"Some Things Have Gotta Remain Personal, Right?": Deerhunter on "Monomania"

"Some Things Have Gotta Remain Personal, Right?": Deerhunter on "Monomania"
(l-r) Josh McKay, Lockett Pundt, Bradford Cox, Moses Archuleta, and Frankie Broyles from Deerhunter
(© Robert Summer)

Since breaking through with their 2007 “Cryptograms,” Deerhunter has been a fixture on the indie rock scene. The band, currently comprised of Moses ArchuletaFrankie BroylesJosh McKayLockett Pundt, and, of course, frontman Bradford Cox, have continually proven themselves — and associated side projects like Cox’s Atlas Sound and Pundt’s Lotus Plaza — to be a source of some of the most restless and consistently interesting rock music being created today. This trend continues on the band’s latest release, “Monomania.” Recorded at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room Studio, the album shows a more muscular side of the band as they tear through 12 of the most straightforward rock tracks of their career. The songs may not pack some of the intellectual twists and turns listeners have come to expect from Deerhunter, but they’re just as dynamic as the rest of their discography. ARTINFO’s Bryan Hood recently sat down with the band at Manhattan’s Ace Hotel to talk about cutting the album down to size, influences no longer seeping into their music, and always hating at least one song per album.

Is there a theme to “Monomania”?

 

Bradford Cox: Yeah. Just a terrible experience that I was trying to describe. Everybody has terrible experiences. Everybody can apply their own. I’m not trying to be too mysterious, I just don’t think the details would strengthen the experience of listening to it. My inspiration, what I went through to get to the point of making those songs that I contributed, was not pleasant. And also, I wouldn’t even give the parties involved the credit of thinking that their shitty self-interested actions contributed to something productive.

How’d you guys decide what would make the cut for the album?

Lockett Pundt: Well, I had one.

BC: He could have had as many as he wanted. It’s a total socialistic situation. Moses wrote some songs that were absolutely fantastic and they just didn’t fit. Just like, some of my favorite ones didn’t work.

Moses Archuleta: Yeah, I don’t remember which one came on the other day, but I thought, “This is really good, why isn’t this on the album?” The flipside of that, there were songs that we didn’t think we would like that became strong front runners in the context album.

BC: There’s songs I still don’t like but are necessary as well. On every album I’ve ever made there’s a song I hate passionately, but it’s very essential to the album. And it has to be there.

What is it this time?

BC: I’d say “Nitebike.”

Why do you hate it?

BC: Personal reasons. Some things have gotta remain personal, right? I think on the last album it was “Sailing.” Same ones that probably everyone is like, “Goddamn, why is this song in the middle of the record?” And it’s like, “Yeah, I agree.” It wasn’t an easy decision to put it there. It wasn’t self indulgent; it’s actually the opposite.

Josh McKay: We kind of had to nudge him. Keep “Nitebike,” just as it is. Because it’s the one he recorded straight out.

BC: I recorded it the night that it was inspired. It’s almost like a field recording of a certain feeling. I also don’t like it because I feel the band is so strong that it’s a waste of four minutes that we could be rocking. Why waste the greatest rock band in America for my own spotlight hogging bullshit. But I do agree that it ties the room together.

With everyone presenting music, how did you guys shape everything into one cohesive album?

BC: I told people I started with 250. And people were like, “Oh, bullshit.” But it’s probably a lot more. First I whittled it down to 250. I compulsively record.

JM: By the time we got in, it was more about how to get the songs to fit. We recorded in sequence.

BC: I always record in sequence. Unconventional methods, but I find that they work. Timing’s easier. You have a lot of liberties when recording.

MA: I think we actually tried to do that the first week, and it didn’t work. Contrary to what we’ve always done. There was something to me, at least, about the experience of creating it. The songs inform each other. It’s a process to get from beginning to end. There’s this thing that some people do, as opposed to when we record, where it’s really atomized. “Oh, yeah, I did a guitar track two weeks ago, let’s do the drum track for that one song.” It’s like all over the place. I think it creates a narrative. Who knows if people actually experience it like that, but I’d like to think so because we experienced it making it.

JM: Definitely. We work on the song, on the mood of the song, until it feels right.

BC: On that note, sometimes we’d have a perfectly good skeleton, or perfectly good basis and I’d just throw it away, because it just didn’t...

JM: It was too easy.

BC: It’s not that it’s too easy. It has to work on so many levels and you can’t trust your ears, you gotta trust your guts.

What influences filtered into this album?

BC: You know, I have a very big spiel about influences. I find it annoying when you say, “We were influenced by vernacular art, specifically black southern folk art, specifically Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley. Bo Diddley.” That doesn’t mean we’re trying to emulate those. If you listen to our record, it still sounds like the same band. That’s just what we’re — or what I’m — influenced by. I think, collectively, we’re influenced hillbilly music, a lot by Carter family, Hank Williams.

Even if the sound doesn't come through in your music, what draws you to these artists? What are you getting from them?

BC: Ears. The ways they present themselves. The way that their personalities are secondary to the music and the songs and the stories they’re telling. And the way that they’re very humble. I don’t know if we’re displaying any of that. You say to me, what are your interests, what are your influences. It’s not going to make sense when you put it side by side with what I’m producing. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone else. When you’re young you take you influences and you emulate them. You shake it into your own thing, but I feel like as I’ve gotten older and older my influences get farther and farther away from what I produce. I’m looking for energy as opposed to aesthetics. The artists who inspire me tend to be black and tend to be from backgrounds that I don’t understand or pretend to.

When does a song become a Deerhunter song?

BC: It’s sort of like taking a photo, I think, and adjusting the aperture until you have a good feeling about it. I don’t really know if Deerhunter has a sound, frankly. I definitely know that Locket has a sound, and Moses has a sound, and I have a sound. I can listen to Lotus Plaza, and Atlas Sounds, and Moses’s recording — which I’m not exactly positive what he wants to call them, Moon Diagrams, I think — I hear so much of our personalities in them. A lot of people say to me, if you combined the rock stuff off of “Parallax” or “The Floodlight Collective,” that you’d have one hell of a Deerhunter record. It’s like, “Jesus, I wonder why.” The thing that’s missing, of course, is the rhythm section, Moses and Josh McKay now, Moses and someone named Josh.

So Connie Lungpin? What’s the deal with that?

BC: She’s not real. I don’t even know where that came from. I don’t even remember it. But you know, whatever. I’m Peter Soxbox today.