Dan Deacon: Interview
Future Shock Diarrhea
When Dan Deacon moved into a warehouse space in Baltimore about three years ago, there were a lot of parties, some people running around naked, and more parties. It seems like a pretty on par experience for a lot of recent college graduates who don't know exactly what they're doing or what the future will bring.
But between then and now, he's been hard at work. Within the past year he also has become internet-famous, which in the year 2007 is pretty indiscernible from being famous-famous. Thanks Pitchfork! But the hype is well-deserved, Dan has been busy, releasing his sixth full-length album, Spiderman of The Rings, on Carpark Records last May, helping establish art collective Wham City into a Baltimore institution that puts on sold-out shows, and at the time of publication, is about to extend his over-half-yearlong, epileptic blend of performances-cum-parties touring to Europe.
I caught up with him during the middle of his tour and we discussed new found fame, the legitimacy and appropriateness of the internet as medium for expression, internet haters, and the urge to poop at the worst possible time.
Your live shows are part stand-up act and part dance party. When did you first start performing and how would you say your live show has changed since then?
When I first started performing it was at SUNY Purchase. At the time it was a sort of small, sort of radical arts based college in the middle of the woods, but also real close to the city at the same time. Most of my shows were just for friends, or other people who wanted to be around other weird people. There wasn't really anything to do at Purchase so you had to make your own fun. Bands never really came through so we had our own music scene. It was pretty rad (Wooden Wand, Langhorne Slim, G. Lucas Crane, Dufus, Jeff Lewis, Regina Spektor, Meneguar, Kiss Kiss, O'Death, and the founding members of Wham City). Anyway, I was also studying composition in a conservatory setting so it gave me a lot to time to do nothing but focus on the creation and performance of music. My first "show" was a recital split between my compositions and my friend Robert O'Brien's. It was recital of new work for a 17 piece mixed ensemble with electronics. At the time my work was very chance based and flux influenced. I was just getting into minimalism and sequenced music but most of my pieces were structured improvisations with density of sound being the main compositional element. Since then I've been focusing more on density of sounds in a rhythmic and tonal setting. Seeing how far the pop song and party song can be taken within my musical vocabulary.
The main impact that touring has had on my music has been the addition of the stand-up or monologues. When I would go to a new city as a complete unknown the best way for me to break the ice and make a connection with the audience was to talk to them. I would tell these long absurd fantasies about Frasier or Garfield or a world of hair or just whatever came into my mind. Now that the shows are larger I've been doing less and less of these but I think soon that's going to change. After the album of stories and monologues comes out I think I'll do a tour of just performing monologues. I think it'll be fun. Sorry that answer was so long and lost track.
What do you think about haters? Your live performances exude some of the most positive, non cult-like energy. Is there a time and a place in this world for hating?
It amazes me how insanely angry people can react on message boards or comment sections. Sure, I don't like a lot of music, most music. But it blows my mind that someone can be so mad or filled with rage that they write on a public forum that they want to kill people and their fans over their music. The stereogum.com comments are especially intense and hateful. What, do these people do work in prisons or something? Chill out. YouTube is another war zone of angry weirdoes. When the Crystal Cat video got featured on the front page of YouTube some of the reactions were so negative that I was embarrassed to tell my friends or family. Jacob of PaperRad and I had a conversation about reactions on YouTube and other websites just the other day. On one hand, it's amazing to be able to get your work out to so many people, but on the other, do I really want a bunch of bored people looking for something new to hate to be my audience? Why put yourself out there like that, is it worth it? Who am I trying to speak to with my art? Is the internet the forum for my ideas? The press? Or word of mouth? Does slow and steady still win the race? I bet I sound like a total douche bag. I'm going to get slammed on the blogs for this.
What can you tell me about "Future Shock"? How is it relevant today?
I think it's most relevant in the way people receive and divulge information. The speed of communication has changed art and music so heavily. To a lot of people, cutting edge becomes a co-oped style and then becomes old news at the speed of blogs. Wow, typing this I can't believe blog isn't in the MS Office Spell Check dictionary. Anyway, it's crazy how quickly the internet can change things that in the past have taken years. Getting your art and music out to people via the internet can be both an amazing tool and a terrible hindrance, as covered above in the prior question. It's amazing to be an artist living through this transformation in our society in an age of revolution, in both technology and communication.
Your recently released album Spiderman of the Rings made Pitchfork's Best New Music list and is currently on the Top Seller's list at Insound. These two things alone are pretty impressive, how do you feel about this? Do you think your perception of performing and being an artist has changed at all? Do you feel like you have any kind of new responsibilities?
When you first presented me with this question I had never really thought about it. The scope and the impact that both those websites could have was unknown to me. Since then, I've seen my fan base grow almost at a startling rate. I've existed in the DIY underground for a while so it's a cold culture shock going from that world to this one. I've never really imagined what it would feel like or what I would do if I ever had to the chance to communicate to such large groups of people. With regards to new responsibility, as an artist I feel it's my responsibility to keep doing what I have been doing, and to try to use my success to help my friends and other artists whom I respect and admire. That's why Wham City is so important to me. Even if tomorrow all of what has happened recently changes back to where it was a year ago, I still have a community of people to return to. I guess that's a pretentious way of saying its important not to lose your roots and that my friends are awesome and I would do anything for them. Roots.
On one hand, it's amazing to be able to get your work out to so many people, but on the other, do I really want a bunch of bored people looking for something new to hate to be my audience? Why put yourself out there like that, is it worth it? Who am I trying to speak to with my art?
You moved here with a group of friends from Purchase, NY and started Wham City, a sort of artistic, performing collective in the vein of Fort Thunder. Could you summarize how this all happened and why you picked Baltimore as your destination?
Pretty much everyone else I was friends with at school moved to Brooklyn after college except for Wham City. It was what people who went to Purchase did. You would either graduate or drop out and then move to Brooklyn. I couldn't real stand New York because it was so expensive. My friends and I were totally broke and didn't want to move to a city where we would have to work all the fucking time just to pay rent and eat shitty food. That's the worst shit. But we wanted to live in an urban setting. So we started doing research and Baltimore seemed the best place. It was cheap, dirty, not filled with people, still sort of close to our families (i.e. not west coast), and seemed like it had a lot of potential for a wicked art and music scene. We moved into this building called the Copycat, which in Baltimore is sort of a well-known building for insane things and people. We had no idea at the time. Anyway, our intention was to start a venue, have shows, live there, make art and have fun. It took about 8 months before we stopped crying and getting drunk to make any progress but slowly we started making a name for ourselves in the city. I guess that sums up our start.
How do you feel Baltimore has influenced you?
It's influenced me a great deal. My first warehouse show in Baltimore made me entirely rethink my performance and the presentation of live music. The crowds in Baltimore are unlike most cities in the country. The shows at Wham City or other spaces in the Copycat were totally fucking bonkers, and I think a lot of people who played shows there would agree. But beyond the impact Baltimore shows had on me the people around me have influenced me in immeasurable ways. The music community in Baltimore is exactly that, a community, and it's growing in all the right directions (at least I think so). It's like a small town within a large hollowed out city.
You've performed with a diverse group of artists such as: Matmos, MF Doom, the Locust, the Pietasters, Atom and His Package, The Rapture, Grand Buffet, and Oxes. Do you have a favorite tour or performance story you would like to share?
While this story has nothing to do with another band it's a weird story and something I'll most likely regret telling. The Providence, RI area is known amongst dumpster divers as having really great Dunkin Donut dumpsters. There are tons of them around there since that's where they are based out of. I dumpstered a big bag that seemed really fresh, it was full of soft donuts, bagels and muffins. I hadn't been eating anything on tour but cold black beans, rice cakes, corn, peanut butter, or whatever I could dumpster so these donuts were like pieces of gods. I ate so fucking many that I got sick, like gross sick. I felt like I was tripping. Anyway, the show was at AS220. I played to like 5 people. During my first song I jumped up in the air and shit my pants a little bit. Not much at all but just enough for there to be shit in my pants. I didn't know what to do so I finished the song and then put on an instrumental and ran into the bathroom, threw out my underwear and washed my ass out in the sink. Luckily I didn't shit anymore since those were my only pants on tour with me.
The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association recently developed "Get In On It" as its new slogan and it basically cost $500,000. If you could come up with a new slogan, what would it be?
I think "Get In On It" is pretty much as insane as it gets.