Interview: Dan Deacon

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Image courtesy of Pitchfork Media
Image courtesy of Big Hassle
Image courtesy of Big Hassle

Dan Deacon talks about armchairs having sex and TMNT

Dan Deacon is one of music’s most unpredictable forces. Equally likely to release a concept album as he is to write a concerto, or create a web show, he operates in a place that only Dan Deacon can really only ever understand. Indie is Not a Genre sat down with Dan to try and gain a little insight into his operation.

(Evan Almeida): Gliss Riffer was released roughly three years after America

(Dan Deacon): Exactly two and a half!

(EA): Exactly two and a half? Oh, I really need to get better at math.

(DD): Yeah, everyone keeps saying three years, because – if you look at the numbers – it makes sense for three, but yeah it’s actually two and a half.

(EA): Ah, that is now noted! So, as an artist that typically releases music fairly quickly, what prompted this longer wait for a new album?

(DD): Well, I kind of think that they’ve always taken this long, I spent two years and two months on Bromst, admittedly America did take a while, but I think the real reason for the gap is that I do a lot of things besides touring and making albums. I do a lot of stuff in the classical music world too.

(EA): I thought it was interesting to look at your discography, because you see that you had three LP’s in 2003, three in 2004 and five between 2006-2009, finishing with Bromst. Then all of a sudden there’s a gap before America.

(DD): Well back in those days I was in college and I wouldn’t tour at all. Then, when I started adding 100-200 live shows a year, the time crunch just made it impossible to produce the same amount of output.

(EA): So moving on to a very vital subject matter, which member of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the most like you?

(DD): Donatello!

(EA): See, I had guessed that, I even have it in my notes, but I wasn’t quite sure until you said it.

(DD): Well, I really like systems and I feel tha… oh no, sorry, I meant Leonardo! I can’t believe that I just did that, or maybe that was just my true nature coming through to tell me that I’m more like Donatello. However I was always a bigger fan of Leo, I like blue, I like swords, and I like that Leonardo is aware that he is on a team. Mikey and Raphael always seemed sort of selfish to me, it was always “about them.” Leo was the team player. Do you know what I mean?

(EA): Yeah, which is why I had personally had you pegged for a Donatello, just helping the entire team from the background, quietly coming up with creative solutions to the problems that the Foot clan posed.

(DD): Well, in fairness I do feel like Leonardo occupies a very similar space as Don.

(EA): I suppose that’s true, considering that Don is second-in-command, but I always viewed it more as the difference between having the Don’s freedom to innovate and taking up the burden of leadership like Leo, and being responsible for the safety and actions of his teammates.

(DD): Well ultimately that role has to go to Master Splinter, Leo is the guy that binds his team together and assists them in utilizing their strengths to the best of their abilities, which is why I feel like I’m like him. When you’re composing something, you don’t want to forget about a section and give them nothing to do, or, you know… shit like that.

Image courtesy of ComicVine
Image courtesy of ComicVine

(EA): Well argued! Do you feel as though your contemporary classical composition history has a marked influence over how you write pop music?

(DD): Of course!

(DD) and (EA): 

(EA): Okay, cool!

(DD): Ha! I think that having an broader knowledge of any subject matter is always a boon, like if I spoke several languages it would impact the way that I wrote lyrics. Once you know something, it’s very difficult to un-know it, that information just becomes a part of you and infiltrates all aspects of your life.

(EA): Gliss Riffer has a very heavy instrumental sound which often overpowers a distorted vocal track. However your lyricism is both understated and quietly brilliant – creative, witty, and referential – why are your vocals so understated in your recording? Do you feel that your quirky funnier lyrics are a treat to the astute listener – like being able to catch a  reference to the 1991 music video for “Into the Great Wide Open?

(DD): Oh, I don’t see the lyrics that way at all. I mean, I see exactly why someone would think that … although, I’ve never thought of them like that. I just saw it as my voice in my songs. It’s very flattering though.

(EA): What was the inspiration for your deeply surreal “Feel the Lightning” video? I have watched it probably two dozen times, and I still can only take ‘strangely hypnotic anthropomorphic armchairs fucking’ away from the video. What was the idea behind … you know, chair fucking?

(DD): The video idea came from the director, Andrew Jeffrey Wright, who thought of a couple different treatments. While I loved them both, my only real artistic input on the video was just the idea of consolidating both of his ideas into one.

(EA): In a recent performance that you gave for the NPR series “Tiny Desk Concerts” you asked the listeners to close their eyes and imagine themselves as “the Martin Lawrence character from Bad Boys II”. Would you be willing to clarify as to whether Gliss Riffer is actually a concept album about Detective Marcus Burnett?

(DD): Uh no, but it is about that sort of shift in consciousness that I was trying to get.

(EA): Oh, I’m very strangely disappointed now.

(DD): That’s the beauty of interpretation though, it can still be that for you.

(EA): Well, art is what you take out of it. I once read a quote, which I can no longer find … accuracy be damned I suppose, that compared you to The Grateful Dead – in the sense that your live shows are wild, unpredictable, and dynamic. Do you agree with that assessment of your performances?

(DD): I don’t know, I’ve never really gotten into the work of the Grateful Dead, but that might make sense for someone who knows more about them. However they are certainly known for their live shows, so I’ll take that comparison any day of the week.

(EA): I think the gist was that when you would go to a Grateful Dead show you were never entirely sure on what might happen at the performance, and it sounds like people feel a similar way about a ‘Dan Deacon show’.

(DD): That just sounds wonderful to me.

(EA): After having been in the music business for over ten years, do you feel successful? When was the last time that you felt like a failure?

(DD): Well … I mean, sure! Yeah. Way back then, I had never thought that anything like this would ever happen, but it’s been a part of my life for so long, and I’m still in love with it. I’m content just knowing that people are taking the time to listen to the music, and we’re talking about it right now, and that’s so surreal.

(EA): Well, conversely, when was the last time that you thought that you were going to be a failure in this industry? How did you work through that feeling?

(DD): I feel like every artist that is working on something big and personal is going to feel that way. You have to be both your harshest critic and your biggest supporter at all times, you can never fall into a routine, or system. You really just have to ensure that you’re constantly pushing yourself to your limits, but not try to overshoot your limits. Now where your limitations are or you will miss your mark.

(EA): After the Gliss Riffer tour, do you plan on making another Dan Deacon album, or pursuing other interests?

(DD): I’m really just focusing on trying to record some more of my own stuff, but I do have a couple classical pieces that I have been experimenting with percussion with and I would love to get those out into the world. However, time is scarcest of all resources in my life, so hopefully I can make time to do that. I hope to make it a reality soon.

Dan Deacon is currently on tour promoting Gliss Riffer. 

Evan Almeida

Evan Almeida is a music journalist, based out of Madison, Wisconsin. In the past he has written for PolicyMic, where he interviewed performers, such as: Atlas Genius, Courtney Barnett, Bastille, Fitz & the Tantrums, and more.

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