Published Sep 08, 2014In a Dream is set for release September 16 courtesy of DFA and might just be the Juan MacLean's best album yet — they even say so themselves.
"I think it's the truest collaborative effort between Nancy and I," John MacLean tells Exclaim! of his work with Nancy Whang, who was also part of LCD Soundsystem. "In the early days, calling Nancy down to the studio at 8 o'clock at night to do vocals on a track she had never heard before was very common. This [album] was much more of [us] working together from the beginning of creating a song, and I think it makes the album sound much more realized and cohesive."
They rate In a Dream higher than 10/10; 10-plus, says Whang, "with top honours."
But MacLean and Whang weren't the only creative minds behind the record: Nick Millhiser of Holy Ghost! was the third leg of the production team and the album's main producer. "[With his involvement], you could hear how much more integrated everybody's input was," says Whang.
In a Dream sounds like a Miami Vice soundtrack that could've easily passed as the background music for the film Scarface, but only if Giorgio Moroder had produced both instead of just the latter. It's a classic disco record that was made in 2014, rather than 1978.
"I think for all three of us (me, Nancy and Nick), [Giorgio Moroder] is a very old, go-to reference," says MacLean. "People forget that not only did he do his dance music tracks like 'I Feel Love' [Donna Summer] or something like 'The Chase' [Midnight Express] with perpetuated bass-lines that people hear and instantly think 'Moroder,' but he also did stuff like 'Take My Breath Away' by Berlin, which I'm a huge fan of."
The album's "Charlotte," to which MacLean lends a low-voiced vocal, is particularly Moroder-esque.
"The singing style," he says, "is something that I love and harkens back to this kind of new wave, someone singing too low for their voice, and it makes it sound very serious. It makes it sound more gothic and very arch."
Whang adds, "It's not the average Juan MacLean sound one would expect to hear. It's good for keeping people on their toes."
The same classic disco sound that flows through "Charlotte" pervades almost the entire realm of In a Dream: "[Maybe we like that sound] because we're older people," kids MacLean.
But jokes aside, the Juan MacLean are content with a classic disco sound because it's more organic.
"I think we will always gravitate toward using actual keyboards and things that exist in the real world, like drum sounds that actually come from a real drum kit," says MacLean. "Now, most music is made entirely on a computer. I don't particularly have anything against that, but it sounds different than recording with real instruments."
MacLean and Whang's songwriting template was fairly straightforward on In a Dream.
"Usually I come up with very basic ideas for songs," says MacLean, "like loops that repeat over and over again. We'd have a bunch of people come into the studio and play parts, so it was always just a lot of raw material. Every day, we'd go up to Nick Millhiser's studio and we'd just sit and turn [that material] into songs. Nick played with the Juan MacLean before, so I knew that we could make music together."
MacLean says whoever is spinning (at the time) writes song lyrics, so it's not one member more than the other. Whang adds that the lyrics were about "the usual isolation, inability, disconnection and distance."
"When I started making music as the Juan MacLean, there was a lot of using robots as a vehicle for conveying these themes of inability to connect with people, being isolated from people, cut off from emotion," describes MacLean. "As I became successful with DJing, it led me to this lifestyle that reinforced all those things. And Nancy, too, I think."
As MacLean comes from a dance music background and Whang comes from more of a band background, the two lifestyles complement one another in creating the group's overall sound.
"Musically, what's good for me is that I'm coming from a clichéd dance music perspective, and Nancy is just not involved in that world, in that aspect of it," says MacLean. "It really makes things much more interesting. There are vocals [from Nancy] you'd never find in a typical dance music track."
Although the two have varying musical insights, there are two things MacLean and Whang agree upon: they hope fans will accept the slight departure on In a Dream, and they use Madonna as an example for the way they want their sound to continue evolving.
"We want to sound like her at some point," adds MacLean. "Madonna 30 years ago, not the Madonna that jumped onstage at Ultra Music Festival and said something about Molly."