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I feel like I’ve said enough about Deerhunter for now, but if anyone’s burning to read more, the piece I wrote after interviewing Lockett for City Life is here….

The full transcript of our exchange follows.

OLLIE: How does the Deerhunter songwriting process work, as a rule?  I heard Bradford giving you credit for writing ‘Agoraphobia’, for example.  Is there a main songwriter, or do ideas come from all corners, then get worked up collaboratively?

LOCKETT: The songwriting process varies from song to song. Some are very collaborative and ideas are worked out in a studio, or discussed in advance. Others might be a demo that Brad, Josh, or I will introduce and the song will remain exactly as is, or it could be completely changed into a collaborative effort. It all depends on what the song calls for. There isn’t a consistent process really.

OW: Are you guys able to make a living through music now, or do you have to work day jobs?

LP: Yea, we do OK now. Some time within the last year and a half it was possible to make a living doing what we do. I think I am the only one who still works a day job though. Just a few hours a week really. Otherwise I get lazy.

OW: What can we expect from the Lotus Plaza album?

LP: Well, most of the stuff I did for that album was recorded shortly after Cryptograms came out, so it follows a bit in that vein. It’s ten songs, a few of which were given away on the blog. I recorded myself in my room and played all the instruments on it. Brad plays another drum track on it in a song called ‘Different Mirrors’. It comes out officially on March 23rd.

Lotus Plaza

Lotus Plaza

OW: I’m still pissed off that I missed your last Manchester gig, which was at Café Saki, I believe.  How was that tour?  Looking at the venues for the upcoming British tour, it looks as though you’ve moved up a notch.

LP: That was our first tour of England, really. We had played shows there before but it was the first time we had gone to more than just the few cities we had been to previously. Things went really well on that tour. We did a TV show there in Manchester with Liars, hosted by a guy named Frank Sidebottom. Was pretty fun. I had no idea what to expect going into that. He recreated the likeness of the Tiananmen Square protest on a miniature soccer field. with plastic soldiers and tanks while interviewing the bands.

OW: I understand that you and Bradford have been friends since you were kids.  What was the situation with you joining the band?  At what point did you get involved – were Kranky already on the scene at that time?

LP: I had been away at college for a few years and when I returned back home, Brad asked me to join. This was probably a year or so before Cryptograms came out. They had toured before i joined the band, but things were still at a much different level. Kranky expressed some interest and came to one of our shows in St. Louis, where we played this small arts space. They were into our show and we signed with them.

OW: I haven’t heard too much Lotus Plaza, but the majority of Deerhunter / Atlas Sound material prior to Microcastle leans towards the ambient and experimental – yet there’s never a total junking of melody.  Is Microcastle an indication that we can expect future Deerhunter releases to continue in the pop vein, whilst you guys work out your more esoteric urges through the side projects?  Or will you keep pursuing the ‘twin track’ approach – i.e. packaging the lo-fi with the hi-fi (Microcastle / Weird Era Continued)

LP: Microcastle is just something different, but not necessarily an indication of what’s to come. We still use a lot of the more ambient stuff during our live sets, but didn’t want to make another Cryptograms on record. It’s more fun to kind of expand your horizons musically from record to record.

Microcastle

Microcastle

LP: The Microcastle/Weird Era combination was sort of impulsive; since the album had already leaked, and gotten out so early before the release, we wanted to make it so that the people who still wanted to buy it would get a surprise along with it. We recorded most of the songs on Weird Era ourselves, with a few in the studio. We kind of wanted it to have an old and haunted vibe in regards to the production of the songs. Probably not something that we would do again.

OW: One of my musical obsessions is this idea of ‘formality’, which I can’t really define without relating it to specific songs.  I think ‘Agoraphobia’ is a good example of a ‘formal’ song… Does that make any sense, in relation to how you guys write?  I suppose I mean that I consider it to have been intelligently structured and played with discipline – specifically conceived as a pop song and performed as such, without ego.

LP: Yea, that makes sense. It is a pretty straightforward song. It’s fun to try and deliberately write a song like that. It’s also difficult at times. Most of the writing I do, as well as Brad, is a more stream of consciousness sort. Then you kind of go back and piece it together into something better or maybe not. Sometimes it works how it is.

When writing a song and trying to make it “formal” from the beginning, it can become a lot harder to get through. There are a lot more filters going through my head before I even start a song or at any stage during it, instead of just picking up an instrument and starting something to make sense of afterwards.

Cryptograms-by-Deerhunter_A4R9rCQuB_Ex_full

Cryptograms


OW: I understand that Cryptograms was quite difficult to put together, being split over different sessions and remixed. Was it easier to make Microcastle and how closely involved with the mixing process was the band?

LP: Microcastle was a lot easier from the beginning. There wasn’t as much grey area or indecision going into the making of it. We had more direction and experience with the songs before we went into the studio. We were all in a different state of mind during Cryptograms and I think  Microcastle sort of caught us at a better and more prepared time. We also had a lot more time in the studio to make it happen than we had with any previous album.

The mixing was done with everyone sitting in a room with Nicolas, the engineer, playing and tweaking the song. He would do his thing and we would respond or we would tell him how we wanted it to sound. Mixing on pretty much everything we have recorded thus far has been a collaborative effort.

OW: Just a personal one, this – ‘Dot Gain’ (from Weird Era Continued).  That chorus guitar break is euphoric, absolutely brilliant.  Were you not tempted to do a hi-fi ‘proper pop’ production on the song?

LP: No, not at all. I actually like it the way it is. I think it would lose the energy it has if it were to be recorded better. I guess I’m used to how it sounds as it is. I couldn’t really imagine it taking on a more hi-fi form. Some things just sound better kind of dirty.

OW: As I might be taking this piece to the Manchester Evening News, I’ll ask a Manchester-related question.  Are there any Manchester groups that influenced you guys? I heard Bradford reference Martin Hannett, in relation to the production style of Cryptograms – and The Fall, with relation to the first album.

LP: Yea, I think we all had a few of those bands in mind like The Fall, Magazine and New Order. They definitely kind of fell in the mental climate we occupied during the writing and recording of Cryptograms. Definitely some of the bands that we can all agree on.

OW: I’m sure the ‘major labels’ must be sniffing around you guys.   Would you consider signing to one of them, if offered?

LP: Kranky rules.

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Hang on, hang on, hang on.

I started to crush violently on Deerhunter when I first heard ‘Strange Lights’ on myspace.  This beautifully judged, emotional pop, with big, star-scraping waves of guitar and artfully yearning vocals, was of a higher songwriting and musical calibre than anything else new I’d heard in a long time.  Here was a young band with genuine artistic talent and feeling for music – that rarest of occurrences in this Myspace era.

So within weeks, I had started to develop a concept of Deerhunter as ‘the new REM’ – surely, I reasoned, a band with this much ability were set for not only a lengthy career taking in many worthwhile records and doubtless some blistering live shows (see you at the Deaf Institute in March…).  I trolled off to Piccadilly Records to buy ‘Microcastle’ / ‘Weird Era Continued’.  The guy behind the counter told me reverentially that this was a brilliant album.

I knew ‘Cryptograms’, a generally ambient record with occasional, thrilling shots of more direct material – that was the ‘destined for stardom’ album – ‘Microcastle‘ had to be the ‘they deliver’ album.

And half of it is simply outstanding.  What a start to a record – ‘Cover Me (Slowly)’, a woozy, slightly staggering, short sprawl of an introduction to the truly beautiful ‘Agoraphobia’ – a guitar piece so perfectly judged, so intelligently restrained, so evocative, that the vocal (its lovely opening ‘cover me’ refrain aside) is almost superfluous.  Stop blathering, Bradford Cox, just listen to your band!  They’re incredible!  Then ‘Never Stops’, in which Deerhunter insouciantly steal the thunder of a whole generation of tremolo-arm bending bands of a sensitive disposition.  It’s my judgement call – they’re the best of any of them.  Then ‘These Kids’, which is really interesting – cutely assembled, shuffling, restrained (again – the musicians in the group don’t feel the need to impose themselves on every second of every track.  This leaves space and helps the overall sound).  From these four tracks, you get a clear picture of a band who are bursting with ideas, steeped in tradition, conscious and intelligent art-rockers.

Then they rather spoil it.  From title track ‘Microcastle’ through to ‘Activa’, not a great deal happens.  Effect pedals are utilised, fringes obscure faces, vocals are whispered, that consciousness appears to have become a defensive self-consciousness, a shyness about their own pop sensibility.

Jesus, lads, you’ve got it, flaunt it….  thousands of bands would crucify their own manager for a song as good as ‘Agoraphobia’, or the boisterous ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, or the supremely graceful, lilting ‘Saved By Old Times’ (with which brace they wholly redeem the album).  Less of the softly softly minutes of piano tinkle / echo box, I entreat ye!

‘Nothing Ever Happens’ – damn.  It’s arguably the only derivative number on the LP, with a blammo verse / chorus pattern ripped straight from the Robert Pollard songbook, then a bridge that must appear in a Buzzcocks song.  But then it just rips into a closing instrumental part that is all Deerhunter and no one else.  Fine, fine stuff.

‘Twilight at Carbon Lake’ is the LP closer and perhaps predictably for a band of this ilk, it starts slowly, dripping with melancholy before utilising the gift of the deranged guitar overdub to swell the song into a strong, sad end.  you can hear the songwriting underneath it – they never ditch that.

Some bands are song bands and should just do that.  Some bands are musicality bands and should just do that.  Some bands want to be greedy and do it all.  I personally believe that Deerhunter should focus on songs and leave the shoescapes to less able writers.

This album is half-perfect.

Yes, I know it’s the old record and there’s a new one out now.

Boards of Canada – that last track on the A Beautiful Place in the Country EP
Spiritualized – Pure Phase / Lazer Guided Melodies
Flying Saucer Attack
My Bloody Valentine (obviously)
CAN – Delay
Broken Social Scene – You Forget It In People

These are the reference points I have divined from this album so far.

Occasionally, thrillingly, pop happens, but overall, it’s an ambient record.  The drummer isn’t great and actually, the drum sound isn’t all that.  The snare sounds a bit weak and tinny.  This is compensated for by most everything else sounding as cool as fuck.

All is distant, reverberating.  Not enough to be right over the horizon, though; the shapes are mostly still solid.

The hook in was the song ‘Strange Lights’.  That was the one I heard on Myspace and kept going back for.  I listen to lots of stuff on Myspace, but this was the first time since Younghusband that I was seduced at first listen.  So many bands wash past me in an, ‘oh, that was OK’, kind of way.  Sometimes, three or four nudges from friends or trusted online sources send me back to the same source to unearth a gem.  It wasn’t like that with these guys.  I was made aware that ‘Microcastles’, the new one, is out already, but because I loved ‘Strange Lights’ so much, I just headed straight for its parent album.

What I know about them is that they are fronted by a gent named Bradford Cox and he very generously distributes his Atlas Sound side project material freely via (address here) – but I can’t tell you anything more about him than Pitchfork or Wikipedia could, so why should I.

Actually. I was going to say ‘when has biography ever been important about an indie band?’  Then I remembered avidly reading Our Band Could Be Your Life, with its fascinating, inspiring chapters on Mission of Burma, The Minutemen, Fugazi and Black Flag.

The Deerhunter story is interesting to me, because they appear to have found a way to be a traditional, even retro indie band in the late ‘00s – and yet be right on the zeitgeist.  Check the Atlas Sound Orange Ohms Glow EP (you might as well, he’s giving it away).  ‘Activation’ – Jesus, it’s the new Pavement!  It has the same warm, wonky glow.  Then there’s a cover of an old Joe Meek song.  This isn’t rocket science, yet it’s become extremely important.  The lineage continues.  A friend of mine nailed it when he described Deerhunter as ‘nothing new or radical, yet … so refreshing’.  It’s a conundrum.  It’s a continuum.  Indie prevails.

So the back-story becomes important.  They blog creatively as well as making music and its all part of the same thing, now.  You have to move with the times.

Anyway, Cryptograms.  Hooked in by ‘Strange Lights’.

First track, called ‘Intro’.  Swoons in with a minute or so of ambience, then in comes the title track, which is savvy as fuck.  Dirty, fast bass, distorted, double-tracked vocals (a typical and creatively well-used Deerhunter trick), a hissing nightmare of feedback, drums that battle in vain to keep up with the impending typhoon.  The vocals get sicklier, more slurred and affected – and compelling – as the guitar swathes become more and more overwhelming.  The bass keeps turning around and around.  This is a brilliant statement of intent.  Our old label boss Tom Rose would be proud. ‘Track two has to be the winner’, he always said.

The album then becomes more meditative.  I think they botched the track order a bit, actually.  ‘Strange Lights’ doesn’t appear ‘til track nine, on the heels of the album’s other stonewall beauty, ‘Spring Hall Concerts’.  Those two should have been split up.  If they’d put either ‘Spring Hall’ or ‘Strange Lights’ in at about track five, momentum would have kept up through the album better.

I like the sprawl of the album, though.  And the outstanding ‘Octet’, programmed in at track six, whilst not a first-listen stunner, soon grows in your perception to become an LP peak.  This is the track that gave me that lushed-out, light, gently cosmic early Spiritualized impression.  Those delayed guitars and the skipping bass, the background layers of reverb.  The repetition, the tension that builds, the release of the hook bass change.  It has that formality that I am in love with and want to get to the bottom of.

It isn’t them at their best, though.

This review has been coloured by the fact that I just heard the delicious ‘Agoraphobia’, from Microcastles, which means I now have to buy that album.  ‘Agoraphobia’ is more grist to my ‘they’re the new Pavement’ mill.  But they’re potentially better than Pavement, because they’re better musicians.  Pavement were so fucking sloppy.  Deerhunter are far from sloppy.  They work hard to mask their deficiencies with production technique.  This is not a ‘warts and all’ endeavour, far from it.   And the more records they make, the better they get.

Is there a bell curve when it comes to creativity?  If there is, I don’t think they have reached the peak of it yet.  I hope not, anyhow.