Dan Deacon on not having a rider asking for snacks and touring as self-sufficiently as possible
Although the great majority of our interviews take place in advance of a show, every now and then, we get a chance to hang out with an act when it comes through town. Such was the case yesterday with affable and intelligent Dan Deacon, who took time out of his day to chat with us about a variety of subjects, from whether our society, if it still exists 500 years from now, will view John Cage in the same light as Beethoven, Mozart or Bach, to how he and his bandmates strive to be as self-sufficient as possible on the road, cooking all their own food, using vegetable oil to fuel their bus and (gasp!) not having a rider asking for snacks and such, like most every other touring act.
Westword: How did you come to score the music for the film Twixt? Did you work directly with Francis Ford Coppola, and what was it like working with him?
Dan Deacon: Yeah, he contacted me through e-mail and invited me out to Napa. We sort of chilled and chatted for a while. Over the course of a couple of weeks, he asked me to score the film. We dialogued quite a bit. We exchanged music back and forth in what we were going for. He has a knowledgeable background in classical music. His father was a composer who scored his early films.
He sent me the script, and I sent him stuff I thought would be cool to emulate or replicate, and we sort of went down that road. What I remember sticking out is "Black Angels," by George Crumb, which is a string quartet I really love, that I sent to him. Most of the stuff I did was more atmospheric. I haven't seen the final cut of the film, so I have no idea what made it in and what didn't.
On the August 2012 cover of Under the Radar, you hold a sign that says "YOUR APATHY IS THEIR REWARD." Was that statement your idea? What did you mean by those words, and what does that statement signify for you?
It was my idea. I just think we're designed to be apathetic toward the government, or the corporate takeover of the government. [We're] designed to be apathetic toward the military, to almost distance ourselves from what our country and culture is so it's easier for them to co-opt it, take it away and destroy it. I think it's especially true within youth and underground. They play right into it unknowingly.
There are so many people out there who think, "Voting is a joke; I'm not going to vote." That's the point: They don't want you to vote. They do everything they can to disenfranchise the demographics they don't want involved. By doing that, you're doing exactly what plays into their plan, their whole system. It's very easy when you live a counterculture lifestyle that you're not part of the culture, but if anything, it's more important that you rep that, because it shows that America isn't just a homogenized monoculture. It does have radical ideals and ideologies.
On March 26th of this year, you played at Carnegie Hall and did a tribute to John Cage on the occasion of the year of his 100th birthday. What would you say is the significance of John Cage to you as a musician, and what do you believe are his major contributions to music in general?
I feel like five hundred years from now, if our society still exists, Cage will definitely be seen in the same league as Beethoven, Mozart or Bach. He had a mind that changed the game and created a paradigm of what music can be and liberated a whole world of sound and silence. Without Cage, I don't think we'd have performance art in the capacity we do today.
There wouldn't be Fluxus, and I don't think minimalism would have come about. There's just a huge, massive influence from him. What he did helped propagate so many other artists that wouldn't have made to the forefront. The fact that he was always experimenting was a massive influence. It's impossible to think of the world without him. It would be like trying to imagine what society would be like without the steam engine or something.
Even if you despised his music -- which, as a composer, I think would be difficult to do -- his ideas and the conceptual value of his work are endless. There were people who were doing what he was doing at the time like prepared piano, but Cage brought it to such another level. Thinking about sound, for lack of a better term, formats and realizing all sounds were cool and valuable.
There is no such thing as a silent performance; there is always going to be incidental sound. Those things revolutionized the way that people interpreted work and interacted with it and what it meant to be a performer, what it meant to be a participant -- all those things were completely flipped and recontextualized. His conceptual work, his theories and his ideas permeated all levels of art and continues to this day.
Why did you root the music for America in "triadic harmony set to a fixed pulse" and what effect do you feel that has on listeners?
Ultimately it's music that's made for movement. I like working within major scales, major chords -- they're beautiful. I love dissonance as well. In regard to the music that I currently write, especially with America, that's what I framed it as. I guess what I was trying to say is that while it's rhythmically and harmonically all over the place, I still find it to be just not regular pop music even though it's framed within what pop music is.
Pop music sticks to a pulse and most of the chords are chords that you can hear in just about every song. Even though it falls under the realm of experimental pop music or whatever it's still ultimately pop music and should be listened to as such.
"USA I - Is a Monster" will remind some people of the name of the late experimental rock band. But musically it isn't necessarily related. Why did you want to draw on the imagery of the USA as a monster for that part of the tetralogy?
When I started writing the piece, it was just a track I saved as "usaisamonster" because I was working on this drum riff that reminds me of them. The played a show at my house that was an epic, hour-and-a-half-long performance, and it was totally sick. When I wrote that piece, it was longer piece, and I kept thinking of that concert that they did in my old place, Wham City.
Eventually it drifted very far from that original idea. Plus the filename became so inordinately long because my computer would crash every fifteen minutes. I would constantly save new versions in case I made a wrong turn and go back to an earlier version. So I had hundreds of different files called "usaisamonster" dash, the date and a brief description. Then it got too long to read, so I just started shortening to just "USA."
I think that subconsciously worked into the influence, and I started thinking about geography and where the influence is coming from, and it morphed from there.
When I was titling the individual parts, I decided to keep the "usaisamonster" reference. The lyrics in that part of the first section: "Nothing lives long, only the earth and the mountains." It's a Native American saying. Usaisamonster uses a lot of Native American imagery in their work, and it seemed to come full circle, so I decided to keep the title that.
"The Great American Desert," as a title, evokes a certain part of the USA well. What about those parts of America spoke to you, and is there a metaphorical significance of the title in a more general sense?
It's just such a psychedelic part of the world. I grew up on the East Coast, and I really love the East Coast. A lot of people have a desire to go west, and it's ingrained in American culture to go coast to coast and see the country. When you get into the desert, you start realizing how vastly huge the country is and how crazy and psychedelic the landscape is. It has a mystical quality to it, especially at night.
I've lived in suburbs and cities my whole life so when you get into the desert in the middle of the night and there's no lights on the highway and you go off a little bit, there's more stars than you could ever imagine in the sky. That couples with the canyons, the valleys and the insane desert plants that almost look like aliens in their own right. Such a psychedelic environment.
Keep reading for more of our chat last night with Dan Deacon