A Conversation with RAC
From the artist leader board, there is no doubt that RAC is a t61 favorite with their remixes of some great indie tracks. With the release of RAC Vol. 1 through stereogum, André from RAC was kind enough to answer some questions for our very own Max Bumps!
AnnieB: Obviously you're known for your remixes, so how did you get started with that, and what encouraged you to establish RAC?
André: One of the main reasons I started RAC was because I was extremely frustrated with the remixing scene of the time. Things are definitely better now, but I really wanted to go out and try and do something different than everybody else. I saw remixers like Cornelius taking chances and trying new and innovative things, so that kind of made me decide to create RAC.
AnnieB: And we’re absolutely glad you did. So while you currently do the majority of the remixes, RAC also consists of a few other members: Crookram (Chris Angelovski), Aaron Jasinski, and the latest addition, Andrew Maury. Since you guys reside in different places all over the world, how did these connections come about and what is the common thread that unites you guys under the RAC name?
André: Oddly enough, we haven't met in real life yet. Crookram pretty much taught me everything I know about recording. I "met" Aaron after I saw that he was winning a lot of remix contests around the web. Most recently Andrew Maury did a Ra Ra Riot remix that caught my attention which got us talking. I think the thing that binds us is really the objective of creating something fresh and unique. I'm not sure that always happens, but that's the objective at least. Pure intention hah.
AnnieB: This is sort of random, but you're originally from Portugal. What brought you to the States?
André: Just the lack of a music scene to be completely honest. Portugal has a great potential and lots of great artists, but little to no infrastructure to nurture the talent. It's kind of one of those things that everybody complains about, but nobody knows how to fix. Maybe it is because the country is relatively small. I chose to come to the US after things kind of stalled there, so the next step after high school was naturally to go to college. It was probably more to put my parents at ease then for myself, but I'm glad I'm finally finishing it up.
AnnieB: Alright, speaking of Andrew Maury earlier, were you the one who introduced him to thesixtyone? If so, you definitely deserve some referral points. He's a wonderful addition to the site! What else can we be expecting from him?
André: Yeah, this was before Andrew was part of RAC. I showed him the site and he really liked it and he started uploading his stuff. Unfortunately artist accounts can't bump anything, so I couldn't really help him in that sense. Oh he's always busy working on stuff for us. He's got Jukebox the Ghost, Tiger City, Snowden, Weapons, Tokyo Police Club, and Ra Ra Riot remixes coming up.
AnnieB: Also, will we be hearing any new mixes from the other two members in the near future?
André: Totally, I can't really say anything now because it's too early, but you'll definitely hear more stuff from them in the near future. Crookram recently did a mixtape on the site, check it out.
AnnieB: RAC remixes have a distinctive sound, often with an upbeat fun factor. Unlike other mixes that tend to zone into a particular part of a song, you seem to reinterpret and reconstruct an entire song while still upholding its integrity. What do you aim for when it comes to a mix, and what characteristic do you feel signifies a RAC mix?
André: What's the fun in taking a section and beating it to death? It's great for dancing, but to a fan of the band or casual listening, it's kinda lame. I know this is obvious, but I construct a remix to how I would like it to listen to it. The same thing applies to the structure, which generally is intact. I try to take the song in a different direction. The first time I tried this was with Bloc Party's single "Helicopter”. I did an upbeat version and it was okay, but then I did a very mellow slow version which kind of worked with his vocal lines. I really really like using acoustic instruments which still, not many people use in remixes. I also use mostly analog gear which gives it a certain vintage vibe. About them being upbeat, it's probably because I tend to focus a lot on melody and hardly use dissonance.
AnnieB: A bunch of us are curious to know, on average, how long does it take for you to plan a remix? And what's your approach when you first receive a file? Do you immediately start thinking of how you would alter the song, or is it a much more complex thought out process?
André: As soon as I get word that I’ll be remixing a song, I tend to listen to the original obsessively. I try to analyze every detail and think of how I'll do it. As far as time goes, it really depends case to case. As soon as I receive files, it generally takes me from a day to a week to finish a remix. The Radiohead remix was done in about 6 hours. I've been working on a new Ra Ra Riot remix for 3 weeks and I'm still not entirely satisfied with it, so it really depends. When I start a remix, very rarely do I know how it will come out. I will have basic ideas and melodies, but the rest is just pushing through it. I'm sure everybody has their own method, but this is kind of what works for me.
AnnieB: You've primarily mixed tracks by notable indie artists. During the early stages of RAC, I'm assuming you had to take the initiative of requesting songs to mix. Is it different now with RAC's growing reputation? Are more artists seeking you out?
André: Our first client was The Shins, which still blows my mind how lucky we were. After you remix The Shins, a lot of doors open up and people actually listen. So after a lot of hassling artists, we built up a decent sized portfolio and now we kind of lay back a bit and see what comes in. Most of the stuff we get now is from word of mouth within the industry.
AnnieB: And having done numerous remixes already, are there still any particular artists you haven't worked with yet whose songs you'd love to mix?
André: Well, just recently some opportunities came up to remix two of my favorite artists, unfortunately I can't really talk about it because it's not confirmed, and if it fell through I'd look like an idiot. But… I've always wanted to remix M83! I actually even talked a bit with their management and I thought it might happen, but they already had enough people doing remixes, so the thing kinda fell through. N.E.R.D. would be pretty cool too. Cornelius would be a dream come true.
AnnieB: Aww, that's too bad. Would’ve been interesting to hear what you would’ve done with a track by M83, and I'm sure you can pull some strings with the others. Anyway, I know I'm not the only one when I say this, but I'm constantly on the search for something new to hear. Considering you worked with such clients as Ra Ra Riot and Tokyo Police Club before they gained wider recognition, are there any rising breakthrough artists who you recommend we should be keeping tabs on?
André: Well, The Virgins, which I just got the files today for. Their song "Rich Girls" is a killer pop song. This French kid called Surkin, he has an album out on Institubes. Tiger City, Sam Sparro…This shouldn't count because they have been around for a bit, but I’ve just gotten really into The Cribs.
AnnieB: Ah, I like “Rich Kids”. I’ll be looking forward to your mix of it. Apparently the internet has become a vital tool to the success of RAC, particularly through music blogs. Financially, how is it working out for you?
André: I can finally afford to pay for legal software. hah. I get paid by record labels. Very rarely do I see income from sales. Our objectives are a little bit different in that sense because our target audience are record label suits, and since the smart ones check music blogs for upcoming acts, I need to make sure our stuff pops up every once in a while.
AnnieB: Alright, so since thesixtyone brought us together, in a previous conversation of ours, you mentioned that you thought it was just another music site. In your opinion, what sets thesixtyone apart from the others?
André: Yeah, well there can only be one myspace, (even though they suck lately). There are plenty of knockoff sites, but they all pretty much do the same. At first I thought t61 was just another place to upload some music and hope people actually care. After uploading I figured out the point system and I was really drawn to it. With a built-in user base hungry for music, it was perfect for our remixes. I liked how responsive the community was.
AnnieB: I agree. The community over there is quite something. Your recent Super Mario and Zelda remixes spurred fond childhood memories of the Nintendo vs. Sega rivalry. Were you surprised by the reception of these tracks, and what prompted you to create these?
André:: Me and Andrew were chatting and he sent me this sonic song that he had started. Immediately I had the idea of a battle album in between Nintendo and Sega. Andrew finished the sonic tracks and I did the Mario and Zelda ones in a couple days. Kotaku.com, which is a part of gawker media, had expressed interest in posting about it, so that drove a ridiculous amount of traffic to our site. Over a month after we first put that up, people around the world still blog about it almost everyday. I was definitely surprised at how popular it got, which was great because it exceeded our expectations by very far. We were honestly just having fun.
AnnieB: Fun is good. Straying from RAC for a moment, you have another musical endeavor. Just last week, thesixtyone had the chance to preview a couple tracks from a band you and Karl F. Kling started up called The Pragmatic. Can you tell us more about it?
André: Yeah, I play synthesizers in The Pragmatic. I recorded Karl's old band a couple years ago and I noticed that we were on the same page a lot on what we did. Meanwhile that band broke up and we decided to try and start something electronic with analog synthesizers. Our first recording session was over spring break and in 4 days we wrote and recorded 4 songs which are still some of my personal favorites. We actually just recruited a bunch of friends and we've started to play live a lot more often. We hope to go on tour full time in December while trying to release some 7'' singles. Things are definitely looking good. I've always played guitar with bands and playing something different has been a ton of fun. Check it out at myspace.com/thepragmatic
AnnieB: And do you find it any more rewarding being able to write your own songs as opposed to remixing other artists' songs? Does this also provide you more of an outlet to perform live?
André: Most of the time it's equally rewarding because in a sense I'm doing the same thing in both situations, because I can't sing to save my life. I think sometimes I'm maybe a bit more attached to my own compositions, because if a remix sucks, I can blame it on the original. I take comments a bit more to heart when it's my own material. But other than that, I take great pride in both kinds of work. I get to DJ with the RAC stuff, but it's so much more fun to play live with a band.
AnnieB: So this week, RAC released its first compilation of remixes through stereogum. How stoked are you? Does this mean we can expect more subsequent volumes to come?
André: I am beyond stoked for this. It's taken nearly a year to get this project together and I'm really happy with how it turned out. You can most definitely expect more, I've already started working on 2 and maybe even 3. Things will be a bit different, and maybe we'll do a physical release.
AnnieB: Lastly, what is your hope for the future of RAC? Where do you want it go?
André: Well, for starters, I want it to be a recognized brand name, no matter what product/service we provide. Most importantly, I want to further advance the art of remixing into something a lot more respectable. People have all kinds of different expectations when it comes to remixes, and I really hope to break those. I'm also starting several different sides of RAC, such as RAC Records and RAC Fashion. We're preparing an album of world music and we're going to release it for charity later this year or next. Basically all the money will go to buy gear for underprivileged musicians in developing nations. So far we have people from Guatemala, Belize, Uganda, Australia, Netherlands, and plenty of others. It's gonna be a massive collaboration that can truly be called world music. We've already gotten into writing scores and music for television. RAC Fashion is basically a merch store. I currently write for HBO's Entourage show and we also hope to further that. One of the main things that made me start RAC was producing, and in the next couple of years I really hope to get into that as well.
AnnieB: Looks like there’s still lots more in store from RAC and we wish you all the best! Once again, thank you for taking the time to do an interview for our little t61 fansite. I'm sure you've got bigger names to work with. Much appreciated, André.