RAC Gets Technical About His New Album ‘EGO’ and How It’s Driving His Interaction With Fans
After remixing everyone from Lana Del Rey to Linkin Park, there was only one thing left for RAC to do: figure out what music he wanted to create himself. Entertainment Voice caught up with DJ, producer and RAC mastermind André Allen Anjos in anticipation of his second album “EGO.” Anjos had lots of interesting stuff to say about peer-to-peer file sharing, Facebook live interactions and developing offline relationships with his collaborators.
You’ve said after your last album “Strangers” came out that things changed for you as an artist. How did the writing process differ on your new album “Ego?”
On the last record, it was my first time really doing this type of thing on that level — on a larger scale. I was signed to a major label, so there was a lot of writing on it, and I had essentially built up a career remixing. It was really important to me to make sure that the original stuff was on par, if not better. So I spent a lot of time doing that and kind of figuring out what that means and who I am as an artist.
That’s one thing: when you’re working on remixes, it’s derivative. You’re working off other people’s material. I had to find my own voice, in a way, and I think I figured that out for the most part on the first album. But when I started to think about the next one, I really spent a lot of time with that.
I needed to figure out, you know, ‘What am I trying to say? Am I just adding to the noise, or am I adding something of value here?’ There was a lot of soul searching, and that’s where the title of the record came from. It’s not the negative connotation of “ego,” like being full of yourself. It’s really about finding yourself. And I spent a lot of time doing that. It took me three years, and in the process I wrote like 40 to 50 songs with a variety of different singers and collaborators.
And the other main difference between the first one and the second one is that on the first one I did everything remotely. It’s called “Strangers” because I didn’t know anybody. We did it all through the internet and, funny enough, some of them I still haven’t met.
Going into this new one, I felt like I needed a change. So that’s when I started to meet people in their own studios and just work out of there and do all the core songwriting in person. It just felt like a more pure approach, a more classic way to do things. Pretty much everything these days is done through the internet, so it was a nice change to just sit in a room and talk about life and talk about music and learn from each other, because musicians share a pretty specific lifestyle and there’s not many people that really understand that. I think that all kind of fed into the record. It was truly a labor of love, and I spent a lot of time on it, and I’m pretty proud of it.
On a technical level, it’s really an album. From start to finish, it’s exactly one hour and it’s one continuous piece of music. It brought back some of the ideas I had when I was fifteen and listening to records that way, when people still did them that way. That really made an impression on me when I was young, so I wanted to make a point to do that – to make a cohesive piece of music. Not to just be a single and then filler. It’s hard to distill three years of your life into one thing, but that’s the basic idea.
Your talents lie on the production side, while you bring on vocalists to contribute, what’s the first thing you look for when seeking out a vocal talent?
A lot of it is people that I’ve worked with in the past, like maybe through remixing or touring. Sometimes it’s just people that I like and I reach out and maybe they’re interested. Or sometimes people will reach out to me and express interest, and then we go in the studio and try something.
But for the album, it’s really about recording as much as possible and then narrowing it down. So I try and work with people I like. That’s what it really comes down to. And I’ve gotten to work with some amazing artists on this record, including some of my childhood heroes. Rivers being one of them. And Rostam from Vampire Weekend. I mean that early stuff was so influential on my own songwriting. So it was really cool to work with them.
And some of them are actually repeats from the last record: MNDR, my friend Karl [Kling]. I actually worked with my wife on a track. So it was kind of just picking and choosing my favorite songs. And once I picked the favorites, then I tried to place them in the context of the record and figure out how that’s going to work. There’s really no science to it. It’s just writing and seeing what happens.
Here are some singers that contributed to “Ego.” In a few words each, can you explain what struck you about each vocalist?
It was amazing. I grew up playing Weezer songs on guitar, and even when I was a kid going to summer camp, I was the kid with a guitar trying to play “El Scorcho” and songs like that. He has been a big part of my life for a long time, and it turns out he’s also just a really cool dude. Really down to earth and a completely normal person that just happens to be extraordinarily talented. And he has this unique sensibility, too. That’s my favorite thing about Weezer and Rivers’ stuff, is even when he does his solo material, you can always tell it’s him. He doesn’t even have to sing. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing something right. It’s simple on the surface, but it sticks with you, and I think that’s a true talent. I feel very lucky to work with him.
She’s somebody that I’ve wanted to work with for a really long time, actually. We kind of met through the internet, like, on Twitter or whatever. A lot of these things start that way and it’s kind of odd, but it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I know her music.’ At one point early on in her career, she was pitched as an opener for our tour, and I kind of became aware of her then. This is many, many years ago. Her voice is just so unique and so interesting and raspy. In a different way, but kind of like MNDR. She has a really strong female voice and I’ve always appreciated that. And her lyrics are super interesting, and the way she’s crafts songs. She’s super talented. And the cool thing is, in that song specifically, she actually plays a guitar. Traditionally, I usually handle the music side of things, but she was very active on that end, too. So it was just cool to try different things and get pulled out of my comfort zone.
They were an artist that I worked with on the first album and we did it remotely. Pretty much through the internet. Through touring we actually became friends and would hang out from time to time. They live in New York, but whenever they’re in Portland we hang out. We do stuff. In this particular situation we ended up going hiking, and they were in town and we found ourselves back at my place. And I have a home studio so we just started working on stuff casually, no pressure at all, and things just worked. Things just started happening really quickly. And this is a common thread with a lot of musicians, but when that happens go for it. Because it’s pretty rare, and you need to take advantage of it. And that’s what happened. We started working on stuff and we were having a good time, and the song came together fairly quickly. We had the core of it maybe in a day. Obviously a lot of refinement after that, but the very basics of it were all done in that period.
I was actually just hanging out with her. She was out playing a show tonight. I became aware of her through the Mark Ronson track that she did, and then I discovered the rest of her material. So basically, I got involved with her because I had this song with Kele [Okereke] from Bloc Party and I felt like it needed a chorus. It felt a little empty. It felt like it could go a little bigger, and for whatever reason I had this idea of reaching out to her. I had never talked to her. I had no idea if she would be down. And within a couple days she sent me back the chorus for “Let Go,” which ended up being one of my biggest songs. We have since worked on a variety of things. I did a remix for her and all this stuff. We’ve kind of developed a working relationship. She’s just awesome. What I was saying earlier, her raspy voice is very unique, so it kind of cuts through a lot of stuff. I like my music sometimes to have a little bit of that edge and she’s great with that. She’s also just a really cool person to work with. A lot of it just kind of comes down to personal friendships, which is kind of cool.
Yourself and Amanda Warner, a.k.a. MNDR, recently went live on Facebook to discuss with fans your new single “Unusual,” which you both co-wrote together. Can you talk about how that went and your thoughts on the importance of speaking directly to your fans in a live setting on social media?
We did that this morning actually. I was super groggy because I just flew in from Japan, so I was kind of dying. We started doing that and the feedback that we’re getting is that people really appreciate it because it’s a behind the scenes look at how the song came together. For this one, it was fairly straight forward. I had a demo of a song, basically an instrumental and she recorded over that, then we kind of went back and forth a couple times. Pretty standard stuff. I was really drawn to the lyrics specifically. I just think that it’s a pretty interesting message. I like her use of metaphors. She even used some drug imagery, but it’s used to explain something else.
As far as the Facebook live thing, it was fun because people get to hear it directly from her how the song came about, how she came up with the lyrics, and she gets to explain it from a more personal perspective. I don’t know that any other platform really offers that. Not Facebook specifically, but social media. The direct access I think it’s really interesting as a means to explain your art. It seems like people appreciate it and it’s nice for people to care. It’s something that I’m trying to do more of, because I’ve always been somewhat reserved, just a serious behind the scenes kind of person. It’s nice to peek behind the curtain a little bit and explain the process, because it’s kind of a bizarre thing and there’s a lot of misconceptions about it.
In keeping with that theme, you’ve recently expressed your interest in net neutrality and your support for a free and open internet including the new computing platform known as Ethereum. Can you explain what Ethereum is and why you wanted to become involved in this new form of distribution?
Ethereum is really interesting. It’s very difficult to explain, but I’ll try my best. Basically, it’s a way to transfer value peer-to-peer. So we’ve never been able to do that before, I mean, maybe on some level with Bitcoin. But you’ve never been able to do that on a transactional level that’s safe for everybody involved, because you have to trust the website that you’re buying something from to send you the files. It sounds very obvious, but at its core, it’s not a given – there’s no way to enforce that. What the system allows is for you to enforce that. It’s basically a contract system. So if you pay for something, you get something automatically in return that’s enforceable. There’s no way to trick the system, there’s no way to hack it.
This all sounds obvious and like it exists elsewhere in the world, but especially as issues come up with net neutrality, it’s kind of like taking back control of the internet. And I basically see Ethereum as web 3.0. A decentralized web 3.0, which is also important. Because if Google and Facebook and all those companies own the internet, what happens when they feel like doing something that hurts people? I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but I think it’s important to have that option, to kind of take control over it.
There’s a lot of talk about net neutrality now and I think it’s super important now. It has always been. Because I think there’s always a risk that somebody will try to take control over it and limit people’s ability to use it. The internet was such a free thing for everybody, and we’ve certainly benefited from it. So it seems kind of odd that governments would try to stop that. There are a lot of arguments on both sides, but I stand of the net neutrality side. I’m all for it.
What does it mean for you to have “Ego” be the very first album to be available on the Ethereum network?
I think it’s pretty cool. I tell my friends about it, not everybody really cares, honestly. It’s very early in this process and I don’t think many people see the potential in this system. Because it goes far beyond music. It could be power grids, it could be the entire financial system, or at least a portion of it. There’s a lot to this and it’s a lot bigger than music, so I feel very fortunate to be the first.
I’m following in the footsteps of Imogen Heap, who did it in 2015 with her single (Tiny Human, which was distributed on Ujo Music). And just to play with these ideas of transferring value automatically and safely and without any intermediaries. That’s really important, you know, you don’t want to give a percentage to everybody along the way. It’s the internet, you don’t need to do that. Why should PayPal get a percentage? Why should Apple get a percentage? Maybe on their platforms, but you don’t have to… well, you shouldn’t have to.
All that being said, what’s the easiest way for fans to actually purchase your album using Ether?
There’s a website called Coinbase and it’s pretty easy. You put in your credit card and buy some Ether and then just go to my website RAC.fm. On the day of my release it’ll be up there. It’s obviously not the only way we’re releasing it. We’re releasing it on all other platforms. But, like I said, it’s cool to have that option.
“EGO“ is available on Apple Music July 14.