For those of you who don’t already know, Chester French are Star Trak’s latest signing. A band consisting of 2 Harvard Gradutates, Maxwell Drummey & D. A. Wallach. But there’s more to them than your average stereotypical grad student. They make music incorporating all genres and era’s resulting in something truely unique. Rolling Stones has these guys down as artists to look out for, they recently rocked out at SXSW and their own showcase in New York sold out in less than a day. The guys have taken some time out to talk to us. I posed them all of your questions, as well as a few of my own. So let’s get Chesterized.
Hey D. A, and Maxwell. First things first, how have you been?
Okay, let’s start this interview from the beginning. We all know that you met in college. But what is it that made you both decide that you wanted to make music together?
DA: We both had a sense of humor about it when we met, as did the other three guys who were in the original group. Being in a band was a lot of fun as a freshman in college. Then as we stumbled into the process of writing and recording songs we discovered how rewarding that process could be.
Max: I knew I wanted to make music, and working as a duo seemed to produce the best music.
How did it end up going from a full band, to just the two of you?
DA: Max and I wanted to take things seriously and pursue music full time. The other dudes wanted to do other things. We’re still all friends.
What was the music like back then? Are we ever going to hear some of the material from those early days?
DA: The music back then was really weird, but we thought it was no-brainer mainstream pop. Major influences were white British soul crooners, Roy Orbison, and Jorge Bengor. I think it would take a lot of convincing for us to put out those records in any official way but they may be floating around. We sold a few hundred copies of our First EP on the street in the summer after freshman year.
You both just graduated from a well accredited Ivy League college. What ultimately made you decide to change your interest for your futures? Was the college degree a backup plan? Was the music?
DA: We always pursued the music during college with the hope of continuing once we graduated. The college degree was more of an insurance policy than a backup plan.
Max: At the end of the day, given the opportunity, it’s hard to turn down that kind of opportunity. I never really saw college and music as two separate tracks. I knew I wanted to do music, and I knew I would be incredibly smart if I finished college. Like super-genius smart.
What has happened in those 3-4years between starting out and being signed that has helped define who you are as a band? Surely there must have been some defining Chester French moments where you realised “we have what it takes, we can do this and take it all the way”?
DA: I remember that we were in the studio at a point sophomore year recording a song that we eventually cut from the album. We had worked on it for a couple of weeks and when Max finally laid down this guitar outro to the track I think we both had the realization that we were capable of doing some really slick shit on record if we continued to dedicate ourselves to it. It was sort of the first time when we had made something that sounded in any way “professional.”
pharrell-and-chad-aka-the-nepes.jpgMax: It was pretty nuts to sit in a room with Pharrell and Chad for the first time and have the two of them tell us they believed in our music. Those are two guys we’ve looked up to for a long time. Their taste speaks for itself. If we can trick them, I figure we’ve probably done something cool.
You chose Star Trak over offers from many other labels. What made you sign a deal with a label that has predominently hip-hop acts? and what do you think it is that made them want to sign you?
DA: We totally related to Pharrell’s and Chad’s understandings of music and shared a common view of our project’s possibilities. It’s always been cool to us that the label represents a variety of styles and sounds.
Were you a fan of Pharrell & Chad’s before signing the deal?
Max: O fasho.
You’ve been on record as saying that you did not want The Neptunes to produce on your album as you both wanted it to be a pure Chester French record. That shows a lot of integrity that artists don’t have these days…A: How did The Neptunes respond to that? and B: How do you feel about artists/groups/bands who rely heavily on super-producers to make them hit songs?
DA: A: They totally understood our perspective and, I think, also preferred that we did things ourselves. We’ve been grateful for their willingness to give us their advice and perspective on the music, though; you couldn’t ask for a better sounding board. B: Every artist has different talents and there have been plenty of excellent records made through collaborations between singers and producers. That said, it’s a bit disheartening to me when you see artists coming out who bring next to nothing to their music and let A&R teams guide their creative processes.
Max: Pharrell and Chad definitely understand and respect our desire to keep our project ours. At the same time, they’re down to give us any advice we need. Either way, I don’t have a problem with artists using super-producers to make them hit songs, as long as they are making something unique and not just milking somebody else’s sound. What bothers me is when artists and producers try to make hits (or any music) without making anything actually creative.
That being said, we have seen photographs of you in the studio with Pharrell & Chad. Can you reveal any details of those collaborations?
DA: We cannot.
Max: Sometimes we’re just hanging out. Sometimes we’re doing extremely important, secret shit.
How was it working side by side with the heads of your label?
DA: Lot of fun.
There are a lot of Parallels between yourselves & Chad/Pharrell. Do you think the two of you will ever venture into production for other people, as they have done?
DA: Absolutely, and we have already started to work on some songs for other artists.
While we’re on the subject of production. Let’s start talking about the music itself. What instruments do you each play?
DA: Drums and my voice.
Max: Guitar, bass, keys, drums, programming, and vocals mainly. On the record I play little bits of marimbas, violin, timpani, theremin, and all types of different stuff. I do the arranging for the orchestral stuff as well.
What’s the process that you guys go through when creating a song?
DA: We generally write the basic harmonic and melodic foundation first, usually on guitar/vocals or piano/vocals. Once we have all the sections and the structure put together we go in the studio and lay it down. Lyrics and vocals usually come last.
Max: I’ve got all type of demos on my computer. It’s largely a process of linking those together to make a coherent song. The arrangements fall into place from there.
What are your musical interests and your major influences to your style? And what exactly do you do to differentiate yourselves from those artists?
DA: We’ve said that two significant influences are The Beatles and Outkast, but the inspiration that they provide ends up being mixed with ideas from many other places. You’re always going to be standing on the shoulders of the folks before you. The goal is to put a creative spin on it and hopefully add something new to the equation. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Max: We both like all types of music. I try to learn from everything I hear. Since we’re not just aping a small number or certain type of artists, it’s not hard to differentiate ourselves from any one of them.
Did you have a specific theme or goal in mind when putting together the album?
DA: To make it a really exciting and cohesive listening experience.
Max: People seem to have given up on making entire albums of good music. I don’t know that there was ever a time where most people did that, but that have been some times where some people did that. Not a lot of people try to make great albums anymore. iTunes proves that. If we’re going to make an album, we’re going to care about every second of music on it.
What are you hoping to achieve with “Love The Future”?
DA: We hope people dig it and come to our shows.
Max: Money. Just tons of money. Money is the only reason to do anything. Ever.
With illegal downloading hurting music sales, artists have to think of new ways to persuade people to buy their music, and I hear that you have been working with designer Johnny Cupcakes on some clever marketing ploys. How is that going?
DA: We haven’t been officially working with Johnny but he’s a great friend of ours and recently spent some time staying with us in LA. He’s one of the most creative folks we know so it’s always fun to brainstorm with him and hopefully we shall collaborate before long.
What are your thoughts on illegally downloading music?
DA: People do it and always will do it as long as artists/labels don’t give them a compelling reason to pay 15 dollars instead.
Max: I’m in favor of sharing.
You recently featured on the Idle Warship single “Fall Back”. I want to talk about that for a moment. Firstly how did that collaboration come to fruition?
DA: We had been meaning to do something with Talib for several months. We ended up with a free night in NYC and went in the studio. Earlier that day Max and I had the idea of doing a song telling Hillary to drop out of the race, so we suggested it to Kweli and ran with it.
The song is unashamedly aimed at the Clinton party. Is politics something you are heavily interested in?
DA: I used to be much more interested in politics than I now am, but I try to stay up on what’s happening.
Max: If you want to vote, you should inform yourself. Otherwise you are making an uninformed decision, which is bad. I want to vote.
Did you ever consider that doing something so controversial this early in your career might have a negative effect?
DA: Among our fans I doubt that it’s too controversial, especially since the song is meant to be funny. And if people disagree with us there’s no reason they can’t still enjoy our music or even that song.
Max: I’m generally not so afraid of my own opinion. Regardless, it’s insane to me what creates controversy in Washington and in American popular media in general. If people want to get upset about something in the world, which is a desire I respect, they have plenty of better places to look than this song.
The song appears to have been successful in getting it’s message across, appearing in blogs and emails all over the world, and even on CNN. Did you ever expect the song to be taken that seriously? and how does it feel to know that you may have influenced someones vote?
DA: I don’t think we expected it to be taken suuuper seriously. We meant it to be entertaining and timely. If we influenced someone to vote for Obama. I’m all for that given the options.
Another artist you’ve recently worked with is Common. How much input did you have when it came to that collaboration?
DA: Pharrell had written the song, but we came in and Chesterized it.
Max: It was basically Pharrell’s tracks, but we touched it tenderly.
Both aforementioned collaborations have been between you and rap artists. Both Common and Talib Kweli have a mainly black rap-oriented fanbase some of whom might view you (Chester French), as “outsiders”. And possibly vice versa, some your fans may think that Common & Idle Warship are “ousiders”. Do you feel as though the invasion of an art form by “outsiders”, does anything to help the sound?
DA: I doubt that either Talib or Common has a mainly black fanbase, or that our fans would ever see them as “outsiders.” I think our view can be reduced to the idea that people are people and music is music. They’re great artists whose work we’ve admired and they’ve been generous enough to let us be a part of their music, which is a great honor. I’d hate to have anyone think of that as an “invasion” from either direction!
Max: It’s been frustrating to me to see how persistent people can be with dichotomizing black and white music (and black and white people). Despite an obvious history in this country (and elsewhere) of segregation and cultural exclusion, I think in the span of our lives it’s become clear to us and most of our peers that it’s cool to hang out with and work with different types of people. This is especially true in music, where there is a long (if sporadic) history of collaboration and dialogue between not just black and white music but all types of music. Having grown up with that, we try to make music that isn’t an insider/outsider type of thing. It’s way more about inclusion than exclusion.
On a lighter note, you were touring a lot earlier this year. How has that experience been?
Max: Super dope.
How was it seeing a crowd of strangers reacting to your songs?
Max: Extremely erotic. It’s really exciting to get to show people these songs we’ve had recordings of for quite some time but still haven’t put out anywhere.
There’s so much more i could ask, but this is getting too long so i’ll wrap it up *laughs*. What can we expect from your Album?
Max: It’s extremely good. And consistent. By any standard. Let’s leave it at that.
Why the title “Love The Future” ?
Max: It was a revolutionary slogan of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s dad/predecessor in North Korea…
Do you know when the album will be released?
What else can we expect from the two of you in the future?
DA: More music.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the people out there?
DA: Thank you for your support and please help spread the world. We need all the help that we can get right now so tell all of your friends about us!
Max: Please tell friends, enemies, family, the internet etc.
I’d like to say thanks on behalf of myself, mika and jean-luc. Your support for our site has been unbelivable, and i hope you like the things we’ve done for you too. I look forward to working together again soon…
DA: Thank you all for your help. You’ve been steadfast!
Max: Definitely. Thank you guys so much for all the love.