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Chester French: WTF Do THEY Have To Do With Hip-Hop?

If people still went into stores and bought albums like we used to, more of us might notice a trend in modern music. Most stores divide their music into genres because, theoretically, it’s supposed to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. When you want to find The Rolling Stones or Run-DMC or Miles Davis, this works just fine. But when you want to find many new artists, the system falls apart. The Goodie Mob albums would definitely be in “Rap,” but is that where the Cee-Lo solo albums should be too? What about Gnarls Barkley? Maybe that would be in “Rock,” but is Gnarls Barkley really a rock band? This fall, you’ll probably find Chester French’s Love the Future in the “Rock” or “Pop” section, but with an album full of songs that were assembled more like Hip-Hop records than anything else, those categorizations aren’t exactly accurate. When it was time for Harvard grads D.A. Wallach and Max Drummey to find a record deal with a major label, it was Kanye West, Jermaine Durpi and Pharrell Williams who came to them with offers, not Clive Davis and Simon Cowell. They all wanted the duo on their side, because they saw that Chester French had more in common with Outkast than Fall Out Boy, even if the songs didn’t make it obvious. “A lot Rock people haven’t been feeling us, but for the music that’s come out over the last ten or fifteen years, we’ve liked a lot more Hip-Hop than we have rock. We’re people that’ve always loved and appreciated and respected Hip-Hop music so when Hip-Hop people like us, it makes sense to us.” No, Chester French aren’t making rap songs or even trying to play “rapper dress-up” like Korn and Limp Bizkit; they’re just making the kind of music they want to make and it just so happens that listening to Hip-Hop helped them learn to do that. Really though, all this talk of categories and genres isn’t important; Chester French doesn’t care and they’d prefer if you didn’t either. AllHipHop.com Alternatives: So you guys ended up getting signed before you graduated?DA: We got a bunch of offers before we graduated, but we didn’t end up finishing our deal until the summer after senior year. We had already decided to sign with Pharrell at Interscope before we finished though.AHHA: What made you choose Star Trak over the other offers that you had?DA: We did a keg standoff and, Pharrell not so much, but Chad really made a strong showing, so it was a no-brainer. We got Chad up to like 4 minutes and 50 seconds and this guy was like, red in the face but he still had that champion’s spirit.AHHA: Have you been involved with in any design for the BBC/Ice Cream lines now that you’re on Star Trak? It seemed like they started to incorporate some of the preppy imagery after you came on.DA: No, we’re not involved… we’re trying to mix-up our style with some wild sh*t. We did like, one photo shoot where we were wearing button-down shirts because that’s all we had. That ended up being the photo that got around so everyone’s like “oh, those guys are so preppy,” but we never meant to get in that box.AHHA: So there’s probably no need for any New England Battle Royale with the guys from Vampire Weekend for control of the image…DA: Nah… the music’s totally different, and I don’t really know if they’re like, parodying that sort of thing, but at least for us when we were in school, we never fit into that too much. I mean, there are people at Harvard who are actually the embodiment of that lifestyle. They really do have a huge trust fund and their grandfather went to school there. We showed up at college like “who are these guys?” You imagine that as something you only see in movies, but then you get there and it’s actually in your face… these people have garden parties. I didn’t even know what a garden party was, but there’s definitely some subtle erotic sh*t going on there…

“The first time we met with Pharrell, he said something that always

stuck in my head, which was that music is music, people are people. You

don’t want to be like ‘hey, we’re so eclectic’ and all that, but in my

head, that’s just the most honest way to approach music. You don’t want

to be thinking in any box, especially today when music and lifestyle

marketing is so integrated.”- D.A.

AHHA: What were your majors at Harvard?DA: I did African American studies.Max: I did Social Anthropology.AHHA: Did you actually intend to follow through with that then or were you just treading water until music worked out?Max: It’s kinda hard to follow through on either of those things…DA: We were just treading water. I don’t think either of us intended to follow through on [our majors].AHHA: So why not major in music then?Max: Harvard had a terrible music program run by really ignorant people…it’s a weird place.AHHA: You got to use the facilities to get your album done though, so it kinda worked out.Max: Yeah, at the end of the day, we definitely stole some stuff from Harvard.DA: The studio we had at school wasn’t actually affiliated with the music program there. That’s sort of an independent student group that Max and I were actually kind running too. We were actually engineering there as commercial engineers so even when we were getting the record deal, we were still recording weird a cappella groups and viola players to pick up some cash on the side. It was good too because we were able to learn how to record all kinds of different music and instruments and all that knowledge ends up being a resource when you’re working out your own project.AHHA: Who do you consider your major influences? I feel like there’s some similarity to The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison or Scott Walker with the kind of wide, sweeping arrangements on Pop records…Max: It’s frustrating to like, pick one or two things to advertise that we’re really into because at the end of the day, we listen to all types of music from all times and all types of people. If we come out and say “oh, we like this” then people are gonna look for that in our music. I’d rather they just hear what they hear and what they know in it.DA: The first time we met with Pharrell, he said something that always stuck in my head, which was that music is music, people are people. You don’t want to be like “hey, we’re so eclectic” and all that, but in my head, that’s just the most honest way to approach music. You don’t want to be thinking in any box, especially today when music and lifestyle marketing is so integrated. People get into that “I’m a backpacker so I like this shit” or “I’m a f**kin’ gangster so I like this sh*t” or I’m a punk rocker so I like this sh*t” and it’s ridiculous. It has nothing to do with the way you dress or anything. People bug out like “why are you hanging out with all these rappers” because we don’t dress like that or talk the same way, but we don’t see ourselves that way and we don’t’ see our fans that way. It would be nice if some of those boxes collapsed a little bit.AHHA: So as you start to play your first live shows, how are you able to translate those broad, complex songs into something you can play live?Max: All the songs in the first place just came from either a piano and vocal or guitar and vocal, so on a certain level, I’m just sort of used to thinking about them in that way so there’s an infinite number of ways to translate it. We’re just keeping it a little bit leaner and a little bit harder hitting. It sounds kinda oxymoronic, but it’s almost more powerful the fewer things you have going on because each thing can be it’s own big, epic force. DA: Since we got singed without paying a show, I think a lot of people were worried like “awww sh*t, we signed these guys but are they gonna suck live?” Even Pharrell told us that we’d need to use a backing track because we’d miss all those little gizmos and sounds, but for us it was like “f**k no, this is gonna be a live-ass show and we want to shake down these venues.”AHHA: That’s where the Beach Boys comparison plays in. Pet Sounds and SMiLE are pretty universally considered to be classics, but there was a big concern as they were being recorded that they’d never be able to play the songs live. SMiLE literally ended up being delayed for almost 40 years…DA: Well, like Max was saying, if you’ve got a song, you’ve got a melody, you’ve got some chords, then you can play it on just an acoustic guitar. A lot of that ended up being true for a lot of stuff on SMiLE too, and he does play it live now.Max: He’s got a ridiculous band in concert…DA: But if you’re on a studio making music and you’re on a stage making music, it’s a totally different experience.AHHA: So how has your recent live performing informed what you do in the studio?Max: For me, it’s made me more confident to do less and make things simpler.DA: When you listen to Beatles records especially, the recordings are so phenomenal that it’s hard to compare to anything that we wanna do but… they’ll have songs that have like, one instrument going on and it’s like “how does this sound so big and fill up that space.” When we were doing our record, we had limited resources so it was difficult to think how we were gonna make one piano or one guitar hold it’s ground and stand up by itself,” but now that we see how to do it live and let the music breathe, it opens up a lot of possibilities.

“People get into that “I’m a backpacker so I like this shit” or “I’m a

f**kin’ gangster so I like this sh*t” or I’m a punk rocker so I like

this sh*t” and it’s ridiculous. It has nothing to do with the way you

dress or anything.” – D.A.

AHHA: The lack of resources when recording the first album forced you to be inventive, so now that you’ve got a lot more money and equipment to work with, so you worry that it’ll tamper with your creativity?Max: The record we’re gonna put out is the record we made in school, just the two of us in the basement. From here on out in the studio, we’re just gonna keep the process the same because we like it. We’ll use whatever resources are available and just do whatever occurs to us. We made our record for $2000 dollars, but we never felt limited with what we were doing. DA: But now, we have some freedom where if we really wanted to do something in the vein of a song we heard and we really couldn’t figure it out, we could actually call somewhere and say, “How did you do that?” That’s part of what’s so wonderful of having Pharrell and them at our disposal, because there would be times when we were trying to say, copy something we’d heard on Neptunes records in the past and we would have to read an interview in Remix and try to replicate a production technique. AHHA: If we’re being honest here, Star Trak has been known to have a somewhat sporadic release schedule. How are you making sure that the record comes out on time? Max: We’re gonna leak it if they don’t put it out. I can’t speak for DA, but I will…DA: For right now, the plan is for them to put it out in September. I don’t see why that wouldn’t happen.AHHA: And it’s called Love the Future?DA: We’ll see… that’s the tentative title. It might be an eleventh hour decision. It comes from [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il. His father was [previous leader] Kim Il-sung and that was the motto of his revolutionary movement. It was just an interesting historical fact that that had been his motto because the future was so incredibly bleak for them but it obviously mobilized a lot of people. The musical landscape may be irretrievably lost but…we’re gonna try to present ourselves with some integrity and do it the way people we admire have done it.

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