Dan Deacon’s latest record America is a masterful yet near schizophrenic ode to his nation. Soaring above and then plummeting through the USA’s structures, man-made and mineral, America takes the listener on a journey that intermittently inspires hope then despair, summons a sudden impulse to go raving, then snatches it away and ushers you into a dark corner to weep for what may soon transpire. It tells of life in the USA now, of shared fears for its future, while recalling its glorious natural heritage. We catch up with Dan to find out more about the many Americas that informed his latest record.
“The first would be the time I took the train from Seattle to New York, a 5 day train ride,” Dan responds when asked if any particular journey provided the initial inspiration for his latest record. “There was just crazy snow cover on everything and it was just beautiful. Another would be when I was on the Greyhound bus, it was my first trip by myself and I didn’t plan on travelling that way, but my car died and that brought me to parts of the country that I didn’t even know existed. Weird bus stations on the outskirts of Wyoming and sometimes I’d be stuck there for, like, hours so I could walk around. A lot of them are in really beautiful, undeveloped stretches of land… I fly a lot too, so I look over out the window and you see the country and the ocean, and that’s influenced me.”
Dan Deacon‘s earliest works were sound collages of electronic and chamber music, releasing several EPs and LPs before Spiderman of the Rings – which he created whilst submerged in the Baltimore rave scene – brought him to wider notice. As well as following that record with the critically acclaimed Bromst, Dan also composed classical orchestral pieces and film scores. This wealth of experience in disparate musical worlds enabled him to be able to meld these intricate, intelligently layered compositions with raw, dirty and powerfully danceable synthetic sounds. America reflects contemporary existence in the USA with acoustic musical components, innately natural sounding, conjoined with machines; the borne and the manufactured fused tightly. For USA, Dan used a twenty two piece chamber orchestra with players from the auspicious Peabody Institute, he even created an airtight chamber to record in.
“We wanted a room where we could record hundreds of layers but not have any artifacts of the room, not hear any room sounds,” he explains. “We wanted it to be as close to dead as possible, which obviously has its own room character as well. There’s an album Lucier released called I Am Sitting In A Room and it’s the same recording being played back and recorded again in the same room, and after a while you start to exclusively hear the characteristics of the room, the resident frequencies and stuff like that. So we wanted to avoid that because if we’re going to take a mic and record 100 tracks of violin then we’re going to start hearing the box it was recorded in more than the violin itself. So we built that room and it’s a real trip going in there. It definitely sets the tone for the record.”
The dichotomy of America is explicit in its arrangement into two sides. As Dan explains, “The two major musical themes are influenced by geography. The B side largely by natural geography, the A side, with the exception of ‘Pretty Boy’ and maybe ‘Crash Jam’, is more influenced by cities.”
It seems telling that on this latter side, the human voices and lyrics are buried deep in the mix as if the weight of the natural world is quashing our pitiful existences into insignificance. We do make a difference though, as it is ‘we’ who inspired the notes of fear that pervade America. ‘We’ will be the instigators of our own demise, and the lyrics within the record have a common set of themes that are related to our current situation as a society.
“The main theme is the disenfranchisement with the kind of system that we live in and are all unfortunately a part of,” Dan explains. “That would be, as you know, a capitalistic, consumer culture with capital overlords running governments that are openly corrupt and everyone knows it… Like the fake environmental movement that we’re living in. You can’t buy carbon credits and then pretend that we’re not responsible for massive islands of plastic in the middle of the oceans, the removing of mountain tops, fracking and oil spills. Sure BP caused the oil spills, but our insane need for oil and plastic also caused it. Sure BP sucks horrible dick, light those arseholes on fire, but it’s not like they’re getting all this oil and just keeping it for themselves, they’re getting it and we’re buying it for insane amounts of money because we’re trained to.”
Despite the gloom on the horizon, the overriding emotion gained from repeated listens to America is hope, and this stems from Dan’s great belief in and work with grassroots movements such as Occupy. “Ultimately, I wouldn’t say that all [the flawed systems] are what the record’s actually about. It’s about those ideas, and then Occupy and Arab Spring and the student protest movements in Montreal. All these things which coincide with the ideas of 2012 and a paradigm shift and people starting to wake up to singularity; the shaking off of those mindsets that used to hold very strongly in the earlier part of the last decade.”
Are these movements the little fissures that can cause bigger cracks so that the system can eventually be shattered, or are we too ingrained in these collapsing systems now?
“They have to,” Dan responds. “If it gets worse and we return to an awful, more obvious feudal state and a dark age of kings and rampant exploitation way worse than what we currently have, then there’s no way people wouldn’t revolt. It’s either going to be horrible and violent and in the future, or it’s going to be now and more civilised. I know that sounds crazy but if you look at history it happens, and it’s happening now, and we’re seeing the seeds of it. The media has done a really good job of demonizing the people who are trying to expose the truth, mainstream media, the news and newspapers, all Rupert Murdoch’s bullshit, but there’s no way you can squash an idea like that.”
“More and more people are just being like, ‘I can’t afford to live! It’s getting more and more expensive and I’m getting a fraction of what I used to for what I have.’ Then you see the wealth all around you. You see the insane system of greed. Especially in a city like London, it’s so easy to see the poverty and it’s easy to see the open flagrant displays of wealth.”
The rich-poor divide may be accelerating, but there’s still an overwhelming sense of hope to America, perhaps hinting at an assertion that music has real power to alter people’s mindsets.
“I think the way it has that power is based in its subtlety. No-one wants to be told what to think but I think the power music has is to take an idea that can be difficult to talk about and present it in a way that the brain interprets it differently. The most important thing someone can do is to get someone else to start thinking. It’s still the kind of record where people can get together with some friends, have some beers, smoke a joint, listen to the record and not feel guilty for doing that. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel guilty for doing that but if they wanted another aspect to it they could dive into it and really find it. I’m very much into layers as you can tell by the music.”
America’s A side realistically reflects how harried lives are in urban areas. Humans can be heard vying with the city, the pace of it and the almost overwhelming media noise everywhere. Compare this with the B side, even with its undercurrent of trepidation, and it seems almost insane to not want to escape city life, and to go and make a life living in the peaceful setting of the countryside.
“It’s one of the things I fantasise about,” Dan responds. “It would be great to go live outside of the realm of computers and electricity, but at the same time, I love those things and they’ve brought great joy to my life and comfort. And on one hand I think, well I’d love to move out to the country and start a farm, but on the other hand who am I joking?! I’m not a fucking farmer. I don’t know anything about farming. It’s hard fucking work! I’d starve to death.”
“I like making electronic music,” he continues, “and the art I make is so in debt to it. It is also crazy to think how a child born today is going to be using a completely different interface to the ones that we have now and everyone will have to get used to it and it is just crazy to think of the numbers of hours a day we devote to these devices. We do live in a time of constant flux but it’s also going to be very exciting to see how that changes things. It’s already changed art quite a bit and how we interact with it, but the one thing it hasn’t really done yet is radically change the nature of it and I feel like within the next five to ten years, we’re going to start seeing a type of music that we didn’t have in the past. In the same way that recording changed the way people interacted with music, I think apps and technology will radically shift what music can be in the way that everyday people think about it. Obviously composers or experimenters with sound think about music in those terms, that music can exist in any amorphous state, but the average listener doesn’t, they just think ‘oh you go to a concert or listen to a record’. I think more and more you’re going to start seeing a mainstream approach to non-repeating, non-consecutive, non-time based music.”
“I feel like we’re at the precipice of a large paradigm shift in music, of how music can be and how the listener can interact with music. I feel like we’re on the cusp of finding this new dimension to music that hasn’t existed. That’s very exciting to me.”
America is available now through Domino, and Dan will be performing at the following European dates.
19 Sep – MeetFactory, Prague, Czech Republic
20 Sep – Festsaal Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany
20 Sep – Reeperbahn, Hamburg, Germany
22 Sep – Effenaar Areafiftyone, Eindhoven, Netherlands
23 Sep – Bitterzoet, Amsterdam, Netherlands
24 Sep – Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
25 Sep – Le Trabendo, Paris, France
26 Sep – Scala, London, UK
28 Sep – Islington Mill, Salford, UK
29 Sep – The Haunt, Brighton, UK