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Interview | Dan Deacon

Deacon creates music for information age

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 07:11


Today’s art music scene is a dense mass of micro-genres and enigmatic personalities. It’s an entity that occupies less of our cultural center than ever before and has consequently become impossible to define. From the contemporary classical compositions of Nico Muhly to the ambient drones of Tim Hecker, the process of categorizing music or musicians under the “art music” label is quickly turning into a useless task.

Still, Dan Deacon couldn’t care less about what genres people associate him with. 

“I’m not sure where I fit in and I don’t really care. I’m just happy anyone listens to my music and comes to my shows,” Deacon told the Daily in an email. 

Though his music is clearly indebted to the likes of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, his electronic sketches are more fun and infused with indie pop than anything the two minimalists would ever do. Before his show last night at Boston’s The Paradise Rock Club, Deacon discussed his process, the way the Internet intertwines with his career and his most recent record, “America” (2012) with the Daily via email.

Tufts Daily: “America” is as densely layered and beautifully textured as anything you’ve done so far, but there’s more acoustic instrumentation on here than there normally is. How important was it for that to come across in your listeners’ minds, considering the United States is an entity traditionally thought of as hyper-industrialized and uninspiring?

Dan Deacon: With this record I wanted to work with all the families of sound, not just the two families I’ve worked with the most, electronics and percussion. Each has so many timbres and abilities unique to them and I’ve wanted to dive into exploring them — strings, winds, brass — more. I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

I think it’s odd you would think of the [United States] as hyper-industrialized and especially insane to call it uninspiring. That’s crazy to me. If anything it’s hyper-post-industrialized and in that post-industrial landscape I think there is a massive amount of beauty. Once you get out of the cities, the rural landscapes and raw geography are mesmerizing. Part of the reason I called the record “America” was because everyone thinks of the word differently, and clearly you and I take the word in very different ways, and that’s beautiful.

TD: Your first real releases to the public were in 2003, about two years after the initial death of Napster. Nevertheless, you’ve still seen the file sharing industry develop and expand wildly with your progression as an artist. Have you had to change the way you think about releasing music over the past decade?

DD: It’s not something I thought about with this release but I will totally from now on. Spotify and YouTube have really changed the game in a way similar to when Napster did. It’s crazy how in 2007 when the album leaked, it was like the best thing that could have happened to me. Now, I think a lot of people just wait for it to show up on Spotify and YouTube and hear it there. 

There has been a shift from wanting to have the music files to just wanting access to them. That shift really changes the way people interact with music. I am worried it’s a reversal back to the old corporate model of music before file sharing changed the game, but I don’t want to be a cultural relativist and just think, “New s--t is bad. Old s--t that was new s--t to me is better.” It’s just a change and music will adapt. If it’s a wrong turn or not, history will tell.

TD: How much has the ubiquity of the Internet affected your career? Is your huge web presence something you enjoy, or do you feel like you’re obligated to do it because it’s really the only choice artists have nowadays for getting their name out there?

DD: It’s just become the standard for most bands. The goal is to make it so that as many people as possible can have my music available to them, and the Internet makes that much easier than in the past when the methods of distribution and exposure were controlled by a handful of large corporations. Not that Tumblr, Twitter, etc. aren’t corporations, but it’s such a drastically different system/structure.

TD: Can you describe what your ideal venue to perform in would be?

DD: A large open room with a flat/level floor, high ceilings, several exits, curtains that actually open and close for the stage [and] a PA that matches the size of the room filled with cognizant/open-minded people.

TD: What musicians working today are you most excited about or intrigued by?

DD: Future Islands and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. Both of those bands are totally sick.

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