All Over the Map
Dan Deacon is a musical renaissance man. The New York native and Baltimore resident is equally adept at writing danceable electro-pop songs, experimental sine-wave simulations and neo-classical chamber pieces. He’s comfortable throwing beer-soaked all-nighters, fronting 27-person percussion ensembles and leading Carnegie Hall audiences into ecstatic reveries. He’s scored horror films for Francis Ford Coppola, built DIY art collectives from the ground up and created smartphone apps that sync with his live shows. His animated, acid-fried “Drinking From Cups” video is a frat-house favorite, with more than 17 million views, and his sound installations have been exhibited in museums from Ireland to Romania to Canada.
Folio Weekly: Although you’re well-known for your electronic work, all of “America” was recorded organically and then processed after the fact. How challenging was that balance?
Dan Deacon: I’ve been working with electric sounds for so long, so it made sense to focus on winds, strings and brass this time. But it was also about writing parts that were achievable by humans — interesting and challenging, but within the limits of an instrument and human capabilities.
F.W.: You’ve stated numerous times that the songs on “America” were inspired by your love of cross-country travel. After your most recent two-month American tour, did they take on new meaning?
D.D.: They were accentuated by driving through certain parts of the country — especially the deserts and mountains of the American West. Touring is the manifestation of the ideas and feelings that motivated the music, so it certainly resonated. We also stopped to camp at more national and state parks on this last tour, which was really nice.
F.W.: Why the title “America”? It seems a much more concrete manifestation than past album titles like “Bromst,” “Spiderman of the Rings” or “Meetle Mice.”
D.D.: Actually, I feel like “America” is the most interpretative. It doesn’t mean the same thing to anybody; while you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s never heard the word, you’d be hard-pressed to find two people who have the same feelings about it. “America” is a word that evokes a great mixture of pride and shame and apathy and emotion, conjuring such a vast array of meanings and definitions. To some people, America means the United States — and to some people, it means two entire continents.
F.W.: In the context of this album, what does “America” mean for you personally?
D.D.: The music is very informed by things I find positive about the country, like its geography and landscape, while the lyrics are me questioning my role as an American — trying to confront the negative aspects of a society that, like it or not, I’m a member of. I never thought of myself as an American until I left the United States, when I realized that I’m American no matter what. I could move anywhere else in the world for the next 50 years, but I’ll always be an American. And there’s nothing that’s going to remove that from the fabric of my being.
F.W.: Was the Wham City art and music collective you founded in Baltimore a way for you to push those positive elements forward?
D.D.: I think American DIY [culture] is a beautiful reflection of our country. I disagree with the militarism, corporatism and consumerism of our culture, so my emphasis has always been on the American underground and what I can do to propagate those elements that I agree with and am proud of.
F.W.: At that same time, the Wham City scene was often looked at as one big party. Have you matured past that?
D.D.: That period of my life still resonates through my work and lifestyle, but I’ve evolved and changed. The media really wanted my music to fit into a pop-culture theme, but it didn’t really work — my music is electronic, but it’s not necessarily electronic music, if that makes sense. It’s a weird side world that I don’t really know how to define.
F.W.: How did you first become interested in mixing those worlds of electronic music and serious computer composition?
D.D.: A lot of it was based on timbre and texture. I was always into bands that were different from what was on the radio: They Might Be Giants, Violent Femmes, Dead Milkmen, Mr. Bungle and Devo.
F.W.: Are you still following those muses, especially considering how far-flung your body of work has become?
D.D.: I’m looking forward to doing more orchestral and chamber music stuff. I do have plans for another solo record, but I don’t like to speak to them. I’d rather get in the studio, experiment and see what happens.