- Bradford Cox (far right) is pure rock and roll. He gobbles pills and dresses like a girl.
"I don't give a fuck what they say about me, because I'm a white-trash queer who might live to be 30 if I'm lucky," declares Bradford Cox, frontman for Atlanta noise-rockers Deerhunter.
Talking from his cell phone, Cox returns some jeans that didn't fit to a friend. The singer probably has a hard time finding clothes. He suffers from Marfan syndrome, which is characterized by tall, skinny torsos, disproportionately lanky limbs, and various cardiovascular difficulties. Think Joey Ramone.
Cox also needs to stop at the pharmacy to pick up his antidepressants and Ativan.
But for now he discusses a recent controversy sparked by Deerhunter's interview with Pitchfork, an online zine popular with indie nerds. Cox uttered some disparaging remarks about Samara Lubelski, a New York musician and producer who has recorded such acts as Ted Leo and Fiery Furnaces. He called her a "bitch" and a "queen-of-the-scene diva-type." This spurred some fellow Brooklyn musicians to launch their own broadsides.
"I went to school in Cobb County [Georgia] with hundreds of people like that. Private-school, NYU, Jeep Wrangler types," says Cox. "I don't give a fuck what people think of me. I don't give a fuck about my reputation. I don't give a fuck about burning bridges."
A moment later, however, Cox flip-flops. "I do care about hurting people's feelings, so I decided maybe I should make some retribution."
Like Cox's personality, Deerhunter's music is brash, complex, entertaining, and unpredictable. Coming together in 2002, the group dropped its debut two years later. Recorded after the death of bassist Justin Bosworth, who suffered a concussion while skateboarding, Turn It Up, Faggot stares down total darkness while drowning in skronk and impenetrable noise.
But Cryptograms, the group's follow-up, is a flip-flop. With a slightly tweaked lineup, the group demonstrates newfound finesse. Sweet pop mingles with pulsating ambience and psychedelic exploration.
It's a broad, expressive album, representing Deerhunter's second stab at this music. After working with Lubelski, the group ditched the sessions. According to Cox, the tape warped and no one noticed, resulting in a washed-out sound. Frustrated, the band nearly called it quits, while its relationship with Lubelski turned sour.
Cox now accepts partial responsibility for things not working out. He admits he wasn't in the best mental state and was difficult to work with during those 2005 sessions. After the band returned to Atlanta, Cox started taking antidepressants.
"What I do with our records is impulsive and creative, and there are consequences to that, and I can deal with those," he says.
Growing up, Cox took a lot of shit for his odd physique, let alone his sexuality. Dealing with it made him unflappable and willing to push people's buttons. Onstage, he flaunts his lanky, seemingly undernourished frame, sporting girls' summer frocks.
Deerhunter's shows often turn outlandish, featuring simulated sex and audience participation. Or they devolve into tsunamis of noise that key Cox's spontaneous theatrics.
Of course, the gales perpetually swinging Cox's moods dictate the action. "There are shows where I don't do anything and just stand there and deliver the lyrics to the music. Those are no fun, but it happens," he says. "I don't feel the need to mediate creative impulses performance-wise."
Cox can't decide whether he should go to Target's pharmacy or the indie-vegan pharmacy run by a lesbian. He flips a coin. Target wins.
But halfway there, he reverses course while assailing the idea that indie culture is any less judgmental than the mainstream. "No one can represent me, and I don't need that [group identity], because I've established my own," explains Cox.
Then again, the dude has developed friendships with such indie luminaries as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O. and also Liars, who urged him to re-record Cryptograms after the Lubelski sessions. Still, he bristles at the notion that Deerhunter is in any way part of the, uh, scene. "We're all outsiders in this band, and it's a very personal thing," says Cox.
He then shifts gears: "We're not trying to sign to a major label. We're not going to sell out huge venues. We have a ceiling over our heads."
That's no guarantee, however. The music industry is in flux, and indie bands like the Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse sell more records than ever. The Deerhunter bandmates are great pop songwriters who are just weird enough to appeal to a broad cross section of fans -- from underground noise freaks to mainstream rockers.
In May, the band released Fluorescent Grey, an EP of gorgeously swirling noise-pop. They then kicked off the current tour, opening a couple shows for the Smashing Pumpkins during their weeklong residency in Asheville, North Carolina.
Now Cox is planning a new album, tentatively titled Microcastle. "I'm interested in older sounds -- Joe Meek, girl groups -- and an older aesthetic," he says. "I want a record that sounds or feels like a decayed castle."
Maybe that castle represents the dark, twisting corridors of Cox's psyche. Navigating it has allowed him to turn his awkwardness back on itself. Now he makes others uncomfortable. In doing so, however, he has developed a fan base. That's because Cox gives the impression that beneath the crusty, doomed exterior, he wouldn't mind a couple more friends.