Speakin’ with Deacon: Interview with Dan Deacon

Art & Lit Music

It’s five to five and I’m nervous. My first interview ever is about to commence; Dan Deacon is about to pick up the phone. The guy who last year released America to mass acclaim, which paired lo-fi punk electronics with his oft-referenced classical training to create an expansive, evocative soarer. Dan’s belief in the recently unfulfilled Mayan prophecy is well documented, and after the niceties I blurt out: “Is this the first interview you’ve done since the world didn’t end?” “Uuh, yeah. Well, I don’t know. Uum. Yes.”

Thankfully, like his music, Dan is generally expressive, unpretentious, deliberate. He’s a very easy first interviewee. After the initial hiccup, I articulate that I was wondering how the world not ending felt.

“My whole mindset about that particular day or time in general is that, y’know, maybe it did end, but more importantly it’s that everything moves in sine waves. Everything moves in very slow moving, shifting gradients and if humans want things to happen, at a human rate – boom! -there it is, the end of the world-boom! -everything’s changing – boom! That’s not how it happens, things slowly shift over aeons and generations. Like, those shifts slowly occur.”

In an interview with Pitchfork, I remember Dan talking about being upset by what the music press has written about him. How much criticism does he read about his work?

“Oh, I try to avoid it like the plague. I think it’s a David Lee Roth quote, where he says to read criticism about yourself, -‘if it’s good it’s never good enough, and if it’s bad it ruins my whole week.’ When I first started getting press I would read it, and I would find myself infuriated, or y’know, ‘That’s not what I’m going for! That’s not the point!’ .  You have to realise that if you put something out into the world, the world’s going to do what they want with it.”

I begin the next question, but he cuts me off. “I mean criticism is important, I would love if there was like, actual

critique, like a peer-reviewed sort of system. But the idea of commercial critique, which is largely based in fashion and trend, it’s just… I like to exist outside that world as much as possible.”

To dispel any accusations of patriotism or aggrandisement, Dan’s website is prefaced by an explanation that the title of America stems from reluctantly realising while in Europe that he is, inescapably, American. How does that relate to coming to Britain?

“I feel like England and English-speaking places tend to be even more crazy because it is so similar, but it’s still just so vastly different. It’d be like looking in the mirror and your arms are just slightly different. It would freak you out. So that’s where you feel the most,

‘Oh, well of course you’re American’.  It was actually in Ireland that I had the biggest mind-blowing epiphany about that. Again, it’s a really obvious thing, but I’d never experienced culture shock before. Does that make any sense?” It does, except maybe the arms thing.

Why is Lake Placid on the cover of the album? “My friend Adam’s dad’s a photographer and he’s got these books of his work. When I got to that page it just shot right out at me. I wasn’t solid on the title ‘America’ yet, but as soon as I saw that I said ‘this is the album, ‘America’. This is the photo, perfect.’”

For touring, Dan uses a converted school bus which runs on vegetable oil. Some of the lyrics on ‘U.S.A.’ seem to be about decay: “Nothing’s green, nothing grows / Everything’s burned / Everything was”. Was climate change and the effect that man has on the planet a big influence on the record? “I was watching the Ken Burns documentary The West when I was working on that piece, so yeah, I think there are a lot of those themes in there.

It’s not just supposed to be environmental, but also I feel like in most large groups of people there’s this push for a systematic homogeny where it’s easier for systems to emerge when there’s less variables. I guess it’s a common theme in my work, this erosion. And then you have tracks like ‘Get Older’ or ‘Crash Jam’ that are about how change occurs and you have to embrace that things are going to get destroyed. New things will birth in their place, and even if wrong turns are taken nature finds a way.” A fairly optimistic outlook then? “It’s important to be an optimistic nihilist.”

Dan is coming back to the UK soon as part of a European tour. I ask whether he’ll be playing in the crowd, as he has done previously. “I’m not sure of the set-up for this next tour. I’m playing with a larger group – me, and two drummers, and one other synth player – and when I play in that configuration I’m traditionally on the stage.”

What’s next? “At the beginning of the year I try to focus on the classical side of my career. I’m writing a large piece for a performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in April, which has a section for the NYU Steel Drum Band.  I’m also trying to write some pieces specifically for an audience with the app that I made, and then trying to find a way to document them and release it as sound.”

Dan studied electro-acoustic and computer music composition at the Conservatory of Music at State University of New York . I ask how he enjoyed the college experience. “Yeah, I really enjoyed it, though I wish I didn’t get into  so much debt. The main thing it did was give me a period of my life where my core focus was to learn music, and that is an opportunity I don’t think I would have had outside of academia. Even when I got out of university I was working jobs and I didn’t want to put as much time in as I did at university. I’m sure for some people that’s not the case, they have that drive… well I feel like I had the drive but I didn’t have the hours in the day. I was also on the student government, and that gave me a lot of insight on, y’know, how to manipulate systems and I realised that there’s corruption in all levels of life. We had the keys to the PA system so we would throw sick parties and book my favourite bands – it ruled. College, woo-oo!”

 

PHOTO/Shawn Brackbill

PHOTO/Domino