It’s been 10 years since Andre Anjos started RAC in his dorm room remixing tracks for late-aughts artists and labels while honing his craft as a songwriter playing the college circuit with his band.
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Now, with over 200 remixes to his name – including a 2017 Grammy win for his take on Bob Moses’ “Tearing Me Up,” making him the first Portuguese artist to win a Grammy – Anjos’ is re-directing RAC to songwriting, “my first passion,” he says, with EGO, a stunning, 60-minute collection of 14 songs featuring collaborations with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, MNDR, St. Lucia, KNA and Joywave among others.
EGO is RAC’s first artist album since 2014’s Strangers, and with its lush, nuanced indie-electronic production, it’s Andre’s most ambitious, cohesive and personal work to date. As he’s the first to admit, it chronicles his organic progression beyond the more dance floor-oriented.
Growing up in Portugal in a pre-internet world, Anjos was another kid with a guitar playing along to Nirvana records and recording songs in his bedroom on his computer. After moving to the US to attend Greenville College outside St. Louis, he realized the potential for applying his own songwriting sensibilities to other artists’ work when The Shins used his remix of “Sleeping Lessons” as the B-side to the single’s Australian release.
“RAC started as ‘Remix Artist Collective’ in my dorm room in 2007. I called it a ‘collective’ but it was pretty much me and two other guys I knew from the internet. The ‘collective’ thing was always me trying to make it sound bigger than it was,” he says. Irony being, it didn’t take long for RAC to get bigger on its own – or his own – with Anjos’ (now fully a solo project) – reworking tracks by Phoenix, Tegan and Sara, Foster The People, Lana Del Rey, New Order, Bob Marley and more.
By 2011, Andre had decided RAC was ready to craft its own tracks, beginning with the massive single “Hollywood,” featuring Penguin Prison’s Chris Glover, and culminating with 2014’s Strangers album, which included the indie club favorite “Let Go,” featuring MNDR and Kele from Bloc Party. “Still something was missing. “I felt a little like I got lost trying to please people,” he says.
Which is why with EGO, Andre says it was so important to make the record he wanted to make and not necessarily the one he was expected to make.
“‘The word ‘ego’ can have a negative connotation, but I think of it as an exploration of self,” he explains. “The album is really me figuring out who I am as an artist; I felt free to do whatever.”
Recorded between his home studio in Portland and sessions in LA, EGO shimmers with an immediacy and urgency, even at its most solemn and introspective, as on “Heavy,” his collaboration with former RAC member Karl Kling.
He credits in-person songwriting for the album’s intimate but full-lunged tone. “This album is face-to-face writing, which brought challenges, sure, but also a lot more creativity.” He points to “The Beautiful Game,” one of EGO’s stand-out tracks not only for its sophisticated pop feel, but also the stellar performances from collaborators St. Lucia.
Songs like “Johnny Cash,” where Jill Lamoureux of LA-based electro-pop band Scavenger Hunt sings longingly about listening to old records, and “This Song,” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, are ripe with the bittersweet epiphanies that come from listening to music – with or without the person you want to be listening to it with. At 120 BPMs, it’s dancefloor-friendly, sure, but, surrounded by 13 more equally shining, well-hewn gems, it’s also part of a greater whole that’s uncannily familiar but thrillingly new, owing as much, Andre’ says, to its strum-along guitars and sing-along hooks as its vintage synths and classic song structures. “I like to think I use nostalgia as a tool,” he explains. “There’s a unique, intangible quality to some of these old sounds. Almost like time travel.”
Speaking of which, Andre’ says he’s acutely aware what an anachronism making an album is amid today’s tastes for tracks and streaming. “I grew up with albums, so the format is still deeply important to me,” he says. “I want people to listen to it start to finish. It’s exactly one hour long. I get how people might not care or have time, but I feel like I’ve made something they’d appreciate if they listened to it top to bottom more than once.”
And if they don’t?
“I went into this record with the attitude that if I truly like this, I don’t care if other people don’t. In the past, I felt like I was still catering somewhat to what people wanted and now I feel like I have my priorities straight. I want to do the best work I possibly can and have it live up to my standards. That way, no matter what happens, I can live with it. In that sense, it’s untouchable,” he says– touchingly so, but yeah.