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Dirty Projectors and Mariah Carey?

Posted by STEVEN SAWADA at 03:38 PM

Sorry, just had to hook you in – no word on any collabo’ just yet. But David Longstreth, the brains behind the Dirty Projectors, sure does listen to a ton of [bad] early ‘90s R&B. DP’s 2005 release The Getty Address was the type of album an artist releases right before they vanish from the music biz; the glitch-hop opera breached numerous critics top 10 lists for ’05, and even motivated Prefuse 73 to declare that he’s “quitting music.” An epic concept album replete with tons of electronics and even a mini-orchestra, The Getty Address stands as one of the most imaginative and unique records I’ve heard in ages. At times, the fusion of strings and chorus with heavy bass rolls and programmed beats can initially feel a bit jarring. But taken as whole, everything about The Getty Address jives perfectly, proving that you don’t have to sacrifice a catchy hook in order to experiment with new sounds and new ideas. The craziest thing – all of Longstreth’s albums are completely mind blowing, from 2003’s Morning Better Last up to his latest work, the New Attitude EP. But from a man who very proudly admits to finding influence for his music in the work of Beethoven, Wagner, Zeppelin and Justin Timberlake, the strange sonic bricolage presented on every DP record makes perfect sense.

His live performances vary drastically from tour to tour, and even between performances; depending on when you catch DP, they may be a nine-piece electric ensemble with three percussionist, or a quartet with two cellos and a double bass, or a septet with a string trio and two female singers, or a solo guitar and voice deal with just Longstreth. This isn’t the first time he’s visited Seattle; however, his upcoming slot with Xiu Xiu at the Paradox should prove to be completely original, breathtaking and confounding. I hit up Longstreth to discuss among other things, The Getty Address, fellow Ivy Leaguer and keyboard wizard Nathan Michel and a mutual acquaintance. Q&A after the jump!

Show’s November 3 at 7PM, Paradox

The symphonic element to your music- where does it come from? What's your musical background?

You can think of the orchestra as a theater of the mind, a dream theater if you will. If you analogize the different parts of the orchestra (woodwinds, brass, etc) with different parts of the brain (hippocampus, frontal lobe, etc), then music is like a gently thrumming consciousness, or a gently soothing sonic energy massage upon that consciousness. So in general my interest in orchestral instruments comes out of my interest in a relaxing brain.

I can listen to an album like Morning Better Last and find something different in there each time, something I never caught previously – whether it be an entire song, a specific melody or something odd stylistically that I never picked up on before. Sometimes, your albums seem a bit piecemeal (not that this is bad) – not only in structure but in theme and even recording quality. I guess Morning Better Last is another good example, for instance (but I also noticed it a bit on the Glad Fact) – the last half of the album (songs like "I Am Going To See It" and "Fake Folks") seem a bit more lo-fi in comparison to the first few tracks on the record. My question is – do you often compose an album with a central theme concentrated in a single period of time? I think this might be the case for The Getty Address, but with some of your others, at times I wonder if they feature more of a collection of songs that were recorded at various stages in your music career.

Sometimes I make a whole bunch of songs that belong to each other. The Getty Address was definitely like that, and the songs we are playing on this tour are certainly like that. But Morning Better Last is like 1/40th of a whole bunch of four track recordings I made in 2002. New Attitude is the same way. It is like a difference in scope — an album length idea or a collection of individual songs.

How did the reaction to your work change once The Getty Address was released?

I think a few dozen more people heard The Getty Address than my other albums, which is cool. Sometimes people think it is my first album for some reason. And sometimes people seem mildly confused that I'm not making music that sounds like The Getty Address now.

It's my understanding that you dropped out of Yale? Can you share why? Was there a problem between the direction you wanted to take your music and the structure of the programs there? By the way, I went to high school (in Mililani, Hawaii) with Jennifer Taira, who I believe played clarinet on Getty Address.

Yes, Jenny played on The Getty Address!! I didn't drop out for good — I went back and finished. I graduated. Institutions are where new feelings go to die. Canons are like fossils, and Yale is all about creating and revering canons. I didn't want to be a geologist or bone collector, so there was always this awkwardness with my being there. When I say this people point out many and salient moments from the histories of art and literature and science where the institution was integral in bringing a new community into existence, and I honor and respect that, but that wasn't my story.

Can you elaborate on your fascination with Don Henley?

I like to think of it as an incipient mutual respect, because I believe that if Don were aware of my work, he would love it deeply.

Tell me about the story behind Getty Address- the actual story line and thematically, how is New Attitude connected?

New Attitude is not connected. It is like rejected depth, where The Getty Address is into deep plumbing.

How did you meet Nathan Michel? And when did you two start working together?

Nathan is a special individual. We are into the same shit. Last year he was talking about how he wanted to play live more, wanted the feeling of playing in band, and I was putting together a big band together for a show, so it worked out for him to play Rhodes with me.

I guess in connection to that, what's the deal with all you Ivy Leaguers? Is there a particular movement to expand the sound of modern electronic music happening on that level? What are they (the universities) teaching or encouraging you folks to explore with your music?

‘Fraid not. Yale is neutered by goons, man. I don't know what they teach there, but it's not what I'm doing. I don't identify with any kind of spirit that inhabits there. Nathan just wants to make recordings that sound like Tusk, but that's not something Steve Mackie taught him.

I know your performances from tour to tour differ, and are not necessarily structured around the current record you are supporting – meaning, I guess, what's the impetus for these live performances and your live interpretations of the recorded work? Is it based solely on logistics?

I'm into imaginative dissonance, noticed and unnoticed misunderstandings, incompleteness, non-correspondence, inconsistency, and false translations. I'm into recordings as inviolate texts and I'm into live shows being these wetter events — I want both and I want it now. I want more.

Under all the right conditions, if all the necessary resources were available to you, what currently would be your dream record or project? What's on the horizon?

Duct-taping things together is part of how we do, so, you know, everything is a dream record. There are no ideal conditions under which to work. I'm really excited about what I'm doing now. The songs we are playing on tour are brand new and they all belong to each other. When we get back from tour in late November we are going to record them with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, and then those recordings will be the foundation of the next album. This is either the reverse of the way I've worked in the past, or some synthesis of the live and the recorded — I am really psyched about it.

What are you currently listening to outside of your own music? On your free time?

Mariah Carey s/t
Mariah Carey Emotions
Mariah Carey Daydream
Mariah Carey Merry Christmas
Aaliyah One In A Million
Amerie Touch
Beyoncé Dangerously In Love
TLC CrazySexyCool
SWV It's About Time
Xscape Off The Hook
Blackstreet Another Level
Boyz II Men Cooleyhighharmony
Mario s/t
Akon Trouble
Usher 8701
Usher Confessions (expanded)
Tool Undertow
Alice in Chains Dirt
Jane's Addiction Nothing's Shocking
Jane's Addiction Ritual de lo Habitual
Nirvana Nevermind
Smashing Pumpkins Gish