It may be noted that of-late, the writers at DiS have developed somewhat of a passion for Baltimore’s Dan Deacon. This gradual seduction has been induced by two factors; Firstly, Deacon’s latest LP, Spiderman of the Rings positively glistens with sherbet-coated pop moments like The Crystal Cat. Secondly, the man’s live shows FUCKING RULE. No time for ornamental wordplay, THEY JUST RULE.
On the evening of the 25th August, I was lucky enough to spend an hour with Mr. Deacon in the loft of Shoreditch’s trendy Macbeth bar to discuss the dirt-track road to his break-through LP and his forthcoming ‘bid for freedom’ in its follow-up.
Dan, your live performances are genuinely exciting, you are the consummate showman. Who initially inspired you as a great performer?
When I first started thinking about performance it was mainly theatre or stand-up comedy. Music was something I did as a hobby but I never thought I’d pursue it, so I guess Steve Martin, John Candy and early Saturday Night Live. Then I suppose this ska band, The Aquabats. Musically I’m not really interested in them any more but they had their stage show, it was clearly more important to them than anything else, it was a performance and it was unlike seeing any other band. Then I saw Arab on Radar in college and they sort of blew me away…
I've heard you’ve done over 300 shows in the past 2 years…
How are international audiences responding to your show, have you found different responses in different countries?
Yeah definitely, not even in different countries, I guess it’s similar to the States; some places have small city cultures. Dublin was just insane, the people there were going totally nuts. It’s been very different from show to show… I guess the only show where people just stood there and watched and didn’t really react until the end was the second London show opening for Gang Gang Dance. I think the Gang Gang Dance crowd were sorta like beard scratching “hmmm”ers.
And what happened in Dublin?
It was really fucking crazy. There were a bunch of people and I had no idea. Normally when I think its going to be crazy I’ll set up with the table pressed against the stage with my back to the majority of the crowd so I can guard the gear. I thought people would be casually dancing or just standing there but it was a war! The table got pushed all the way back against the stage while I was playing with me pinned behind it. More and more people kept piling in and there were people all throughout the stage and the balcony. It was just a really cool feeling… I played for an hour and 15 minutes that night…Every time I tried to stop, the crowd were like “Fuck you! More! I’ll kill you!” I never want to play too long though, I never want to play to the point where they’re like "Ok, that’s good, thank you!”.
I want to ask about electronic music in performance. Obviously a lot of the stuff you play live is pre-recorded. How do you feel about people questioning the authenticity of this type of performance?
I don’t know, I try to make the performances as intense and unique as possible considering that the backing band is pre-recorded. So many bands just run through the same set night after night, same set list, same banter in-between songs, I don’t really see the difference, especially if I’m just one guy, I mean what the fuck do they want me to do, have a machine with ropes and levers and stuff?!
Would you consider adding musicians?
Oh yeah I mean, the DVD that’s coming out in the winter is three pieces with electronics and two percussionists. I’m working on another larger ensemble with electronics and then ultimately it will go to an ensemble playing live electronics and live instruments. The pre-recorded stuff is mainly just for necessity reasons.
I want to ask about your floor set up, Have you always played in the middle of the floor?
When I first started I was mainly playing warehouses and house parties that didn’t have stages so I got used to playing with people all crammed up around me and then when I’d go and play a proper club or a bar that had a stage and I’d set up on the stage it would just be a totally different feeling and it took a lot longer to get the audience involved, so I just made it a rule to always play in the audience…
'Silence Like The Wind Overtakes Me' at Cargo, London; 8th October 2007
And what happens when Dan Deacon turns into the next Prince and has 21 nights booked at the O2?!
Well, I am developing a new set. A lot of the places I’m playing in the States now are 1000 or 1500 capacity and people just can’t see anything. I think that performance isn’t about seeing, it’s about being part of just one visceral beast that’s the audience, but I guess if a lot of squares turn out… I can see where they’re coming from…The first time I saw Lightning Bolt, I saw them setting up during the band before and I was like “Oh, what’s going on?” And I just kind of stayed there and I was upfront for it and I was like “Oh, this rules!” I appreciated that they played on the floor… When you cant see what’s going on it forces you to become more proactive than just sitting there and watching the band, if you want to enjoy it and you want to get upfront then you have to get upfront and either dance your way up there or by whatever means necessary. I don’t want to start playing on the stage but I do think it might make sense to be elevated slightly so people can see what’s going on.
Like a kind of podium?
Sort of, that’s the plan. I want to build something that will hold my gear when I’m travelling and when I’m performing it will be my own personal 2ft stage that I can stand on. The audience will still be around and everyone will see what’s going on. Sort of like how an insane person would stand on a street corner talking about the end of the world on a little box…
How have you approached translating the energy of your live show into recordings?
It’s definitely two separate worlds. I find it hard sometimes to translate what I do in the studio into the live show, especially with a lot of the newer stuff that’s generally longer in form with more large crescendo based pieces and putting layer on top of layer on top of layer on top of layer. Sometimes they start soft whilst most of Spiderman of the Rings is like “BOOM!” as soon as the song starts. It will be interesting to see how people react to the new album, I think it’s just as heavy but the songs are more ornate and composed rather than being in the pop song format… They are a bunch of pop songs though, so I don’t know what the fuck i’m talking about.
I read that the new album is to be accompanied by scored musical notation in the sleeve with the intention of performing with a different musician in every city you play…
Yeah, I’ll try to.
How much space do you hope to allow for interpretation within that?
Well a lot of it will be very strictly composed and not open to a lot of interpretation but certain sections will be. It’s a mixture of traditional notation, graphical notation and text based notation, so depending on the piece and the particular section it may be very rigid and it may not.
It’s interesting because your live performance is in part so interactive, You’re physically part of the audience but at the same time definitely very much in control of all the music and heavily orchestrating everyone’s movements around you. Do you feel like you’d like to…
Be a bit more free? Yeah very much so, which is why I want to start drifting in the direction of notation. Hopefully with the follow-up to Spiderman…, people will see the process by which it was made and then the album after that is gonna be pretty much for just electronics and choir and then the album after that will hopefully just be for choir.
And how are you feeling about Spiderman…’s follow-up?
I really like it! I’ve been trying to work on it on the road. All the music is written but the lyrics aren’t finalised so whenever I’m at the train station or the airport I’ve been listening to the instrumental tracks and trying to tweak it and decide the exact order of the tracks as well as cutting tracks. I’m really excited about it, I think its going to be good.
What sets it apart from its predecessor?
It’s a more mature album than Spiderman…, it’s not as whimsical or what the press would call ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’; which drives me fucking crazy. I’m sure this album will also be considered wacky and zany though. There’s a track where the beat is dogs barking so…
I’ve been reading some blogs on you and whilst some people are like “Dan Deacon is the fucking man!”…
Some people hate me!
I did read one genocide comment… How do you feel about that? Do you think it’s important for music to divide?
I would agree that most art that I respect polarises. I just wish people wouldn’t talk about actually killing me! The thing that I can’t understand is just how based in hate some of those comments are, I’m just some dude making music, they downloaded the album, just delete it, I don’t give a shit…
What other cultural reference points inform your music?
When it comes to films and film scoring I really like Philip Glass as a film scorer, Koyaanisqatsi is totally awesome. I don’t really like the metaphorical narrative but as images and sound it’s just awesome as fuck. Apart from that, the Warner Brothers cartoons were very influential.
They’re just fucking crazy! The most insane dickheads fucking with each other as hard as they can, non-stop, always! It’s so awesome! Me and my friends and the rest of Wham City were majorly influenced by cartoons in that way. The people you love and respect the most, you will fuck with them at all ends and all costs. I also read a lot of comic books when I was a kid, mainly Spiderman, that’s why I named the album Spiderman of the Rings. I don’t know… I’m influenced by cool things, wicked dogs, really big oversized hats, hamburger hats, hamburger suits, hamburger hands. Those are my biggest influences, hamburger hands.
So it runs hamburger hands, Philip Glass…
'Wham City (Part One)' at Che Café, San Diego; 16th June 2007
Although your lyrics can be abstract and even absurd, I was wondering whether there’s a political motivation behind any of them...
Just in Wham City. The vocoder section is very apocalyptic, it talks about the disappearance of humans from the earth by our own means, about beasts and bees talking over the world again. The new album will have a lot about that, talking about how I think the population is getting too large, we’re doing ourselves in…I want it to happen, I think it will be good. I think the new age, which I guess supposedly isn’t going to start until 2012… do you know what I’m talking about??
2012 is supposed to be the year that the long calendar ends and we go into the next age. A lot of people look at it in a negative way but I feel like it will be positive. Even if we go into a massive nuclear winter and humans are eradicated I think that would be better for every other thing on the earth…
So everything else can chill the fuck out?!
Yeah! They can be like “Oh cool the dickheads left the party! Alright! Put the music back on!” I think that’s kind of what the human race has become. We’re the guy that’s like; “Oh you’re having a party?! Cool I’ll bring some beer, I’ll bring some friends, is that cool??” and everything’s like; “Yeah that’s cool man, that’s alright yeah…” and they don’t know how to kick us out. I think weather is the friend of the guy throwing the party that’s like “We gotta get these guys outta here…” and luckily we’re fucking with weather so weather will fuck with us and hopefully drive us to a point where we... I don’t want to say completely disappear, but I think if we just went back to a very very small population, with small tribes or sects of people…
Ok, Back to 2007. Who would you cite as producing cutting edge, contemporary music right now?
I really like Santa Dads from Baltimore, they’re really weird, nothing like I sound. There’s this band from New York called Parts and Labor that I really like, BIG A little a are from Brooklyn and I think they’re awesome. Health from LA, Gay Beast from Minneapolis are really good, Lucky Dragons from LA are also really good. They’re all really cool bands, Dirty Projectors too, this band Ponytail from Baltimore, are awesome.
And what do you think of Baltimore’s biggest export Animal Collective?
I think they’re cool, I don’t know their music that well and every time I hear them I’m like “Oh this is cool, who’s this?” and someone’s like “It’s Animal Collective you idiot! What’s wrong with you?!” Yeah, I think it’s a very good album; I like how it’s both accessible and interesting. I just wish they didn’t affiliate themselves with a scene that they left. They grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore. None of them live in Baltimore, none of them have lived in Baltimore for years and years and they made their name in Brooklyn so it sort of confuses me as to how they’re Baltimore based. I moved to Baltimore and made a name for myself in Baltimore and that’s why I consider myself a Baltimore artist not a New York artist, you know what I mean? Maybe they’ll be fucking pissed if they ever read that I’m saying this but they’re not a part of the Baltimore scene and I don’t feel any sort of affiliation to them….
Aren’t you planning to resurrect Wham City?
We’re trying, but it’s just difficult. Every cool space has been brought up by bullshit lofts and condo places or the owners will rent them but for an insane amount of money that no-one can pay. It’s annoying as fucking piss. We got too well known for our own good, our shows drew too many people to accommodate so we can’t have the shows…
I heard you were pulling 400 people into your apartments and the landlord kicked you out…
Yeah. Hopefully we’ll get a new space...I feel like a dick for saying that stuff about Animal Collective... But it’s true, I’m not lying.
I’m going to incite a Dan Deacon vs. Panda Bear death match…
Yeah! Fuck those guys! And while I’m at it, Black Dice, all those bands, you’re nothing! Just kidding, please note, I mean obviously… You know I’m kidding??…God I’m ruining my career…
Dan Deacon’s Spiderman of the Rings LP and The Crystal Cat 7” are out now on Carpark Records.