Just over a week before releasing their much-anticipated, five-years-in-the-making, fourth studio album, Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo spoke with Berlin journalist Heiko Hoffman for SPIN about the before, during, and after of making the record, which they term a “super production.” To which we say, super oui!
A lot of excitement has been built up with the roll-out campaign in advance of Random Access Memories‘ release next week. How important was the marketing to leading up to the release?
Thomas Bangalter: Very. For us, the poster for a movie is just as important as the movie itself. We always considered our marketing to be a continuity of our creative process, and when we thought about how we to present this record, we wanted to bring back some ideas from the past, from a time when you could drive down Sunset Boulevard and see a billboard for a new David Bowie or Pink Floyd album. Our imagination was triggered more by this physical presence than looking at an Internet advert. We didn’t want to do online banners. We don’t really communicate through the Internet, we don’t have a Twitter account. We like the idea of leaving the Internet to our audience.
Yet it’s through the Internet that the hype has been generated. Do you worry that people are already feeling annoyed by a new snippet of Daft Punk news?
Thomas Bangalter: We don’t try to generate a consensus and we respect it if people feel annoyed. But we think that movies and TV series shouldn’t have a monopoly of trying to make an event of a new release. This is about a celebration of music in the mainstream culture. In a way we had this idea of a super-production for this album. More than a hundred people worked on this record and it took us five years to make it. We wanted to celebrate this concept of a big production with the marketing too and we also wanted to thank the people who’ve been involved in it. But we don’t think that we oversaturated anything. And we don’t force anyone to buy our music. We didn’t do a music video, we didn’t go on any TV shows. We gave very little information, which then grew virally out of proportion and we are very pleased how enthusiastic the reactions have been.
Unlike your previous albums, Random Access Memories is a record almost without any drum machines and synthesizers. What was the motivation for that?
Thomas Bangalter: Our single “Around the World” was inspired by the music of Chic, and our first idea for this record was to make the same kind of music, but to replace the drum machine with a live drummer. Then we also wanted to replace the synthesizers with real people. We’ve been making music now for 20 years, but still after each record we don’t know how we are going to continue. After “Da Funk” came out, we didn’t know if we were going to do an album. When we made Homework, we didn’t know that we were going to do Discovery and so on. We put all our efforts in the present. And we want to break our own rules and reinvent ourselves. We want to surprise ourselves. For example, I produced the soundtrack for the extreme Gaspar Noe movies Irreversible and Enter the Void and followed this with a orchestra soundtrack for the Disney film Tron: Legacy. It’s a contrast that you could already see on our first single. It had “Da Funk” on one side and “Rollin’ and Scratchin'” on the other. The two tracks were almost opposites of each other. On this album, we made music with Panda Bear, but we also worked together with Paul Williams, who you wouldn’t normally suspect to appear on one record. But this contrast is what interests us.
What you can hear on the album are mostly instruments from before a time before electronic music was made, yet it also clearly sounds like it couldn’t have been made 40 years ago.
Thomas Bangalter: We are questioning the limits of artificial intelligence and of digital-music programming. On the one hand, this album sounds like it could have been made before the age of electronic music, but on the other hand, this wouldn’t have been possible. We are hiding the machines on this record maybe in a similar way that Peter Jackson tries to hide the machines in his Lord of the Rings movies. On the album, you have a track like “Touch” that doesn’t sound like a technological song at all, but there were 250 individual tracks used for this song and this wouldn’t have been possible without digital technology. This record is very influenced by the production technique of sampling. We didn’t use any samples, but we wanted to re-create the magic that can be found in samples.
Did you have digital versions of the songs before you went to the studio with the musicians?
Thomas Bangalter: In 2008, we locked ourselves in a studio and created a kind of blueprint for the songs on the album. You can’t hear anything from these demo versions on the record, but we used the compositions and harmonic structures as a starting point as a kind of first layer for the further recordings. Then we got the best session musicians and best performers we could get, and went with them into the best studios.
Would you say this is the album that you’ve learned the most from?
Thomas Bangalter: This album was the one that took us the longest to make, so in this regard you could also say that it was the record we learned the most from. It was the most difficult one to make, we had to do a lot of research and learn how to place microphones and how to do overdubs. After all, besides Tron, this was the first album we didn’t produce at home. But we like to feel like beginners. It’s what keeps us excited.
Are there any musicians that you wanted to work with that didn’t make it on the album?
Thomas Bangalter: No, the collaboration with the guests on this album happened very organically. It was either old acquaintances or people we really admire. We met Giorgio Moroder, for example, when we were working on Tron, and we knew Julian Casablancas from the Strokes through a mutual friend. But we also wanted to show that some of these guys, like Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers, are still around. Together we wanted to create the music that we feel is not around right now. We wanted to create the music that we would like to hear on the radio.
Have you ever thought of working with Kraftwerk?
Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo: No, we never work with robots.