“I thought I'd do everything on 4-track, and then I'll record every instrument myself in a studio, and then I'll have a solo album released by spring.” Kim Deal
Though such aspirations from the Breeders and Pixies anchor never materialised as a bona-fide solo venture (those demos eventually ending up on The Amps’ 1995 debut Pacer), it’s as if Bradford Cox was holding on to every word uttered from his teenage idol as, over a decade on, he decides to go it alone for a while as Atlas Sound. Away from his usual oikish pursuits with his Atlantan outfit Deerhunter, Cox has compiled the catalogue of solo material that has built up, prolifically churning out demo material posted up on his notorious blogspot for all to see and hear.
And from that well of works Cox has pieced together Let The Blind Lead Those That Can See But Cannot Feel as his debut solo foray, a record reminiscent of the subtle miserablism of Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up and the comatose melancholy of Lou Reed’s Berlin, with tales of bleak adolescent troubles.
Having kept Cox up until 5am a few days before after failing to be notified when the interview actually was, it seemed reasonable enough to expect a frosty reception. Yet, over the hour we spoke, Cox was more than happy to take the time out of his regular day - mainly thrift store perusal and playing Tetris - to speak to us before he and his makeshift cohort embark on a brief US jaunt.
*You’ve got the tour starting next month, but presumably right now is a spot of downtime. Is this time to yourself a time you enjoy? *
Oh no. I don’t like downtime because it makes you feel useless. This is my job now and I never was one to particularly enjoy laying out of work. Everyone told me that I needed a break but I feel right spacey not knowing what to do. That and I’m really anticipating the upcoming tour.
You’re working with Adam (Forker) from White Rainbow and Brian (Foote, from Kranky) and few other interesting characters. How did that all come about?
I originally knew that I wanted to have Brian involved because he helped figure out how to produce [the record], coaching me and helping me out in the middle of the day with the production and could handle playing the parts off the computer. Originally I was going to have a computer onstage, which was odd because I’m not a fan of computer music and I never want a laptop on stage as there are certain textures that you can only create with the instrument, but I can’t afford a harp or marimba so I’ve got to use samplers.
Essentially it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a piece of cardboard with two drumsticks or a seven-million dollar Russian synthesizer.
Lately I’ve been thinking about going back to record on my 4-track. Listening to all Deerhunter’s Fluorescent Grey demos that I’ve just released on the blog, all those were done on a 4-track and I feel I was more experimental, using more organic techniques of making sounds.
I understand that on certain tracks with the Atlas Sound record you would have rather have collected up the demos rather than re-recording, because they were a little more raw, a little more...
…Rock. And, yeah, just possessed a little more life in them. One of my favourite records when I was at high-school was PJ Harvey’s 4-Track Demos. I always thought that it was so cool that Island, this major label, released that. It was such a weird CD and lo-fi was the trend for a while when I was growing up, with Pavement a real influence on me and my aspirations to make lo-fi music. Fuck…
…and now of course you cannot put out a record like that because kids want to hear this ultra-compressed garbage like Fall Out Boy, or some shit.
*The record comes out at the end of February, one of the aspects to the way you’ve recently come to distribute material has been immediate, over the blog. Is it a difficult time to wait out? *
No, because all the kids have already downloaded it.
To be honest, that’s just the way things are now and it would be hypocritical for me to criticise. Even the record industry people who complain about it are all downloading music for free.
But do you not think there is something of the spoilt brat – both of us included – to the way the people go about music now?
Yes, I do think that but what I’m glad about is the fact that if we can’t help but be spoilt brats, everyone is a spoilt brat.
Spoilt brats together?
Yeah. It’s better than having some elitist level. When I was 16 I worked at Wendy’s to buy CDs but that’s just not the way it works anymore, and no-one knows what to do about it. I mean I literally spent all my money on CDs and now I don’t and I don’t think kids do either. It’s not like you’re going to dismantle the internet and make it go away. You can close down blogs and remove links but it’ll just pop up elsewhere. I think it’s most important to find a way to make sure that the music doesn’t suffer.
Do you think it might be good thing in shaking up the industry?
I don’t think it’s good or bad. I do feel bad that it’s not as simple for artists and record labels to make a living now. And like I said, I remember working at Wendy’s or delivering Chinese food and all these little shit jobs I worked, and every Friday night I would go and spend that money on hundreds of CDs. And all the bands that I bought the CDs of got way bigger royalty checks than I’ll ever get because if I was a 16-year-old kid and Deerhunter was around I definitely would have bought the CDs, whereas now I would download it. The only reason to buy CDs now is if you are a packaging whore. But a load more kids listen to Deerhunter now that they can download our music that if we had been around ‘before’. I think acts need to give people a reason to buy a CD and make it special. I don’t know how it will work itself out
Do you feel artists should be expected to find more engaging ways to get their audience excited about a record?**
It’s not really fair for me to say but there’s some people who really don’t give a shit how their music is marketed and just want to make songs. It’s all just a game and, though I don’t really know what I’m doing with this blog, I’d really rather that material was given away for free than spend ages figuring out how to sell it.
There is a distinct focus on childhood throughout the record though, whether nostalgic or otherwise. ‘On Guard’ even sounds like a children’s music box […]
[…] like a lullaby. I think that was the intention. I think it’s a boy’s record. It’s a young boy’s record and documents the transition from childhood to adolescence and a losing of innocence. I think I still have the mentality of a boy and suffer from ADHD pretty bad and still play with toys – they’re just guitars and effects pedals now. Benzodiazepine probably helps.
Was it a conscience decision to focus on the period of growing up?
I don’t really know. Part of the deal you should know is that I tend not to have many particular motives other than to just make tracks. It’s afterwards that I can piece together what it all stands for. I think if I’m too conscious of what I am doing I steer the car way too hard. With Deerhunter in the past I think I’ve come across so badly and after watching videos of our performances I just feel that if I was a member of the audience I would just have to say ‘shut up skinny man, calm the fuck down, stop trying so hard’. And that’s the way it turns out if I try to steer things too much.
With this record, as opposed to previous Deerhunter records, the lyrics are printed on the inlay. Rather than be ambiguous you’ve also come out and posted explanations of what each track details (here). Was this a conscious decision to open up and reveal a bit more?
Yeah, it was. I just know that people can misinterpret things. Sometimes I feel really concerned about those things and sometimes I couldn’t care less but I thought it best just to knock it out in one. Pavement used to do that whenever a record came out and Malkmus would write a hilarious song-by-song guide to the album.
But do you feel that this was a conscious decision to demystify the record, avoid any crypticism?
Yeah, in a way... I’m not really sure. I don’t think things through too much before I do them and in the same way I don’t try to create a big amount of cryptic mysteriousness.
I don’t know what I think. Take Beach Boys: When they made Surf’s Up - and that’s a deep arse fucking record - they made this really abstract record with cryptic lyrics and it’s like “what has happened to little Brian Wilson? Did his girlfriend leave him” and it’s natural to want to know the personal events that brought on.
**There are many aspects to Let The Blind… that are also reminiscent of Lou Reed’s Berlin if not just in that the music does not necessarily replicate the melancholy [...]
It’s similar in experience I guess, but I don’t consider myself profound. It was written during a very down time. I think I was trying to cheer myself up a little and I think some of the saddest songs – like Velvet Underground’s ‘I Found A Reason’ – are the most miserable even though the tune itself is not particularly downbeat.
**With the Atlas Sound record – and ‘River Card’ is great example – where you’ve used really traditional methods of songwriting […]
I went through a big influence of the Arcade Fire. I’d been listening to the last record a lot.
That surprises me because you don’t use a similar sense on melodrama […]
Oh no, I’m not into that. That’s the aspect I don’t like to Arcade Fire and never have liked the (makes peculiar Win Butler wail) which is odd because I was really into Echo and The Bunnymen. But then they annoyed the shit out of me and I still loved it, I don’t know why. I wouldn’t want them any other way (sings some of _‘You Promise’). But it works in the context of the music and makes it seem really urgent when the song itself _(‘You Promise’_ still)_ is just this droning drudge.
Would you say many of the moves made with this record were conscious decisions to move away from the work you’d done with Deerhunter?
I don’t even hate it as much as I previously have said I did. I go back and listen to it and think it’s alright but I just don’t think it sounds right and the recording was neither hi-fi or lo-fi, it was just weak and middling.
I don’t really like abrasive music right now. When we did the first Deerhunter album I was a lot inspired by angular records and a lot more into things like The Birthday Party. And now, I’m not there at all.
Is that indicative of you feeling less reactionary than previously?
Definitely, I think I’m a lot less reactionary.
Because when you arrived on the scene the dresses and the confrontational approach you took. Does it all seem quite distant now?
Very distant. A kid made a video for Atlas Sound and I didn’t realise he was making it and he sent me this email and I’ve never been into looking into press for Deerhunter but I ended up on YouTube clicking through all these old clips of performances and I’m almost embarrassed by my old stage style. What was I trying to prove? At that point I thought I was just trying to be myself and maybe I’ve just grown up a little. It may only be like a year but it seems like ten or something.
Do you feel Atlas Sound has more worth because of it being a solo recording?
Oh, I don’t think that’s up to me to determine. I think that’s up to whoever is interested in listening to the music to decide. You can never judge the worth of your own work.
I made that mistake with the first Deerhunter record and said how worthless it was when there were some kids writing to me, upset with me, asking why I am saying that and that the album is awesome and I felt kind of weirded-out that their favourite album is one that I am sat there dismissing. And it’s happened myself with bands I really liked and since Deerhunter started travelling and doing all these shows, meeting loads of bands that I’ve always looked up to in the past and will be sitting backstage with them having awkward small talk and mention how I like a certain album of theirs and they’ll say “that’s the worst thing I ever did, I hate that record”, and I’m just like “well, fuck you arsehole”. Take a compliment. But I’ve done the same saying how Turn It Up Faggot blows.
Each record has been in tribute to specific people. This one is dedicated to Lockett. Presumably his influence was as great as ever?
(Apprehensively) Yeah. It’s something I don’t really feel I can discuss at this point. Y’know? When I made the record and did the artwork that was how I felt at the time, but things have kind of changed a bit. But everybody asks about it so it’s a bit awkward.
**Okay, some easier questions: how are you dealing with the US mortgage crisis?
I just stay out on the road as much as possible and avoid buying houses. My rent’s pretty cheap. The mortgage crisis helps because they could not sell this house if they wanted to and it’s a historical neighbourhood so they can’t just bulldoze me down.
What are your plans beyond the tour?
Well, I’m always writing songs and I want the Deerhunter record to come out before the fall of this year, so we’re going to work on that.
But as such a prolific artist presumably this isn’t a standalone Atlas Sound release?
I’m going to make Atlas Sound records until I’m old, ‘til I’m like Robert Wyatt’s age and hopefully they’ll change and maybe write a country record...
As conversation curtails, mainly about his obsession with ‘Britishness’, the forthcoming Breeders and Times New Viking records and Karen O’s recent infatuation with The Mighty Boosh, discussion surrounding the record grinds to a halt..
Let The Blind Lead Those That Can See But Cannot Feel is released on Kranky on February 28. Atlas Sound can be found on MySpace HERE.