Dan Deacon: Deacon-structing Dan Electro-pop musician and composer Dan Deacon talks about his love of audience participation and plays a game about well-regarded board games with mundane themes.
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Dan Deacon: Deacon-structing Dan

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Dan Deacon: Deacon-structing Dan

Dan Deacon: Deacon-structing Dan

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

(APPLAUSE)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Jonathan. It's time for our special guest. He's a composer and musician. His latest album, "Mystic Familiar," is out now. Please welcome Dan Deacon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAT BY A TREE")

DAN DEACON: (Singing) What would you cast into existence if you contained the persistence to unwind?

EISENBERG: Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.

DEACON: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Thanks for being part of it. You're a composer. You make electro-pop. So when people think of EDM, for example, they think Skrillex and Daft Punk and Deadmau5. You cross genres. But how did you even get into this genre of music? What brought you there?

DEACON: I hate to exercise.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yes.

DEACON: And my family had a computer.

EISENBERG: What kind of computer was it?

DEACON: One of those, like, beige computer - remember computers were beige?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yes, they were all beige.

DEACON: Do y'all know what I'm talking about? It was a beige computer. And, like, my...

EISENBERG: They weren't black. They were not white.

DEACON: No, they were...

EISENBERG: Yep.

DAN DEACON AND OPHIRA EISENBERG: Beige.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: ...Beige, tan, beige. Khakis were in. My dad bought it off of, like, a friend. And, like, it had this, like, custom boot-up screen. He bought it for his pest control company. But for some reason, it had this MIDI program on it. And I didn't know what MIDI was. If you're not familiar with MIDI, it's a protocol for writing electronic music and sending information to - synthesize...

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: I just fell in love with it.

EISENBERG: You just kept going with it. And, you know, you do something that sets you apart from other musicians in the genre. And I'm just wondering, when you went to live EDM shows, did you watch them and think, there's something missing here - there's an opportunity?

DEACON: I started make electronic music. Again, it was with a beige computer.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: Not a laptop. And there was - this was kind of, like, 2001, 2002, when, like, IDM, the, like, arrogant uncle of EDM was, like, emerging.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

DEACON: And every show at the Knitting Factory were, like, four people being, like, I got this custom-made laptop, and now I'm going to stand here for 40 minutes and play esoteric sounds that aren't enjoyable to listen to while standing.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: And so you'd stand there for 40 minutes and be like, I can't dance to this. It doesn't sound good in this room. There's nothing to watch. I hate this.

EISENBERG: Right.

DEACON: And then I would go home and be like, time for me to make some electronic music.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: Perfect. So I started thinking, there has to be, like, theater to the performance. If you're going to put something onstage, there should be something to watch.

EISENBERG: You go into your audience, and you put them to work.

DEACON: I try to make the show as comfortable as possible, so that way when it does become like, OK, now we're going to do, basically, like, summer camp activities for the next 2 1/2 hours...

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: ...It isn't, like, a grueling punishment.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

DEACON: And you also don't have to do it. Like, I'm going to throw magicians under the bus here, but I think magicians...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: They require it.

DEACON: I really wish there were, like, some - boo, don't start talking about magicians.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: Magicians do a lot of damage to the art form that is audience participation. So that's why I'm very anti-magic, anti-magicians, et al.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: Well, I think a lot of people hear on audience participation and they're like, oh, my God, you're going to make fun of me...

EISENBERG: Well, that's exactly...

DEACON: ...And everyone's going to - oh, my God. And, like, that's the last thing I want. And the oldest one is a dance contest, where I just ask people to make a clearing in the room. And I pick two people, and if they don't want to do it, I ask them to pick other people. And the reason I started this is I was playing a show - I can't remember. It was called the Apocalypse Lounge, and it was somewhere in the Lower East Side. And I'd never played a good show in New York. Like, everything had been, like, friends of friends or the other bands or just a promoter being like, we could just both go home right now.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Right.

DEACON: So the show is - anyone who has ever played music knows exactly the show I'm talking about - being like, I'm good if you're good, right?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Who wants to call it? Yeah.

DEACON: So I'm playing this show, and it's - I mean, granted, it's smaller than this stage, but it is packed, like, illegally packed. And it's in this basement, and it's - for the first time, it's working. And the power goes out. I'm like, no. But it's just the power and the PA system, not on the one lightbulb in the center of the room.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: And I know if everyone goes upstairs, they're going to go to the bar; they're not going to come back down. It's just - it's not going to happen. The set's over.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

DEACON: So I just start rambling - guys, like, make a circle. Make a circle. We're going to - you, you're going to dance like if "Jurassic Park" was Bart Simpson and, like...

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: And I'm just like, we have to keep the momentum going. So I'm just stalling for time, rambling about this dance contest. Eventually, they get the PA on. And it worked. And now the audience, for some - even though there was no stage and no one could see me, at that point everyone was still facing the same direction. But for the rest of the show, everyone was looking towards the center of the room. And I was like, this is how I will one day own a home.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: That's kind of where I'm at.

EISENBERG: That's fantastic (laughter). Yeah. Well, you know, a lot of time has passed between you on the beige computer. On your new album, "Mystic Familiar," you sing with your natural singing voice. You know, you don't normally do much of that. A lot of times you're using pitch modulators and different ways to distort your voice. So what pushed you to make that decision?

DEACON: I used to be really into absolute music, music that had no meaning, and it was just to be listened to for its aesthetic value and just for the texture or the rhythm or the melody. But I was like, all right, the voice carries this - it's this instrument that can do something that no other instrument - like, if trombones could have, like, lyrical content, I would definitely be like, oh, these trombones got to, you know, be singing.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

DEACON: But for some reason, with my own voice, I was like, no one shall ever hear it.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: And I just wanted to - I don't know. I was feeling really emotionally raw and very vulnerable and, like - I was just like, I really want to write a song that was just piano and vocals because I don't play the piano and I don't sing.

EISENBERG: Perfect.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: I was like, this will be great for my career.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Dan, before the show, you told us that you're into board games, specifically Settlers of Catan and a game called Cave Evil. It's a board game.

DEACON: You want me to break down - I'll break down the full game mechanic. So you...

EISENBERG: Give me three hot points.

DEACON: You are an evil necromancer, and you are in the pit of eternal darkness.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) This sounds so fun.

DEACON: And what you want to do is to build squads of creatures - large, small and medium... - to do battle against other necromancers to kill them so you can rule this pit of ultimate shadow.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: But here's the kicker - if you don't do it in a certain period of time...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

DEACON: ...The ultimate evil emerges, and the whole game shifts, and you have to defeat the ultimate evil. So you can play this game for eight hours and the game wins and no one wins.

EISENBERG: The game wins.

DEACON: The game can win.

EISENBERG: So OK - so for your quiz, as we know, some board games are exciting. They have topics like space travel, fantasy, war - exciting stuff. And some are mundane, and they build on topics like real estate.

DEACON: Yes.

EISENBERG: This quiz is called Fun Game, Boring Theme. I'll describe a board game; you tell me if it's one of the Top 100 board games, according to the users on boardgamegeek.com, or a fake game we made up. And if you do well enough, listener Holly Peterson (ph) from Summerville, S.C., will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

DEACON: Holly, I'm so sorry.

EISENBERG: No.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right, here's your first one. Become an ornithologist in this scientifically accurate game where your goal is to use worms and berries to attract the best birds to your aviary or nature preserve.

DEACON: That's a real game.

EISENBERG: That is a real game called Wingspan.

(APPLAUSE)

DEACON: Of course I knew that.

EISENBERG: Have you played it?

DEACON: No. But before I came on this show, I watched Salvador Dali on "What's My Line?"

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: And his strategy was to say yes to everything.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: So ask me another.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You got it. Live your dream working for a utility like Con Ed or PG&E, buy power plants and build the best infrastructure to win. And because it's a board game, you can still play if the actual power goes out.

DEACON: I actually know this is a real game.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right - Power Grid.

DEACON: Power Grid. Yeah. Yeah.

EISENBERG: That's right - real game.

(APPLAUSE)

DEACON: Not as enthusiastic crowd response for Power Grid. People were like, bird game - bird game sounds pretty cool.

EISENBERG: Yeah, bird game...

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: Utility bill game - that does not sound as fun.

EISENBERG: Not fun at all.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah. You just mention Con Ed and everyone gets very sad. They're like, ugh.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You won't want to move like a snail in this game about snail mail. Players are delivered random assortments of letters, and then they race in real time to sort out the junk mail. You lose points for accidentally discarding paychecks and wedding invitations.

DEACON: I'm going to regret this, but I'm going to say not a real game.

EISENBERG: Not a real game.

DEACON: All right.

EISENBERG: That is a fake game.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Yeah. Nobody knows what mail is. All right. Turn your sewing circle into an octagon of death in this cutthroat competition to make the best quilt. You'll be on pins and needles as you try to grab the best patches to finish your blanket.

DEACON: Patchwork - real.

EISENBERG: That is real. Patchwork, yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Two-player game.

DEACON: I've often - I've wanted to play this game, but I'm, like, I should just learn how to quilt.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You can also play it on your phone.

DEACON: Woah.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right.

DEACON: I have to go.

EISENBERG: That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right. Compete to plan the best wedding on a shoestring budget.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: The choice is yours. Hire a DJ or use Spotify. Get a photographer or post an Instagram hashtag. Offer an open bar or just beer and wine. Fail and you'll be on the receiving end of a scathing Yelp review.

DEACON: Zola is not a game. I'm going to go with not real.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) It's not real.

DEACON: Not real.

EISENBERG: Not real.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: There are wedding-themed games. They're usually more upbeat. However, I found that there is Divorce! The Game. That is a board game. It simulates all the fun of a divorce, including lawyers, child custody, alimony and tax fraud.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Last clue.

DEACON: OK.

EISENBERG: The villagers demand flax.

DEACON: Oh, no. This one's could be thousands of games.

EISENBERG: You are their only hope. Play as a flax farmer in this game that takes place over four and a half years. Help relieve the fiber-deprived townspeople, and you could unblock the path to victory.

(LAUGHTER)

DEACON: Well, this copy is brilliant. I'm going with not real.

EISENBERG: That's real.

DEACON: It's a real game.

EISENBERG: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's called Fields of Arle.

DEACON: And this is one of the top 100 games.

EISENBERG: Yes. It also features...

DEACON: It's about getting enough fiber.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's - yeah. I have some details. It features a textile house based on a real shop run by the game designer's mother and grandfather.

DEACON: Had you said that, I would have known this is a real game.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's how you know, of course.

DEACON: What is that game called?

EISENBERG: It's called Fields of Arle.

DEACON: Fields of Arle.

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's about flax. But guess what? You did well enough. Holly Peterson and you have won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes. Congratulations...

DEACON: All right. Thank you.

EISENBERG: ...Dan Deacon.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Dan will be back later to play another game on the show. But right now, give it up for Dan Deacon, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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