'You Have To Be Bored': Dan Deacon On Creativity The electronic artist's new album, Gliss Riffer, is his most accesible yet. In a conversation with Arun Rath, he waxes philosophic on stress, technology and the value of a wandering mind.
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'You Have To Be Bored': Dan Deacon On Creativity

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'You Have To Be Bored': Dan Deacon On Creativity

'You Have To Be Bored': Dan Deacon On Creativity

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Imagine a composer at work. Do you picture a tortured soul with wild hair playing a piano with one hand and scribbling on notation paper with the other? Dan Deacon's not like that, except maybe for the tortured soul bit. Dan Deacon composes on his laptop. His orchestra is any existing sound that catches his ear. He manipulates, he lengthens, he modulates and reassembles any number of found sounds into his own mesmerizing compositions. Dan Deacon's new album is called "Gliss Riffer."


RATH: That sounds like Dan Deacon's learned to play the Indian tablas, right?

DAN DEACON: No, it's a bunch of slices and samples that I re-sequenced into that pattern.

RATH: Turns out Dan Deacon is a bit of an audio alchemist.

DEACON: You know, my music's always been like very rooted in, like, the sculpting of either pre-existing sounds or synthesis. And I feel like with this record I kind of revisited, like, microsamples. Like, my favorite thing to work with is, like, just like an (unintelligible sound) like a really short sample, a little bit larger than granular synthesis, which is like zooming in on like one cycle in a pre-existing waveform and then making synthesizer sounds out of that.

RATH: Like a note or - I mean, mixing visual with audio, but like a pixel in a way of music.

DEACON: Exactly.

RATH: Do you get around the copyright issues? You can just use it if it's that small?

DEACON: Well, I would consider it fair use because it's completely recontextualized. A new derivative work is written made, and there's no way to tell what it was - we should really not talk about this. This is a nightmare.


DEACON: I'm actually, like, expecting the emails that were like oh, we've identify the microsamples you were discussing.

RATH: Oh, yeah.


DEACON: (Singing) Ten thousand eyes and four hundred hands and all of my arms are made of the sands. And oceans have all been dried up and left. They became the skies and then they all wept the first time they heard song from Tom Petty, the one where Johnny Depp plays the rebel named Eddie. The sky was the limit and then it came crashing down.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Can you feel the lightning covering your skin? It's the nightmare.

DEACON: I keep thinking about how we're immersed in media. But it's still like illegal to use, do you know what I mean - which is crazy.

RATH: Well, some of the early, you know, rap samplers went through when...

DEACON: Exactly.

RATH: ...All of a sudden a lot of their music became illegal.

DEACON: And copyright law is getting more and more strict, even - but you can exist in two ways. You can either be, like, remarkably wealthy and then license whatever you want or you can be really obscure and no one's going to care, you know what I mean? Because you're not going to enter into there like (imitating lawyer) well, we can litigate them for millions because we talk like this and I'm pretending to type on a keyboard that doesn't exist.

But if you're anywhere in the middle, collage becomes difficult.

RATH: This album, you know, it's layered and deep the way your music has been, but it feels like there's a lightness, maybe a happiness that wasn't there before?

DEACON: I don't know. I'm glad you hear it.


DEACON: I was very stressed out while making the record because it was the first time doing it in a long time by myself. And when you enter that process, you become the only ears in the room. And then self-doubt can really, like, emerge as, like, a key player. And I kept thinking, like, are these songs like tomatoes that I grew in my own garden where, like, I, like, remember, like, putting the seeds in the ground and, like, patting the dirt on top and then, like, seeing it sprout and then, like, growing into an adult plant and then picking the tomato and, like, slicing it. I'm eating it and I'm like all these memories are attached to this taste. And my friends are just like oh, the tomato's gone. Are there more tomatoes? Because you don't have that attachment to the memory - and I kept thinking, like, is this music something worth sharing, or do I just like it because I'm making it?


DEACON: (Singing) I want to take a ride. I like it when you drive me. I've got nowhere to go or show you. Just take me out of my mind.

RATH: Well, it's funny hearing you express that anxiety because, you know, one of the themes of this album is stress - as much as there are themes about it - and that...

DEACON: Oh yeah.

RATH: ...You know, learning to relax. Well, I understand there's a great story behind that - that song "Learning To Relax."

DEACON: Yeah. I was doing what I thought was relaxing, but was actually just killing time - I was on Facebook. And a friend of mine posted a video from the Toronto Film Festival of Bill Murray talking about his approach to acting or his philosophy about life, I guess. And it just completely blew me away because he said...


BILL MURRAY: You can do the very best you can when you're very, very relaxed. No matter what it is, whatever your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are.

DEACON: And to me this was just, like, kaboom. What are you talking about? Oh my God, I forgot that word even existed, because I very much was a person who was motivated by stress. I would use a deadline as a motivator. And I think a lot of people do that, where they're like oh, I'll just wait 'til the last minute. And that'll, like, light a fire underneath me and I'll get it done and I'll do it. And I just kept thinking, like, well, that's a terrible way to live. Like, why am I just, like, building a house and lighting a fire in the basement just to see if I can, like, finish the roof before it burns down my whole house. And everything sort of came to be.

And I started realizing how important is to truly relax, and in relaxing to be bored. You have to be bored. If you're not bored, your mind is never going to wander. And if you're mind never wanders, you're never going to lost in thought and you're never going to find yourself thinking things you wouldn't have otherwise thought.


RATH: I read a while back - tell me if this is wrong - NPR helped you get a gig with Francis Ford Coppola.

DEACON: It did. I believe it might've been this exact program. I was talking about how music can exist in multiple forms. I was talking about how you can morph something after it's set - that with music you can record something as a document, but then perform it live and completely and radically change it either on a macro or a micro scale.

And I guess Francis heard this and emailed me, which I thought was definitely not really him. I thought it was one of those things like you've inherited the fortune of a king and I am the - I need to get - it seemed a lot like that. It was like - his email was like a series of letters and numbers. And I was like what is this crazy email? And it's oh, I'm Francis Ford Coppola. I'd like to work with you. So I was like sure Francis Ford Coppola - like very wary about writing back. And then I started realizing it was real and it was a really - and I've been wanting to score films for a long time because it's fun to write music outside of your own universe.

I guess my favorite part about it was just talking to Francis about technology and how, like, both of our art forms exist because of technological revolutions that happened prior to us that we kind of like got to exist, like - how people were like felling trees to, like, put down crops that now we're eating the fruit of. Do you know what I mean? And I keep thinking...

RATH: Because the film technology...

DEACON: Film technology...

RATH: ...And music production technology...

DEACON: Exactly, electronic instruments in general. And I keep thinking that we're there again in that, like, we're on the cusp of a new art form that doesn't exist, that isn't music, that isn't sculpture, that isn't film. The same way that, like, there was a time before photography. And there's so many new ways to, like, expand upon the current technologies and make new art forms out of them.

And I just - I can't wait 'til like 20 years from now there's this new thing. And maybe this is already happening now and I'm just too blind to see it. But I don't know, I think there's a new form of music out there that's going to like bud off of music and become its own thing. I don't remember how we got to this tangent, but I think about it all the time as you can tell by my like 45-minute ramble about it.

RATH: That's Dan Deacon. His new album is "Gliss Riffer." If you'd like to hear more, go to nprmusic.org. Dan, it was really fun speaking with you. Thank you.

DEACON: Oh, no problem. The pleasure was all mine. Sorry I rambled so much.


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