Portlander Andre Allen Anjos is up for a Grammy on Monday for best remixed recording. He works under the name RAC, and he’s become the go-to guy for remixing indie bands, from Arcade Fire to Foster the People.
As a college student in Greenville, Illinois, Andre Allen Anjos didn’t aspire to be a globe-trotting artist and DJ whose songs have racked up millions of listens.
“My highest aspiration was to be a studio assistant, where I could work with recording equipment and make a living, but not necessarily be a musician,” he said.
But he wasn't getting anywhere, so he decided to create his own agency called the Remix Artist Collective, or RAC. His first cold call: the Shins. The band was putting out its third album, "Wincing the Night Away." The manager asked for some demos. Weeks later, he called Anjos in the middle of history class. Anjos had a green light to remix "Sleeping Lessons."
"James mercer, he's like super nice," Anjos said of meeting the bandleader backstage after finishing the remix. "I was just this little kid — so scared to meet them. He told me he liked my version better than his."
The music taste-making blog Pitchfork picked up the remix. The band released it as a B-side. Suddenly Anjos had real cred, and he saw an opening.
“At the time, remixing was just dance beats underneath a vocal,” he recalls. “Not a lot of people were remixing indie bands or remixing more rock-oriented stuff.”
Pretty soon, bands were soliciting Anjos. He's worked with a who's who of indie royalty: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Death Cab for Cutie, Bloc Party, not to mention mega acts like U2, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
Anjos moved to Portland after graduating in 2009. He converted the second bedroom of his condo into a studio shared with his two kittens. It's a meticulously organized audiophile wonderland: a Fender Rhodes 54, a Roland Juno 60, and other antique synths plugged into shelves of black boxes covered in wires and knobs. It looks more like a showroom than a music studio, which makes sense when you realize that most of the equipment is wired through his primary tool: his computer.
"All this equipment, you can hook up to the computer, and this way you don't have to physically play it, so it comes out perfect," he says. "Which in some situations can be bad, but in this one, I think it worked."
This one is "Say My Name" by the Seattle electro duo Odesza. And it did work. In the audio story above, he shows us how he took the song apart piece by piece and transformed into the poppier version that won him a Grammy nomination.
“This is a unique song for me,” Anjos said. “because it came together very quickly and it just felt right.”
Other songs can take several days to crack. But ultimately, it’s a job for Anjos, garnering $500 to $30,000 per song.
In between remixes, Anjos now writes his own music, enlisting many of the singers he's remixed to take a swing at his lyrics, from Tegan and Sara to Kele of Bloc Party. He's also composed the soundtrack for a recent video game, "Master Spy," and is working on his first feature film, "People You May Know." And that's when he's not on the road for live shows and DJ gigs — he flew some 125,000 miles last year.
"That's been theme with the whole project: it's always exceeded my expectations in every way," he said.
As for the possibility of taking home that Grammy, Anjos says he hopes it will open more doors. But he jokes that its biggest impact might be that his parents' friends no longer ask: What is it you do again?
Not to be missed are RAC's music videos, which use surreal premises to poke gleefully at our expectations. In the video for “Let Go," a woman, who just happens to be a cannibal (played by a vegetarian actress), goes out on a date with her husband in a silver cocktail dress and matching Hannibal Lector mask.
Meanwhile, in the video for “Back of the Car,” starring "Saturday Night Live" performer Sasheer Zamata and "Vogue" sex columnist Karley Sciortino, a woman afraid of losing her lover locks them in their Subaru. The two spend the next five years trapped inside, fishing out the cracked window and elbowing each other frantically like kids on a road trip.