From converted school buses to eccentric audience interaction, Rebekah Rennick chats to the flamboyant Dan Deacon about his new album America and why some couches are just more comfortable than others
To describe Dan Deacon in a few words is quite a difficult thing to do. This man requires sentences, paragraphs, even whole pages to unravel the layers of intricacies and surprises that comprise his being. From being described by some as the ‘Piped Piper of electronic dance music’, to being brushed off by other critics as another generic hipster with a synth machine and too many woolly jumpers; the articulate and loquacious Baltimore twang of Deacon heard over the phone allows for a comfortable transition into his alternate world.
With such labels as “happy hardcore techno” and “contemporary classical” erratically strung underneath description boxes of Dan Deacon, the categorisation of music has taken a ridiculous turn in recent years. “I think every musician hates being categorised but ultimately that’s how it’s gonna go,” sighs Deacon. “I have no idea what happy hardcore techno is. In my mind, while I make music with electronics I’m not out to replicate anything already out there. Growing up listening to the majority of pop music, especially melody based pop music, kind of drove me in that direction and then I got really into texture and tambre. My music taste can range from Aphex Twin to My Bloody Valentine to The Talking Heads, but what I genuinely love about those bands, is that their ideas have been stolen and opted but their style and unique traits are inherently theirs, it’s very difficult to mistake another band for those bands. I think that’s a trait I live by.”
Last year saw Deacon unleash his third instalment, America, upon us. With such a powerful, sweeping and patriotic title, what lies between each given track is one man’s own panoramic view of his mother country. Was this album holding together Deacon’s own experiences and observations throughout the last few years, or was this assumption too introspective? “It’s mainly a lot of experience, but also the book The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The book really hit me quite profoundly when I first read it, right after recording Bromst. I really got into the history of the United States, and travelled constantly,” explains Deacon. “I really love the romance of travel, how time evaporates and stores up when you’re on tour. You can look back on it, see it happening so quickly but still cling onto a particular moment and let it grow and stretch into a beautiful landscape.”
The genuine affection for simple things like cherished moments met whilst travelling are undeniable in Deacon’s hearty laughter as he reflects on his recording process while on the road: “I write a lot inside a computer so a lot of my writing goes straight in and stays there. But all of the actual recording occurred in Baltimore. Sometimes you’ll go back and revamp and try different things, but nine times out of ten there’s two studios in my mind: one is the computer and the other is the physical space and I’m trying to embrace the physical studio more.”
Behind those big owl glasses lies more than just an electronic maestro, there is a musician with such integrity and love for melody it’d put others to shame. This interest truly materialised in Deacon’s work for Franics Ford Coppola in his movie Twixt. “It was a very different but a unique experience. [Cappola] works in a really peculiar way and likes to test and challenge people. I do as well, so trying to apply that to his system was crazy,” says Deacon. “It’s so much more fun to write a more variable body of work. You run the risk of disenfranchising people, but you can’t get worried about that.”
Deacon continues on by portraying his desire to try different pathways in possibly one of the best similes ever spoken: “It’s kind of like having a house with too many comfortable couches! It’s like ‘Ah I wanna get up from this super, comfy, crazy, pop music couch, but oh, that really beautiful caustic couch is lookin’ pretty good too.’ You just wish you could pull these couches all closer together, put your feet up on one and put your hand on the other!”
Renowned for his audience interaction and playing amongst the spectators themselves, Dan Deacon’s live shows are something of a kaleidoscope of beats, lights and euphoria. “The first time I started playing with the crowd, we did this dance contest and it was great, it kept everyone engaged. To me, the most important thing was that it changed the focal point of the room,” explains Deacon. “The music school aspect of my brain really came out and I started thinking more and more of what was achievable, looking at the audience as performers too, what were their strengths and their weaknesses, what can the space itself be full with. It depends on how people perceive it, there’s a certain balance between individual and collective.”
Amongst his musings, Deacon tenaciously discusses the thoughts of the Apocalypse, which is a far cry from his bubblegum world of synth. “The Apocalypse doesn’t need to be negative, like Mad Max chasing us around. The Apocalypse can be like entering an age of oppression or people utilising other people’s tools rather than living cohesively together. I want people to be more cohesive in the future. Cohesive and sticky.”
Deacon’s music is a form of escapism, as the whomping beats swallow you up, and if you only watch the grainy footage of his surreal NBC performance, you’ll believe him when he says:“I think expectation is the death of experience. Welcome me with an open mind and go with the flow.” Because, quite frankly, he’s a very strong tide to try and swim against.
Dan Deacon plays Whelans, Dublin on February 9th.