By Benjamin Leatherman
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Dan Deacon's name is synonymous with "experimental," and not just because of his quirky musical soundscapes. The man exudes the air of a guy who lives outside the box, from his thrift store chic clothing and co-founding Wham City (Baltimore's weirdest art collective) to making viral videos with Jimmy Joe Roche and running his tour bus on vegetable oil.
But Deacon's musical trajectory is definitely the most avant-garde of his endeavors. His 2007 album, Spiderman of the Rings, was praised by CMJ, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork, among others, and its sideways sound earned Deacon a spot on every festival you could name: SxSW, Lollapalooza, Moogfest, Fuck Yeah Fest. The record brought him to the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, and he wound up scoring the auteur's latest project, Twixt.
Deacon doesn't blame the work for keeping him from getting around to crafting a follow-up record, this year's America. Instead, he explains that he's bad at segmenting his time.
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"I tend to put too much on my plate in all situations in my life," Deacon says, laughing, over the phone. "I take on a lot of projects or responsibilities, and I like to make things logistically infeasible for some insane, sadistic reason."
The new album is split in half, the first being poppy "singles" like "True Thrush" and "Lots," and the latter segment is a long, instrumental piece divided into four parts. The title, America, comes from Deacon's complex ambivalence toward the nation, his endearing love for the country and its people but deep distaste for the political climate, and Deacon says that he's not optimistic about the United States' future.
"I think people need to grasp hold of their reality. It's sort of what the record is about. It's me trying to get a grip on my own reality and my status in the world," Deacon explains. "I can't pretend I'm not a part of it . . . I think people need to realize the system sucks because we allow it to."
But America is far from a depressing album, and Deacon isn't even close to a pessimistic person, peppering his conversations with hearty laughs. He expresses a humble amount of doubt and a sense of blissful existentialism, feeling that nothing needs to be uptight and self-important. Even at his most serious, he's able to laugh at himself in the most refreshing way.
Case in point, his video with Liam Lynch "Drinking Out of Cups." The clip went viral after being released in 2006 and has been viewed on YouTube more than 17 million times. When asked about the importance of Internet fame and how it can drive people insane, Deacon giggles and says, "I've never really thought about it. I think we exist within a time when everyone's always at the cusp of being something like that. Many people have that desire, and some people have that outcome without ever wanting that desire. The Internet creates a lot of opportunity for situations like that. For some people, it's exciting, and for some people, it's a byproduct of what they do."
"But I don't know," Deacon continues. "The word 'important' is a wild word. I really like the song 'What What (In the Butt)' by Samwell, but I don't know if it's important."
One thing Deacon does want to stress is his smartphone app that synchronizes with his live show, turning your iPhone into a pulsating light during a portion of the set. Like many people, Deacon expresses his distaste for people who use their phones during concerts, but thoughtfully explains, "To me, it's important that people think of them less as phones and more as just lights. I think a lot of people have a hang-up with phones. I myself have a hard time with the prevalence of technology on our everyday life . . . [but] if we reach a critical mass and about 25 percent of the people have the phone, it creates a really unique and, I think, beautiful spacial environment, lighting-wise, that wouldn't otherwise be able to exist."