Back To The Future With The Juan MacLean & The Ali MacLean

When I heard that The Juan MacLean was in town, I knew I had to talk to him, not only to chat about his new album The Future Will Come, being part of the uber cool electro mafia: DFA Records,  but also to finally figure out how the hell we are related. Two MacLeans from Boston in the music scene? There’s just no way this man doesn’t share a branch from my tree. I headed over to the Avalon during Juan’s sound check to get a glimpse bef0re the big performance at Control later that night, and have some pre-show tea.

ALI ON THE AIR: Hey, we need to figure out our family tree. You’re from Boston…originally Gloucester right? My Dad’s from Gloucester. What if we had the same dad, like on Springer or something where the man has two families.

JUAN: I know. Well,  my Uncle lived in Gloucester. I actually live in Dover, NH, about an hour from Boston. But I tell people I’m from New York. When you’re doing an interview in Berlin you just don’t get into explaining New Hampshire. I say New York.

AOTA: But you don’t say Boston, I notice. Hmmm.

JUAN: I’ve always felt unrelated to the music scene in Boston. I lived in Providence for a while and I liked the music scene there much better. I like the Middle East in Boston. I mean, with all the colleges, you’d figure it’d be huge but it’s not that great. But I find that I’m mostly commuting back and forth to New York. I have a couch in the DFA offices.

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AOTA: Do you prefer the road or working on the studio?

JUAN: For some reason every time I go home it’s so demoralizing. There’s not this thing every night where you are the center of attention. I have a lot of work at home in general with remixes and stuff so I’m really busy. The thing that is a hassle about it is that I’m always alone when I’m DJing. It gets old after a while. I went to Europe in the winter for three weeks and for two and a half wasn’t anywhere where people knew English. It wears on you after a while.

AOTA: You have a lot of stories on your site about airport security and how they love to stop you and check out your…package. You seem to get searched a lot more than the average guy. Was Miami for real?

JUAN:  The Miami one was a 100% true story.  I thought they were joking. But the guy said that it’s such a cocaine trafficking place that people will tape drugs in their groin. The way they went about it and what they said was so insane. The woman kept pointing at my crotch and saying “There’s too much”.

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AOTA: At least she thought there was too much. It could be worse, for instance if she thought the opposite.

JUAN: Yeah. But it’s like, ‘Thanks, I think’. They got the guy who is lowest on the totem pole to check me, and he kept saying on our walk to the room ‘Why didn’t they get the gay dude to do this!’ Hey, we’re not going on a date! Man! The problem is, I’m going through security with all of my records…

AOTA: With a sticker on them that says ‘Death From Above’.

JUAN: We quickly switched the stickers after 9/11…but they always check my record bag without fail and they swab my case for cocaine and it always comes up positive. I don’t even do coke. For someone who doesn’t do it, it’s all over my stuff. I pick it up on turntables and stuff in the clubs.

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AOTA: Do you use vinyl or Serato mostly?

JUAN: I only use vinyl. I hate Serato. I just like vinyl in general – the tactile nature of it. I don’t understand looking at a list of MP3s and picking out a song that way. But leafing through records…there’s an emotional response in seeing them. People can mix flawlessly with Serato in a way that you just can’t do with vinyl. I feel like it’s made this artificial standard of mixing. I carry it around in my laptop in case my records go missing, but I don’t use it.

AOTA: There seems to be a glut of DJs out there these days. You’ve been doing it for a long, long time…

JUAN:  I get paid to DJ more than I get for the band playing live music which is really frustrating. There is this trend of people going on blogs and downloading a bunch of crappy mp3s and instantly you’re a DJ? What once was DJ etiquette or DJ culture or the craft of DJing has been lost. Showing up and being a headlining DJ and the person before you playing a hundred times harder than you’ll ever play and even playing your own records – people playing MY records right before I go on to DJ? You just totally blew me out of the water, man. Instead of kids buying guitars nowadays, they get the stuff you need to ‘be a DJ’. You can buy it pretty easily and it doesn’t really require any skill anymore.

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AOTA: And now there’s DJ Hero coming out.

JUAN: Oh great. It’s a double edged sword because DJ culture is so much bigger than it was ten years ago, so it means that I DJ constantly.

AOTA: Do you prefer playing as opposed to DJing?

JUAN: Right now I’m so into playing with the band. Its all I want to do. But I do get the same gratification from DJing. If it’s done properly…A lot of people have a play list and they’re gonna play the same set mo matter what’s happening. But it should be like playing off the crowd. When that’s happening, and it’s going well, I like it as much as playing  with the band.

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AOTA: You’ve said that people with a rock background make more interesting music than people whose only come from is electronic music.

JUAN: People who just come from electronic background tend to be genre specific and I think make uninteresting records. People who have made my favorite music tend to come from a live music background. Like Bookashade.

AOTA: A lot of artists are afraid to admit to influences/ They’d have you believe they just hatched from nothing and became an entity. You’re willing to say on this album you listened to Human League or Grace Jones.

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JUAN: It’s almost become a game. People like to go through and pick out where we “stole” things from and somehow it’s become a source of derision on message boards. There’s a type of guy – and it’s always a guy – who speaks endlessly about how ‘oh he stole the piano part from this song’. Well, that’s what people have been doing since the beginning of pop music. Not only that, but we’re talking about electronic, sample based music here. So it seems odd to me that people would get so bent out of shape about it. I don’t think anyone cares except a few of these guys that spend way too much time on the internet.

AOTA: There’s always some blogger with something nasty to say. You’ve actually had the balls to respond to some of them.  Your blog is actually quite entertaining.

JUAN: At one point I thought it was overtaking the music. We’d be on tour and people would come up and say ‘Oh I love the album…but the BLOG. It’s HILARIOUS!’ When I’d post on Myspace I couldn’t believe how many people would subscribe. It’s insane. I was approached by a couple publishing people about doing a book. I was a writing teacher for a while so that’s something I’ve wanted to do.

AOTA: So, if there was no more electricity, that could be your creative outlet?

JUAN: That would definitely be my next choice. It might be what I segue into next. Or when I get too old to do this.

AOTA: Oh, come on. You wont be like Alan McGee or BP Fallon? DJing into your twilight years?

JUAN: That’s the thing I like about dance music in general. Unlike when I played in an angry rock band…when I turned thirty, I was like “I don’t want to do this anymore.” With dance music you can keep going. There’s a tradition of people that are older who are revered.

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AOTA: Right, like Suicide or Silver Apples. Now, do you think you need to be angry or depressed or in pain to be creative?

JUAN: Oh god. I’ve thought about that. I’ve actually read a book about it by this guy Peter Kramer who’s from Providence. It’s called Against Depression. I’ve been prone to depression my entire life and its common with…

AOTA: MacLeans?

JUAN:Ha, my family, yeah, and with creative people. People often say if you could get rid of depression then what about artists like Van Gogh? What would happen to their art? Well, maybe they would have done better things and have been even more productive. And that’s how I see it. People who have truly been depressed don’t glorify it. For me, when I’m in that mode, I can’t do anything, so it’s not useful or productive. Things that sound depressing in my music are probably more from choices I made where things haven’t gone very well.

AOTA: This album is less angry or depressive. You and Nancy are doing duets. There’s a relationship going on. It’s less about a robot and more human. Maybe more…Wall-E?

JUAN: It’s a definite narrative that we tried to end on a happy note like with Happy House. We tried to end each side of the record with something uplifting.

AOTA: Is it influenced by more uplifting times? Or a promise of some? Yes We Can?

JUAN: For Nancy and I, when writing about our personal lives, we don’t write on the macro level. Obama isn’t explaining stuff to the girlfriend that things are going to get better after the tour. Nancy played in LCD Soundsystem so a lot of this is what being in a touring band can do to a relationship.

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AOTA: So then after you get off the road, you remix a lot so you can stay in one place for a while?

JUAN: No one really buys an album now. There’s a lot of income that you lose out of from not selling cds and stuff that gets generated from that so you have to tour. People download music for free, but they will pay to come to shows. So I can play much bigger shows.

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AOTA: You have a stage persona which is sort of like your blog persona.

JUAN: Being involved in the 90’s indie rock scene, which was the grunge scene – the rock star as a regular guy. Kinda like Kurt Cobain who was like ‘This is just the way I am. There’s no pretense to it at all.’ I’ve always been more into people who were like “No, I’m an entertainer/Rock Star!” who had a persona. All of the blog writing, well at least fifty percent of it is truth and a lot of it is embellishing. I’m more concerned with entertaining than I am with using my music as my diary.

AOTA: Have you gone as far as the Marc Bolan route where you’ve worn your own face on a t shirt?

JUAN: Well, there are Juan MacLean shirts with my face on them that’s I’ve worn around. Embarrassing. I do it more to be a douche bag than anything else.

AOTA: Before I leave you to change into your own face t shirt…have there been any patchouli pranks or shenanigans this tour?

JUAN: There’s this terrible cologne called Drakkar Noir. We’d all joke about it and then I actually bought some. I kept spraying it on DJ’s keyboards and he was like ‘Man! Someone’s wearing some strong cologne! The monitor guy or someone. Whew!’ It kept happening and finally one night he figured it out. Drakkar Noir. It’s like a fancier step up from Old Spice.

AOTA: I think one of my grandfathers wore Old Spice. Keeping it in the family…

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