Like Tiny Bacteria Running Around

An Interview with the Dirty Projectors

by Mehan Jayasuriya

14 June 2009

Photo by
Mehan Jayasuriya 

Bitte Orca and more

Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya

Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya

Changing gears a bit, I’d like to talk about the new album, which people are obviously very excited about, myself included. The first thing that really struck me about Bitte Orca is how immediate and accessible it sounds compared to your previous work. Was it always your intention that this album would have a more polished sound or has your songwriting just naturally progressed to this point?
Yeah, I dunno, I feel like you’re asking a couple of different questions there. “polished” is a word that usually makes me think about the sound of something…

Yeah, like production.
Yeah, maybe you’re talking about the whole package? It wasn’t a super conscious thing, it’s always like a continuum, you know? Something a lot of other journalists I’ve talked to have asked me is, “Is this experimental music or is this pop music?” And my response is always I don’t really ever think of something as being one or the other—it’s all just music.

And maybe it shouldn’t be your job to decide what it is anyway? I mean, you’re creating music and putting it out there—I imagine that people will make what they will of it.
Yeah, I guess so, totally. Nobody needs to decide what it is really.

On the topic of classification, a lot of critics seem to use the word “deconstructionist” when describing what you do. To me, though, that word suggests a very specific intent or agenda. Do you think of yourself as taking traditional melodies and reshaping them into something else or are you just trying to capture these songs the way that they sound in your head?
Um, I don’t really know. It’s just writing. You write a melody and it sounds how it sounds and if that’s the way you want it to sound then it’s done. Or if it sounds a little bit different from how you want it to sound, then you tweak it. It’s not like there’s a very deliberate process or anything.

When I listen to Bitte Orca, I find that it evokes a pretty wide spectrum of pop music. A song like Stillness Is the Move” sounds like it could go toe-to-toe with Rihanna on the radio but then the next song, “Two Doves”, almost sounds like it could have been on Nico’s Chelsea Girl. Do you feel like this is just a reflection of your listening habits or were you intentionally trying to reference different eras of American pop?
Again, I guess it wasn’t all that conscious. But, you know, a curious thing about the present is the way that bands will be like, “We sound like Neil Young between 1979 and 1981”. That’s weird, because nowadays, what most people listen to is so wide-ranging. Like, I’m listening to everything from T-Pain to Neil Young from 1986 to 1991 and to me, it’s strange that a band would want to sound like one specific thing like that. People listen to all sorts of stuff—I’m surprised that doesn’t come out in the music that people are making more.

Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya

Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya

Angel and Amber both feature more prominently as lead vocalists on Bitte Orca. Was the division of labor during the songwriting process for this album different than it was in the past?
It was the same. 

I mean, it’s pretty much always different, the way a song happens when you’re writing. But yeah, it was pretty similar to how we’ve done things in the past. This time, I was pretty psyched about doing what the Beatles used to do, giving each of the singers a lead number. I tried to make something for each of them that would suit them really well.

There are some really intricate arrangements on this record. Has it been a challenge trying to do these songs justice in a live setting?
Um, no, actually. It just sounds different. There’s a lot of acoustic stuff on the record and so far, we haven’t really played any of that stuff or when we do, we play it with other instruments. So that kind of timbre gets lost. But when you play a song live, it loves to be something else. We’re not trying to do note-for-note replicas of what’s on the record. It’s always depressing when a band does that.

Do you think you’ll eventually try to do those songs live with acoustic instruments? Any reason you’re not using acoustic instruments live at the moment? Is it just more of a pain?
I’d be into it—I mean, we might try to do it on some of these shows that are coming up. It’s just tricky. Trying to amplify those instruments to get that level of volume.

There’s some speculation that this record could introduce the Dirty Projectors to a much larger audience. Have you noticed a sudden increase in the level of interest in the band leading up to the release of the new record? Or has it been more of a gradual, steady build?
Yeah it seems like a steady progression to me. We toured so much on Rise Above and it seemed like more people started coming to shows around that time. I don’t feel like we’re the kind of band that ‘blows up,’ you know? More and more people are interested but it’s been very gradual. We made a whole lot of albums and with each one, a few more people listen.

Is that mostly exciting, having more people take an interest in your work? Or is there an element of pressure or something scary about it as well?
No it’s cool, I’m into that. It would be boring if it stayed the same.

Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya

Photo by Mehan Jayasuriya

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