Dan Deacon: Riffing With A New Voice (Archives)
08.23.2021 - By Soundcheck
Since his 2007 breakthrough album, Spiderman Of The Rings, Dan Deacon has assumed numerous roles. He’s a staple of Baltimore's Wham City art collective - and a classically-trained composer and film scorer. On stage, he’s a mad scientist tinkering with colorful electronics - and a ringleader encouraging his wild fans in absurdist dance-offs. Likewise, his music delivers both exquisite bliss and full-on beat-heavy cacophony. But no matter the setting, Deacon's unfettered sense of humor and his masterful ear for sonic textures unify his various music sides in endlessly exciting ways.
Now, after several records written for larger ensembles, Deacon has gone solo with his 2015 album, Gliss Riffer. In some ways, it's a return to what he’s best known for: exuberant and densely-stuffed electronic dance music. And while singing has always played some part Deacon's songs, Gliss Riffer showcases his voice more fully. You can hear that immediately in the lead single, "Feel The Lightning," and in "Learning To Relax" - where Deacon changes the pitch or timbre of his voice to sometimes sound female - like a duet with himself. It's a big pop-infused sound that will easily get fans flailing with awkward abandon on the dance floor.
Deacon plays those two new songs -- plus a completely improvised piece -- and talks about his writing process and more for this in-studio session.
"Learning To Relax"
"Feel The Lightning"
Dan Deacon, on why Gliss RIffer showcases more of his voice:
I think the reason I focused on the voice is because I permanently destroyed it. There [was] a venue in New York called 285 Kent. I was sick. I had a sore throat and I did the show anyway. I didn’t warm up and people were smoking inside. It was the perfect storm for a terrible worsening of the throat. I went to a throat doctor and was like, "Well, you didn’t do permanent, permanent damage, but you have to realize you can’t treat your voice like your shoes. You have to treat it well and you have to know how to use it." I was like, "What?!? I have no idea how to use my voice! That’s insane!" I’m not going to have the same voice in 2040, 2020. I kept thinking that I should utilize this expiring instrument before it's expired.
On the vocal techniques in "Feel The Lightning":
This is the first record where I wanted to use a different technique to augment the pitch in my voice. I use an old Les Paul technique that The Beatles used a lot too called Varispeed: You change the speed of the music. And you sing regularly and then speed it up and slow it down and then it augments the sound of your voice.
After years of pitch shifting, I have a different way of thinking about it: I don’t hear sounds as gendered. I’m not doing a female voice, I’m just doing a higher pitched voice. Just like how the left hand on the piano isn’t a boy and the right hand on the piano isn’t a girl.
On his exploration of synthesizers:
After I made America, I was like, "Why aren’t I thinking about the orchestration of the synthesizer? Why don’t I try to realize these synth parts, not with soft synths but with hardware synths?" So when I was down for Moogfest, doing a demo for something we were making, I [thought] it would be really fun to come down here and record for a few days. And they gave us full access to their facilities. They let me use a new synth called the Sub 37 that wasn’t out yet; didn’t have a manual, it was still in beta testing. It felt really good, and it was exciting to use an instrument that hasn’t really existed yet. I’m often fascinated with the history of musical instruments and how people are like, "Electronic music, what is it?"
On the writing process:
When I’m writing anything, I wonder where it will it go. What it’s future will be? Will I play live? Will it be something that exists on an album? Will it be something that I play in a seated area, like in a concert hall, or in a venue? Would it be something I play to be paired to image, like for film or video? Once I sort of figure out where it’s going to go, it start to grow into that mold.
On the shift in music listening habits:
I also don’t like thinking of music as a commodity. It’s only existed as a commodity for like a 120 years max? I don’t know the exact date but it didn’t use to be something like, "You want to hear a song? Give me five dollars, I’ll sing it for you. And I’ll sing it for you whenever you see me." [laughs]
Any paradigm shift, there’s going to be a fall out and a quote-unquote Dark Age surrounding it. I just feel like, music is constantly changed. The way you heard it, the way you made it, the way it interacts with society, the way you interact with it, so I don’t think there are wrong turns.