Winning a Grammy changed a lot of things for André Allen Anjos, not the least of which being that it finally gave his parents something they could brag to their friends about.
"The notoriety of that name means a lot, especially in non-music circles," says the 32-year-old Portugal-born, Portland-based electronic musician, who took home a golden gramophone in February for his moody remix of Bob Moses' "Tearing Me Up." "You can talk to friends and family and say, 'Pitchfork picked up my new single,' but they don't care. You say you won a Grammy, that's very different. It's something my parents' friends get now, like, 'OK, it's not just a little hobby he has.'"
In fairness to his parents' friends, until recently, Anjos' career did not appear drastically different from someone presiding over a particularly active Etsy store.
While attending college in Greenville, Ill., in 2007, he started the Remix Artist Collective out of his bedroom, recruiting other producers he met online with the idea of creating, in essence, a remix-for-hire business. By the time he moved to Portland two years later, he'd shed the other members, adopted the group's acronym, RAC, as a solo moniker and earned a burgeoning reputation for not so much remixing songs as fully reinventing them.
But even then, his success was mostly defined by the abstract terms of the internet, measured in Soundcloud plays, Hype Machine rankings and Stereogum exclusives. When he won the Grammy for Best Remixed Recording this year—his second nomination in the category—it didn't just give Anjos an accolade he could show off to his family. It brought him the kind of legitimacy that opens doors blog hype can't.
But proving your worth as a remixer is one thing. Convincing the world you can write your own music is quite another.
In July, Anjos released Ego, his second album of all-original material. And while he's taken on huge projects before, remixing the likes of U2 and Lady Gaga and helping produce the last Linkin Park record, he knows the bar for failure is much lower when your name is on the cover rather than in the credits.
"The truth is, if a remix is bad, it just disappears. It's not career-shattering," he says. "Whereas if you put out a bad album, your career can be over."
Considering he got to make another one, Anjos' first album, 2014's Strangers, should probably count as a success. Talking about it now, though, Anjos admits he went in with little conception of what an RAC album should sound like.
"When I think back on that time, I really have no idea what I was going for," he says. "I was just trying stuff and letting songs come out naturally. Which worked out, but there wasn't a clear vision."
It turned out to be a fun, candy-coated electro-pop record. But in form and function, Strangers didn't stray terribly far from that of his remixes. While theoretically a collaborative effort, with various artists, including Yacht, Tegan and Sara and Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, lending their voices to his arrangements, much of the work was done over email—a process Anjos describes as "purely transactional." In fact, he still hasn't met some of the contributors in person.
To make the next album, Anjos knew he had to get out of his comfort zone. Specifically, he had to leave his studio.
"I knew that I wanted to make something bigger and more emotional and more connected to the kind of music I really like," he says. "With this new album, it was a lot more of me going to work with these other artists in their space, in their studios, and writing the songs in person. I think that is noticeable in the songwriting, at least for me."
Indeed, Ego feels like RAC's first true statement of purpose. As the title implies, the album is "an exploration of self," as Anjos puts it, but it is hardly an exercise in navel-gazing. Like its predecessor, it features a bevy of guest vocalists, many drawn from the indie-pop world. But this time, instead of simply sending them a demo to sing over, Anjos met with his collaborators face-to-face, and allowed their conversations to shape the finished product.
He spent two days with ex-Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij, himself an in-demand producer, and their creative push-and-pull resulted in buoyant highlight "This Song." He got to live out his teenage alt-rock fantasies, writing "I Still Wanna Know" with Rivers Cuomo, who Anjos talked into contributing not just his signature yearning vocals but a very Weezerish guitar solo as well.
Sequenced like a dance mix, with a continual pulse throughout, the mood is uniformly upbeat, bursting with sticky melodies, bright synths and big choruses. But as with his remixes, Anjos isn't interested in making typical club bangers, and songs like "Heartbreak Summer" and "No One Has To Know" slip enough melancholy under the surface to ensure that any euphoria derived from them is hard-won.
After years of servicing the vision of other artists, with Ego, Anjos thinks he's gotten closer to figuring out exactly what it is he wants to say himself. But he admits the process is still ongoing—a fact he embraces.
"I think I'll be doing this for a long time," he says.
SEE IT: RAC plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with NVDES, on Saturday, Sept. 16. 8 pm. $23 advance, $25 day of show. All ages.