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NEAL CONAN, host:

Baltimore electronic pop star Dan Deacon invites his fans to gather round, dance and bring him gallons and gallons of veggie oil.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Okay. Maybe we need to explain the vegetable oil part. A musician who gained a following as a one-man act is currently on a national tour with 15 other performers driving from gig to gig in a van powered by veggie oil.

To mark Earth Day, we've invited him to join us from NPR West to tell us what that's like and talk about his music, too. If you have questions for Dan Deacon about his music, his band or his means of propulsion, our phone number is 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site, go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dan Deacon is on tour, well, about now three weeks into the tour to promote his new album, "Bromst." Dan, nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. DAN DEACON (Musician): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: After three weeks, do you miss your days as a solo act?

Mr. DEACON: I mean, at times. But, no. It's much more rewarding to play with humans than it is to play with sequencers.

CONAN: I've talked with other people who've been in bands and they say it's just as important when you travel with a group that they travel well as that they play well.

Mr. DEACON: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, when your home is, you know, your vehicle and you have, I guess in this case, there's 20 people on the bus and we all live, you know, within a few feet of each other every day and we see each other every second of the day, it's important to make sure that you're comfortable and that your life isn't out of balance.

CONAN: Are these mostly friends from Baltimore?

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. It's mainly people from Baltimore and a couple of people from Brooklyn, and one person from Los Angeles.

CONAN: I was going to say, just B places?

Mr. DEACON: Excuse me?

CONAN: Just places that begin with B, Brooklyn, Baltimore…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEACON: Begin with B. You cracked the code.

CONAN: I have. Now, tell us what it is like driving to all of these places - San Diego, Knoxville, Fort Worth - in a van powered by vegetable oil?

Mr. DEACON: Well, it's not that much different than any other vehicle other than we - Jeff Nosach(ph), who's the mechanic and driver and the guy who manipulated the bus so that it would run on waste oil, he constantly gives it maintenance and checks it over. And it takes a little bit longer than normal, but I think whenever you go anywhere with 20 people, it takes longer than it would take anyone on their own.

CONAN: Well, I'm sure - does it smell different than a normal vehicle?

Mr. DEACON: On the outside. We - the last tour I did that had veggie oil had the tank inside the car.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DEACON: It constantly smelled like fast food in the car. But this one has the tank underneath in a more convenient location. And, no, it doesn't smell at all.

CONAN: But as opposed to pulling into the mobile station to refuel, where do you go?

Mr. DEACON: Well, behind restaurants or behind the mobile stations since they tend to fry stuff there. Anywhere that uses oil to cook. And, you know, most places if you go behind and - I don't know if you've ever dumpster-dove - but…

CONAN: No, not lately.

Mr. DEACON: Actually most dumpsters, there's a - in a food places -there's a large vat of just grease and cooking oil and waste oil that they pay to get rid of. And most places are very excited when you're going to take that off their hands because then they don't have to pay for it to get taken away. And it's beneficial to all parties involved.

CONAN: Might there be a stray French fry or chicken tender in there?

Mr. DEACON: We have a filtration system that catches all the tasty treats.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I suppose it disposes them, I hope. And so, you - is this a - well, we're doing this on Earth Day, but is this better for the environment?

Mr. DEACON: I don't know - I mean, Jeff is the real oil master. But I don't think that the burning of the fuel is that much cleaner than the burning of diesel. The main thing is that we're reusing something that would otherwise be thrown away. It's a fuel that exists and is, you know, prolific throughout all of the country that normally just gets dumped into, you know, landfills.

And that's the main thing, is finding a use for something that would otherwise be useless. And I think that's the growing trend. When I first heard about this a few years ago, it was really an eye-opening thing to be, like, wow, we could go on tour and not give all of our money to the oil companies and we could actually use something that would - and a lot of - when I first started, I got a lot of my equipment out of the garbage and would do a lot of salvaging. And this has been something I wanted to do for a long time.

CONAN: Salvaging is important for musicians. Let's get back to the music, which is something you are expert about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEACON: I don't know about that, but…

CONAN: Well, anyway, I did want to say that "Bromst" is, well, a lot of people have said that it's much more restrained than your first album.

Let's listen to another cut from the record.

(Soundbite of song "Snookered")

Mr. DEACON: (Singing) Been round this road so many times, feel like its skin is part of mine. This tasty meal is almost gone. Still got no shame, but not for long. Been wrong so many times before but never quite like this. Heard all, rain, but the rain all…

CONAN: An excerpt from a cut called "Snookered" from the new album "Bromst." Bromst, by the way, what does Bromst mean?

Mr. DEACON: Oh, well, it's funny you should ask. Well, it doesn't mean anything. I promised myself I would make up a new ridiculous lie every time someone asks me. But I've exhausted all of my…

CONAN: You've exhausted them all and probably…

Mr. DEACON: …slightly believable lies. And I don't think anyone really believed me. And I'm trying to be less than a liar. So…

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. DEACON: I just wanted a word that had no preexistent meaning, but had like, a low sort of percussive type tone.

CONAN: And you've certainly found one. And the music more restrained, is that an accurate description?

Mr. DEACON: I don't know. I wouldn't consider it more restrained when I was writing it. I think it's just more - it has a greater realm of shades. I feel like the last record was just black and white while this one has a more of a gray scale to it and has more variation from track to track and section to section. And it's just more - I guess, maybe restrained, I don't know. And I haven't listened to the album in a long time, but I can see where they're coming from.

CONAN: As a solo act, you were known for, well, gathering your fans around you. You were sort of invisible in the midst of this sea of humanity. That's a little more difficult when you've got 15 other performers.

Mr. DEACON: It is. I need to maintain eye contact with the performers from time to time. And as the audiences have gotten larger, I need to maintain some sort of level of communication with them as well. So I still play on the floor. But I've been experimenting with this little riser that I built that holds my equipment.

CONAN: Ah. We knew you'd put yourself on a pedestal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Selling out. Here's an e-mail we have from Chris(ph) in Bethlehem, Connecticut. He should be part of the band. What's the deal with the glowing skull at your shows? Also, great job with the veggie oil power.

Mr. DEACON: I bought the skull at a Safeway supermarket years ago. And I guess I just bought it as a joke, because I thought it was this ridiculous thing. And I used to live in this warehouse space called Wham City and we would have large shows and parties there. And I always hated how whenever I would play, it would just be this one light that was on and there was - this constant light. There was no level of change. And I put a strobe light in the skull and thought that it would work. And I think it became an effective icon of my performance.

CONAN: A signature.

Mr. DEACON: Yes.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. DEACON: The more popular member of the band than me.

CONAN: Dan Deacon is our guest. He is currently on a national tour to promote his new album "Bromst." He's joining us today from NPR West. 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org.

Michael's(ph) on the line from Savannah, Georgia.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hey, Dan.

Mr. DEACON: Hey, Michael. How are you?

MICHAEL: How you doing? You came to my station one morning and I did audio for you.

Mr. DEACON: Oh, awesome.

MICHAEL: And remember that movie we did here, "We Are 360"? I worked on that, too.

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. That was a lot of fun.

MICHAEL: Yeah. It was great, man. I just wanted to call and say good work. And I've been following you and I like everything you've been doing. And, you know, A-plus on the vegetable oil car. I remember seeing that during the G8 and I thought it was a hell of an idea. And then I see you doing it. Excellent work, man.

Mr. DEACON: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Michael, what kind of radio station do you work at?

MICHAEL: It's a television station, actually. It's WSAV in Savannah.

CONAN: And Dan…

MICHAEL: Audio engineer there.

CONAN: …you did - you were part of a crew that did a piece on Dan when he was passing through?

MICHAEL: Yes, sir.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. Thank you for calling, man.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

Mr. DEACON: Good talking to you again.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

MICHAEL: You too, man. Bye.

CONAN: And you have adventures on the road, don't you? One of the odd things about going on a national tour and going on for days and days and days and weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks is reality tends to warp a little bit?

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. Hopefully.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEACON: Isn't that the point?

CONAN: I think that's part of the point. But nevertheless, I think your commercial connections might think the point is to sell lots of records.

Mr. DEACON: Oh, maybe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEACON: We certainly carry a bunch of them in the bus. So the more we sell, the less we have to load in and out every night.

CONAN: And do you have somebody out front merchandising your albums at every concert?

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. We work in shifts. So, I'm on tour with two other bands, Future Islands and Teeth Mountain. And we rotate who works at the merch table. And it's really collectively-run operation. And between the 20 of us, there's enough work to get done and to get divided up so that everyone's doing their part and pulling their load.

CONAN: So they're on the bus, too?

Mr. DEACON: Everyone's on the same bus, yes.

CONAN: One bus. Is there a trailer for the equipment?

Mr. DEACON: No. There's an equipment cage in the back. But we do tow a little truck that goes around and gathers all the oil and stores all the oil for us.

CONAN: And so, that's quite an operation in and of itself. You say you got one guy who's especially in charge of that.

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. That's Jeff Nosach. He is the wizard of this tour. If he wasn't on this tour, the tour would not exist.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Alisa(ph). Alisa with us from Chicago.

ALISA (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm very well. Thanks.

Mr. DEACON: Hello.

ALISA: Hi. Dan, I saw you play at Epiphany in Chicago.

Mr. DEACON: Oh, yeah.

ALISA: I just wanted to thank you. I see so much live music. But the way you invited crowd participation and they did the human bridge and we all got to run under each other's arms. And then you ran with us and, you know, gave everybody a hug, a handshake on the way out. It was just - it was really great. It was really, for me, reminded me why I love music and, you know, why I follow it and live artists.

CONAN: Wait a minute. Who is playing the music when he was playing the human bridge?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEACON: Most likely, the iPod.

ALISA: I think it was one of his many machines.

CONAN: I see. I see. So these are electronic machines that have loops and tapes and, well, they can perform somewhat on their own?

Mr. DEACON: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: And…

Mr. DEACON: That's why I got rid of them for humans.

(Soundbite of laughter)

It's a lot more interesting watching humans play than it is looking at a bunch of inanimate boxes.

CONAN: That's…

Mr. DEACON: But I'm glad you had a good time with that show. I had a lot of fun. That was at the Round Robin tour, right?

ALISA: Yes, it was.

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. That was a lot of fun.

CONAN: That's why we don't sell a lot of tickets for people to watch radio either. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALISA: Well, I'll come see you play with live people as well even if you don't get to run around the church with us.

Mr. DEACON: Oh, I'll be running around. Don't worry. Nothing's been taken away from this show. We've only added to it, I think.

ALISA: Good. Good.

CONAN: Alisa, thanks very much for the phone call.

ALISA: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. DEACON: Bye-bye.

ALISA: Bye.

CONAN: We're talking with Dan Deacon. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And what kind - she was talking about playing a church there. Those can be fairly large spaces. But what kind of halls are you playing on this tour?

Mr. DEACON: Quite a mixture of spaces. A lot of them are, you know, traditional venues and, I wouldn't say concert halls, but like, you know, large rooms of all sorts, churches, basements, warehouses, venues, clubs, playing a few art museums and art galleries - just about anywhere you can imagine putting between 400 and 800 people we're trying to play.

CONAN: And those - are you more accustomed to intimate spaces or bigger places like that?

Mr. DEACON: I guess at this point, I'm getting kind of used to the larger rooms. I've been playing them for a while and at first, I find it rather daunting. But one of the nice parts about having a big space is that you can really utilize the whole space. And I try to get the audience to not be so fixed and focused on just looking in just one direction of the stage. And I try to use as much of the performance space as possible and try to recontextualize the rooms in as many ways as I can.

CONAN: Let's get Paul(ph) on the line. Paul with us from Boston.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, Dan. Honor to talk to you.

Mr. DEACON: Nice talking to you, too, Paul.

PAUL: How did you decide on a process or a series of equipment to use initially?

Mr. DEACON: Well, that's a good question. I found a signal generator, a Wavetek 180, in the garbage at my college, and I was fascinated with it. I had been writing computer music for a while and wanted to figure out a way how to do it live and finding this oscillator really opened up a lot of doors. But, you know, it was just one tone and everything was just a straight (unintelligible). I couldn't really go from step to step, and just started thinking what I could use to, you know, modify and modulate the sound to get it to do what I wanted. And I thought a pitch shift pedal and a loop pedal would do exactly that, so I could change the pitch and I could layer them together and create, you know, harmony and melody, and noise various levels of density. And at some point, I added a ring modulator, and that sort of started it from there. And once I had the pitch shift pedal and the ring modulator and the loop pedal, I started thinking less about using the oscillator, more about using the voice and started making the performance very based around vocal manipulation - that's when the vocals were added.

CONAN: That's when you went to the Chipmunks act?

Mr. DEACON: I wouldn't say that. But - but you can definitely say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Some of the vocal compression with the various electronic manipulation of your voice - some people have compared it to the Chipmunks. So…

Mr. DEACON: It is pitch shifted up an octave and the Chipmunks are doing the same thing. So…

CONAN: But they've doubled the speed. But anyway, that's - yes…

Mr. DEACON: That's also up an octave, right?

CONAN: Yeah. If you slow those down, it's actually quite interesting to hear David Seville…

Mr. DEACON: I know I've heard those slowed down for the first time and it was amazing. I couldn't believe how funny it was.

CONAN: All I want, a hula-hoop.

Mr. DEACON: Yeah. It's - oh, so good.

CONAN: It's really interesting.

Mr. DEACON: Dave Seville, what a genius.

CONAN: Yeah. Paul, thanks very much.

PAUL: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. DEACON: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Let's get one last caller in. This is Jackson(ph). Jackson with us from Wichita.

JACKSON (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Jackson.

JACKSON: Hi. How you doing?

CONAN: Good. Thanks. What's up?

JACKSON: I was just curious. It seems like, you know, Dan - seems like a DIY artist. I was just sort of wondering what your stance was or what you kind of thought about having a booking agent than being a, you know, an independent artist. I'm not exactly sure what label you're on. I assume it's a sort of independent label. It seems like this new record's and independent release. I was (unintelligible).

Mr. DEACON: Mm-hmm. I'm on a label from Carpark.

JACKSON: What's that? I was just wondering what your stance was on playing bars and playing - versus playing all ages venues and playing warehouse spaces versus playing, you know, big auditoriums and how that works out for you basically?

Mr. DEACON: The main thing that I want to do with the performances is to make sure that it's as comfortable as an environment for the audience as possible. Obviously, an all ages show is preferred because I don't know what to - not be able to perform for a portion of the audience that might want to go. But in regards to, you know, a DIY space versus a quote-unquote legal or traditional venue, both of them have the same ups and downs. I think of, like, a bell curve of venues - you know, there's really great DIY venues, and there's really great traditional venues, and there's really horrible DIY venues, and there's really horrible traditional venues.

So you just want to find a space whose main focus is about the performance and not about, you know, the selling of alcohol or, you know, socializing and partying. You want it to be a space that's devoted to, you know, the proliferation of art and culture and not just some sort of external factor. And that could be, you know, even if a space sells alcohol, they could still be very focused upon it being a music venue and they sell alcohol to help subsidize their rent. I think a lot of DIY venues do the same thing.

CONAN: Dan…

Mr. DEACON: I'm rambling.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Dan Deacon joined us from NPR West in Culver City. That label, by the way, Carpark Records.

And this is NPR News.

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