Dirty Projectors:
The TVD Interview

Dirty Projectors is consistently pushing the experimental envelope. The band’s music doesn’t fit neatly into a box; it defies genre classifications while offering something that each ear can embrace—be that intelligent lyricism, thoughtful instrumentation, or simply the freedom their sounds convey.

The band has been around since the early 2000s with seven full-length albums, a few EPs, a collaboration with Bjork and a short film under their belt. The sole constant in the ever-mutating Dirty Projectors lineup has been creator David Longstreth. We had the opportunity to speak to the mastermind behind it all about everything from last year’s two albums and short film, to inspiration derived from Kanye West. 

Let’s start off talking about last year. You released Swing Lo Magellan and the “About to Die” EP. How do you feel these two albums differ from 2009’s Bitte Orca?

Well, in a lot of ways, I think that Swing Lo Magellan was really about the songs, whereas Bitte Orca was more about a vibe. The lyrics were way more important to me on Swing Lo, and also on the “About to Die” EP to me then they were on Bitte Orca.

Bitte Orca is sort of built for the stage—it’s meant to be performed, whereas the songs that became Swing Lo Magellan or the “About to Die” EP are more inward-looking, and the challenge with those songs are to make them into these things that have a life on stage, to translate them into something you’d put in front of an audience. That’s one of the coolest parts about the last year is making those songs into something that would work on stage.

One of the things your music is known for is the technique of vocal hocketing. What first drew you into that technique?

Hm. I think I like the idea of sharing, musical trading, and to break a line into its component parts so they can be shared with a number of people, just seemed kind of fun.

There’s also a deep usage of an extended vocabulary in your music, which is something I really appreciate and is also something not found in most pop music. 

What kind of vocabulary do you mean? Like, literally words?

Yeah, literally words! You tend to have more of those, SAT-type words in your lyrics rather than the bubblegum pop lyrics that don’t mean anything.

Oh, yeah. Words are amazing! Words are great! It’s amazing that there are words that mean stuff. I like to use ’em.

I also read somewhere that you are really interested in creating visual art as well, which was evident in the release of last year’s short film, Hi Custodian. Where did the film idea come from?

That grew out of the treatments or music videos we were planning on making. When it came time to make some music videos for Swing Lo, Amber [Coffman] really felt like I should just direct them. We had some trouble getting other videos to completion, so I kind of liked the idea of writing some myself. I was writing down different images and different ideas for music videos, they all began bleeding into one another. So, it was just like, why don’t we just make a short film.

I thought it was really interesting. I haven’t seen a band do that in a while.

It was really an amazing experience doing it. I’m really glad we did it. Who have you seen do that before?

Oh, I don’t know! I’d have to think about that.

You know, there were definitely those rock films of the sixties/ seventies, like the Beatles and Pink Floyd making weird, crazy features. But for me, also one of the things that really got me interested in doing it was the video that Kanye made around the time of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy called Runaway. It’s sort of an extended video for the song “Runaway,” but it incorporates every song pretty much on the album. It strings them together and it’s like, look, there it is. It’s a gorgeous film. He kind of breaks apart a lot of the songs from the album in the film in a really cool way.

I love that album, and then like in the short film, it’s like “oh, fuck there’s a different verse on here,” or “oh, this mix is different.” That kind of stuff. I really liked Runaway.

It’s hard for me to separate Kanye West from his persona and his musical genius.

Do you think they’re pretty separate—who he is as a creative person and who his persona is?

I don’t know that they’re separate so much as I feel like his persona is amplified, like under a magnifying glass. It’s totally out of this world, but I don’t feel like he’s like that all the time.

Did you check out “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead?” He played them on SNL a couple of weeks ago and they’re good. They’re really good. He’s changed a lot. The early records have such a lightness or sense of humor about them…the new shit is pretty serious.

Why do you think there is a shift occurring from digital releases back to physical formats like vinyl?

Vinyl is incredibly tactile. It’s nice to have music take up a physical space as well as an aural one, a mental one. The simple answer is that it sounds better. Nothing sounds like vinyl. It’s also probably important to note that the resurgence in vinyl is nonetheless within the context of overall decline with people buying music at all. That is declining so rapidly. No one is buying CDs. There’s a very small market for people like you and me, dedicated people who love music and know about vinyl.

Hopefully that will change. I’m hoping it’s not just a fad.

I don’t think it is. Vinyl’s the oldest format, except for the wax cylinder. I have a lot of my parents’ records. They still sound great.

When you take care of something, like vinyl…

That’s true. You can’t imagine a CD lasting fifty years. You can’t even imagine a hard drive lasting fifty years. Hm…

Dirty Projectors have a busy tour schedule ahead of them, including a stop in Cleveland on tonight (6/12) at the Beachland Ballroom and many festival appearances, including Bonnaroo next weekend. For the rest of their tour schedule, go here.

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