After the Breakup: Five Artists Who Shaped 'Dirty Projectors'

After the Breakup: Five Artists Who Shaped 'Dirty Projectors'
Photo: Jason Frank Rothenberg

When Amber Coffman left Dirty Projectors after she and frontman David Longstreth ended their romantic partnership, few guessed that Longstreth would be the one to drop an R&B-inflected breakup record. Yet, that's exactly what Dirty Projectors, the ninth album from Longstreth's long-running project, is, a record whose creation was fuelled by a number of different artists, both practically and spiritually.
 
Four Tet and Burial
During the beginning stages of making what would become Dirty Projectors, Longstreth tells Exclaim! that "I didn't have any songs that I wanted to write." He was, however, "finally getting into the British electronic music of the last ten years, like Four Tet and Burial," as well as the roster of Los Angeles label Fade to Mind. That encouraged him to revisit beat-making and editing with ProTools, a skill he'd taught himself when he made The Getty Address back in 2005. "I find it meditative or chill," he says, likening the experience to playing a video game. The rhythms he made formed the foundations of the new album.
 
Tyondai Braxton
Braxton and Longstreth have been friends for years, but a creative partnership was sparked when the two ended up as the only tenants in a Brooklyn rehearsal space. "His musical imagination is always alive," Longstreth says. "He'll master this loop-based guitar and voice, and then he'll teach himself how to orchestrate. Then he'll do it all over again with modular synth components, and every time, he sounds like himself."
 
Braxton brought that musical curiosity to Dirty Projectors, playing on and producing a number of different tracks. "I had these rhythms that I'd made out of various found samples. We'd take those samples and feed them through different components and then, you can build a sort of life or arc into four or eight measures by messing with the elements of the modular synth. It's a way of building something that feels alive and organic into what is a program-driven [recording]."
 
Kanye West
Between Dirty Projectors' 2012 album Swing Lo Magellan, and this new record, Longstreth worked with a number of artists on their own projects, including Joanna Newsom, Solange and Bombino. But the collaboration that left the most indelible mark was with Kanye West. (Longstreth wrote the bridge and played on "FourFiveSeconds" with West, Rihanna and Paul McCartney.)
 
In particular, he was struck by how the MC and producer managed to make his own fame part of his art. "He's someone who's somehow marshalled all of this media to tell his story," Longstreth recently told Paste. That, along with encouragement from producer Rick Rubin, convinced Longstreth to embrace and express his own story and emotions.
 
Yet in offering up so much of your life in service to your art, don't you run the risk of losing your sense of self? "I don't know. You'd have to ask him. This is an album that I had to make. I guess we're going to see what happens."
 
Drake
"Nothing Was the Same was an album that I was discovering at the beginning of writing these songs. It was super important to me," he says. Longstreth liked the way that Drizzy offered duelling perspectives of relationships, as well as "his own ambivalence." Dirty Projectors switches points-of-view regularly, often within the same song, giving listeners a voyeuristic look inside the musician's inner monologue. He notes that Drake's plainspoken detailing of his relationships reminds him of another Canadian: Joni Mitchell, whose 1974 album Court and Spark he also name-checks.
 
Amber Coffman
The press release accompanying the new record makes no bones about the fact that it is a breakup album. The plainspoken lyrics, from the record's opening line, "I don't know why you abandoned me" to "Up in Hudson" which seemingly chronicles the beginnings of Longstreth and Coffman's relationship, would appear to corroborate that statement. However, Longstreth is less quick to label his creation.
 
"The album doesn't aim to do anything more than just make a series of emotional states or worlds. I think a lot of people who have been through those states recognize them. It's a vulnerable place those worlds." After their split, but before making Dirty Projectors, Longstreth spent a year working with Coffman on her forthcoming solo album, an experience which he describes as "a chance to reinvent the way our friendship worked." Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine the new album existing without her or the end of their relationship.