Fresh on the heels of his new record “Double Down” Indie maestro Darwin Deez took some time out on his U.S. Tour to chat with Northern Transmissions about his favorite records, dream producers and how he feels about making music in other styles.
Northern Transmissions: Darwin, can you talk about your approach to writing your new album “Double Down” how was it different from your previous records?
Darwin Deez: When I started out trying to write the new record, I was looking for ways to change my starting point, in order to keep it fresh for myself. Whereas on the previous album, I would just pick it up by starting with the lyrics and try to mold the music to fit that. One of my new approaches was starting with just a more driving bassline. Once I got a couple songs down, I started to get a sense of what was needed, but I definitely wrangled with how I wanted this to sound for close to a year.
NT: Can you describe the general feeling you personally have about this album and tour you are on now?
DD: Definitely happy with the record, I did my best to make something people enjoy, with previous records I was more experimental, didn’t keep other opinions in mind because I wanted to keep it pleasing to fans, like on the debut. Then I wanted to take a break. Touring is a different feeling, a bit nervous, like right now I am in the lobby waiting for the elevator to open up, how symbolic. My band has become lodged in public documents and news releases but I still feel on the fringe, wondering if we can make that cross over to larger popularity. Happy to do this tour, to do any tour, I could tour forever, but I am wondering when the proverbial elevator door is going to open and take me up to the Taylor Swift penthouse, ya know?
NT: With your new record “Double Down” you recorded, performed, mixed and mastered it entirely by yourself. Do you feel you achieved the desired sound and do you feel the sound would have been somehow compromised had you worked with a producer in a studio ?
DD: There was a producer I wanted to work with, Chris Dane, he did some earlier stuff like a record by the Walkmen and some other stuff with Passion Pit, Miniature Tigers. His sound is really slamming and actually quite defined, I was open to idea of working with him, as his sound is not totally my own but certainly pleasing in a way that was palatable to a slightly wider audience then my production, he wasn’t available. Alex Elby, was a guy who works with him a lot and was available and interested, worked with him on mixing one song with Alex. Could not get over all the subtle differences of his mix vs mine, the overall loudness or punchyness of a track was apparent in the differences, I went there and I was gonna do a record with him, but we put a lot of energy into making a song that I had already made, even though I knew my mix wasn’t as precise, he had a lot of things I wanted on it, rather than do it 10 more times over all just to get mixes that were not necessarily more pleasing but just different. I figured instead I could save the money, and the energy and time as my own work was the sound I wanted so I was able to just let it go.
NT: Is there a producer that you have ever dreamed of collaborating, with whether dead or living ?
DD: Doctor Luke or Max Martin because for me, it is not very clear what they actually bring to a given song with their production. What is that recording process like? Whose ideas are whose? How much of the sound is the production vs the actual writing? I would love to see how they manufacture a song.
NT: How do you know when you are done with a song? Is there a certain sense of completeness that you feel or, does playing a new song live change how that song eventually ends up ?
DD: I mostly don’t need the live element, not really part of the equation, a song can be 99 percent done, and I will play it a while live and figure out one last word, then sing it in a different way. So it changes a bit for fun here or there but I always know when a song is done because of the lyrics. As one approaches fewer options in terms of notes and rhythm you come to just trust intuition by figuring out what words are needed. For instance, the song on the new record “Lover” barely hangs together especially in the bridge. On that tune I felt like I had verses with a lot of flavour and a nice rhythmic punch so I didn’t want to jeopardize the arrangement for the lyrics. That track has a very specific melody so it was really tough to actually fit something in there. The more freedom you give yourself, the harder it becomes to actually express something clearly even with a little bit of poetry, I feel like when I prioritize lyrics I end up sacrificing musicality.
NT: You have a very animated and apparent pop sensibility; if you had to produce a song or record in an entirely different musical style what kind of track would you make?
DD: “So not including house or rap, because I have made songs like that. Right now I am looking back to being a kid walking in one of those cd superstore places where you have a listening station.There was some drum and bass compilation that I pulled off the shelf and this was around the same time I was listening to the Chemical Brothers, even Prodigy, it was around 1997 or ’98. This compilation completely blew me away, I was enraptured by the tempo. I bought a lot of other cd’s at that time over a new openness to Drum and Bass. Trying to recall the CD, I think it was something like “Drum and Bass Volume 1” haha, but the jam on it was a Doc Scott remix of Art of Noise which sounded completely mental, I think the track is called “ Something Always Happens.” At that same shop there was a flyer for a rave I wanted to go to called “Bang the Box.” However, when I bought the CD my mom was I didn’t understand the the double entendre but now I know she did. So in short, I know I could make Country music I have done some Hip Hop and I could see myself making certain types of noise, I am interested in that kind of approach, there is a friend’s band called “Extreme Animals” with Jacob Ciocci who is a fantastic person and visual artist.
NT: Which five albums are inspiring you these days?
DD The newest album I am currently both impressed with, pleased with and slight annoyed by, is the new Hiatus Koyote “Choose Your weapon” which is for me one of the most inspiring record I heard this year.
The rest of the records in my list are records that have me going back to my old stand-bys really analyzing the production on “ Thriller.” Especially the tracks that have an influence of the group Toto the sound on that record is not entirely Quincy Jones’. So I really like “ Toto IV “ it’s the album after the one that had Gorgy Porgy” ya know with “Rosanna” and “Afrika.” As a record, it is somewhat nerdy with a baffling number of session musicians but such an array of songwriters ! I mean how delightful that they got themselves a grammy especially after all those funny dungeons and dragons looking record covers, but also after working on tracks in so many genres even with people like Chaka Khan – hahaha.
1. Hiatus Koyote – Choose Your Weapon
2. Dismemberment Plan – Emergency and I
3. Dismemberment Plan – Change
4. TOTO – Toto IV
5. Weezer Pinkerton
Interview by Cian Williams