Thursday, August 23, 2007

Deerhunter don’t want to hurt you

Indie’s most controversial new heroes only want to have some fun

When it comes to the Atlanta band Deerhunter, there’s precious little sentiment left to express, positive or negative, that hasn’t already been heaped on their narrow little shoulders. Christened by fans and critics alike as one of the most important new acts in years, Deerhunter is just as passionately derided as a shock-fueled sham, with sheep-like hipsters on their team only because it’s the cool thing to do.

A listen to their most recent releases, including full-length “Cryptograms” and the “Fluorescent Grey” EP would bear out the band’s champions. Dense, sprawling, and overrun with more ideas than many band’s come up with their entire careers, both discs are loaded with raw, visceral songs that work double-time to maintain an equal balance of chaos and beauty.

But it’s the band’s live shows that have made them the talk of the American indie scene. When I caught them open up for the Ponys at a packed Echo club earlier this year, I saw something I hadn’t seen in a very long time: an audience genuinely shocked by what they were seeing.

When they took the stage, Deerhunter’s imposing frontman Bradford Cox appeared wearing a flowered housedress and a massive, spidery black wig that looked like an exaggerated take on Patti Smith’s haircut from the cover of “Horses.” The music was nothing short of a maelstrom; a whipping whirlwind of layered drones and Cox’s reverberated incantations. The Patti Smith wig seemed apt, as I could easily imagine this band playing a set between her and say, Television at CBGB’s in 1977.

With Deerhunter headlining this year’s most impressive Fuck Yeah Fest line-up, it was imperative that I get with Mr. Cox for the truth behind one of the year’s most provocative contenders.

The most recent news out of the Deerhunter camp is the story of you and guitarist Lockett Pundt getting robbed at gunpoint outside of a show at Atlanta club Lenny’s. Is it that bad of an area, or were you guys just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
It was wrong place, wrong time. It is a bad part of Atlanta, but the club Lenny’s itself is not unsafe, and ever since the robbery they’ve had cops patrolling every single night. I don’t blame the club. The show was sold out, and we had to park far away.

Does Deerhunter stand out in the Atlanta music scene, or do you have other kindred spirit bands to run around with?

We run around with the Black Lips, make out with them and stuff.

Your live shows have become quite notorious. What’s your inspiration to get onstage every night?
Someone like Patti Smith. A lot of times it’s just personal stuff that I dredge up. It’s like when I go bowling with Lockett, which we do every Sunday night. Before we bowl, I’ll think of something that really hurts my feelings. It gets me all emotional, and I’ll usually throw a strike.

It’s funny that you mention Patti Smith. When I saw you at the Echo, the wig you had on reminded me of her.

That wig was my Patti Smith homage. I’ve stopped wearing the dresses and wigs, though. I want to see if people are still interested in seeing me perform just as myself.

What inspired you to wear the dresses and wigs in the first place?

It was just fun. I’ve always worn dresses, ever since I was a little boy. I just like how tall, awkward boys look in dresses. Plus one of my best friends Kristen and I would go shopping for the dresses, and it was just a fun thing to do with her. It wasn’t about shocking people or anything.

What surprised me was just how shocked that Echo audience was by your show
It’s really funny how easy it is to shock people. I think it’s overestimated how much joy I get from it, though. It’s not my life’s work to be a freak, you know?

That must be a powerful feeling though
It can be. I’m usually thinking too much about myself to notice. I mean that in a self-critical sense. I’m so absorbed in my own mental drama to see the crowd. I love the audience, and I love meeting them afterwards. I even like the people that hate us. They help make it fun, too.

I hear from lots of your fans that it took them awhile to “get” your music. Do you feel like Deerhunter is difficult?

I think it’s easy to not get us. I don’t try to make it that way. People think we’re going for one thing, when actually we’re going for something else. Plus what I’m going for changes all the time. We’re an ADD-type band, with so much happening at once. I can understand why people can have a hard time with it. People like things that are easier to digest.

How would you characterize Deerhunter’s sound?
I think it’s pop music.

What is it that you’re going for that you feel people are missing?
The pop element. The friendliness and fun of it. We’re not trying to be pretentious rock star dickheads. We’re just awkward kids. I’m not shy, but the other guys are. But they’re cute, and I’m kind of not, so it’s weird. If the cuties weren’t so shy, we’d be mega-taking shit over. I’m totally just kidding, by the way. It kind of keeps us in check.

It does sound like you’re getting into prettier, more melodic music
We’re doing more covers, and I’ve started to do DJ mixes, just to show people better where we’re coming from.

What do you play when you DJ?
The Everly Brothers, old doo-wop records. It gives people more of an idea of…

Oh, sorry. I’m playing online poker while I talk to you.

Are you good at it?
Oh, yeah. I just made bank a few minutes ago.

Do you win real money?
I have before, but I had to stop because I had an addiction. I get addicted to things really easily. You win a few times, and it’s hard to stop.

Are you a big internet person?
Yeah, I am now, ever since Deerhunter became my full-time job. After the first big tour behind “Cryptograms,” my job was like “We love you to death, but it’s time that you move on.” I just wasn’t around enough. I worked at a graphic design firm. I’m a designer. I’m really proud of the packaging (of “Cryptograms”). It was done with my friend Susan Archie. I just did all of the art for the Atlas Sound record (Cox’s solo side project). It should come out early next year. I’ve put together a band and we’re going to tour behind it.

I was just going to ask you about Atlas Sound. How did that come about, and how is it different than Deerhunter?
Atlas Sound has been going on forever. I love Deerhunter. It’s my pride and joy, and it pays my rent. But like, I have a different way of approaching bass lines or beats or whatever, so with Atlas Sound I get to do more of a hybrid, with ambient electronics next to some 1960s garage pop. It’s an opportunity for me to be more schizophrenic in my songwriting, and to have fun with recording techniques.

What are your impressions of L.A.?
I love Los Angeles. I’ve been out there a lot lately, working on a project with a friend.

Is it something you can talk about?
Not really. I can say that I’ve been helping my friend out on a film score, but that’s all I can say.

How would you characterize the typical Deerhunter fan?
It goes without saying, awesome people! Awesome, sweet kids looking for something that a little scarier than someone like the Arcade Fire.

I’d never heard of Marfan Syndrome (characterized by elongated limbs and cardiovascular issues), which you were diagnosed with as a child. Is it rare?

It’s not rare at all. Lots of people have it. I have it pretty severely, though.

Is it something you deal with on your own, or do you talk to other people that have it?
Since it’s come out that I have it, lots of fans have come up to tell me that they found out they had it because of me. This one kid emailed me to say that after reading about me, both he and his dad got tested and they both had it. So that kind of thing has been pretty gratifying. Joey Ramone had it, too.

Is it difficult to live with?
It hurts your self-esteem. I look pretty ugly because of it. There are heart issues, too. I don’t feel sorry for myself.

There have got to be plenty of people that find you attractive
I’ve never met them. Maybe someday, you know? There are people attracted to the conceptual me, the character. But the way I am onstage is not how I am in real life. I’m definitely not a sociopath sitting around my house in a dress jerking off to child porn.


Eduardo Osorio said...

Awesome Scott. I wish I would have had this chance of interviewing this guy. Congrats!

Bows and Arrows said...

this was awesome!

brunette like me said...

that was a really great interview -- i feel like i get the band more now. incidentally though, i'm pretty sure they do want to hurt me. at least...they used to.

keep up the awesome work. it's enlightening.