“Point to the ceiling and bend your knee. Point to that FEAR…” The physical process to point to your fear and squat down to the ground, slowly getting away from it, is what almost every person at the 9:30 Club last Saturday happily obliged.
For those that didn’t enter Dan Deacon’s trance/ritual, they were pointed at, casted out as those who had no fear (supposedly). From that, the experience known as Dan Deacon began, but before the adventure that cast a smile on my face for days to come, we took Dan Deacon away to Som Records in DC, exposing Dan to a city he rarely gets a chance to visit, but which we all hope he comes back to visit more often in the future.
Social media has created a new level of fan-musician interaction. It hasn’t gone unnoticed as to how gracious Dan is with his fans via Twitter. This makes sense, as his audiences are such an integral part of his show. Yet, it’s still a pleasant surprise when Dan favorites a Tweet or kindly responds.
I like to use it, it’s fun and it’s a nice way to interface with people. I tend to use it more on tour; I’m in the bus all day so it gives me something to do. I have a hard time writing music on the bus, so Twitter is a nice way of not letting your mind explore itself.
You talk about your discovery of a newfound positivity toward the USA, yet you still expose us to some of the darker moments of thought. You do a beautiful job of mixing the two together, creating a hopeful future for life’s realities.
Thank you, I want the music to be uplifting and euphoric but I don’t want to come across like “everything is great,” so that’s what I aim for.
You’re originally from Long Island. When you went overseas and came back to the US did that affect how you viewed your hometown specifically?
I was already living in Baltimore at the time. I grew up in Long Island and moved when I was 18 up to Westchester County where I went to school. I moved to Baltimore in 2004 and have been there ever since. Yeah, it definitely changed, but not on a micro level, more on a macro cultural level. I started looking at the traits that make me American or make Americans American. Obviously it’s impossible to see until you are taken out of it. You start noticing things that are different, missing or gone or that were there and you didn’t see before.
What made you live in Baltimore versus DC proper, or was there ever a consideration for DC at all?
No, there was never a consideration for DC. I moved to Baltimore because I was very, very broke. We were able to move into a large warehouse space, where it was affordable and a place where we were able to have shows. I just don’t think that would’ve have been possible in DC.
Wham City was created from your collective living situation. Do you still live that way?
No, we haven’t lived together as a group since 2007, so about 5 years ago we got evicted. I live in a traditional apartment now. I’d love to go back to it, but I do like living in a place that doesn’t make me think I’ll get a disease.
How does the collective work?
The way the collective works, for the lack of a better term—it’s like a brand or a moniker we work under. There are a few specific projects that we all work or contribute on, but for the most part we all work individually. It exists underneath that blanket, like the Avengers or the X-Men.
Are members of the collective – people you lived with – a part of your live shows?
Several of them are on this tour, we don’t live together anymore but we still work together. Tonight I’ll have 2 drummers and one synth player, a couple are members of the collective.
You’ve been known to play on the same level as the crowd. For this tour you said you’ll be playing from the stage because you are with a group and are all wired together. Do you prefer one over the other?
It depends on which one I’ve been doing, then I like the other one better. (Laughs)
Do you plan your show around the audience’s participation? Is it a factor for what you’ll do live?
I always think about the crowd as an element of the show like a parameter of the piece. The same way with the music or the PA system and the audience, the room, where the various exits are, and what we can partially do. The audience plays a huge role in that. I do a thing in the beginning that I call “synchronicity,” to try and synchronize the crowd. We all get on the same page and from that I try to gauge if the audience is down for participation and interaction, or more of an audience that wants to watch.
How do you know how it will go?
After seeing how the first thing goes, it’s hard to explain.
What do you think about the DC music scene?
I don’t really know much about the DC music scene. The only band that I knew from DC was this band called Hume and they recently moved to Baltimore. I don’t really know any other bands…seems like it has a decent club scene.
Have you been to Som before?
I’ve never hung out in DC at all, actually. I’m not familiar with any parts of DC. I live in another city.
Yes, but DC isn’t that far away from Baltimore. I live in DC but I’m still familiar with Baltimore. Do you see DC as so far away?
Yes, culturally it seems far away. Music scene wise, I think there’s a large division. The Baltimore scene has a lot of, not negativity towards the DC scene, but so many bands skip over Baltimore and go from DC to New York or from DC to Philly. So, a lot of people in Baltimore make their own scene because of it.
A lot of bands are local bands and it’s a difficult place for touring bands to come, so we can understand skipping over Baltimore, but it’s still a shame and a bummer. I think that’s the reason why a lot of people don’t come to DC, or maybe vice versa. They are so close, but they might as well be hours and hours away.
If there’s a band I really love, I wouldn’t think twice about making the drive to Baltimore to see them.
Well, I think a lot more people in DC have cars. Most people in Baltimore don’t, so it makes it harder to travel outside of Baltimore. Also we have a pretty bad public transportation system—I think everyone can agree on that. I don’t have a car, but I do live by the train station, but they stop running pretty early. I think all of those things contribute to the separation between the two cities.
You have a side project called Gunky’s Basement Film Series, can you tell us more about that?
The Maryland film festival asked me to pick a movie for the festival, so I picked Total Recall and it was super fun. My friend Jimmy said we should do a revival series together and play off that same sort of energy, so that’s why we did it, it’s really fun.
How do you feel about vinyl? What was your first experience with it?
My dad had a big record collection and still does. I think they are beautifully designed things and it’s nice to actually see the progress of the listening and having to flip the record. I like thinking of the music as having an A side / B side situation. That can come from tapes, too. I’m not someone who prefers one format over the other. I think all formats have their pros and cons and strengths and weaknesses. Vinyl is one of those, it’s awesome. When I buy a record I tend to buy it on vinyl. When I go out and see a band at a show, that tends to be what people sell too.
That’s a great thing. It’s nice to see everyone helping to keep vinyl alive as a current format.
I think people like the physicality of the sound and it’s like an icon.
Which record are you looking at there?
This Dan Hicks record looks pretty cool. I always like to see the price of new records.
Do you put your music out on vinyl?
When I was first starting, I put things out on CD-R because I was putting things out by myself and that’s all I could afford. As soon as I started working with a label, everything’s been on vinyl. We’ve gone back and rereleased as much as we can, or as much as would make sense to release. We put it out on cassette as well.
It’s cheap for those that want to buy the record but don’t have the 20 bucks; we sell the tape for five bucks. People can listen to it in their car. It sounds very different, like how CDs sound different from vinyl, and vinyl sounds different from MP3s. Some people really like the saturated blown out bass of tapes.
Are there any emerging musicians from Baltimore you like?
Yeah, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, they are probably my favorite band in Baltimore that are on the rise. They’re a two piece, and for a lack of a better term, a rock band. One guy plays drums and one plays bass. It’s pretty cool. They have a unique sound. They’re pretty rad.
[Dan became immersed in the posters that adorn Som.]
I really like all of the posters you have in your store. Are all these shows you’ve been to?
Neil Becton (Som’s owner): I‘ve collected them over the years. I haven’t been to all the shows but I’ve pulled a lot of them off walls.
Don’t you think all posters should have the date on them…
Yes, we do Dan. Be sure to visit Som to check out all the cool posters for yourself, and as always don’t forget to support your local record store—and in the words of Dan Deacon, “I hope you guys had a good time. I’ll see you in the future.”
Photos: Mike Tocci