Escort is New York City’s greatest perpetual buzz band: Five years; five critically acclaimed 12-inches; a 17-member live bacchanal; and a decadent vintage disco sound that miraculously has never gone out of style. They’re finally getting around to releasing a debut album (out November 15 digitally, and January 31 physically) via their own Escort Records. This luxurious groovemonster is wall-to-wall banging, a debauched explosion of sexy string arrangements and funky-beyond-funky grooves, including spruced-up versions of all five of their Pazz and Jop-storming singles. Lead single “Caméleon Chameleon,” here in compact and hard-hitting “club remix” form, is a bold mix of Off The Wall-era Michael Jackson and Dr. Buzzard’s rattling percussion, essentially ecstatic glitterball euphoria at its most lush and layered.
What is “Caméleon Chameleon” about?
Dan Balis: Frédéric Bourdin is a french serial impostor, who, over the course of his “career,” impersonated dozens of kids, adopting teenage identities into his early 30s. The most famous of the episodes involved him impersonating a long-lost American teen, for which he served a number of years in prison.
Eugene Cho: We watched all these YouTube videos that Frédéric posted himself. His English is pretty good, but his accent and native tongue comes through pretty strong sometimes. In one video he was going on about himself and he says “I am the Chameleon,” but he pronounced it cam-muh-lee-yawn. Which is kind of hilarious to an English-speaking ear. So we made a big deal of the two pronunciations in the chorus.
What inspired it musically?
Cho: I was experimenting with writing basslines and drum parts simultaneously by hooking up a bass synth to trigger drum sounds. So I could write grooves where the bass and drums were innately locked. I was looking for patterns outside of the four on the floor thing that we’ve been doing so much of.
Balis: After we had the basic concept, we spent a while writing the lyrics, and then we holed up with Joy Dragland and a bottle of bourbon and wrote the melodies to the verses.
What were the goals and intentions behind the club remix?
Cho: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.
What do you remember about the sessions for the original song?
Cho: That song has the most simultaneous tracks of the entire record. There are some musical themes in there that are played by almost every member of the band. We painstakingly recorded every instrument one by one. And most instruments are doubled or tripled. We have literally days worth of audio for that song, and then once it’s all edited and mixed it all just shoots right by in a matter of minutes.
Balis: There is always lots of overdubbing. For example, we needed someone who could hit the really high notes in the horn break. Nathan, our trumpet player, was really busy at the time. The only way to make it work was for Eugene to rush over meet him at where he was playing another show, take him to another room and track just that part.
After five years of buzz, why are you deciding to self-release?
Cho: We had some success doing our own DJ 12-inches and digital singles, so when it came down to putting out the record we weren’t really impressed with what any label was offering us. It’s really interesting now that there’s all these tools and services that really allow an artist to do everything. I don’t think it’s advisable for most. It’s kind of sad how musicians are almost expected to write, record, produce, promote, design and distribute their stuff. It really takes time away from everything creative, and promotes a different breed of OCD artists… We’ll probably never release anything outside of Escort, but we have in fact started a record label, and it’s hard, but not impossible. It’s an interesting challenge that we kind of enjoy in a weird way.
Balis: That said, we don’t enjoy it that much. We’d both be much happier if we could spend all of our energy on writing and producing music.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in NYC?
Cho: Our first show at P.S. 1 was crazy. We had only played one small practice show and then found ourselves in front of thousands of people, which was kind of nuts. And getting that many people to stay on the same page proved to be very difficult. I ended up blowing out my voice because I was running around and yelling the cues for all the different sections of the band. It was like spinning plates for an hour.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?
Cho: One place is really tough. I’m split between Fette Sau, Han Joo Chik Naeng Myun, Minetta Tavern and Xi’an Famous Foods.
Balis: I just had Xi’an tonight!