Darwin Smith of Darwin Deez on his videos and his informal agenda as an artist
Darwin Deez (due at Larimer Lounge tonight) came to the attention of wider and wider audiences relatively early in the band's career with the release of its singles "Constellations" and "Radar Detector." The videos for both songs revealed a band both eccentric, quirky and capable of writing the kind of catchy pop songs with smart lyrics, the likes of which we haven't seen enough of since the 1980s.
Musically, the act is often compared vaguely to "classic rock" bands, but the vibe is more like early solo Donald Fagen, with a much more lighthearted sound and playfulness than some guitar rock band. If anything, there's a bit of R&B and reggae-inspired New Wave in the sound of Darwin Deez but without seeming like a throwback. We recently caught up Darwin Smith, the band's founder and frontman and spoke with him about the band's origin, shows and videos and his agenda as a songwriter.
Westword:How did you come to adopt the moniker "Darwin Deez," and how would you describe the band Creaky Boards?
Darwin Smith: My best friend and sometimes-bassist in the band, Michelle (aka Mash Deez), gave me the name. I felt it was authentic and also stylized in a way that was fun for people. Playing in Creaky Boards was extremely educational and fear-reducing. Watching Andrew, Creaky's leader and sometimes-Deez-bassist, manage, book and promote the band stateside and overseas was a rare, cool, perfect experience for me at the time.
How did you meet the current members of your band, and what do you feel each of them contributes to the project?
Greg [drums] and Cole [guitar], I met working at a vegan restaurant called Angelica Kitchen in NYC. Andrew I met on the Monday night Anti-folk open mike scene hosted by Lach. Greg is a pillar of emotional stability, and he keeps the beat. Cole adds flamboyance and style to our enterprise. And Andrew speaks with the purest rationality in all situations, takes brilliant photos and journals our experiences in rich detail for the Deez blog.
You're known for your signature dance moves as a live performer. How did dance become such an important part of your show, and what dancers have you admired or appreciated over the years?
It just felt right. It felt fun and like it hadn't been done before. Although I did steal it a bit from my friend Jacob Ciocci's band, Extreme Animals. So he's a dance inspiration. Very funny on the social dance floor. Michael Jackson is another huge inspiration. I've studied very closely his '94 HBO broadcast of the Dangerous Tour from Bucharest. He actually had a very small repertoire of go-to moves. That broadcast is really what should have been watched by everyone when he died instead of This Is It.
Was Miles Crawford thinking of your live show in any way when he came up with the treatments for the "DNA" music video or did you give Joshua Pelatzky any direction on his choreography?
Actually I think Miles had So You Think You Can Dance in mind when he made the "DNA" video. I know that show is in his heart in a way. I didn't direct either Miles or Josh.
The video for "Radar Detector" has some really innovative visual elements. Who came up with the idea for vacuuming up your shadow and that string of postcards around your head and Charlene Deguzman's head? What inspired the idea for someone being good for you in a relationship being like a radar detector?
The shadow-vac was my idea. The camera-hat-used-to-produce-scotch-taped-panorama was an idea Ace Norton found online. The idea for the metaphor was probably inspired by... I can't place it, actually... I was -- and am -- really into clear, simple metaphors, one per song, that haven't been used before. I know I got the idea to write that way from somewhere but I can't recall exactly. Usually I know the answer to questions like that though.
How much involvement did you have in the creative side of the video for "Constellations," and did you come up with the idea of connecting the freckles on that girl's arm with a pen? It also seems like it might be what one might imagine the backstage side of Carl Sagan's show Cosmos might be like if you could be there. Did that have any influence on the type of video you made for that?
I had very little input on the "Constellations" video. It was all Terri Timely. They are great. Carl Sagan/Cosmos was definitely the inspiration for their proposal.