Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
There are men, not old men, but men of yellower teeth and crooked backs, who bellyache that they don't make movies the way they used to. They don't make cars the way they used to. They don't make women the way they used to and they damn well don't make music the way they used to. These men, consisting of twilight years and graying temples, refuse to subject themselves to the kind of rock and roll that's gone bad -- in their opinions. They retreat - with the taste of sour grapes on their breaths -- to oldies stations that remind them of the good times that they'll never see again, a simpler existence where they perceived the music was coming directly from a more honorable place and the value of languishing in the stagnant puddles of a rain almost 50 years past.
They serve themselves over, whole-body, to those who soundchecked before us - to a generation of singers, songwriters and bands that did then what would be seen as trite and refried by today's standards. Having already heard Buddy Holly make the fascinating jangle he made lo those many years ago, his geeky, Lubbock, Texas, cred would be seen as sententious and not worth much of a throw these days. The bygones have been upheld, but were they anew, scant attention would be given to them for they'd already been developed upon, matched and advanced.
Of course this is a circular argument that is as much blustery as it is enforceable. One point goes to the blustery family for the plain sense that these originals had to come first for the basement walls anyway and we couldn't be talking development without them. Sure, but there would have been a different band to have married R&B/blues and rock and roll the same way, but Mick Jagger just happened to have been born in the right year, in the right hospital, with the right parents so he could in fact set the trail to become that which he has become - a man as far from being a pariah as any could be.
Isn't it the truth? Were it not for Elvis Presley deciding one day that he didn't want to drive a truck for the rest of his life, does anyone actually believe the sodden thought that there would have been no rock and roll? Of course not, nor would one think that some other person wouldn't have just as easily made the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich a Memphis sensation.
All that's new was done before is partially what's being gotten at, but it's more than that. It must be hard to plant oneself in the middle of a heap of all previously recorded music - with each day seeing a new record high - and not see the task of being even moderately pioneering daunting as all fuck. What you attempt could easily be seen - by any one of the breathing billions - as another part of the assemblage, just more clutter with a sharp resemblance to the by and by that's been earmarked as, "Yeah, yeah."
The task of counteracting the louder rationale is where Dirty Projector brilliance maker David Longsteth comes in, wearing a cape with a flipped up collar and dirt (read: imagination soil) beneath his fingernails. He's not trying to reverse the current out of any need to impress, but he's adhered to the mental process of only involving himself with musical experimentation that is challenging and fulfilling.
His songs are elaborate and constantly make you wonder about how they ever came to be - like new parents who look at their smiling child of oh so many days and disbelievingly cope with the canyon-sized thought that the little thing is them. These songs buck all possible convention and banality, as if Longstreth has gone off and done something so impossibly inventive as creating a new color. Can one? Can one possibly invent a color that hasn't been seen or cataloged by eyes? He does, it seems, over and over and over. He makes red look like new red and blue look like tan, giving a defined entity a new definition.
He thinks of harvesting songs as pulling shapes from the air and it's more like he's pulling life imperceptibly from out of that thin air. It's as if he's pulling that aforementioned baby out of the clouds, kicking and screaming and bellowing enough to vibrate all airborne planes within a 200-mile radius, as if the sky was a womb. Perhaps that's fantastical to suggest, but Longsteth's got more marbles than 95-percent of the songwriters out there and his free-form - a bacchanal of sleights of hand, triumphant turns of event, spine-tingling creativity and lucid intervals - is a delightful conquest of the rock and roll lineage that old men cuddle with until they're dead and still stubborn. Dirty Projectors are law.
The Daytrotter interview:
*One of your bandmates, I forget who it was, told me about the idea behind your next record. What are you planning? Do you look at the concept of an album in a certain way -- maybe differently than others do?*
David Longstreth: I don't know if I think about an album in a certain way. But I do tend to write batches of songs at a time -- like ten or fifteen at a time. And that is the length of an album. For the last album I made, I tried to rewrite Damaged, an album by Black Flag, from memory. I didn't listen to the album or read the lyrics while I was doing this. I relied on memory and intuition mostly. I wanted to see if I could make this album myself -- not as an album of covers or an homage per se, but as an original creative act, albeit a more particular one than most. Writing a song is pulling a shape out of the air, but I didn't want to write just any song - I wanted to write a song that has already existed. It was really less mystical than it sounds though. It required a lot of editing and rewriting. I had to completely inhabit my early adolescence, the time when I used to listen to Damaged -- that was a little scary. I wanted to retroactively smudge my own existential/teenage angst with Black Flag's, so I couldn't remember which was which. It was also about the 1990s and 1980s, and the desire to force a synthesis of antagonistic strains of the culture, which is something that I always tried to do in my music. I thought it might be fun to stage my own theft of the punk rock spirit, like they did with new wave, and grunge, and American Idol, only my doing it would be more like an observation than an action: not muscular at all, purposely useless, beautiful, like a witness.
*A lot is made of your constant alterations to your sound. Is this mostly to keep it interesting for you?*
DL: I never thought a lot about it. Whether your eyes are open or closed, you change every day. I grow from time to time, and so do the songs. I don't know how everyone else stays the same.
*When did you first know that you were going to be consumed by music? Is it what consumes you the most?*
DL: This talk of consumption makes me feel so 19th century. It underlines the finite nature of this whole thing. Not to sound like a yoga magazine but I can't much abide the twining of passion and doom. I want to believe that the creative life is a sustainable life, and that invention is an endless renewable resource. It's depressing to think of creativity as psychic deforestation -- I don't want to be bald at the end of this.
*What's the most eccentric thing about you?*
DL: I have this bonsai garden that I can fold up and put in my backpack - people tell me its kinda weird.
*You're known for your live show. What do you try to put into each one? What's it take for one of your performances to stand out in your memory?*
DL: I don't know, nothing in particular. Usually it's just like some drunk dude who burned me with a cigarette or something.
*What's the last book you didn't finish?*
DL: I think the Murakami nonfiction account of the sarin gas subway terrorism incident in Tokyo. I glanced back at the Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music by Nietzsche a few times on the last tour too.
*Have you heard that other people call you a mad genius? How would you respond?*
DL: Sometimes I forget to powder my wig.
*Do you and Angel have your own language? Speaking of Angel, one of her best friends is Maeby from Arrested Development. Have you ever met her or any of the other Arrested Development actors?*
DL: I have my own irrational system of ornamental suffixes and declensions. It's kind of like verbal melisma. It means nothing, and may actually inhibit meaning, the way a tumor inhibits circulation. But it sounds cool to me. My friends understand it. Angel does a very good job of imitating it. She is very quick, definitely an auditory learner. I didn't know this about her and Arrested Development though. I thought that was a 90s hip-hop group by the way. I don't actually have any idea what you are talking about.
*What makes you freak out about in another songwriter?*
DL: An original kind of beauty. Talent and confidence.
*When was the last time you were at a mall? What were you looking for or doing there?*
DL: I bought a filing cabinet at the Office Depot in the Atlantic Center Mall in Brooklyn about two weeks ago.
*What animal impresses you?*
DL: Most animals impress me. They can sustain a legitimate counterculture better than the hippies or the punks.