One of a handful of stateside wonders whose work has attracted the attentions of progressively more ears throughout 2007, Deerhunter’s slow and steady rise to a position of under-the-radar prominence culminated domestically with a slot on ATP’s Release The Bats Halloween show at London’s cavernous Forum venue. It all seemed so very far away from the band’s own expectations ahead of the release of their second LP, Cryptograms (review), early this year, and when we caught them at South By Southwest in March.
The band’s latest album is an undulating patchwork of attention-deficit kraut-punk squalls and intoxicating and enveloping sound collages that sweep the listener up in a broad clutch, a giant’s palm, taking them on a journey through their own misfiring synapses; it’s soul-infused and passionate, born from hearts troubled and minds razor-sharp. Its critical success may have surprised its makers, but Cryptograms’ place in the DiS top 50 of the year – click here to cast your vote in our readers poll – is no token gesture to another nation’s underground. It’s a phenomenal album.
The record’s reception, and the band’s signing to Kranky, has enabled the Atlanta natives to tour Europe properly this autumn and winter. Josh Fauver, bassist and vocalist among other mix-and-match roles, is on the phone from the Danish/Swedish border:
“It’s been crazy, and unexpected. Everything’s been great – the shows have been really well attended, surprisingly so. We never thought we’d get as many people coming to the shows, so it’s well beyond what we thought. They’ve been really fun, and we’ve managed to meet loads of new people. We came over last year with Liars, but that was a much shorter trip – Cryptograms hadn’t come out back then.”
Beneath his voice is rustling, mumbling; the rest of the band pushing faces against windows and surveying scenes they never expected to be seeing only twelve months earlier. Said members – vocalist and principal songwriter Bradford Cox (whose solo venture Atlas Sound is beginning to make waves in the right places), drummer Moses Archuleta, keyboardist Lockett Pundt and left-and-returned guitarist Colin Mee (said roles are conveyed at their most basic; each member does more than such descriptions traditionally imply) – have been through enough trials in the recent past to warrant their current riding of a crest spawned by widespread muso adoration for a band bridging the luscious drones of Panda Bear and primeval rock of Liars; that the latter toured with them as support is indicative of their appeal to a particular audience. Open-minded souls seeking substance beyond the regular Pitchfork-hyped offerings – those with promise aplenty but delivery lacking – should form an orderly queue at their local specialist store for a copy of Cryptograms.
We are taking little baby steps with the next record at the moment, so we are making progress with it
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Or, even, its self-titled (sort of: it’s unofficially known as Turn It Up, Faggot, a title conjured by Cox, the band’s lynchpin whose sexual ambiguity is the topic of online debate past) predecessor or the May 2007-released Fluorescent Grey EP, four tracks thought to represent efforts deemed stylistically unsuitable for inclusion on Cryptograms but actually committed to tape in an entirely different session. Their second album, for all its richness, was busted out in just two days at the tail end of 2005; the EP was recorded in the summer of 2006.
“The beginnings of Cryptograms and where it is now are very different places,” says Fauver. “It only took two days to record, but that captured all of our spontaneity. We did have solid ideas when we went in there, for sure, but the reason recording was so brief is because we didn’t have a lot of money. We paid for the record ourselves, and it doesn’t really take us that long anyway to record things. I mean, it could if we wanted it to. We had to travel to the studio, too – it was about an hour and a half away – so we made it a two-day trip and then came home to Atlanta. The mixing and mastering obviously took a lot longer than the recording. Well, actually, it might have only been a week… I don’t really remember.”
Do you think, considering the success of Cryptograms, you’ll be able to spend more time in the studio for your third album?
“I think we can afford to spend more time in the studio now, but I’m not sure if we would because that’s not the way we work generally – we work really quickly, in intense spurts. But we are taking little baby steps with the next record at the moment, so we are making progress with it. There are versions of songs that have made it onto the internet already – right now we are playing two new songs on tour that we think will end up on the record. So I think there are some live versions and some sketches, if you like, knocking around. The final versions will definitely mutate into something different, though.”
Video: 'Lake Somerset'
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The band’s third album has a working title of Microcastle; while tracks for the Cryptograms follow-up are in a work-in-progress stage, as Fauver says above, new material is available soon on a compilation via Rare Book Room Records. Of course, there’s also Atlas Sound to factor into the equation – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel, Cox’s debut album in said guise, is out via Kranky early next year. It all adds up to some wait for the third album, so it’s fortunate that so few are yet to uncover the band’s debut, fraught though it is with the emotions of a band going through a series of dramatic ups and downs.
Cox has stated elsewhere that the debut was “the result of a lot of negativity”. Recording for the album, in the summer of 2004, came not long after the passing of original bass player Justin Bosworth the same year, whose death from head injuries following a skateboard accident saw Turn It Up, Faggot dedicated to a musician who played a key part in Deerhunter’s early years and who performed on their first-ever release, a 300-copy split with Alphabets. Coupled with Cox’s well-documented health problems – recording sessions following a series of decently received dates with Lightning Bolt were scrapped by the suffering vocalist – the tragedy led to rather muted expectations for what turned out to be Cryptograms, as Fauver – previously involved with Atlanta noise-churners Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – recalls.
“The first album was locally made and produced, and we thought the same fate would await Cryptograms as well, but it… didn’t! We decided to send it off to some labels to see if anyone would be interested, and lo and behold Kranky were, so… And they have a UK base with Southern, so that’s cool. We have more support on this side of the Atlantic now – last time, if we’d have not had Liars with us, I imagine it would have been something of a nightmare financially. This time it’s a little bit more comfortable, and having a UK base has enabled us to stay out here longer. It’s super nice.”
And have you found the promotion of the record smoother than the dramatic period that preceded the first album’s release?
“I think a lot of the promotional aspects have been out of our hands rather, as a lot of stuff that’s been reported doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with our music. Some things we have done has brought us some exposure, but it’s not particularly good exposure all of the time. Some of it is fucking miserable, and irritating, and really obnoxious, but there’s no controlling that. Maybe it can be beneficial too, but it’s hard for us to have perspective ‘cause we’re just like, “Man, that’s so irritating”. When you’re getting smacked around a bit about stuff that’s nothing to do with music. But there are things we’ve done where we didn’t realise anyone was watching, and then it’s on Pitchfork or something. There was a joke for a while that we could take a shit, literally, and Pitchfork would write about it.”
I don’t think for us the success feels overnight – it’s been a slow and steady movement upwards
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To explain: American webzine Pitchfork had/has so much of a hard-on for Deerhunter – it’s okay, our US peers, we understand – that they reported on comments made by Cox in Deerhunter’s MySpace blog. Porn, excrement, underage boys: things were put in virtual print that, perhaps with the luxury of hindsight, shouldn’t have been. Although it clearly infuriated the band that they were not being covered because of their music, the controversy that sprang up in a rather over-the-top fashion following the Pitchfork news ensured the band’s name was in the public eye for far longer than could have been anticipated by them, or by Kranky. Plus, Pitchfork’s adoration for Cryptograms (it scored 8.9) was so great that any negativity could be balanced by the positive feedback the site was affording Deerhunter with.
“I guess it does balance out a bit, yeah,” says Fauver. Ten minutes into our conversation it’s clear he’d rather not be going down the road now opening before interviewer and interviewee. A diversion: Cryptograms is one of DiS’s albums of the year.
“Oh wow, thanks. I think, for us, the album didn’t take a long time to make, but there was this long period between its recording and its release. So we thought it was kinda dead in the water, so far as it going anywhere was concerned. I don’t think for us the success feels overnight – it’s been a slow and steady movement upwards. I’ve noticed the same thing happening with No Age right now – that slow building of profile. Black Lips too, absolutely. But that’s nice, I like the UK, so that’s cool.”
Catch the band’s own brand of out-there cool for yourself when they return to the UK next year for All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Vs Pitchfork event in May; details.