The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Interview: Dan Deacon – 2/12/11

Drew Ingersoll, the Music Director for KRUI, interviewed Dan Deacon in the backseat of KRUI General Manager Dolan Murphy’s car prior to KRUI’s sold out Website Launch Party at Gabe’s on February 12th, 2011 in Iowa City, IA.

The bill consisted of Golden Dust, Utopia Park, Wet Hair, and Dan Deacon. This interview happened while driving to Iowa City, IA after picking up Dan up from the airport.

DI: Hey Dan, thanks for flying out for this show. How many times have you played in Iowa City?

DD: Three times.

DI: What kind of memories do you have?

DD: Fond.

DI: About six years ago you created this whole Wham City group. What are you doing currently with that?

DD: Well, Wham City is like a loosely collected group of artists that work under one moniker or brand. Often there’s group projects.

DI: Recently you were in Canada with a symphony. Did you compose pieces for them or did you play with them as well?

DD: No, I wrote two new pieces for orchestra and an old song named Pink Batman was orchestrated.

DI: And when are they performing those?

DD: Oh, it happened. They’re performing them in the past.

DI: Great. Cool. Let’s see, film-wise you’re also scoring a film with Francis Ford Coppola. How’s that going?

DD: Good. We haven’t started yet. We’re doing basic sketches, we’re going to record some demos next week and meet up with him at the end of the month to talk about the actual process. It’s sort of a weird project, on a lot of levels for me and the project in general, but weird in a positive sense. There’s a lot of conceptual ideas that need to get ironed out and solidified.

DI: How has media changed your music in the way reviewers portray it? Have you seen it evolve since when you started?

DD: I think it did in the beginning, but I’ve stopped reading any press that I get. I try to stay as far from it as possible. It’s creating this like feedback loop and I would only remember the really negative press and harp on that or use that as a ‘Oh, yeah? I’m gonna do that even more now!’ or something to try to avoid.

You know, prior to putting Spiderman of the Rings out I just thought things were magazines. I didn’t know how big Pitchfork was or how many people read it. I had been to the site like a handful of times. Then, when I got a good review on Pitchfork I was like ‘Cool, that’s great.’ I just didn’t realize how vast internet journalism had become, or music journalism in general and how important it was to a lot of people. So, I try to stay kind of far away from it.

DI: Initially, I know when you first started recording, you had alot of instrumentation and friends help out, then you kind of evolved by utilizing more straight-up electronic beats and loops. And now with your most recent album Bromst it seems like the recording sort of changed to a full studio sound. How has your instrumentation process evolved throughout your career?

DD: It’s been kind of gradual. If you were to look at it in terms of a graphic, it would be a slow slope getting higher and higher. Most of it was just based upon availability, what was available to me at the time. Luckily, with the success of Spiderman of the Rings that led to more opportunities to record acoustic instruments and sounds on Bromst and I think that’s going to continue with the next record.

That was the first time I ever really…we didn’t record much in a real studio. We weren’t able to mix it in the studio which was, you know, very beneficial, but I look forward to writing the next record in the studio and really using the studio as an instrument, more of a place to create ideas rather than a place to document them.

[Dan points out I-80 truck stop]

DI: Actually, yeah, this is the world’s largest truck stop right here. Check it out. You can get these really cool tie-dye shirts from there. It’s really neat. One of a kind.

DD: I’ve never done the drive from the Quad Cities to Iowa City.

DI: It’s a sight to see. I also saw that you’re—

DD: I don’t think that’s the world’s biggest truck stop.

DI: Once you’re in it, it’s huge.

DD: Isn’t South of the Border a big truck stop?

DI: I don’t know, I think so. Where’s that at?

DM: It’s Iowa’s pride and joy.

DD: It’s like saying ‘That’s the world’s biggest firework store, it says so on the side. World’s. Biggest.’

DI: Yeah, who says that?

DD: I don’t know, maybe it is.

DI: Could be.

DD: I’m sure it is. Even if it’s not the biggest, I’m sure it’s the best.

DI: What’s the biggest venue you’ve played at?

DD: I guess Lollapalooza was pretty big.

DI: Oh, that is huge.

DD: It was the second stage, just opposite the main stage in a really good slot. That was probably the biggest crowd I ever played for.

DI: Was that last year or the year before?

DD: I don’t know. I can’t remember. Y’know, maybe two years ago or two Augusts ago. I can’t recall.

DI: Also, another cool thing that’s happening you mentioned you’re doing something with these Lemur mechanical sequencers. I did some research on it and saw that Pat Metheny the jazz musician is using it. That’s hilarious. How are you using those?

DD: I haven’t gotten them yet. Our schedules aren’t coinciding this month, so hopefully in May, June, or July, which is when I’ll be recording so it’ll be perfect. I’m not sure how I want to implement them. I want to try different techniques. They’re MIDI controlled, so I can either pre-sequence stuff or use sensors that get triggered by acoustic instruments. I’ve been really getting into MIDI into CV and CV back into the computer as MIDI so I’m not sure exactly how they’ll be used. I’m very excited to get my hands on them.

DI: One of my favorite songs off your new album is “Wet Wings,” it might just be the placement of it in the album—

DD: It’s the oldest song on the album, too.

DI: Where did that sample come from?

DD: It came from a tape that my ex-girlfriend had called “Folk Songs.” She bought it at a thrift store. It was a handmade mix-tape, no track listing or anything like that. The first time I heard it, it was just such a beautiful melody and I really love the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale trumps ‘em all and I was just like ‘Oh, I’d love to hear this layered on top of itself’, so I started fucking around with it.

I guess after it came out people looked into it. I can’t remember the original name of the track, but it’s an alternate verse to Amazing Grace.

DI: Wow, that’s interesting.

DD:  CSI wanted to license it, but they were afraid that it would be under copyright. I’m pretty sure it’s not under copyright, it’s pretty old, but uh, they chickened out.

DI: You can definitely hear that now and get that vibe from the song when you listen to it.

DD: And I love CSI, so I was bummed.

DI: Have done anything else film-related, or—?

DD: Not with CSI.

DI: Bummer.

DD: Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve turned into an asshole. Uh, the Coppola thing will be the first. Oh wait, no, that’s not true. Jimmy Joe Roche, the video artist and sculptor in Baltimore. I did a residence this summer and we did a film in the Netherlands in a small town called Hillvarenbeek. It was a really sort of insane process. We cast the actors by, like, seeing their names written on a piece of paper and we didn’t know what they looked like. The film was conceived, cast, and shot in a matter of days on a very sort of bizarrely organized budget. None of the people involved, other than Jimmy, had ever worked on a film, so it was a really unique process for everyone involved.

The film is very flawed but the flaws come out because of the process and I feel those flaws add to the unique quality that it has. So, we haven’t worked on it since we left. We did a rough cut and showed that there, but March will be the month where we go back and finalize the film. We’re gonna master the sound and get a proper mix and Jimmy’s going to color correct it.

DI: Cool, so when do you think that will be finished?

DD: Hopefully in May. We’ll screen it in May.

DI: Musically, you’ve touched upon kind of being in the studio and hoping to record more. What can we expect from you in the future musically?

DD: Hopefully some tracks on CSI.

DI: Awesome. There you go. Watch out, CSI. Lastly, tonight you’re going to be in Iowa City. What can we expect at the show?

DD: I hate expectations. I feel like expectations are just, like, a recipe for disappointment or y’know… Alien vs. Predator is what taught me how expectations are the demise of all experience. That movie could’ve been so great. It had such potential. It was hyped up so much. I love both franchises.

Then when I went to go see it, it was just beyond disappointing because it wasn’t anything like how I had envisioned it in my head. If I had gone in with an open mind, I probably would have still hated it, but I wouldn’t have been like ‘Oh, I would’ve done this that way’ or ‘I would’ve done this’, or ‘How come they didn’t—.’

I kinda want people to go to my shows—they might’ve seen clips on the internet or had people talk to them about it—I’d rather them go in with the same sort of mindset of someone who doesn’t know anything about it. That’s how, when I first started touring, that’s how it was.

There was no, like, buzz or anything. It was just weird guys setting up dumb shit in my basement. And I feel like that’s sort of the best environment to see something in is to discover it and the more expectation that surrounds something, the less magical it becomes.

DI: Cool. Well, Dan, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks a lot. For those of you out there, erase your minds tonight and come out. It’ll be a fun time.

DD: See you later!

Interviewer –  Drew Ingersoll, Driver – Dolan Murphy, Recorder – James Ferguson-Mahan, Writer – Kendall McCabe Photographer – Ellen Cyrier