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Dan Deacon's electronic sermon sets up shop at the Southern

Arts & Entertainment's conversation with the indie powerhouse

BALTIMORE - Musician Dan Deacon photographed in his studio November 17, 2014
BALTIMORE - Musician Dan Deacon photographed in his studio November 17, 2014

Electronic musician Dan Deacon is no stranger to the show circuit. Having a career born and bred in the sweat-soaked incubator of house shows and “do-it-yourself” venue culture helped increase his familiarity. It turns out that Deacon is no stranger to Charlottesville either. Ahead of his show April 8 at the Southern, Arts & Entertainment sat down with the buzzworthy artist to talk about his new record “Gliss Riffer,” how to firmly grasp success, and Tim Burton's “Batman.”

Arts & Entertainment: Your 2007 record, “Spiderman of the Rings” is what many consider your indie breakthrough. Pitchfork labeled it “Best New Music” at the time of its release, with a track from that album also branded a “Song of the Year” by the lauded publication. What was that initial acclaim like for you?

Dan Deacon: It was really surreal, because I didn't ever know it existed. I was making music in the DIY scene and touring houses and art spaces with my live set. The biggest shift was [when] it went from people hearing my music at the show to people hearing my music without being present. They were hearing just the record, and that was a major shift mentally for me because for the first time in my career, my live show wasn't my introduction to people. It was either them downloading my record or reading about me. Prior to that, my entire existence [was something] you saw happen in front of you. It made me rethink what music is and means and how it has many different lives and contexts and situations and [how] everyone interprets it differently. I kept thinking how music was changing for me.

A&E: Since that initial boost, you've released a handful of EPs and full-length records. Lately, your music has been released via Domino Records, a label which is home acts like the Arctic Monkeys and Pavement. Has being on a label such as domino fostered your creativity in different ways or has your DIY mentality stayed the same?

DD: It's great to have a big team helping to get the record out. [Domino's] based in the U.K., so it was nice to have a zone over there … to help to get the word out [while I was on tour in Europe] and make sure I can have over vinyl over there because vinyl is real heavy and I don't want to carry it across an ocean. [They have] a great roster and it's a great label for a band my size. Because they have such large acts, they can experiment with smaller [ones] that also experiment themselves — I feel like they did a great job with Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors. Because the bands that border on the fringe of pop and experimental but are neither - I feel like I exist in that sort of realm

A&E: Your new record, “Gliss Riffer,” definitely exists in that cross-section. NPR's premiere of the album said it possessed “a hint of humanity from the dusty circuit boards that dominate [your recording] rig.” ... Is this record more reigned-in than say, your last record, “America,” which has a massive, ambitious four-part suite called “USA?”

DD: I think people would describe “America” as more sweeping, while [“Gless Riffer”] is more punchy. “America” ... was about these long-form pieces. That's how I saw the record. While “Gliss Riffer” has that, the focus is on song structure and the pop song format … Even the more experimental tracks … are coming from that point of view. The orchestration is [also] more focused … and within that focus, nuanced.

A&E: Aside from big strides in your musical career, you've made your footprint in other corners of the entertainment industry as well. You've worked on informercial parodies for Adult Swim and help curate Gunky's Basement, a subdivision of the Maryland Film Festival which showcases original 35mm prints of films (Gunky in 2014 featured Tim Burton's 1989 “Batman”) and screenprinted posters from local artists. Will 2015 see a new installment of this event?

DD: We’ll be on tour pretty much most of the year, but we do talk about programming Gunky's whenever our schedules line up.

A&E: Let's talk about Charlottesville for a second. You played the Jefferson in 2012, and you're headed to the Southern this Wednesday. What can audiences expect from a Dan Deacon show?

DD: I think expectations are the death of experience. I think it's best to go into something with as clear of a mind as possible. I really enjoy a movie when I go and don't know anything about it, but I like knowing [its genre]. The best way to [summarize my live set focuses on] electronic music, but it's not music that would get played in the dance club. It's more influenced by Devo or the Talking Heads than it would be [by] Aphex Twin or the Chemical Brothers. My mentality towards performance is that everyone in the room is a part of the show, and that plays a role in how the night unfolds.

A&E: Does audience participation, then, play a huge part in your shows? You did have a smartphone app developed exclusively for the tour cycle in support of “America.” Are there more special features headed out to venues to augment “Gliss Riffer”?

DD: You'll have to go and find out.

A&E: Besides having new fans experience your performances, the big umbrella question to ask artists to round out interviews is usually something to the effect of “What's next?” However, seeing as DIY and electronic music culture have shifted so dramatically even from to 2010 to now, where do you see your career trajectory gliding by 2020?

DD: I can see myself fixating on … the texture of sound. I really want to approach the next record from a larger textural standpoint. I want to think about how you can create different textures in a studio environment versus a live environment — and what shifts between that, [as well as] how people interpret music within a group versus how they interpret it individually. I think that's what I'll focus on [in] my next body of work.

A&E: Will the next record be written with more of the live performance in mind, or will it be more of a “studio” record?

DD: I don't know, I'll have to start sketching it out. I'm in [such a] tour production mode and have been since September. I think once the tour begins, the new record will start to take more shape.

A&E: After this stretch of U.S. dates, [are you] going to do another U.S. tour?

DD: I'm on tour in the States until June, and then I'm on tour in Europe until July. I'll have the month off in July, but then I go back on tour in Europe in August, and then back in the States some point in the fall.

A&E: Does the fact you're on a U.K.-based record label affect audience reception patterns in Europe?

DD: I think at this stage of the game, people find music in so many different ways that I'm not sure people even think about a label. When you're on Spotify, there's no way to search by label, which I think is bizarre. It's not how Motown [Records] used to be, where you'd be like, “Oh, this record's on Motown, I'll check it out.” Labels are so genre diverse [now]. I don't want to say it doesn't mean what it used to, but I don't know if people take that into account other than knowing the scope of the record.

It's like thinking about a baseball team. The manager of the team is so important and [how] the manager and the franchise works together … The more help a label can give an artist to focus on nothing but their work is the best thing a label can be.

A&E: Doesn't that go back to what DIY culture was founded upon?


DD: When I first started, I was learning every aspect of what I wanted to do, and it was fun to focus and fixate on that … I remember talking with [fellow musician] Andrew W.K. [about what happened] when [he] blew up. [He thought] it was great, because [he] wanted his music to be heard by as many people as possible. That was a really great mentality, so I try to replicate that.

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