He's known as one half of the famous band. But I know him better as my Columbia University French professor.
When I enrolled in French as an undergrad, I was keenly aware that my professor was a chart-topping artist. Besides his name (David Macklovitch, one-half of the electro-funk duo Chromeo), his collection of Chelsea boots and beyond-regulation-size headphones were a dead giveaway. Suffice it to say, the rest of campus caught on quickly. “The last section I taught had 80 registered students,” he said recently over lunch at The Marlton Hotel in New York City. “The other guy teaching the same class had three.” Yet despite his cooler-than-thou persona, Macklovitch is the real deal. In addition to being a Ph.D. candidate in French Literature at Columbia, both he and his bandmate, Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel, hail from French colonies (Morocco and Lebanon, respectively) and met at a French lycée in Montreal. Ahead of their fifth album, Head Over Heels, due out on Friday, Macklovitch and Gemayel sat down to discuss romance languages, the Ivy League, and the merits of wearing heels.
You both grew up speaking French. Do you record music in French too?
Macklovitch: We only speak French together.
Gemayel: It’s super weird to speak English together. It’s like hearing your parents have sex—it’s that level of awkwardness.
Macklovitch: Really gross.
What did you listen to growing up?
Macklovitch: We discovered funk music in high school through Jamiroquai and samples from rappers like Warren G and Snoop Dogg. And as it happened, Montreal had a ton of used record stores and no one cared about disco, soul, or funk. Those were the 25-cent records. We would buy crates of them and teach ourselves about the music. We loved the fact that we were discovering something that we knew nothing about. It was esoteric to us.
Gemayel: It was so far removed from our parents and what we knew. My parents were listening to Arabic music at home. It made everything so exotic.
What was the vibe at your high school?
Macklovitch: Dorky. But it was all first- or second-generation immigrants from French colonies, so it was pretty diverse. Pee was the cool kid. I was adjacent to the cool kids.
Gemayel: I was the fat Mediterranean class clown, basically. Every school needs one.
Why did you decide to apply to Columbia?
Macklovitch: Well, I always wanted to live in New York, and I didn’t have money set aside or anything, so scholarships were my only option. My thesis is on 18th-century French literary theory and the concept of reading for pleasure. Teaching was how I paid it back. I really thought I was going to be a professor. Pee and I had done music together since we were teenagers, but in my mind it was just a very serious hobby. The academic schedule always allowed me to spend summers with him. And there was a month-long winter break, too.
Gemayel: He only taught three days a week, so he’d be like, “Okay, I have four-day weekends this semester, so I can fly wherever.”
Macklovitch: We knew we wanted to get out of Montreal eventually. Me getting a studio apartment in New York was the upgrade from us sharing a room at motels in Queens. Pee would stay on the floor on an inflatable mattress.
Gemayel: It was our pied-à-terre.
At one point did students start catching on?
Macklovitch: There was almost a tacit agreement that the students don’t say anything and I don’t say anything. I remember walking into class one day and everyone was watching the “Night by Night” video and I could hear it, and I just had to ignore it. I was pretty strict, I think. I was trying to fight the stigma of the cool teacher. I remember seeing [students] at the shows, which really warmed my heart, actually. Because I was almost embarrassed. I was like, “Do they think this is stupid music? Is it going to hurt my credibility as a teacher?”
I was front-row at a Bowery Ballroom show, and I remember having your class the next morning.
Macklovitch: Everyone had bags under their eyes. You, me, everyone. I was like, “Alright, nice to see you guys again.” But honestly, it really touched me. It made me happy. I always knew in the back of my head that Pee and I could dedicate more time to the music we were making.
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How are you feeling about the new album?
Macklovitch: We really tried to push ourselves with this one. The concepts feel tighter. We’re using more live instruments.
Gemayel: Everything is more deliberate and finely crafted, both on vocals and arrangements. We weren’t afraid to take a song and completely strip it down.
Heels—and female legs, specifically—have been a prominent symbol of the band since the beginning. And you wear some pretty impressive stilettos on this album cover. How was that?
Macklovitch: We wanted to take responsibility for a symbol that we’ve used, so we embraced it. But they’re really hard to walk in.
Gemayel: I really took a liking to it. After a long video shoot and photoshoot, you get home and you have the pain from it, then you wake up the next morning and sort of crave it. Ask my girlfriend, some days I’ll put my heels on just to feel what it’s like.
Macklovitch: I think everybody looks better in heels.
What designers do you wear most often?
Macklovitch: I like this brand called Y/Project. We’ve found our uniforms, respectively. Pee can really dabble with advanced layers of irony that the layman can’t do. He wears True Religion and Ed Hardy just to fuck with people. As we’ve grown into men of a ripe age, I think we have our style locked in. For me, it’s the French rocker thing: leather jacket, T-shirt, jeans, boots.
Gemayel: I can go gangster, I can go Dipset.
Macklovitch: It can get pretty advanced.