track, like a different feeling or aesthetic to it.
I have this loose theory, well maybe not a theory, but maybe like there’s a song and an arrangement. I feel like a song you can mold into anything. A good song can be a country song, it can be a rock song, an electronic song. I feel like that essence of a song can be molded into anything you want. And you know that’s why covers and remixes are possible. Because you’re essentially changing the thing that surrounds that essence and that’s where you can really get creative and change the mood entirely of the song. Or write a happy arrangement under depressing lyrics, and it completely changes the feel. I have so much fun messing with that. For example, Hollywood or Let Go, they’re not exactly happy songs, like lyrically. The music is very happy and upbeat, but if you listen to the lyrics, it’s about losing a friend. Or Let Go, I was surprised people were calling it a summer song. It’s about a relationship problem. The video exaggerates it quite a bit actually.
Whose idea was it for the video? It was beautiful but I had to stop halfway through from the images or I would’ve hurled.
Oh, the director came up with the idea and I loved it. I was like, “Yeah cannibalism, let’s do it!” It’s really interesting to see how people reacted because I was there, and I obviously knew it was animal meat. Went to the deli or something, but without that content, I can see how that was pretty disgusting. For a music video though, you want to do something fun like that. I like telling a story. Even though I didn’t write that story, I thought they took the interpretation of the lyrics and had a really good take on them. And you know, sometimes you get briefs from directors that are a bit out there. We had one suggesting beach balls in the club, and that’s not what I’m doing. The video for Hollywood is kind of slow, it’s not crazy or exciting. The goal though was to display the decay of the American icon, with the cowboy as the American icon. You didn’t know if he’s homeless or something. Maybe the video doesn’t always convey exactly what I’m always trying to say, but I’m hoping they at least make you think. That’s my jig on videos.
I know this is like picking your favorite child, but remix or original track, what is your proudest moment?
I think original music is definitely something that I’m more proud of, only because when you put on an original track, you’re getting the entirety of the recognition. And with a remix, you never know how much of that is from the marketing of the other artist. I’m basing this purely on a reaction to a song. As far as personal pride in music, I think I feel just as proud about my remixes as I do my original music. The process is very similar for both remixing and the actual act of writing a song, at least for me. Like I feel creative in both settings, as far as pure creativity and pride in creativity it’s the same. As far as a reaction from everybody else though, original music is more rewarding in that sense.