Eccentric Electronic Musician Dan Deacon Talks About How He's Learned to Relax

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COURTESY OF RIOT ACT MEDIA
  • Courtesy of Riot Act Media
When electronic musician Dan Deacon played Cleveland three years ago, he delivered a highly engaging set at the Beachland Ballroom. Early in the set, he made everyone stand in a circle and dance in unison. Later, he would have everyone cram into the middle of the dance floor and gyrate. All the while, he kept a steady stream of hard-hitting beats flowing, turning the cacophonous “Lots,” a tune from his just-released album America, into noisy anthem. For “Trippy Green Skull,” he put electronic effects on his vocals to make it sound like he had sucked down a bunch of helium. A true eccentric, Deacon puts on one hell of a show and not many electronic artists come close to doing anything as engaging.

While EDM is currently all the rage, Deacon is a real pioneer; his career predates the present-day hoopla. After his 2007 album Spiderman of the Rings put him on the indie electronica map, he went in a variety of different directions as he honed his interactive live show, even partnering with a business to develop a phone app that would sync to the shows at one point. With Gliss Riffer, an entirely self-produced record of almost all electronic sounds, Deacon has returned to the process that made Spiderman of the Rings an underground hit.

"I started writing the album in 2012, right after America came out,” he says via phone from his Baltimore home. “I didn’t finish it until 2014. That’s when I started getting my shit together. I was doing so many side things. I was doing classical composition stuff. I like doing that even though everyone thinks they can do it. I like doing all these different things. I would love to master one of them. If I quit social media, I would have two symphonies and a double LP out every year.”

He admits to struggling with anxiety at the time. It wasn’t until he saw a speech by a certain Hollywood celebrity that he changed his perspective.

“Luckily, I saw this Bill Murray speech where he talks about relaxing and it really helped me and really motivated me,” he says. “You hear the word relax all the time but for someone who is anxious and has stress, when someone says ‘relax’ to you, it’s like a triggering word that makes you even more stressed out. That word had lost its meaning to me. I didn’t know what it meant. When he broke down what relaxing was, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had forgotten. It just came back to me. Since then, I’ve been focused and able to live in the moment. That’s what relaxing is — being in the moment. I try to look at things that normally would have given me anxiety and with anticipation. Little things like email . . . I don’t try to keep up with it anymore.”

Since he lost his voice earlier due to a bad bought with laryngitis, he discovered a newfound appreciation for vocals and lyrics. That sentiment comes across clearly on the album as well.

“I started thinking about what makes the voice unique,” he says. “Every instrument can convey pitch, amplitude, duration and texture, or a wide range of textures. The human voice is the only one that can convey content. It’s the only instrument that doesn’t just imply emotion but can state it outright. If the trombone can do something that no other instrument can do, I would use that. I never used it as a conveyer of information. I normally use it as something that provides texture. I fell in love with that idea. That got me into lyrics. The first song I dove into lyrically is ‘When I Was Done Dying,’ which is probably why it’s so verbose. It’s gotten me into lyrics. I like lyric-heavy bands like They Might be Giants. But I also like Nirvana and the Boredoms and Lightning Bolt because I don’t know what they’re saying. I love the human voice as something that provides sound. I love Brian Eno because most of his lyrics are written phonetically. I love the lyrics themselves but I love that the voice is there. I’m trying to find a balance.”

After a short solo tour, Deacon heads out as the support act on the Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus tour. What kind of expectations does he have for that strange pairing?

“I try to have zero expectations about anything that I do,” he says. “I find that they are the root of disappointment. I try to go into it open-minded. I want to be open to anything. I think that’s how you have the most fun. It will be wild to be in that moment. I will try to ride that out as long as I can and see what that’s like.”

Dan Deacon, WUME, The Pleasure Leftists, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-5588. Tickets: $22 ADV, $25 DOS, grogshop.gs.


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