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Interview by Josh Sparber
New York dance music duo Greg Scarnici and Joe Thompson, collectively known as Undercover, share their love for freestyle music, the origins of their debut album and how they’ve weaseled their way into Provincetown’s A-House and Abercrombie & Fitch.
How did you the two of you meet and begin making music?
JT: We originally met when I was a waiter at 7A in the East Village circa 1997. Greg was friends with a couple of people I worked with and we’ve been friends ever since. One day, Greg asked if I would add some vocals to an album of comedic dance tracks he put out called Twelve Inch Freak. After that, I played Greg some dance demos I had created on GarageBand and Greg asked if he could punch up the music in them and we continued on from there.
What were your vocal and musical inspirations for this album? I get a disco, electro and freestyle vibe with a hint of a Haddaway rap throwback.
GS: Musically, I definitely intended to echo the sounds of early nineties house music and early eighties disco, both of which really resonate with me. My early nineties rap style, however, is completely unintentional.
JT: I’ve always loved disco and RnB but freestyle was really big for me when I first started hearing it on the radio. The music of the early nineties when radio started having a more club-influenced sound was definitely influential as well.
An earlier version of this album was floating around last year with some demo versions in a different song order. How did you decide the final songs and sequence?
JT: Originally, we were going to break up the record into two halves: more modern sounding dance for the first half and an eighties disco vibe for the second half. Then we realized that thematically, the album worked best when the tracks were all shuffled together.
GS: As both the producer and a control freak, I had a definite sequence in mind from the get-go. Just before we released the album, however, Joe shared his sequencing ideas which made the it sound a thousand times better.
What’s been the reception of the singles and music videos that you’ve already put out for this album?
GS: When we first started, no one had any idea who we were so we had to ask DJs and remixers out of the blue to remix tracks for us. Thankfully, Austin Downey, John Rizzo, Joe Cole and David Petrilla created mixes that wound up getting dance floor play which was thrilling. I remember getting a text message from some Provincetown friends saying they had heard our song out at the A-House on a Saturday night!
JT: Without a record label, our promotional resources have been limited so we’re very happy with the success of what we’ve put out so far. One of the tracks on our remix EP (disclosure: this writer remixed a track for said EP) ended up getting licensed by Abercrombie and Fitch and is playing in their stores this summer. As for the videos, I think we got to a better place with our second video, “Your Lovin’ Touch.”
GS: I agree. I’m happy with the video we shot for “You’re Turning Me On” but I feel that the video for “Your Lovin’ Touch” is far more elegant and captures the tone of the song much better.
Have either of you had training in vocals and music production?
JT: I’ve had no formal vocal training, though I studied theatre and acting. I always say my best music teacher was the radio because as a kid, I would listen to it incessantly.
GS: I got most, if not all of my music training by obsessively listening to remixes since I was a kid. I was once in a high school band that really hasn’t really affected my musical compositions. Playing the baritone horn doesn’t exactly lend itself to dance floor remixes.
Explain the creative process between the two of you as you produce.
JT: It usually starts with an [instrumental] track that Greg creates and sends to me, sometimes with vocal ideas. I write lyrics and melodies and Greg does the same and we go back and forth. Some work, some don’t, but we keep trying until we find the best fit for each song.
GS: I could be driving in my car listening to a podcast, and out of nowhere, a chorus will pop into my head and I’ll have to grab my iPhone while speeding on the highway and sing a chorus into it, which, in three instances, wound up becoming songs on our album.
Does Undercover perform live? Did that figure into the creation of this album?
GS: Performing live is the last thing I think of when making music. I want to make electronic music that sounds amazing in and of itself and I usually find that watching electronic artists perform live is beyond boring because they just sing along to a track. Live performance is a challenge that we are only addressing now in order to make the music more interesting and unique. We’re thinking of adding costumes, backup dancers and playing live synths.
JT: A lot of these songs would actually sound great being performed with a band but who knows if we’ll ever do that.
Thinkin’ About Your Love has a Giorgio Moroder feel with a freestyle break but also sounds as if its picking up where the ill-fated Electroclash movement left off. Are you both fans of Moroder, Cynthia and W.I.T.?
JT: Giorgio Moroder is definitely an influence…
GS: …and the fact that I don’t even know who Cynthia and W.I.T. are precludes me from being a fan. Thinkin’ About Your Love was more a reference to mid-80s dance tracks that might have been heard on the “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack.
You’ve included two alternate versions of tracks already on the album, remixed by one-half of Undercover? What inspired you to do this?
GS: The day before we finalized the album, I asked Joe if he would be cool with adding these for the simple reason that, as a dance duo, I felt that a lot of our album tracks might come across as pop music and I wanted to include mixes for people that might be interested in hearing more club music. We definitely use a pop song structure in our song writing, but I also wanted to showcase some of our dance side as well, and those remixes—both with a different feel—hopefully do that.
JT: It’s also a great way of expressing a song in a different way. Just because you write it one way doesn’t mean there couldn’t be other interpretations.
What got scrapped or didn’t make it on to this album? Is another album already in the works?
GS: We had a deep house track called “Beautiful”, which just didn’t seem finished. And another one called, “I Still” which we couldn’t find the right music for. As far as another album goes, Joe, you don’t know this yet, but I already have four choruses of songs I want to run by you when the dust settles.
JT: I’m ready for it!
Are you working on any other music projects?
GS: I’m always working on other projects and have come up with some more ridiculous comedy songs I want to record this coming Fall.
JT: I just finished a backup vocal gig for a great artist named Tamar-kali at Harlem Stage and I hope to continue working with her. We’re also working on a song with Jipsta, tentatively titled “Abracadabra.”
When does the album come out? Will there be any more singles, videos and/or promotional appearances?
JT: The official release date was July 10th, 2012. And we are gearing up for our third single, “After Dark,” and its accompanying music video, both of which will be released later this summer. As far as promotion is concerned, we’re excited for our record release party at Good Times at Eastern Bloc on Wednesday, July 18th.
GS: The album is currently available on iTunes and Amazon. We’re also considering a small vinyl pressing, but we’ll see how that goes.
What’s next for Undercover?
GS: We’re in talks to do some nightclub appearances around Florida in the Fall and we hope this leads to more gigs around the country.
JT: …around the world!
Download the John Rizzo Big Room Club Mix of “You’re Turning Me On” HERE
Or “Tweet For a Track” to get the Dark Disco Mix of “Your Lovin’ Touch” HERE.