KIM ANH: ‘I’ve Waited for So Long’ is one of my favorite songs on your latest album. The song just drives and it gives me such a wonderful feeling, reminiscent of '80s Electronic and Italo Disco. Was there a specific inspiration behind this track?
Juan MacLean: The references you cite are 100% correct, but I’ll add a curve ball. The real inspiration in terms of theme was a Neil Young song called ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ from his debut solo LP. Neil Young is probably my all-time favorite musician, which I suppose is an odd choice for someone making House/Disco-inspired music. There’s also a nod to Ian Curtis with the line “so people like you say, living is easy…” It was inspired by the Joy Division song ‘Atmosphere,’ where Ian Curtis sings "People like you find it easy / Naked to see / Walking on air.”
But yes, on top of all that, self-pitying lyrical gloom are a lot of Italo-type sounds. It’s probably the most driving song on the album. The drums and bass are a bit of a rip of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby'. We actually used the same Linn Drum machine that's used on that song.
I read somewhere that is was James Murphy who convinced you to come back to music after taking some time off. What do you think are some of the challenges musicians are facing today?
This is a very interesting question, given the time we are in right now, and one that I wish had a bigger platform. We are in a funny time right now in terms of the intersection of the dissemination of music for free or nearly free and the subsequent increase in easy exposure via the internet. Basically, you can be quite ‘popular,’ millions of people can be listening to your music and count themselves as ‘fans,’ but you find yourself struggling to scrape by financially. It becomes ever more serious the longer you keep at it. It’s one thing to be making little money when you are 22 years old, but as people get a bit older there is an urgency of social and financial pressure that is hard to ignore. Basically, it comes down to how long you want to suffer for your art and how committed you are to it. I’ve been lucky, I have a sort of three-pronged approach in that I’m a producer, remixer, and DJ. Actually, throw in live shows and that’s four. So I’m not reliant on one revenue stream. But if you remove DJ’ing, for example, I would not have been able to do anything that I’m doing now.
Also, in the USA there is no support for lifelong musicians. In other countries, once you prove that being a musician is how you support yourself, there is financial help from the government. Instead, people like me live in fear of going to the hospital or how we are going to take care of ourselves when we are older. That said, being a ‘musician’ is not something I consider a ‘career’ choice as much as it’s something I feel a deep and urgent need to do. When I stopped doing it for a few years I got quite depressed and wanted to die.
Your remix catalogue is pretty crazy! Are there any artists that you’d like to collaborate with in the future? And why?
I used to do a lot of remixes, I think primarily because until a few years ago it was quite common for artists to get loads of remixes for every release. It’s all died down a lot and now I’m pretty selective about what I do. I did one for Sharon Van Etten last year and we’ve talked about collaborating on some tracks, which is something that's very interesting to me, working with someone like that outside of the electronic music world.
You’ve been part of so many influential musical projects. Talk about one of your most memorable shows.
In terms of overall experience and lasting impact, the first time we ever played live at Berghain was probably the most influential. I think it was 2005, and though I was aware of the club and minimal techno, it didn’t really resonate with me either as a place of importance or as a musical form that I could relate to. However, from the moment we walked into the building we all knew it was something very special and unique. When we actually played our set it was awesome, but after that everyone in the band dispersed and we spent the next 8 hours or so meeting up back in the dressing room area relaying exciting stories of what we had seen or what sorts of antics we were getting up to. I remember walking downstairs after our set into Berghain and dancing with a small group of shirtless German dudes, and the kick drum was just echoing off the walls as it came blasting out of those Funktion One stacks, and everything I didn’t understand about minimal techno finally made sense. It was also very free, I felt like I could do anything and no one would give a fuck. Since then we’ve played live at Bargain and I DJ at Panorama Bar, which is my favorite place in the world to DJ. Now that House music has become so popular, it’s really quite active upstairs at Panorama, it’s just the greatest place to play in my opinion, and also the most terrifying in terms of the pressure to play well, which is a very good thing.
What’s next for The Juan Maclean?
Now that the live band is up and running again and the first shows have gone so well, which has been sort of shocking, I think we will pursue that avenue more than I initially thought. It’s been loads of fun, and the response has been far greater than I anticipated. Plus the band is playing magically well - it’s exhilarating playing with that group of people. So, the next year will be playing live, releasing more music, keeping up a relentless DJ schedule. I’ve got some other projects that will see releases in the next few months. I’m making more minimal and darker House/Techno tracks that are more representative of my DJ sets. That’s been a problem off and on over the years, sometimes people think I am going to play ’Nu Disco,’ which is a term I despise (though not as much as the dreaded ‘Indie Dance), and in fact I’ve always been playing House and some Techno. Business as usual, I guess.
Juan MacLean and Kim Anh will both be performing as part of The Rooftop at The Standard, Downtown LA's Memorial Day Weekend line-up.