Deerhunter discusses automatic writing, Monomania, and setting the record straight on Connie Lungpin.
“Keep him in the bathroom! We’re not done yet.” Bradford Cox yelled as I entered the hotel room where I’d be interviewing Deerhunter in just a few moments. On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this week, Cox, dressed in drag and covered in fake blood, tore through his band’s latest single and album title track, and prominently displayed what looked to be his own dismembered fingers. I was the last of a series of interviews they had done that day. The band was understandably worn down.
Monomania, Deerhunter’s fifth album, is described in their press release as a “nocturnal garage” album, and the description couldn’t be more apt: peaked guitars and distorted vocals evoke such classics as The Stooges’ Raw Power and Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives in equal parts. From “Dream Captain”s bratty wreckage of a melody, to the serene middle jangle of “Monomania,” every song has the immediacy of a sort of punk rock Everly Brothers cover band, a far cry from their more abstract breakthrough, Cryptograms. Sitting down with the members of Deerhunter, I successfully avoided Cox’s infamous interviewer ire and discussed their recent lineup change, the writing process of Monomania, and the mysterious masked man they’ve been bringing on stage with them.
“You’re not hiding in the bathroom are you?” his press person asked a few minutes later. I emerged. The interview began.
Gary Canino I really enjoyed your performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night. Who was your friend on the side of the stage with the tape player?
Bradford Cox (lead vocals, guitar) Paul! He’s the greatest guy.
Moses Archuelta (drums) He actually messed that up though, it was amazing. He forgot to rewind the tape—
BC I made this cassette, like these motorcycle sounds that are on the record, but Paul was so spaced out by the cosmic NOW of the idea of satellites and shit . . . he’s a great kid. He’s been with the band for a long time. He’s kind of like our little brother.
GC I also watched you debut “Monomania” at the MOMA PS1 last month. Was the 20-minute noise jam at the end of the song always part of the concept?
BC Yeah, well, that song could have been 45 minutes on the album. We spared people the pleasure.
Lockett Pundt (guitar, vocals) We did a 14-minute version at PS1—
BC Oh, it was way longer!
GC And Paul was there too!
BC He’s not my boyfriend!
GC I wasn’t implying that.
BC I’m just prefacing it, because people just assume if I have a cute male near me that he’s my boyfriend.
GC I also have to ask about “Connie Lungpin,” who you appeared as on Fallon last night.
BC That’s not what that is, that’s just something I shit out of my mouth one time, and suddenly, it’s everywhere . . .
GC Well, you could blame Ryan Schreiber [founder, Pitchfork.com], he put it out there that that was the character name.
BC Yeah. Connie Lungpin. I don’t know. It just came out of my mouth. I come up with a million names a day. And I say that one name, and now everybody’s like “Who is Connie Lungpin?”
GC So it’s not a character for this album or anything.
BC Well, everything I do is kind of like a character. I’m like a method actor.
GC In the past you’ve said Deerhunter is sort of a schizophrenic band, always trying to figure out what you exactly sound like, but Monomania feels like the most cohesive album you’ve made so far.
BC Well, that’s interesting, because I think this is the album where I stopped thinking about a greater theme. That’s a good question. That really is one of those questions that’s up to interpretation, and my interpretation isn’t complete yet.
LP I don’t know that I think our previous albums don’t sound cohesive . . .
BC I think I was being more abstract. You have this one kind of thing, interrupted by another idea, kind of like how I talk. I have a hard time keeping a train of thought going.
Josh McKay (bass) There’s more economy. An intentionally minimalist thing.
GC I noticed the songs are shorter this time around too, every song is about 3 or 4 minutes long.
BC It is more of a minimalist album.
GC Maybe the cohesiveness I’m hearing is from the vocals, they sound really distorted on every song.
BC But there are no effects actually.
BC There might occasionally be accents with an echo machine, like a tape echo box, but the main reason the vocals sound like that doesn’t have anything to do with artificial effects, there’s just a cheap microphone that I like to use.
We recorded the album using 8 tracks, in a very unconventional method. The way the album was recorded was very stream-of-consciousness, like how I write in my bedroom, but just in a larger context. We strung together a bunch of 8 tracks so they were like microphones, and then made each one like their own character in a play. It’s just sort of a different approach, like filming a movie with an unconventional light setup, it’s sort of . . .
This rug is distorted, it’s bothering me. (to interviewer) Lift your foot up. (fixes rug) Go ahead.
JM There was kind of more of a manifesto going in, Bradford had some aesthetic triggers.
BC I’m more of a director than a performer on this album, honestly. It’s like everybody put in their best acting roles of a career, everybody delivered 150 percent, and everybody supported. I’m not saying I took an authoritative position, although that probably wouldn’t be very inaccurate, but that’s not to say everybody in this band doesn’t have the ability to take that authoritative position.
There is no hierarchy. But at the same, having taken that initiative, I pushed it a certain way, and sometimes it was uncomfortable, because it was very minimalistic. I really had to strip away a lot of the natural instincts in modern music making or record production. It’s really easy to fall into this trap.
GC Halycon Digest was done with Ben Allen, and this one was recorded with Nicholas Vernhes, who also did Microcastle. How did the recording process differ?
MA Ben definitely had a lot more authority; this one was more like open season for everyone, creating the songs.
BC Yeah, but I had to edit with a director’s viewfinder, you know, putting everyone’s ideas together to accomplish one thing. And a lot of time it’s the accidents, little ideas, which make a song.
JM [Bradford’s] speed of work is really part of the instigation, too.
BC If it takes more than 25 minutes to set up any sound, it’s really not worth it.
GC You’ve spoken about the process of “automatic writing” for a record. Was it the same way with Monomania, where the lyrics just sort of come to you as you’re playing the song?
BC Yeah, I didn’t even have any concepts going in. I just started recording. I don’t know how that happens. Sometimes people call “bullshit! Those lyrics are too complicated to have just been made up!”
Well, my nephew, he’s six, and has this sort of glossolalia. He has an interesting mind. He watches a lot of television, and sometimes he kind of goes into this trance, reciting this strange juxtaposition or collection of stuff he’s heard from different monologues. And you sit there and listen, and you’re trying to follow the logic, and it doesn’t make sense, he sounds deranged, but if you stop trying to follow the logic and just listen, it’s entertaining, and it’s all in English!
That’s kind of how I make music, I just let all these things juxtapose themselves and flow out. If you do listen to my demos, it is a bit more realistic, more understandably stream of consciousness, like, one part will make sense, but then I stop speaking English and just start making sounds, and then later I fit words to those sounds. I’d say it’s 90 percent stream of consciousness, and then 10 percent editing and putting it into a form.
GC Lockett, are your songs written like that as well? “The Missing” sounds very precise.
LP Yeah, that one is more written out, I tend to write in a little more calculated way, just because I’m a little more self-aware. I tend to pick apart what I do really quickly before I have a chance to get through it. But I like the songs that come quick; those are always the best ones.
GC Is that why you usually sing just one or two per Deerhunter album?
LP Yeah, I’m a little slower. (laughter)
GC The lineup is different for this album, too.
BC Well, Josh Fauver, the longtime bass player, not the original bass player, but the longest running bass player, for unknown reasons that have not been explained to me, just . . . didn’t want to be in the band anymore for personal reasons, which I’m not privy to. There was no animosity or acrimony.
I’m very happy with the way things turned out, but I miss Josh, he was essential to the eras of the band he participated in. He was equal, but I will say the energy now has shifted completely and undeniably. We’re much closer now. It’s kind of like losing a limb, where you go to rehab, and it’s a little awkward at first, but then you get your strength back, and sometimes you can change your attitude for the rest of your life and live in misery because you’re disfigured, or develop a new appreciation for life.
GC The way members have flowed in and out of Deerhunter over the years kind of reminds me of Fleetwood Mac.
BC Hmm . . . that’s a good point. But it’s important for me to emphasize that there’s no hidden drug problem in the band, we’re a very sober-minded group of people. We’re all functional and married, and we don’t have these secrets. I’m not sleeping with Moses’ wife, and Josh doesn’t have a $500 a day cocaine problem, you know? All those things that keep bands’ lineups impaired, the animosity and jealously, it just doesn’t exist with us. We’re no different than when we were 19 years old, except more balanced.
But that doesn’t mean our perspective on art has changed, or the ability to channel something disorienting. You don’t have to be fucked up to make something totally fucked up.
MA I think it was important to us to be able to find a way to not lose that, but also to create some kind of maturity or stability, some day. Things used to be . . .
BC A panic attack! Our band should have been called that, because that’s what we were. Just a walking, throbbing panic attack, on stage and in real life. Honestly, I think it’s just getting older. We’re old men now.
JM But we have a bizarre life style. Seven PM to seven AM are our hours of action . . .
BC But that’s really not true. That’s just in a studio, under a lot of pressure.
GC You did call Monomania “nocturnal” in the press release.
BC Well, I am, but I think everybody would be if they just followed their instincts. I do whatever I want, and I don’t mean that in a braggy or bratty way, I mean I can’t fall asleep if I’m not tired.
MA Sometimes he’ll wake up at the crack of dawn before everybody, and sometimes—
BC Usually I’ll just get in a zone, like “I’ll wake up at nine AM everyday for a week, go to bed at one AM,” but I wouldn’t say our lifestyles are weird. I don’t think anybody aspires to waking up at four PM every day, though I guess it’s associated with someone out partying or doing cocaine. I’ve never done cocaine or heroin. I’ve done psychedelics though. All I’m saying is that our lifestyles are not necessarily chemically decadent.
JM My point was that there is still this intensity, sort of an altered state, that I think the band achieves.
BC I wouldn’t know, because I don’t live any other way. Josh is older than us, so his schedule might be different.
JM I’m a night man.
Deerhunter’s Monomania is out May 7 on 4AD.
Gary Canino lives in New York City, where he spends his nights playing guitar in the slow-motion country rock group the Monte de Rosas Band.