By Cam Lindsay"I just peed," Bradford Cox informs me over the phone from his Atlanta residence. "Man, you're getting to experience everything about me today." It's more than an hour into our conversation and it's been more revealing than expected. Over the course of our chat I will disturb Bradford on a Sunday night during a visit to the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library (he signs out the new Bret Easton Ellis novel and books on electronic circuitry and herbology); follow him on an aural tour through his grocery shopping at Kroger's where he fails to locate whipped honey ("I had it in Amsterdam and I've been obsessed with it lately"); ride along in his car, where upon asking if he's driving hands-free he answers, "Fuck no. I don't do that shit. This isn't Canada, man." Naturally, we discuss the new Deerhunter album, Halcyon Digest, about which he declares, "I just gave you 30 minutes of bullshit."
Halcyon Digest, Deerhunter's fifth album, comes when the band's profile is peaking, having toured with artists like Nine Inch Nails and Spoon over the last couple of years, and sold more than 50,000 copies of their last album Microcastle in the U.S. alone. It comes as no surprise they felt it was time to leave Kranky, the small-scale indie label that nurtured them, and sign a worldwide deal with 4AD, the legendary indie label that helped launch the careers of Cocteau Twins, Pixies and TV On The Radio. Cox too has become one of indie rock's more recognizable personalities, both as the mouthpiece for Deerhunter but also his own thriving solo project, Atlas Sound. He modelled for a Converse ad campaign along with M.I.A., Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas and Karen O, whom he also helped record the Where The Wild Things Are score.
Since their inception, Deerhunter have been one of the more prolific, reliable and inventive bands going. Formed by Cox and drummer Moses Archuleta in 2001, their desire was to fuse "lulling hypnotic states induced by ambient and minimalist music with the klang and propulsion of garage rock." At the time, Cox was already known around his Atlanta neighbourhood as a friend of the Black Lips, having drummed on and helped record their second album. As a child, he had made home recordings using two tape decks, a project he would eventually dub Atlas Sound, after the name of his recording device.
The first Deerhunter album, Turn It Up Faggot, showcased a band (also including guitarist Colin Mee and bassist Josh Fauver) that hadn't found their sound yet. Recorded shortly after original bassist Justin Bosworth died from a skateboarding accident (he only appeared on the band's split seven-inch for Die Slaughterhaus), Deerhunter's debut was ominous and convulsive post-punk that Cox has publicly disowned. However, by adding Lockett Pundt on guitar, Deerhunter's scope expanded to the point where anything was possible.
The biggest turning point, Cox feels, was when the band signed to Kranky, a label that specializes in the experimental and avant-garde sector of independent music. "Kranky gave us a chance to get out there when not a lot of other people paid any attention to us," he says. "And it was very ballsy. I don't think Kranky has ever [signed] anything in their long career with money signs in their eyes. I'm certain they didn't expect to have any significant success with Deerhunter. I think it was like, 'We like this record. If you wanna put it out we'll put it out.' I had to insist that they hire a press person."
Their first album for Kranky, Cryptograms, followed in 2007 and exhibited a confident band unafraid to take risks. The album was a schizophrenic synthesis of psychedelia, shoegaze, Krautrock and ambient immersed in swampy production that made them ubiquitous on year-end lists. Despite the success, they opted not to slow down. It only took four months to deliver a follow-up, the exceptional EP, Fluorescent Grey, which kick-started a consistent stream of releases from Deerhunter and Cox's side-project, Atlas Sound. Not long after, both acts signed to 4AD outside of North America.
Microcastle followed in October 2008, and was significant for a number of reasons. A second full-length titled Weird Era Cont. was included as a hidden CD, but an online leak forced Cox to reveal the intended surprise. Secret or not, the bonus disc proved to be just as good as the main attraction. Creatively, Microcastle and Weird Era Cont. were more cohesive than the segregated Cryptograms, but not companions. The most obvious transition was in how Deerhunter cut back on their excessive pedal use. At the time, Cox told Exclaim!, "I can give you an artsy fartsy answer, which would be like, 'Yeah, it was a chance to open a new book,' but honestly, I was just really tired of lugging around a lot of equipment.Rainwater Cassette Exchange saw that the band had an entry in their discography for 2009.