[EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] On The Phone With Indie Pop Icon RAC
André Allen Anjos, the mastermind behind RAC, is ready for a break. After touring almost non-stop for 5 years, releasing some of the biggest remixes of the last couple years, as well as writing and recording his debut album, Strangers, this year, he could use some R&R. But don’t worry fans, André isn’t going anywhere, and we can even expect some more of the RAC we have come to love so dearly in the coming winter months.
But before André goes into hibernation, we wanted to find out a little more about what makes RAC tick, what drives him, and how exactly he comes up with those soaring, anthemic mixes. So we jumped on the phone after his recent stop through Chicago to chat about the state of singles, playing Super Smash Brothers with The Knocks, and his thoughts on his seemingly overnight success. Check it all out in our full interview below.
The Sights and Sounds: Hey Andre, how’s it going?
André Allen Anjos (RAC): Good. Good. How’s it going?
The Sights and Sounds: Just taking a quick break in the back room to do this interview.
André: Nice. I was just doing some laundry. I’m in Omaha.
The Sights and Sounds: Yeah, I caught up with The Knocks after you guys’ show in Chicago and they told me you had the fully exciting job of playing in Omaha, and driving through Nebraska, which is always the most exciting place in the country.
André: Haha. The funny thing about that is this is our first tour on a bus and I’ve kind of realized that when you’re in a bus you don’t really see anything outside. You kind of just wake up in a new place. There are very few windows and they’re all tinted, and you’re all just kind of hanging out and drinking and then, hey, you’re in Omaha.
The Sights and Sounds: Sounds like the tour is going well then. What are you guys doing to stay busy?
André: Well, it’s been very busy. Mainly just because of the sheer scale of it. We’re 12 people on a bus and there is a lot of equipment and a lot of stuff that needs to be set up. So that kind of takes up most of your day really. We sleep in as much as we can because it’s really tiring, and then we roll up to the venue, start setting up at noon or something, and get ready for a show 9 hours later. You get a little bit of a break, maybe go get some dinner with some friends, but for the most part it’s pretty hectic.
The Knocks guys, it’s kind of funny, because they’ve been playing Super Smash Bros. the whole time. The other night I walked into the front lounge on the bus and it was like 4 dudes – you know, 4 grown men – playing Super Smash Bros., which was pretty funny.
The Sights and Sounds: So naturally you called winner, right?
André: Haha, absolutely, yeah. Actually I have a Nintendo DS, but I didn’t bring one. I don’t know why, I should have. I just didn’t think anyone else would have one. So we’re driving through Portland and I’m excited to pick mine up so I can join the festivities.
“…you work your whole life towards this and I don’t know if I got there yet, but if I did it’s like, is this what it is? Should I be enjoying this more?”
The Sights and Sounds: Right on. Well first off I wanted to say congrats on your album, Strangers, that came out earlier this year. I couldn’t get enough of it. Since the release, how has life as RAC, and in general, been different for you?
André: It’s been kind of crazy. That’s the easy answer. It’s been unexpected. I’m still not even really sure about everything that’s happened. Like, I still don’t believe it in some ways. I have this conversation pretty often, even with my wife and other band members and stuff, like, “Is this happening? Did we make it yet?” I don’t know, it’s just a weird thing. You know, because you work your whole life towards this and I don’t know if I got there yet, but if I did it’s like, is this what it is? Should I be enjoying this more?
The Sights and Sounds: And are you enjoying it?
André: I am enjoying it thoroughly. But in my head it’s like , does it get better? Does it get bigger? What happens? It’s actually been more questions and uncertainty to some level. But I can’t complain, it’s just a weird place to be. I think, hopefully, by next year I think I’ll have a bit of a better awareness of it. Right now I’m just kind of going through it.
The Sights and Sounds: Totally. And it’s all fairly new in terms of the success that you have been seeing. In reality you were just barely out of college when you released your first slew of big hit remixes.
André: Yeah, I mean, that’s when things started out. The first two years of RAC I was still in college so, I mean, I finished my degree. Haha.
The Sights and Sounds: That’s awesome. Congratulations!
André: Which ironically is in music business. So I’ve kind of been at this for a second and it’s been an interesting ride. But this year especially has been kind of nuts. Yeah, I still don’t really understand it.
The Sights and Sounds: Well that’s good. You’re just along for the ride and that’s really cool. So I always thought that your decision making in terms of what song you decided to remix was pretty impeccable. You always seemed to choose the perfect summer track. How do you go about choosing or vetting out what song you want to remix?
André: Well, thank you. You know, the way it works is a lot less glamorous. I do this for a living, so I work with different labels and different artists and management companies – I work within the music industry – to get paid to do these things. In many ways I found this kind of weird loop hole in the system where I get to be creative and get to be paid for it. Somehow I tricked enough people into hiring me to do this thing to their song and it gave me a little bit of a fan base, which is awesome. So I’ve been able to kind of leverage that into a career, I guess. So as far as the song selection goes, in the beginning it was a lot of me just practically begging. Please, let me do this. And that’s a very weird proposition for somebody. Like, “Hey, do you wanna let me do this and do you want to pay me for it?” It’s kind of a weird thing to ask people to do. But fortunately I got through the first couple of them and from there you can kind of build off it.
So these days it’s mostly requests through people that I know, or friends, or something like that. So it’s a little bit less than me going out and picking out a random song or anything like that, it’s more deciding based on what’s presented. With that said, I do tend to be quite picky with that because I don’t really want to work on music that I don’t like. So it’s a weird dynamic. A lot of people just think I do it randomly, and that’s fine, but that’s not exactly how it works.
The Sights and Sounds: Yeah, and you have a pretty great track record going back to some of your first remixes for Edward Sharpe and Foster The People, which helped jumpstart RAC as a remix collective. But I’m curious about the focus on love songs in your solo work and the relative scarcity of some of the anthems in your original material. My point being is that your remixes are really full of anthemic material, which we’re big fans of, but we don’t see that as much in your original work, perhaps besides “Let Go”.
André: When I got into my original material I knew that I wanted to do something different. With remixing my ultimate goal is to do something that makes sense and takes that song somewhere else. I don’t want to say it’s that limiting, because it’s not, but you’re kind of working with those restraints, you know? Just for the sheer fact that it’s based on another song. Whereas original material is a great opportunity to do something that was different, and that was my own, I guess. And it is a little bit more introspective in that way. I don’t know, it was just an opportunity to do something different without that kind of restraint. I worked on a problem one time, I went through all kinds of different iterations of what this could be. It actually started out as a dance project. It started out pretty simple and then the more I got into it it just kind of morphed into this other thing. It was a lot of time and reflection and a lot of time listening to it over and over again to try to make it as good as I possibly could.
The Sights and Sounds: And it turned out great. It’s always tough for an artist to sit back and look at what you’re doing. You know, you’re so close to it and it’s so personal that sometimes it’s hard to evaluate whether what you did is good or not. And obviously what you guys did was amazing but I can feel that struggle as a creative myself. And sometimes it’s tough to sit there and judge your own material.
André: Yeah, you have to be your own worst critic. Just to give you a specific example of what I did with this record, I listened to it, well, I don’t even want to know how many times I listened to it. But I would listen to it on my phone with some headphones and whenever I found myself thinking about something else or whenever it lost my attention, I would make a note of it – of where it was, of what song, and what part of the song. And then I would go back and rework it or take it out.
That’s one of the things with this project that I was really excited about – just writing an album. Not many people do that. People write individual songs, and that’s great, but I wanted to do a full length album; something that made sense on it’s own – the songs still work on their own hopefully, haha – but I wanted it to be a cohesive piece of music. You can buy a record and put it on and listen to it all the way through. That was really important to me.
“I just really wanted to do an album because that’s what I grew up with and that had a really lasting impact on me.”
The Sights and Sounds: And we are seeing more and more of that as we move toward the lifestyle of singles. Lots of singles coming out, but we see less and less focus on the album.
André: Yeah, and you know, I’m not one of those people that are like “Ohhh, the album is dead.” It’s not like that. I embrace the new way, or whatever. If people want singles, that’s fine. I mean, I get it. Everybody is busy and if the single is the only time you have to impress somebody or to make a difference, then yeah, let’s do a single. But I just really wanted to do an album because that’s what I grew up with and that had a really lasting impact on me. I felt like that was still important. And these days, with singles, it’s kind of just going back to how it was before the LP, like the 7” singles and MoTown stuff, you know. It’s about singles, this isn’t new. It’s a cycle thing and it’s fine, its just where we are. I’m not going to get too hung up or worked up about the fact that no one listens to albums. It’s like, you know what, I didn’t do it for anybody else, I did it for me.
The Sights and Sounds: So you’ve seen a lot of success over the last couple years and that time tends to have sort of an unrealistic sense of proportion when you look back at it. A year feels like a month and a month can seem like a year. But if you could write yourself a letter today and have it delivered to yourself three years ago, what would you write? What would you tell yourself?
André: Haha, just keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t know. I guess whenever I do think back on whatever decisions I’ve made I really don’t have many regrets or anything like that. I feel pretty good about how things are progressing. Things sometimes were slow, but I think that was just part of the process of growing as a musician and growing as a person. I think the though of blowing up instantly is a lot scarier than doing it over time. Slowly building a fan base or slowly building a body of work or something like that, it’s always a process. The goal is to just keep getting better and I hope that that’s the case. But you know what I mean, that’s the goal. It feels strange to tell myself to do anything else or something different when I feel pretty good about it.
The Sights and Sounds: And that’s awesome, you know, you’re staying true to yourself and true to what you love to do.
André: Yeah, yeah. And that’s been the case pretty much the entire time. I feel good about it.
The Sights and Sounds: That’s awesome to hear. That’s really cool. And now that we’re coming off of summertime and things, at least to me, feel like they start to slow down, do you have a focus coming off of summer and going into the winter season? Do things slow down for you at all?
André: Actually this year I decided that come December, I’m just going to take a break. I’m taking like a 2 ½ to 3-month break just from everything. And I have a couple remixes that still haven’t come out, so there will be stuff coming out around that time. But in terms of me doing something, I need to stop for a second because not only has it been a crazy year but I have pretty much been touring non-stop for 5 years and I need a break. It has nothing to do with the work or anything because I love what I do, but I just think that I need it. I think I need to be bored of being home. When you’re on the go all the time, it’s great, but you kind of lose some context. So when I get home I get a little bit more reflective and I start to understand more of what is actually happening. Haha, this all sounds so terrible vague, I’m sorry.
The Sights and Sounds: Not at all. I totally understand. You know, I’ve travelled a bit and it’s weird because when you’re travelling you’re living out of a bag, you’re experiencing all of these things all at once and everything is happening so fast. But it’s not until you get back home and you lay back down in your own bed for the first time and you have your favorite cup of coffee from the corner shop, you know, whatever it is, it’s those small things that home brings back. It’s nice to get comfortable on the road, but it’s those small things at home that really make it home, which is nice. I like that.
André: Yeah, and like you said, I like to be out on the road doing all this stuff but once you get home it’s just kind of comes crashing down. So yeah, I’m taking a little bit of a breather. But come next year, we have a lot of plans for next year. But as far as the winter goes I’m taking a little break.
“It’s like, you know what, I didn’t do it for anybody else, I did it for me.”
The Sights and Sounds: Well that’s good. Get a little R&R. You need it and it’s well deserved. Well I don’t want to take up too much more of your time because I know you’re you guys are on a schedule, but you know, Halloween was just last weekend and I have to know before we close up: What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
André: As far as candy goes, that’s a very difficult question because on this tour it’s kind of been a running joke, because we have candy on our rider, so we’ve just been accumulating obscene amounts of candy. Especially during Halloween there’s even more candy, so we’re all going to need to go get our teeth checked. As far as my favorite candy I might have to go with a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup.
The Sights and Sounds: Solid choice! High five, that’s one of my favorites. Now, spiders vs. clowns, which one scares the shit out of you the most?
André: Probably spiders, actually. I don’t think I had a scary clown experience as a kid so it didn’t affect me as much. So yeah, spiders. Whenever a spider pops up at home I’m generally the one in charge of killing it or removing it from my house, and it’s quite the experience.
The Sights and Sounds: Awesome André! It was great talking with you. Like I said, all of us at The Sights and Sounds are big fans and just keep on doing what you’re doing and enjoy the restful winter. We wish you good luck on the rest of your tour.
André: Well thank you, man. I appreciate that. And thanks for taking the time. Take care.