Daft Punk Reveal Secrets of New Album - Exclusive
Daft Punk, Photo by David Black
Last night, at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in southern California, Daft Punk debuted a teaser trailer for their new album, Random Access Memories: Without warning, a nearly two-minute video popped up on jumbotron screens flanking the festival's various stages, in which Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers and the Daft Punk robots rock out in heavily sequined getups to "Get Lucky," the album's lead single. Surprised festival-goers at the main stage began dancing and pointing camera phones, oblivious to the fact that the French dance heroes – Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – were in fact standing in civilian garb on the edge of the VIP section, watching themselves on the screens with delight. (Pharrell was standing nearby, and he gave Thomas a high five afterwards.) When the screens went black, Thomas and Guy-Manuel were shown tweets from attendees giddy about what they'd just seen. Thomas grinned. "The fun part will be seeing the footage people shot when it hits the Internet," he said.
Random Access Memories, made in near-total secrecy, is one of 2013's most eagerly anticipated – and most enigma-enshrouded – releases. Late last month, for an upcoming Rolling Stone profile of Daft Punk, they discussed the new album’s creation in extensive detail at their studio in Paris. Here are the ten things you need to know:
They began working on Random Access Memories in 2008, in Paris, with no clear plan. "After three records, there was a sense of searching for a record we hadn’t done," Thomas says. The duo were dissatisfied with early demos that leaned heavily on electronic equipment, feeling like they were operating on "autopilot," Thomas says. Eventually, a new approach emerged: "We wanted to do what we used to do with machines and samplers," he explains, "but with people." Except for a snippet of "an Australian rock record" that opens the final track, "Contact," Daft Punk foreswore samples entirely, and they limited the role of drum machines to just two of the album’s thirteen tracks. The only electronics come in the form of a massive, custom-built modular synthesizer that Daft Punk played live on the album, they told me, and an arsenal of vintage vocoders on which they manually manipulated factors like pitch, vibrato and legato. "There’s this thing today where the recorded human voice is processed to try to feel robotic," Thomas says, referring to the undying AutoTune vogue. "Here, we were trying to make robotic voices sound the most human they’ve ever sounded, in terms of expressivity and emotion."
The title captures the duo’s endless fascination with blurs between humans and technology…"We were drawing a parallel between the brain and the hard drive – the random way that memories are stored," says Thomas.
…and their endless fascination with the past. 2001’s Discovery was in part a backward-looking concept album about revisiting the funk, disco and soft-rock of Thomas’ and Guy-Manuel’s childhood. For Random Access Memories, they hired "top-notch session players," says Guy-Manuel, with credits on classic records by Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, and Eric Clapton. Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers played rhythm guitar on a few tracks. "The Seventies and the Eighties are the tastiest era for us," Guy-Manuel says. "And all these guys were tripping on meeting again and playing together again." He adds: "It’s not that we can’t make crazy futuristic sounding stuff, but we wanted to play with the past."