Interview: Deakin

One of the more underrated performances of Fun Fun Fun Fest was Deakin‘s. His set, which he played with the help of Gang Gang Dance‘s Tim Dewitt, was quite the aural experience and I’m glad I was able to catch it twice (once at the festival and once the night before at the Mohawk before the police shut the show down).
(Photo: Andy Pareti)
I sat down to talk with Josh Dibb (aka Deakin) early Sunday afternoon and had a pretty good conversation. I’m a fan of Animal Collective so I was pretty excited to be able to speak with him. Tim hung out on a nearby chair during the interview; texting away, I assume. I wish I had known who he was at the time because I really dig Gang Gang Dance. I’m pretty sure I would have tried to interview him as well about their new album. Oh, well. Maybe next time. Check out my interview with Josh below.

The Photon God: So how has your tour been?
Deakin: This tour’s been new, playing with Tim [Tim Dewitt of Gang Gang Dance]. We had to work stuff out that we both felt good about, you know? And we actually weren’t able to work out all of it, so sort of all we have is six songs.
TPG: You played by yourself originally, right?
Deakin: Yeah, mostly I would play by myself and the tour I did before this–in September–I toured with Prince Rama, and two of the people in Prince Rama, Taraka [Taraka Larson] and Nimai [Nimai Larson] both played with me. And they’re on tour right now in Europe, so.
TPG: That’s right. You helped them record the record, right?
Deakin: Yeah, I helped them finish recording it. They had already tracked a lot of it with a friend of theirs…this guy Kelzo in Philly. They just hadn’t been able to finish it or mix it so we just kinda did a little bit of retracking and added some stuff and mixed it. The mixing was mostly done with the help of my friend Rusty [Rusty Santos]. I’ve done other mixing this year, but that one we kind of let Rusty do cause I hadn’t–up until this year, I had never really mixed a record by myself…like, as kind of the main person doing it until, really, Dave’s [Dave Portner aka Avey Tare] record, Down There, so that was kind of my first foray into that and I think it was sort of because working with Prince Rama was sort of a warmer upper and I sort of realized I knew more than I thought I did. So that’s kinda why I even ended up doing it. ‘Cause Dave and I helped Prince Rama and it seemed like it went better than even we thought it would. So I think both of us felt a little bit more confidence about doing that than I think I would have without that experience. But doing it with Rusty was really helpful for that reason, too. Just seeing him…he’s been doing it for a long time.
TPG: Did he help with a lot of the Animal Collective stuff?
Deakin: Uh, he mixed Sung Tongs and he’s helped with a few other things over the years. He did live sound for us for a tour or two.
TPG: I know he helped on Person Pitch, Noah’s [Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear] record.
Deakin: Yeah, totally. He’s done a bunch of different stuff over the years but I think the only AC record that he really worked on was Sung Tongs.
TPG: Alright, how old are you?
Deakin: I am 32 years old.
TPG: 32? Wow, man. I thought you were, like, 28 or something.
Deakin: Really?
TPG: Yeah.
Deakin: Nope. 1978.
TPG: 78. Do you remember your first experience with music?
Deakin: Um, I mean, my first–I mean, they go way, way, way back. My family–yeah, both my parents were definitely really into listening to music. My dad had a really awesome record collection and he played really, really good classical piano and he was like, good enough that I think that he–at a moment in his life, that could have been the way he could have gone. He never did, but in his prime, he could really play some amazing stuff. And we had a baby grand [piano] in the house, so, kind of as long as I can remember there was always a lot of music going on and I definitely have really early memories of just, like, hanging out at the piano and starting to, like, just play. I mean, I was never super classically-trained–I mean, I did do a bunch of classical training when I was younger but I feel like I remember more times when I would kinda just sorta jam out things. So it goes pretty far back I guess.
TPG: So you resembled Schroeder? From Peanuts?
Deakin: (grins) Yeah, maybe a little bit. Maybe that’s it.
TPG: That’s cool, man. So how was the trip to Mali? It was a ways back.
Deakin: Yeah, that was in January. I left on January 2nd of this year and I was there for like, eight or nine days. It was great. It was really amazing. It was definitely a really intense experience for me–both, just because that’s the first time I’d really extensively traveled in a developing country and Mali is an incredibly–I think it’s, like, literally the fourth or fifth poorest nation in the world.
TPG: Oh.
Deakin: Yeah. So, just on that level I think traveling there and being as immersed as I could have been was just a really intense travel experience in a really great way. And the music, of course, was really incredible at the festival; I saw a lot of really amazing stuff there which was really great. But it was also just, I think more than even any of that, for me it was all just a personal thing. It was kind of, uh…getting the opportunity to go to that festival was sort of the thing that really pushed me over the edge to even, like, work up the nerve to try to play shows by myself. Previous to that I’d really be avoiding that sort of thing for a long time, so when that opportunity came up to do it, I sort of just felt like it was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up, I guess, to do that. So, it sort of motivated me, in the month of December, to really get together a set of music and a lot of those songs are sort of still what I’m working on now. They’ve changed to me a fair amount since then, but, um, that was kind of the impetus. That was kind of like–essentially–I actually played one show on January 1st, but that was added a week before I left. That was just me being, like, “I should maybe do this once before I go there” but really, the Mali show was meant to be, and in a way it was, kinda like my first show ever, so.
TPG: Cool, that first one was in Baltimore?
Deakin: Yeah.
TPG: I think I saw a video of that. Not bad.
Deakin: Thanks.
TPG: You said you were avoiding playing live at first. Why?
Deakin: Um. I think I’ve just…um, I guess just like for most of my post-high school years, so much of my music energy has gone into what we do together, the four of us–or, the three or whatever. I think that even though I’ve always made music on my own, I’ve always kind of had sort of an issue about finishing things, you know? And I think that once we really started, you know–and yeah even through high school, when we work on stuff, the melodic sensibility of Noah and Dave was so strong, I didn’t feel like I needed to work on that, so–(Josh’s cell phone starts ringing)–um, yeah, so I just think that for me, it was a matter of, uh…I just didn’t feel like I needed to. It was something like, I worked on stuff on my own, but, not like the idea that I would like, want to or need to do that or something. (cell still ringing) Well, what I wanted to has always been there if, like, I needed to, I guess, so–(Josh picks up his phone and sets it to vibrate)
TPG: Yeah. I mean you have before, right? (phone vibrates)
Deakin: I mean, I’ve worked on music, like, by myself for years…(picks up phone)
TPG: I can wait if you–
Deakin: No, it’s okay. (puts phone away) Um, I’ve worked on music by myself for years and years and years, it’s just recording it or putting it out or something. It’s a scary thing, I guess, for me. To do it by yourself, you know? I think it’s a lot…a lot more fun and, in a way, easier to do it with the guys ’cause it just sort of feels like we’re all invested in it and I think if I do it by myself I feel like I’m more vulnerable so it’s just something I’ve just shied away from.
TPG: Yeah, I can relate to that. I write my own music and I’m hesitant on working on it anymore without a full band.
Deakin: Yeah.
TPG: ‘Cause that way writing is more…organic, I guess?
Deakin: Yeah, yeah.
TPG: Did you see any local artists over there that you still listen to?
Deakin: Yeah! Um…(checks phone)…huh. (still looking at phone) Sorry…
TPG: It’s cool.
Deakin: Um…(puts phone down)…um, yeah. I had already known knew a few bands that were over there like Tinariwen I already knew pretty well.
TPG: Who is it?
Deakin: Tinariwen?
TPG: Tinariwen.
Deakin: They’re like a North Malian, Saharan–they call it kind of like this–over here we’d call it Desert Blues, that’s sorta the name for what it is. They’re kind of, like, in the same lineage as, like, Ali Farka Touré in a way, but a little bit more…I don’t know how to describe it. But it’s really good. Just kinda really good grooves, basically. I’d already known them for a while. Um, but yeah I think the bands I was most excited about–there’s this woman singer named Khaira Arby and she has this really, really amazing young band and I got to see them two or three times while I was at the festival in a couple different bunch of environments and it was sort of like a main stage show, which was kind of just like seeing them here, basically. Even though it’s in the middle of, like, Timbuktu.
TPG: Yeah.
Deakin: I saw a rooftop show they did and a smaller town show. They were just a really, really amazing band. Just this past late summer/fall, they got taken over to the US and were playing a bunch of shows. Kind of all over, I mean, it wasn’t a consistent–like, a heavy tour. They did a lot of shows, like, especially in New York and kind of Eastern Canada. But they’re really, really amazing. I’ve been really psyched to see that they’re starting to break out a little bit. Everyone that I know that’s gotten a chance to see them has been as blown away by them as I have…
TPG: Are you gonna get them something on Paw Tracks?
Deakin: (grins) Uh, I don’t know! I mean, we’ve talked about putting out stuff that’s more in that kind of vein of music and I go back and forth whether I feel if it would really be helpful or not, you know? I think it’s really easy for people that have labels to get really excited and like “oh, I can put that out, I can put that out” but also, I feel like you kinda need to have the resources to back up the kind of releases that you’re doing.
TPG: Of course.
Deakin: Yeah, so a label like Sublime Frequencies, that’s their aim; to do that. And that’s where their connections are, whereas the stuff that we do, there’s some crossover but there’s also a different sort of a–just things that you’d pay attention to. But I go back and forth though. We’ve talked about a number of releases that we’re like “yeah”, but I dunno.
TPG: That’s cool. How long has Paw Tracks been around?
Deakin: Uh, I guess we started it in 200…2?
TPG: That’s about 8 years…
Deakin: 8 years, yeah. And it grew out of a label that we ran before that.
TPG: Catsup Plate?
Deakin: No, no. Catsup Plate is a friend of ours. He still runs that label. He put out the Danse Manatee release and Campfire Songs. We ran a label called Animal. That’s kind of how Animal Collective sort of started.
TPG: Like members of that label…
Deakin: Yeah we basically started a label where we had the idea that anything we did would come out on that label and people would always know it by that, you know?
TPG: Yeah and now it’s evolved into this whole…thing.
Deakin: Yeah, but so we couldn’t really keep that label going. It just was too hard for us to do and then right about the time that we were getting ready to do Here Comes The Indian, this dude Todd that runs Carpark Records asked us if we wanted to put anything out and we told him about Animal and our idea about that and he suggested that we start a new label that was basically that idea but also expanded to other bands and stuff so that’s kind of how that started.
TPG: That’s cool. It’s done a lot of great stuff. I mean, Ariel Pink’s kinda bigger now and he was one of the first artists on there.
Deakin: Yeah, he was one of the first non-AC artists on there. I feel like there might have been something before him but my sense of, uh…my time lines are kind of a little screwed sometimes.
TPG: I’m sure a lot’s happened in your life.
Deakin: Yeah.
TPG: So, you were talking about original material earlier. How many songs do you have?
Deakin: Well, it’s kind of hard to say ’cause some of the songs are kind of fragments of songs. I’ve kind of moved things from one song to the other so “what is a song” is still pretty unclear. I think I have nine solid jams going right now.
TPG: Okay. Would you agree that beats are a big part of your music?
Deakin: Uh, yeah. I mean, for me, that’s probably in some ways one of the more challenging sides of it, I think. I like having beats and it’s definitely something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally for me to do so I’d say going to work trying to get stuff–that’s one of the reasons why I like playing more with Tim, ’cause that’s way more what he does. When I was working on the songs I felt like I sort of made backing tracks that would sort of inspire me to write the songs around them. That’s kinda where the core beats came from. But, uh, to me it feels very limited and yeah, it’s been cool to be able to play with like, Nimai and with Tim cause they’re able to kind of expand on the beats a lot more so I don’t have to like, focus on it, but yeah.
TPG: I was really excited to see you play last night. Mostly because…I’ve seen Noah play before, I haven’t seen Dave play…
Deakin: He doesn’t really do solo shows.
TPG: Dave? No?
Deakin: No.
TPG: Is he gonna tour at all for the new record?
Deakin: I don’t think so, no.
TPG: Oh, okay.
Deakin: Yeah, I think he felt it was more of a recording project than it was a live thing.
TPG: Well, if you ask me, I think you and Tim work really well together.
Deakin: Thanks, man.
TPG: You were really in sync and stuff; it was really cool.
Deakin: Thanks.
TPG: Okay, this is a question you’re probably going to get a lot. Is Animal Collective doing anything else?
Deakin: Uh, yeah! We’re talking about getting together to start writing new stuff next year and starting a tour…
TPG: Cool, man.
Deakin: Yeah, we kind of all wanted to take this year off. I mean, those guys, after finishing the Merriweather tour, they wanted to take a break and we were all just kinda wanting to have a year that was sort of like, active, but in terms of other projects; helping people record and doing individual solo records and stuff but I think next year, everyone’s feeling pretty psyched about getting going again.
TPG: Cool, I’m looking forward to those shows.
Deakin: Yeah, thanks.
TPG: Are you going to put out a solo record at all?
Deakin: Yeah, I’d like to. I’m going to try and record hopefully this Winter and try to have something out in the Spring. We’ll see.
TPG: And is it gonna come out Paw Tracks or somewhere else?
Deakin: Yeah, most likely Paw Tracks, yeah.
TPG: Alright. I’m sure you probably get this a lot, but you know how people put that cult status on Animal Collective?
Deakin: Yeah.
TPG: Okay, well I’m sure there’s a lot of speculation as to your record given that Noah’s put out a couple and Dave just put out his…a week ago?
Deakin: Yeah, yeah it came out at the end of October.
TPG: Yeah, so I think a lot of people are really excited for like, any news regarding your record.
Deakin: Yeah.
TPG: What do you think of that position that you guys have been put in?
Deakin: Um, I mean, I have really–uh, I mean it’s…mostly it just is what it is. Meaning like…I dunno it’s a mixed thing, I guess, for me. I mean, of course, it’s an amazing thing. I mean, for years long before even this point, you know. Noah and I, especially, were just like, “can you imagine if we went back and told, like, a 15-year-old us that was like, making 4-track recordings in like, our bedroom that this is what we’d be doing”, so for sure, it’s amazing. It’s pretty mind-blowing to realize that you’ll get to that point. For sure. But I mean yeah, for me personally doing this, like you said, the comparison, anticipation and stuff. It’s cool. Like, it’s great that I get to come play shows that I wouldn’t get to play if I didn’t have that connection but there’s also a side to it where it’s like, I have to try really hard, like, not to think about that expectation, because to me it actually feels a lot more like how I felt when I was 18 or 19 in terms of making music. Like, to me, I feel very, uh, like I have a lot to figure out when I’m just doing it by myself. So I mean, to kinda be in that position and know that there’s people that have, like, the imprint of Feels or Merriweather versus like, “oh, and what’s this dude gonna do?” to me is like, I have to try and not think about that because it’s kind of a little bit…
TPG: ‘Cause it affects your process, your writing.
Deakin: Yeah, but I mean, it’s…you know, how it is.
TPG: Yeah. Thanks for the interview.
Deakin: Yeah, totally.

Keep an eye out for Deakin’s solo debut sometime in 2011 as well as for some possible Animal Collective activity.



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