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  • Deerhunter
    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Talking to Bradford Cox, the front-man for Atlanta's Deerhunter, one doesn't necessarily get the sense that this thoughtful and interesting young fellow is behind one of today's more interesting bands. Deerhunter's music is dark; it's dense, it's chaotic, and in a way, the aesthetic behind Cryptograms, their debut for seminal experimental label Kranky, is reminiscent of early 1980s, non-Depeche Mode/Erasure Mute Records. Think of bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, and you're on the right track. The album is split into two distinct sessions, as discussed below. Even more surprisingly, this young band is generating a lot of attention from places such as Pitchfork and other music blogs. Our talk was quite interesting, as you'll soon read--just as interesting as the music his band makes.

    I get the feeling that Cryptograms almost didn't happen.

    Yeah, that's true--that's very true. I don't mean to make it appear like it was the hardest, overdramatic production ever, but our wheels took a while to quietly start spinning. Part of it was that we wanted to make something that we felt would be something we put a lot into, instead of just putting out whatever comes out of us.

    An experiment in capturing a spontaneous session?

    The interesting thing about it is though there's some spontaneous movement and creativity on the spot, the songs were worked on and arranged beforehand. We still did it very quickly and we did it in an improvisational style, but we'd worked out in advance that we'd go in and play. It was an interesting experiment, but it was hard work. I don't know if we'll ever make a record like that again, because hopefully we'll never have to. At the time, we were broke. The reason we recorded it so fast was we couldn't afford it. Some bands have more resources for recording, but sometimes that can actually hinder creative impulses. See, we had to make really quick decisions; we didn't have time to make a lot of overdubs, and there's no editing. None. What you hear is what we did. It's like we played the album all at once in a room. I went back and added little elements here and there, but we didn't sit around thinking about things. We couldn't spend hours on a song to fix one wrong note. There are tons of wrong notes in there; there are bad vocal takes, but it is what it is, you know?

    I think those conditions add an element that wouldn't have been there had you had more time to work on it.

    Oh, I think so too, definitely. I think that's really important, because I'm not into perfection. I'm the opposite. I'm not into faking a performance. There's nothing on the record that makes me go, "Oh, let's go back and make it perfect!" One the second half of the record, I was really, really, really sick with the flu. I don't even know how I got through the session, to be honest! (Laugh) I kind of wonder, though, if me being sick and weak at the time actually makes the performance better, and would the songs have the same emotional feel if my voice had been stronger.

    From what I've read, you're into the live performance element, so a record like this seems fitting.

    Well, that's not completely accurate. Personally, I prefer working in the studio. Other member of the band, they'd probably say they prefer playing live. I'm more into song writing and song making now. Live performances, for me, are really hit or miss. Like, I'm either into it and I feel really good about it, or it's mediocre or kind of good, and I hate it. I'm really picky about live performances. It's really hard to get it right.

    On the first session on Cryptograms, it sounds like you were struggling to decide whether or not you were an instrumental or a vocal band, because there are a number of instrumental passages.

    It's interesting that you say that. First of all, there's not a single song on Cryptograms that didn't have lyrics at some point. Even the instrumentals--well, all except "Red Ink," that wasn't really one that had progressed, and "Tape Hiss Orchid," the little ambient interlude at the end. "White Ink" and "Providence" had words. We've never, ever considered being an instrumental band. I don't like instrumental bands, actually. I like a little bit of personality to be there. I like instrumental music, if it's done by individuals, and I like instrumental music done by some bands. It's kind of hard to explain (laughs). I'm not talking about jazz--there's some jazz I love. Ambient music is perhaps my favorite music of all. What I don't like is instrumental pop music and instrumental rock music, or post-rock. I never really got into that. In the case of our own instrumentals, we never really thought of it.

    Considering your feelings about making instrumental music, on listening to those songs as instrumental, did it surprise you how well they stood on their own?

    I don't know; I wonder, though, if we had planned the sessions, if we would have had those songs as instrumentals. We tried vocals on them, but I didn't like them. But I do like the way those passages make the record a lot more dreamy. At the same time, it was not a direction we'd naturally want to go. It was a one-time thing. I love making that kind of music, but I'm not sure that's a style we'd want to be associated with--instrumental pop songs. Does this make any sense? (Laughs) I'm always willing to try something once.

    What I liked about them was they added variety to your sound, as opposed to having an album of all vocals. And I agree, it does add a cinematic quality to Cryptograms. When you perform live, do you perform the instrumentals with vocals reinstated?

    We don't really perform them. Let me think...we've never performed "Providence" live, we've never really played "Red Ink" live. "White Ink," we do play live. And on the record, there are vocals, but it's more like processed vocal intonations, and they're samples, so we can't really do those live. But those songs--they never really developed fully.

    So would you say Cryptograms is a transitional record for Deerhunter?

    I wouldn't disagree with that, but at the same time, I have no intentions of thinking about this record when we start our next record. I'm not going to try to continue it thematically when we do the new record. I don't like it when bands do that, because it sounds forced, trying to recreate the moments of what came before. Then again, I have no idea what the new record's going to be like. I sort of know what I'd like it to be, but that's about it right now. I don't want us to be as desperate as we were on this record, though.

    Conceptually, you see Deerhunter albums as a singular artistic statement, and the album you have now doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the album that preceded it or anything else that might follow it.

    Yeah, that's exactly it. I kind of want each album to be a solid statement. To be honest, I wouldn't mind changing band names every album, actually. Our name is so insignificant to what we do. I didn't name Deerhunter and I don't even like it. It's not that I dislike the name, but I kind of like it, but if we could change the band's name for every record, I would, because I envision us making totally different-sounding records every time. But I'm not trying to force diversity; I just have lots of different ideas I want to try out, things I'd like to experiment with.

    It would seem that Kranky is a good home for you to have in terms of experimenting with musical ideas.

    Oh, absolutely! I can't think of another label I'd want to work with more. They're really good people; they're very open-minded about music. I know they're willing to check out my ideas; they're not interested in anything other than letting their artists make creative statements.

    Deerhunter's also generating a lot of "buzz" on the internet.

    Yeah, that's weird. I don't really know how that happened. I don't know how that stuff works. I don't think you can try and make it happen--it just does. We certainly didn't. With blogs and stuff, I don't know how they do what they do--I just know how to write and record songs. It's really weird, but it's nice, too. It's nice to hear people are excited about your music, and it's very encouraging.

    Does it even out the frustrations you've had?

    It does, but I have to say, I'm just waiting for the shit-talkers. (Laughs) I've read tons of bad stuff about our live shows, but in terms of album reviews, there hasn't been anything really bad, so I'm just waiting for some really bad reviews. I think bad reviews are much more interesting.

    I tell people there's a difference between some kid saying, "Man, this sucks!' and giving no reasoning behind their opinion, and saying, "Man, this sucks, because you can't hear the singer" or what have you.

    I almost like the idea of the kid who says something sucks and can't give an explanation a bit more. I'm way more interested in the less academic audience, the more gut-level reaction audience. I kind of dig it when people really, really hate us and talk bad about us and they don't have a good reason as to why. I don't know why, but I kind of get off on that. To me, it's gut-level, and it has no basis in anything intellectual. It's simply a base-bottom-level, almost primal reaction. I dig that. (Laughs) If a 15-year old kid thinks we suck or thinks we're totally amazing and is steadfast in his hatred or is overwhelming in his approval and can't verbalize it, that's really interesting to me, because we're looking at subconscious reactions here. These days you can sit down, read a ton of record reviews and blogs, figure out what those people like, and make a record based on that. People will react to that, thinking it's cool or not, based on totally arbitrary personal data. But that's not based on human reaction or human emotion. Like, I hate Philadelphia, because the time we went there on tour, it was raining and sleeting that day, and everywhere I went that day, it was freezing. I now associate Philadelphia with being cold and wet. But if we'd gone there when it was sunny and warm, I might love it, and it might be my favorite city in America. When I went to Portugal, it was sunny and warm and 72 degrees, and all I kept thinking was "Man, I want to live here, this is great!" and I didn't know anything about actual life there, or if I'd even be happy there. It was based upon an emotional reaction. It's a very personal status based upon being exposed to something new for the first time. I've seen reviews of our live shows by people who said listening to us play made them physically sick. (Laughs)

    A friend of mine's band, The Weird Weeds, once had a girl write in her livejournal that seeing them made her want to tear her eyeballs out. (Laughs)

    (Laughs) Isn't that a great review? That's awesome. I'm waiting for one that good!

    Deerhunter's Cryptograms is available now on Kranky

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:31 AM  
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