Dan Deacon funnels anxiety into music
Electronic musician Dan Deacon went back to his roots for his new release "Gliss Riffer," but he says the process was both "refreshing" and "nerve-wracking."
Deacon, who performs Tuesday at Populux, enlisted a full orchestra to perform on his 2012 LP "America," but he stripped personnel back to a more minimal lineup for "Gliss Riffer." The record is also the first Deacon has produced on his own since his 2007 breakout hit "Spiderman of the Rings," which added some pressure to the recording process.
"The last time I (produced alone) there was no consequence attached to my work," Deacon says. "I was just making a record and I didn't think anyone would hear it and that would just be it. Now, making a record, I know that no matter how successful it is, it'll still be heard by other people. That attaches a different thought process to what you're doing."
Deacon says anxiety is the key theme of "Gliss Riffer" — realizing he had it, and recognizing ways he could relax himself into making better music. As a result, he allowed his dense, hooky sound collages more room to breathe than usual. After giving acoustic orchestral instrumentation an electronic treatment on "America," he says he approached the electronic sounds on "Gliss Riffer" as though they were acoustic instruments, allotting space for musical nuance.
Deacon says that where a traditional musical virtuoso pushes the boundaries of his or her instrument, it's more difficult to make innovative music when the "instrument" — a computer — has essentially limitless potential.
"You're trying to find a way to make new sound and (make) things sound interesting in a medium where magic is real and everyone knows it, so it's not magical," he says. "If you knew how to juggle at Hogwarts, no one would give a (bleep). That's kind of like what electronic music is. Everyone has the same magic wands. You just need to find a new way to use it."
Deacon is known for being similarly innovative in the way he presents his music in concert, enlisting his audience's participation in energetic and humorous ways. As one of the first acts to play the former Magic Stick in its new electronic-oriented incarnation, Populux, Deacon will likely break in the venue's dance floor with a directed dance party, a staple of his live shows. Deacon says he first came up with the idea years ago while performing in New York. The power went out onstage and Deacon, seeking to keep the crowd's attention, instructed them to form a circle and began laying out elaborate rules for a dance contest.
"As soon as they got the power back on and I started a song, I realized that everyone was now looking in the center of the room instead of looking forward," he says. "I really liked that. I liked how it changed the focal point of the room, what people were looking at and most importantly who the performer was. The performers were now the dancers."
While Deacon seems to relish both live performance and crafting new music in the studio, he says his favorite of the two constantly fluctuates.
"I always prefer the one I'm not doing," he says. "It's always 'the grass is greenest.' I like having two practices that sometimes intersect."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
with Prince Rama
and Ben O'Brien
8 p.m. Tuesday
4140 Woodward, Detroit