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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interview: Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 7:00 AM

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The show has passed. It was amazing. A perfect 4th of July.

Instead of a live review, which I am in no place to do, here's the interview I did with Dirty Projector's Dave Longstreth some weeks back. Although some of my questions are a bit truncated, there's no need to go back to the tape to re-transcribe. I think the point comes across. Only the most boring bits are left out.

HID YOU BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH PORTLAND AND MARRIAGE RECORDS?
My brother went to college at Lewis and Clark. He's an older brother and I sort of followed him out to the West Coast a little bit. I spent time in Portland as much as I could. I lived there, on and off, in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005.
He was in a lot of bands. He was in a band called Dear Nora, a band called Wolf Colonel. All of his friends were in bands and part of the Portland/K Records crew, and a lot of those people became my friends. I know Curtis [Knapp, Marriage Records] through that connection.

HOW IMPORTANT WAS MARRIAGE RECORDS IN THOSE EARLY DAYS?
I think it was super important. I love a lot of the music that my friends have made up in Portland. I feel like it has totally affected who I am and what kind of things I ended up making—people like Adrian Orange, Adam Forkner, and Curtis—as well as people who aren't even musicians. Really great people with really strong ideas.

WHAT WERE YOU DOING? WERE YOU WORKING?
I had a job at this place, UCP—United Cerebal Palsy—way out on Foster. I worked with people that had cerebral palsy, I went in and I'd be in their home. I'd do night-stays or just chill out with them for the day and help them with whatever they needed help with.

WHY MARRIAGE STUDIOS?
One thing, I wanted to get the fuck out of New York for awhile. And it was gonna be the summertime—it was last summer—and we all just really wanted a change of pace and a place that would be gorgeous where we could hang out in the outdoors between bouts of recording. I hadn't been out there in a while and I wanted to hang with folks, also because of the new Marriage Records building that Curtis had invited us to record in. It was this big open space that seemed like a metaphor for possibility, practically.
Collaboration is always there if you're seeking it out.
I thought it would be more possible to sequester ourselves in Portland than it would be in a place like New York, where so many people are always around and it's a little harder to get that sense of distance.

NOT A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND...
Oh, that's cool! Yeah, we went up to Mount Hood a couple times, went hiking there, we went out to the coast and Manzanita, went hiking there, and we chilled on the beach. We definitely got out a whole bunch. We wanted to go to the Steens Mountains out in Eastern Oregon—to go camping out there, but we never got around to it.
We were there, almost exactly a year ago, from June 16th all the way (in one way or another) to the first week of December—although we were gone touring a bunch of the time too. There were a couple—maybe three weeks—where we were in New York staggered in there.
I had most of the stuff written, I think, by the time we got out there—musically. I guess I wrote a lot of the lyrics in Portland. The honing of the songs, turning them from sketches into finished songs, happened and the recording itself.
Rise Above was primarily a live document. The idea of that album was to make these arrangements and take them on tour without recording them with this certain band and then we recorded the bulk of the album—minus my singing and guitar overdubs—in about three days right after we got back. It really is supposed to be a raw, live thing, whereas the intention with Bitte Orca was always to make something that was more rich and complete.

HOW FLUIDLY DO SONGS COME OUT FOR YOU? IS IT A QUICK THING, OR DO YOU LABOR OVER PARTS FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME?
It's just kind of case by case. Something are sort of obvious from the outset...

HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE BAND MEMBERS? I IMAGINE IT COULD'VE BEEN STRANGE IN THE INITIAL DAYS, PERHAPS, ASKING PEOPLE TO SING FAR OUT VOCAL LINES?
I think they're really important. Everybody brings a force of personality to parts into the playing. [this went on for awhile, but not in an interesting way.]

TOUGH TO FIND THE RIGHT PEOPLE?
It wasn't really. Everyone in the band is amazing, and really down to try whatever comes to them. We're all just really big music fans and we like to try different stuff, you know?
Sometimes you have to present things in a certain way, take one thing at a time, to the extent that some of the stuff is hard to sing or hard to play. I just try to break it down to the single elements. Just take one thing at a time. And then once you've gotten that part of it you add the next layer, or you speed it up a little bit, or then you introduce the part that's working against it. I think if you just break these things down into little pieces it can really be very simple. And then you can build it back up.
Especially back then, because we have a whole language of working now. But at first it was really important to establish that common language and take things in the most basic units and build them up.

WHAT DO YOU HEAR IN THE REAL EARLY STUFF?
To me it sounds pretty similar. Maybe it sounds like a less refined version of exactly what I'm doing now. Some of it sounds a bit quaint or homey, but I like it.

A NATURAL ARC MORE THAN A RE-INVENTION
Oh yeah.

HOW DO YOU FEEL REGARDING THE RECENT COLLABORATIONS YOU'VE DONE, AS ONE-OFFS, AS OPPOSED TO THE REGULAR CYCLE OR TOURING AND RECORDING?
I guess it's pretty different. I really enjoyed the Housing Works piece with Bjork because it was so much of an event based venue. I wrote the piece in a week and we rehearsed it for a week, we played it one time and on to the next thing. It's kind of the opposite of touring where you have an album, you figure out how to play it live over the course of however much time, then you play those same songs for months on end. And that's cool in it's own way too, but I guess none of us had every really done something quite like that Housing Works thing. I really, really enjoyed it.
It feels cool. It was a tremendous honor to collaborate both with Bjork and David [Byrne]. I don't think any of us ever did anything like that. We all learned so much from being around those people who we really had admired artistically for years. It's really really cool. It doesn't feel like an endpoint, to me, just because you wake up the next day and you're still doing stuff.
But it's a great honor. All of us are really lucky and grateful.

IS IT TOO EARLY TO SEE THE NEXT THING?
Too early to see next thing...

ANY NEGATIVE PARTS OF THE NEWFOUND SUCCESS AND RECOGNITION?
It sort of is a pain in the ass to see yourself out of context and turned into a cartoon, a little bit. Obviously, to whatever extent that's happened is very minimal compared to thousands of other people in the culture. You just have to realize there's a certain distance that happens. I think that the amount of... more than feeling annoyed by any of that stuff it feels nice to have people at the shows who really seem to be connecting with what we're doing. It's the product of a lot of really hard work and it feels good.

WHY DID YOU SETTLE IN NEW YORK?
I think I went to New York because I'd gone on tour a bunch, and lived in a bunch of small scenes—like Portland, Providence, Rhode Island, and New Haven, Connecticut—and after I finished school it just seemed like the logical place to go. Living in New York is like living in the internet, because everyone you know from every part of your life is there at one point or another. It's kind of just a meeting place. It just felt like the natural place to go.

FINISHED SCHOOL?
I did. There's this wide internet meme of me as this enigmatic dropout. I think there's a romance to that that people love to reproduce.

THERE'S A NEW YORK TIMES BLOG POST, REGARDING "HOCKETING," I WANT TO READ TO YOU.
Yeah, you know, that's one word for it. It can also be called, I think, anticinal singing. Byrne just calls it "Pygmy"—that really rapid polyphonic trading—from the Pygmy chanting in the Congo.

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