Behind The Beat | RAC is One of a Kind
RAC, born Andre Allen Anjos, has made a name for himself through countless remixes of some of the top indie and alternative rock artists in the world. RAC has produced remixes for artists such as Lana Del Rey, Bastille, Porter Robinson, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs gaining him wide spread success as a cross genre producer. His more recent work includes a full length album titled Strangers featuring the likes of Mathew Koma and MNDR where RAC shows us that he is more than just a top notch remixer, but amazing composer and producer as well.
A Portland, Oregon-based musician born and raised in Portugal, Andre has created more than 200 remixes since 2007 and seen those endlessly inventive tracks reach number-one on Hype Machine 30 times. Released by Cherrytree Records in two parts—and as one complete collection on CD and vinyl—Strangers includes RAC’s first-ever solo recording: “Hollywood” (featuring Penguin Prison), which hit the top slot on all four Hype Machine charts at once upon its initial release in 2012. Also a number-one track on Hype Machine’s Artist and Popular charts, Strangers’ lead single “Let Go” (featuring Bloc Party’s Kele and rising electro-pop star MNDR) earned RAC many breathless accolades last year, with Entertainment Weekly praising the song as “a dreamy end-of-summer pop concoction that will have you grooving well into fall.”
That summery spirit infuses much of Strangers, an album powered by RAC’s pioneering use of organic instrumentation in building shimmering, dance-music-inspired soundscapes. “In some ways it’s strange for me to be considered part of the electronic world, because a lot of the time I’m working with actual, physical instruments,” notes Anjos, who plays guitar, piano, bass, and drums. One of the first remixers to draw heavily from the realm of indie rock—starting with his inaugural track, a widely adored take on “Sleeping Lessons” by The Shins—Anjos attributes his favoring of live instrumentation to a musical upbringing that included becoming obsessed with Nirvana in early adolescence and then playing in a series of metal bands throughout his teen years.
RAC has been a personal favorite of mine for a while now after I discovered his remix of Lana Del Rey’s Blue Jeans. The light pop vibes of the track with the dance oriented beats made it an instant favorite and really turned me onto the musicality and talent that RAC possess. Getting the chance to interview RAC was an amazing opportunity for me to pick the brains of one of the most talented producers in the electronic music scene and really get to see who Andre is as an artist. I hope you all enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it. Without further a due, here is Only The Beat’s interview with Andre Allen Anjos, aka RAC.
Behind The Beat | RAC
Only The Beat: When I think RAC, I think of beautiful pop electronic tracks with great vocals and summertime vibes. What has been your inspiration for your music as a whole and what has pushed you away from the more mainstream dancier tracks the electronic genre is known for in favor of a lighter mellower style?
RAC: Well first of all thank you I appreciate that. I was never really interested in that sound. It never really stuck me as something that I wanted to do. This sounds kind of weird to say but my approach to music is pretty selfish. I kind of do it for myself and you know, if other people like it that’s amazing because it allows me to keep doing this. It starts as a personal selfish thing. I just want to write the music that I want to listen to. That keeps me happy I guess.
I also have a strong feeling about trends in general. If you jump on a bandwagon it’s already kind of too late because these things come in phases and cycles so just from even a practical standpoint it doesn’t make sense to chase ‘that’ sound. It is actually much better if you kind of do your own thing and then hopefully people will like you for who you are and not for who you are trying to be. That has always been my approach and it kind of just works for me.
As far as my inspiration for my sound, it actually isn’t anything specific. That is just kind of what comes out. Inspiration is a weird thing and you kind of don’t have any control over it. I sit down and just go with the flow. It’s something that, if you are the one recording and producing you kind of develop this bag of tricks of sorts. You learn these little drum fills or these extra things you throw into a song and the sum of all that ends up being your sound. The sound I have kind of landed on is kind of accidental and is a result of many years of doing this. I don’t really set out with a goal it just comes together.
Only The Beat: What is your favorite track you have produced and why are you happiest with it?
RAC: I have several favorites but if I had to pick one off the record I would probably pick the song We Belong. It’s just a different kind of song and on a personal level, I feel like I broke a couple barriers of my own. I figured out how to do a couple things like with the string arrangement etc. I’m really happy with it and have a special attachment to it because it represents certain breakthroughs for me but yeah, that is coming from a pretty personal place. *chuckles* I don’t really know if it is really the best song, but it is my personal favorite.
Only The Beat: How have you seen people reacting to Strangers?
RAC: It’s been great! I really couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. I feel like I switched it up a little bit or I tried to really develop a sound that wasn’t obviously rooted in the same stuff that I do remixes in but you know, something that would be RAC original. It was pretty intentional to develop something and it was a little bit different from all of the dancier stuff that I was doing before.
In fact I think most of the tracks from the record are 110bpm which you know, is 10 bpm slower than is needed for DJing. I was almost shooting myself in the foot because I made a career DJing and now I made music that is not DJ friendly, so it kind of forced me to rethink a lot of things and reshape and rethink the what I was wanting to be doing. Im happy with it.
Only The Beat: You are one of the few artists who incorporate a fuller band into their live shows taking the road of Pretty Lights. What drew you to this style of performing over the more DJ based performance? What challenges do you come across with such a live focus?
RAC: Well first off, I think at the Capitol Hill Block Party I am actually just DJing. *laughs* But yeah, DJing and playing live is completely different. They are both awesome in their own way. With the live thing, it actually kind of started with what I said earlier when I realized I was shooting myself in the foot by not writing DJ friendly music and I was like “Ok, what I am going to do with this?” The most obvious answer was to put a band together and play songs live, and then you can play the remixes live too. So that was like an obvious path for me. It wasn’t like I didn’t see anyone else doing it and then I wanted to do it, but was more like “this makes sense for what I am writing.” And I also benefited from the fact that I grew up playing in bands so I knew the territory very well. Probably much more than DJing. I feel so much more comfortable with a guitar on stage than I do DJing. Its different. DJing is the newer thing, so even though I have been DJing for a long time I have been playing in bands even longer, just not professionally. *laughs* But yeah, it made sense. And then you get to tour with friends and play at rock shows and move around. It’s fun. It’s kind of like being a kid again; something that I’ve really missed.
But then on the other side with DJing, it’s a different thing, you’re curating an environment for somebody. And I know often times they will put DJs up on high stages with lots of lights and stuff, but you know when it comes down to it, DJing is about picking songs and making them flow together and taking people somewhere and just having a good time. It’s a little bit different than just putting on a rock show. They are just very different things.
Only The Beat: If you could work with any artist or vocalist who would it be?
RAC: There’s obviously a bucket list, like even some ridiculous names that are never going to happen. But you know artists like Beck or even like James Murphy, and the same thing goes for remixing; hoping some things just pan out. If you wanted to even go crazier I would say Paul Simon, like that would be a dream but I know I have to be realistic about it.
Only The Beat: How was your time with the Dr Pepper Studio project? Did you enjoy getting to work with David Andrew, The Hood Internet, and RZA?
RAC: Yeah it was great. They approached us and were like hey we have these three producers, like TV On The Radio, The Hood Internet, who I actually knew, and RZA and I was like “Yeah, let’s do this!’ There wasn’t much thought, it was more like of course I will do this.
How it actually went down was we just met in the studio and worked on a track for a couple of hours and that’s what came out. I think out of all the artists I was a little bit of the weird one because I don’t sing so I don’t know if my touches are as obvious as a vocal, but you know I played most of the guitar and did a lot of the synth stuff. So that was all done by me and then shaped and molded by the various producers. It was fun and interesting to take a step back and not be the producer because I have always done everything myself and I always have control over every little detail so it was actually kind of nice to just step back and be like “All right, you take care of this.”
Only The Beat: Do you enjoy doing remixes or original productions more? Until recently you had only been known for remixes, but Strangers really does show off your composing skills. Will we be seeing a large shift on focus to originals or will remixes always have importance to your music career?
RAC: To me, when it really comes down to it, it is the same. Like for a remix, I know I’m basing it off of another song and reshaping an idea but I still feel like I am writing original stuff even though it is not perceived that way. Like I am not getting writing credit for a remix but I do feel like I am actually writing original stuff underneath it and so on a personal level it feels the same to me because I am just writing music. It is just a different starting point kind of thing so the major difference is just how it is perceived. With the record, and having these artists return the favor and sing on these songs, it helped establish myself and gave me a little more prominence which has been great for my career, so I really appreciate that. But when it comes down to the actual music side of things it isn’t very different.
Only The Beat: Yeah that makes total sense because when I heard the original song that turned me onto your music, Lana Del Rey’s Blue Jeans remix, I then followed a lot of your work and when I saw you remixed Porter Robinson’s Sea of Voices I thought “How did you possible remix that song” because it is so melodic and beautiful just as a weird kind of composition. Then I hear your version of the song and I honestly like it better because I like the dancier feel you added to it. It feels like a new track and that style and sound translated well into Strangers and other remixes as well. I put you on the same level as Kygo with remixes that sound like the artist who produced them and not just some remix of some song. I have really enjoyed all of your music and it is just phenomenal stuff.
RAC: Well thanks. It is actually kind of interesting you mentioned the Porter Robinson remix because that was an interesting one. I actually met Porter before. We had played shows way back in the day. Way back before he was Porter Robinson. At the time he was just playing a lot of electro, and I don’t want to say I dismissed it, but I didn’t take it very seriously. I thought he was one of these DJ dudes who kind of did this thing. He hit me up and sent me a really nice email just kind of explaining his vision and it kind of blew me away and was really impressed by it. He clearly wanted to do something that was interesting and different and I was immediately drawn to him from there. It made me feel bad for dismissing him so with that remix I tried to do my best and do something that was tasteful and respectful of the original but also took it to a different place.
Only The Beat: How has growing up in Portugal shaped your taste in music and music production?
RAC: I think Portugal definitely has had a big impact. I was born there and lived the majority of my life there. Growing up there the mainstream was always electronic, so I actually did not like the electronic music because it was mainstream. I was always like that is stupid, give me a guitar instead which is incredibly ironic now. But it was always a present thing. You hear it everywhere. Everyone here in the US would be listening to The Strokes and we had, it wasn’t Tiesto,but it was something like that. That’s what people were into. I think I always had this understanding of electronic music in the back of my head even though I fought it for so many years trying to do something different. And at one point I just kind of realized that there is actually a lot of merit and a lot of good stuff to electronic music and that I should really stop dismissing things. And it helped when I started DJing because you have to explore these different subgenres and listen to these different underground artists. There’s this whole different world of underground music that goes very deep into all kinds of weird different sounds. It was interesting and it sort of helped me gain an understanding of electronic music.
Only The Beat: I can definitely see how your style in music has been shaped from your time in Portugal. You have an electronic style but you don’t follow trends in the electronic scene since you grew up dismissing the mainstream music in your own culture.
RAC: Yeah I just really had to stop dismissing things. The only thing is right now, the only thing that is being represented, is this very very narrow side of electronic music and that is what actually what bums me out. It’s not really the music; it’s fine, its energetic, there’s so much energy in that music. But the things that are popular all sound the same and that’s the problem. Give me something different. There is so much good electronic music out there.
Only The Beat: Thank you for your time and sitting down to talk music with me. I have really enjoyed getting to chat with you.
RAC: Thank you for having me.
~It’s more than music~
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