Progress Report: The Juan MacLean
It’s been four years since DFA darlings the Juan MacLean put out a proper album (2009’s The Future Will Come), which is a sad thing for those who have a deep and abiding love for the kind of sublime electronic concoctions that MacLean has been cooking up for nearly a decade now. Last month MacLean let loose with “You Are My Destiny” — a majestic dispatch of classic house music featuring LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang on vocals. With any luck, “Destiny” is a harbinger of good things to come. In addition to a spate of upcoming DJ gigs, MacLean and co. will be joining the rest of their DFA family next month in a giant celebration of the venerable label’s 12-year anniversary, which is itself a part of Red Bull Music Academy’s month-long series of totally bonkers music events that will be exhausting music fans in NYC for the entire month of May. I caught up with MacLean to talk about DJ culture, NYC nightlife, and when the hell he’ll get around to putting out a new album.
STEREOGUM: I know you were down in Miami doing lots of DJ gigs during the Winter Music Conference, which is kind of looked at as a nice barometer for what is happening in the world of electronic music. What was your takeaway from it?
MACLEAN: Well, there’s this whole underground house sound that’s just exploded. It reminds me a lot of the early days of DFA. I think the same thing is happening now with this music. It’s like house music — or, rather, this sort of underground house sound — that is definitely working its way into the popular consciousness and mainstream radio.
STEREOGUM: Well, it’s been almost 4 years since you released a proper album. I know you’ve been busy in the interim with DJ gigs and remixes and stuff, but what’s the holdup?
MACLEAN: When Jerry Fuchs, our drummer, died, we were in the middle of touring for that album, and it blew me out of the water and threw my entire world into a tailspin. I threw myself into doing this DJ Kicks mix [and] into defining myself as a DJ, getting out there and DJing. It was just hard to make new music. And then, also, people put things out so quickly now; I’m kind of taking it to an extreme in terms of spacing things out. I just wait until I am really inspired and motivated to release something … which I’m finally doing now.
STEREOGUM: I’ve been listening pretty relentlessly to “You Are My Destiny.” How did that track come together?
MACLEAN: The same way everything comes together, really. My process is generally that I write music at home in my home studio, and then take it to Nancy and see what she comes up with, and then I come back and edit and mix. That was one of five tracks that we did that day. I just don’t believe in releasing everything that I do.
STEREOGUM: I wish more people adhered to that.
MACLEAN: Yeah I feel like in the beginning — and it might be a bit of an outdated sentiment — I just remember James Murphy and I going for a walk and we were talking about DFA and starting DFA, and I just remember him using the word “bulletproof.” He said, “I just want it to be bulletproof. I want everything we release to be incredible.” And so not releasing a lot of stuff, having a slow release schedule, just became the norm.
STEREOGUM: Does putting out this single kind of whet your appetite to doing a full-length record?
MACLEAN: Yeah. My new album should be done, I don’t know, halfway through the year or something — but I’ve got other 12″ coming out before that.
STEREOGUM: I see there are a ton of tour dates listed for you in the coming months … I’m assuming those are all DJ gigs?
MACLEAN: Yeah, they’re still all DJ dates, I won’t even begin dealing with live touring dates until the album is done and has a release date. Then I’ll switch back into that mode.
STEREOGUM: Do you know when the next Juan MacLean single will come out?
MACLEAN: It’s funny, that’s what I was working on when you called. I don’t know, I guess a couple of months is my best guess.
STEREOGUM: I’m guessing that when you are traveling people must often ask you about what is happening in New York right now, or what are the cool places. What do you tell them? And do you still think of NYC as a hub for a lot of positive, creative energy?
MACLEAN: It’s always such a hard thing to get a grasp on. It felt like the last few years people would ask me, “Where should I go in New York to hear DJs? What are the great clubs?” and there was no answer, basically. It’s hard to believe, but your small city in the UK somewhere has better clubs than New York — has more going on than New York does. I don’t know … I’ve actually been disappointed with it the last bunch of years. For dance music, for sure.
STEREOGUM: There are fun nights that move around at different place, but it’s weird that there’s no longer any club culture that things can be centered around.
MACLEAN: That was always my point, there’s no proper dance club with a regular lineup of DJs that have some kind of cultural pull or cultural center to it, anywhere. I think there still isn’t.
STEREOGUM: It’s so weird. I mean, there are so many different reasons why I guess that doesn’t exist, but it’s really strange that it doesn’t.
MACLEAN: It is strange, and people are always in disbelief when I tell them that — when they haven’t been to New York and they’re planning a big trip — they think that it must be like it was in the ‘70s or ‘80s or something, that you just have your choice of some amazing disco or house night every night of the week.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s interesting. When it comes to rock bands, I do feel like there are always gonna be kids somewhere — in Bushwick or wherever — doing some crazy bullshit. Even if you’re not totally cognizant of it, it’s happening. But with dance music it’s so much harder. It should be easier.
MACLEAN: Which is strange, because on the production side it’s so much easier. I think it has more to do with cultural/social influences that are much more complicated to get a handle on.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. Well do you have a — I mean, I know you’re traveling and DJing at a lot of different places — but do you have a regular night at a spot in New York?
MACLEAN: No, I never have. And in fact, for the past few years, I stayed away from playing in New York much. Just because it seems like a lot of DJs here just play constantly and never leave the city and you stop being taken seriously for awhile. There’s this funny thing where you almost get less credibility being from here or being constantly visible.
STEREOGUM: Well, I assume this is going to be a busy year for you then. Between these gigs, finishing up a record, the DFA anniversary … that’s a lot going on.
MACLEAN: Yeah this year and next year will be really busy — putting out a lot of music and just playing a lot, touring a lot.