Catching Up With Dan Deacon
by Matt Grosinger on September 14, 2012
To put it lightly, Dan Deacon is fucking busy. In addition to releasing his latest LP America, the excellent, expansive follow-up to 2009’s Bromst that explores the possibilities of confluence between the digital and acoustic realms, Deacon has also just recorded a collaborative effort with So Percussion and conceptualized a light-synchronizing smartphone app for his live shows. I caught up with Dan right before he prepared to take off for his European tour to talk him about the limitations of perfection, feeling like Christopher Walken, and hopefully someday soundtracking video games. Check it out below.
MG: I recently saw a live show of yours. What drives you to have such intense crowd participation at your concerts?
DD: I think it initially started because I was playing to pre-sequenced tracks. For one, I played in really chaotic environments and on the floor, and two, all I would really do on the computer was like, okay, do the next pre-written thing now! So I would do as much as I could live and let the computer take care of the rest. Monotony is the wrong word, but it is also the right word. When you play along to the same music without any deviation every night, it starts to eat away at my brain, even though what I was doing was the hardware manipulation of my voice with the oscillator and vocoder – that was like the macrostructure, and the microstructure was still up for improvisation and night-to-night changes. But I like to jam, and it is sometimes difficult to do when you’re dealing with an iPod, because the iPod is not really the best jammer. So audience is the one thing that would change night to night, and it would allow me to walk away from the tracks and experiment, improvise, and just have another level of the performance that could be altered. I sort of fell in love with that idea unknowingly.
MG: The video for “True Thrush” encapsulates the idea of subtle mutation and the corruption of replication. Is that a concept that you were conscious of while writing America?
DD: Definitely. I like to think of there being three realms of making realms for music. You have the acoustic realm, and then you have the digital realm, and the analogue realm. All of them have their pros and cons, and for most of them the cons are the limitations. But the limitations that the devices have are what I like to focus on, because it is the limitation that each of those particular instruments have that make them fun to work with and push the barriers of what they can and cannot do. So when you work with humans, you have that human feel, and that human feel is imperfection. Even the most virtuosic player is never going to play the same waveform twice. They could play the same thing I don’t know how many times and you’d still have slight imperfections, and that is different from what would happen with a computer and what would happen with an analogue set. I both love endless repetition without any change in any capacity, and I also love the idea that something can never exist twice.
MG: How did the diversity of instrumentation on America contribute to the overarching goals of the album?
DD: To me it made sense to try and associate something positive in the dialogue, because I feel like so much that’s focused on in America right now is on the negative aspects of the country, which I also agree with. The government is fucked; corporations are not only taking over, but have taken over. But there is also this beauty to American culture that I think needs to be thought out. And to relate it to the differences among analogue, digital, and acoustic — that goes hand in hand, where the record has these layers and themes. I like to think of these layers and dichotomies that are just intermixing and to me that is what America is — just this pot, trying to homogenize a culture that is constantly mutating at the same time.
Teen, “Better” (Dan Deacon Remix)
MG: What sort of headspace do you need to occupy in order to write music?
DD: I try to write music as often as possible, and sometimes it is when I am very stressed out and sometimes when I am very relaxed. I don’t know if there is a particular mindset. I’m sort of like Christopher Walken in that SNL skit where he is like that horrible psychic, and he can predict the near future, and it just sort of comes to him. I feel like that is how it sort of happens. I don’t know, maybe I am just trying to talk about Christopher Walken.
MG: Have you ever considered soundtracking video games?
DD: Oh yeah, I would love to do it. It is on my list of five-year goals.
MG: I would like to play the Dan Deacon video game.
DD: I would love for you to play it.
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