His name is John Maclean. For the last couple decades, Maclean has been creating a craft slightly ahead of the cutting edge. Against all logic, he has remained rather below the radar for the better of two decades. While his artistic innovations haven’t exactly fallen on completely deaf ears, his future-searching style remains unheard of by many of those who should know.
So who is John Maclean?
For starters, he is more than just your ordinary guy named John. After years of producing post-modern robotic music that has inspired and stimulated countless acts across the globe, John (aka Juan) is back with The Juan Maclean. There have been the Devo’s, Kraftwerk’s and Daft Punk’s before, yet the music world can now truly witness this completely unique, rarely unheard of presence. Following the release of The Juan Maclean’s critically acclaimed 2005 debut LP, Less Than Human, one of American electronic music’s greatest under-noticed musical men has finally come to full recognition.
With the sounds of youth echoing throughout the background, he explains to Glide Magazine the story of The Juan Maclean, just what a Six Finger Satellite is and how to return to a music career after stepping away to the point of possibly never returning to his instruments again.
“It’s funny because it (Less Than Human) came together over the period of a couple years,” Maclean says while relaxing at his home in New Hampshire. “I didn’t set out to have an LP or to make a music career out of The Juan Maclean,” he says. “I just kept making tracks, recording and putting out 12-inches until eventually, I had enough stuff done to put out an album.”
For those who have had their ears filled with the delightful auditory experience of Less Than Human, it should be common conception that this is an album destined to be an American electronic classic. Over nine distinct tracks, The Juan Maclean produce envelope-pushing programmed beats meet live instrumentation-a colorful concoction of futuristic fusion. The LP is bold and sedated; elevating and calming. From the album commencing, quick-hitting “AD 2003” to the glitch-filled, 14-plus minute foray of “Dance with Me,” Less Than Human offers a highlight reel of electronic overtones. Without even the slightest of doubts, The Juan Maclean created an utterly concise collection of precision polyphonic pictures, a collection that is worthy for each of its’ synthesized sections.
Less Than Human is disco-funk-techno mayhem-organized chaos, maybe, exquisite production, definitely. It is the album aspiring electronic producers everywhere hope to make, not just the cuts on their Ipod they listen to every day for two months to figure out, ‘how’d he do that?’
But before you can delve too far into today’s John Maclean, one must first recognize this very band nearly never existed. To many, The Juan Maclean is a name not all-to commonly thrown around when discussing some of today’s brightest electronica producers. Surprisingly enough, Maclean has been around the music world for years, 1992 to be exact.
What started out as a formal introduction playing guitar and synthesizers for the Rhode Island, wacky and inventive electro-punk act Six Finger Satellite, a few albums later spiraled into a life caught between the cogs of creativity. While the band was crafting brave new textures that reached an artist amongst artists-type status, life would soon catch up. He would rummage through the perils of artistic expression for a musical mind ahead of his time, diving deeply into drugs. Once the drugs became too big, Maclean’s stay-and eventual demise of-Six Finger Satellite became obsolete.
It was fast approaching the turn of the century and everything was changing. The new millennium lay at the doorstep, and it was time for drastic alterations for Maclean.
“The indie rock scene had really become uninteresting to me,” he says. “Towards the end, for me, it had become as uniform as what was playing on the radio.”
Quitting Six Finger Satellite a month before the release of their final LP, Law of Ruins, he would strive to kick the cocaine and heroin habits that had plagued him in the past. In addition, Maclean would rid himself of most, if not all, of his instruments, move from the craziness of life in New York City and eventually find himself situated at his current residence in New Hampshire. Thereafter, he would receive a degree and begin his tenure as an English, music and art teacher for troubled youths. Life was good. “I certainly enjoyed teaching,” he says.
Maclean was moving back towards a “normal” life. During all the dense fog that lingered during the substance abuse and burn-out, he would also make his way through a divorce. Maybe it was all the personal despair, maybe it was just the right timing that brought him back. Nevertheless, following countless dialogue and CD swaps, two old friends-James Murphy (or LCD Soundsystem) and Tim Goldsworthy finally reignited the inventive inspiration inside Maclean.
Up until that point, Maclean had vowed to never involve himself in music again, even selling off most of the cherished instruments and gadgets he’d acquired over the years. Fortunately for the music world, Maclean’s friends had positive and powerful effects. Together, the three would discuss various forms of electronic music (house, techno and experimentalists like Autechre), compare and contrast, and in 2000, Maclean would begin utilizing samplers and computers again. Through DFA (Death from Above) Records, The Juan Maclean would then begin releasing a series of 12-inch recordings, some of the first singles released by his friends’ label.
“I sat around for a couple years; watched and waited,” says Maclean, referring to all the future-savvy electro acts that he would witness come and go.
By 2005, all the studio time, the resulting 12-inch singles, conversations and experimentations led to the release of Less Than Human. Maclean was then left with the choice: Was it going to be teaching, which he loved, or make a return to music? “There came a point when my album came out that I just had to decide,” Maclean admits. “I had to do one of the other.”
Lucky for music lovers and electronica connoisseurs everywhere, Maclean chose the latter. Music runs too deep in his blood, and what it took to get that blood stirring once again was a little help from friends Murphy and Goldsworthy. With a consistent nudging, encouragement and several pivotal life choices, Maclean returned to an always promising career of making music.
“It’s great. I didn’t plan on any of this happening,” he says with a certain jovial but ultimately modest tone to his voice.
Now in 2006, Maclean has been sober for some time and is producing some of his most impressive music yet. He explains, “A lot of times, I’ll be in a room full of people out of their minds and I’ll be playing music absolutely straight sober.”
The man that was once so disillusioned and downtrodden by personal problems that he had nearly succumb to everything, is now making music that surpasses his innovative work with Six Finger Satellite. The Juan Maclean offers a taste to the future flavors of electronic music. They do what hip hop acts like Little Brother and Strange Fruit Project do for hip hop, both live and in the studio.
It’s hard to compare, is The Juan Maclean better live or in the studio? Either way, it’s a win, win situation.
So what’s the best part the second go around? “I shouldn’t be able to live this way,” Maclean says. “It’s this really personal thing
that I’m getting paid and supporting myself doing this thing I enjoy more than anything in the world.”
Currently, Maclean is performing live with The Juan Maclean and as a solo artist with DJ sets all over North America. Following a DFA (Death From Above) DJ tour that showcased Maclean and friends Murphy and Goldsworthy hitting clubs across Canada, there’s been a stir raised again for the almost mythical music man. Once again, he’s getting a great response for creating his distinctive music that’s again, ahead of his time. With a very well received, hoodie clad mid-afternoon performance at Camp Bisco V (one of the most impressive sets of the weekend) under their belt as well, and the word spreading, Maclean’s return to music has been, well, busy.
“I just got back from a studio in Woodstock, New York,” says Maclean, explaining that he’d been, “doing some basic track recording for next album-which should be coming out in the summer.” I’ve been away DJ’ing a lot, too.”
Business aside, the band has resulted from the trials, tribulations; life and times of John Maclean. His rollercoaster ride through the ups and downs of life as a professional innovator has finally arrived at a point of “envy,” as he would call it. Maclean and crew (tour drummer Jerry Fuchs, Erick Broucek and Nicholas Millhiser) are now producing an eclectic and genre bending music centered on tribal dance floor supernovas. If you haven’t heard it, expect big things. As he himself would put it, The Juan Maclean is a “late night, after-hours, techno jam band.”
Maclean explains, “It’s strange territory with this band now, (we) went through a few people before I arrived at this line-up. We play a second version of the album live. The live songs are pretty different than the album.”
He discusses that dissimilarity of now with his previous work as, “Finger (Six Finger Satellite) was very dead on, meticulously bent on playing songs exactly the way they were laid out,” he explains.
To Maclean, the big difference is music is fun again. With the drugs gone and the desire to push the limits of sound again present, the future remains open to any possibility.
“This is a lot of fun, a lot more improvisation. I’m supporting myself by making and playing music-it’s enviable. It’s a whole new territory for me,” he says. “I can do really different things. This time around I’m interested in having it be more productive and fun.”
Enviable and fun it is. Life and art for John Maclean finally coexist harmoniously. He’s returned to a simple life of making music that gets the dance floors moving with sweat-soaked onlookers. Poised with samplers, lap tops and a series of other modern electronic gadgets; Maclean is back and without a doubt, for quite some time. If you want a feel-good, turn-your-life-around success story of someone who’s made the rise, had the fall and picked themselves back up again, look into John Maclean-a proven success story.
“I feel horrendously lucky. I get paid to make music,” concludes Maclean.