From Iceland — Talking Out Of Phones

Talking Out Of Phones

Published October 17, 2010

Rex Beckett

Dan Deacon is best known for two things: a profanity laden viral video and bleep-bloopy dance music that hipsters really, really love. The Baltimore resident is actually a conservatory trained musician with a degree in electro-acoustic and computer music composition who can bust out all kinds of fancy terms typically reserved for musicology dissertations. After two highly successful indie charted albums that were declared ‘Best New Music’ by Pitchfork (‘Spiderman Of The Rings’ and ‘Bromst’), and a minor setback from a back injury late last year, Dan is back on the road and ready to fly into Airwaves. We called him up at home to talk soundscapes and rumours.
You’re really prolific in producing material and each of your albums stands out as a distinct piece of work from the others. Are they deliberate concepts or is it pure experimentation?
I think each album represents my musical focus at the time or a reflection of where I’m at at the time. I tend to delve into these areas and explore something else once I feel I’m done exploring that. My next album, whenever that will eventually be released, will be a departure from the last one but it probably won’t be completely unrecognisable.
I started off writing a lot of electronic music, focusing on using the different textures and timbres of sound, which is different from a rock band which has a sound but can change instrumentation and all that. The basis of what I do is trying to make new timbres and work within that realm. I do try to explore a lot, but I guess my compositional style does stay the same in some ways. I am really interested in scalar motion and density, for example.
You had some pretty interesting instrumentation on your last album, like the player piano. How did you get your hands on one?

I’ve been a big fan for a while. A few years ago I got really into this composer, Conlon Nancarrow, who composed a lot of pieces for the player piano, music completely unplayable for humans. He got me interested in them and I’ve always wanted to work with one, but they’re really expensive and hard to come by. I was in the studio in Whitefish, Montana and they had a reproducing piano. It’s actually a computer program than hooks up to the studio piano and controls the hammers. I hooked up my laptop to it and with it I wrote the piano parts for three songs on the album.
Any other obscure or antiquated instruments you plan or hope to use someday?
Yeah, all of them! I’m talking to this band called LEMUR.  They are wizards of mechanical instruments so I’m going to get together with them and try out some stuff.
I have to ask about the ‘Drinking Out Of Cups’ viral video. How did it happen? What’s with the acid rumour?
I figured that was going to come up eventually. I honestly don’t know where that rumour got started. I never even heard it until someone asked me in an interview and I was like “What!” It was written under the video on YouTube. I had to email guy and ask him to remove that. I guess it takes some of the fun out of it, but really I was just watching TV on mute and speaking in a Long Island accent. That’s pretty much all it was.
How did Liam get involved?
He just found it and made the video. I mean, this was back in the Kazaa and Limewire days. Music blogs didn’t really exist so much then. I think it was posted on comedy message board. Liam made the video first and then contacted me, being like “Hey man, can I make a video for this?” He sent it to me and I was like “Ah ha!” Like, now I’ve hit the big time! It blows my mind how many people find it appealing. It’s this weird other dimension of my existence. Liam and I have actually never met, only emailed.
Would you like to meet and work on something else with him?
Yeah, I would love to. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I’ve been working on another ranting monologue that maybe he could do something for.
Why do you perform on the floor with the audience in your solo shows? Do you have stage-hate?
[Laughs] I’ve never heard of ‘stage-hate’ before! I don’t think I have it. The show isn’t really about watching me. It’s more about a feedback loop of the audience watching the audience. The first places I played didn’t have stages. I was always on the ground and they were just dance parties. They just would have been watching me turn knobs and sing.
The stage does make sense when you play in front of five thousand people at a festival. It changes a lot if you’re seventy-five or a hundred yards away from someone who’s playing on the ground, and you’re in the thick of it. I’d rather play on a stage at a festival. I wish there were more bands that would experiment with the way they perform. There’s no reason why the only option is the stage or the floor.
So have you been to Iceland before? What have you heard and what are you expecting?
No, I’ve never been, but it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to for a long time! I’m coming with my dad and we’re going to travel around for a few days after my show. I’d like to do some touristy stuff. Maybe go whale watching, see some waterfalls and volcanoes.
You know that volcano is a has-been by now…
Oh really? Maybe that’s for the best then.
Dan Deacon plays tonight, Sunday 22:00 at NASA.

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