Deerhunter's Bradford Cox

BY Cam LindsayPublished Oct 31, 2008

Since the release of their second album, Cryptograms, in January 2007, Atlanta, GA's Deerhunter have become arguably the most talked about American indie band. From their expansive, ever-changing sound to their front-man Bradford Cox's erratic behaviour onstage and online to the band's prolific output, Deerhunter always seem to have something going on worthy of some water cooler activity. Even the release of their new album, Microcastle, couldn't find its way into stores without some kind of story attached to it. Five months before its release date, the album leaked onto the 'net, followed by its successor, Weird Era Cont., which was originally designed as a "secret disc" companion.

Cox sat down with Exclaim!, sick as a dog from his Atlanta apartment, to discuss the leaks, the amorphous sound of Deerhunter, influences, and why he doesn't always reply to his mom's emails.

Over the past year there has been a lot of press about you and not so much your music. Does the attention ever get to you?
I don’t particularly care for it, to be honest. At first, it was humorous to me, but… I’m just not consistently extroverted as maybe I appear to be in the media, and it might mislead some people. Some of the ways it makes people judge my character are really inaccurate. I think I’m not always accurately portrayed.

How would you describe your writing style? Is a lot of what happens to you, be it what we read about in the media or otherwise in your songs or is it more abstract?
My writing style is very non-linear, and a lot of people misinterpret my work as being a diary history. Or when I write a sad song it’s about me being miserable… well, a lot of times I am miserable when I write a sad song but I don’t write about my misery, I write a kid drowning in Puerto Rico. That’s what "River Card” is about, but a lot of people think it’s about unrequited love or something like that, when it’s actually based on someone else’s work, a short story. When I write it’s more stream of consciousness, and I’m not being too self-referential.

Over the past while your blog entries have become fewer and far between compared to a year ago. Are you just too busy these days?
Everybody reads way too much into everything. I’m just a normal dude that is just sometimes lazy. Like I don’t always respond to my mom’s emails or my publicist’s emails. I try to be as available as possible, but I’m kind of an easily exhaustible person when it comes to things that require a lot of upkeep. I’m sitting in my room and I have a pile of laundry that I haven’t washed since a European tour from a year ago. I probably have one of the most insane work ethics of anyone I know, but at the same time I’m probably one of the most laziest people I can think of. Sometimes I just get lazy with the blog. I can’t write a new song every day, and plus, right now I need to save a little. I can’t exhaust myself, I mean, it’s very likely that can happen. I don’t think I’m gonna release Logos next. I think I want to write a completely new album of fresh ideas. I’d like to do something with a Young Marble Giants or Suicide feel, but I don’t know. An album that is totally simple and minimal. I’m really gravitating away from the big, huge, lush, ambient, psychedelia, shoegazer… because I’ve definitely played that out.

Microcastle has removed a lot of the effects that you used on Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey. What made the band abandon that sound?
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. There’s an artistic element to my decisions, but there’s also common sense, or maybe it’s just laziness. Sometimes I want to find the easiest way to get the best quality. I don’t want to cheap out and be lazy, I’ve done that with Deerhunter shows where I say, "I’m too lazy to set up all of this shit tonight. I’m just gonna fucking play my guitar through my amp, and sing the vocals into the mic with the P.A. with no effects.” When I do it through sheer laziness it sounds like shit and it’s a total disappointment. But I’m really serious about great songwriting, and I don’t consider myself a great songwriter or even one in the conventional sense, but the songwriters I respect, their songs can be played on any instrument or arranged in any way and they will still sound as good. There are songs on Microcastle that are more conducive to that. I mean, if you look at Cryptograms, we can’t play half of the songs on that album. It’s absolutely impossible to play them live — without using backing tracks. I’ve used those with Atlas Sound, but I’m not interested in using them with Deerhunter. With Microcastle, the songs lend themselves more to different arrangements and tempos. The outro from the title track works really well as a doo wop interlude if you slow it down, it can have this really breezy feel instead of a real rock feel.

I think by comparison to Cryptograms, Microcastle comes across more as a pop album…
I think all of our albums are pop albums.

Well, I mean, it doesn’t have anything like "Octet” on it —
I thought "Octet” was a great pop song… Don’t misread this as arrogance, but I was really surprised that "Octet” did not become a 12-inch dance hit. Well, because we’re fucking lazy we didn’t [release it]. Simian Mobile Disco remixed it for us, but even the album version is like if the Orb collaborated with a shoegazer band. It’s not a conventional dance song; that song was influenced by minimal techno, like Markus Guentner and Kompakt Records type stuff. I think "Octet” is totally a pop song; not in a three-minute, 1960s form, but when pop shifted into electronic, 12-inch singles, in the same way that Underworld made pop songs.

I am totally capable of creating those ambient, experimental songs and albums, I mean, it’s too easy for me. I release a lot of stuff on the blog of that nature, and I can do that with Deerhunter. We have no problem jamming, like going out on an ambient trip. We can trip hard, but it’s too easy. It is an important thing to challenge yourself to do better than the easiest thing… which is a contradiction to what I was saying earlier about making things easier out of laziness. The thing that I want to emphasize about what I said earlier is to be lazy but still get the best result possible.

So what about influences then? Cryptograms sounds like it came from a completely different place than Microcastle.
Cryptograms was influenced more by stuff that’s not really tangible, abstract kind of things, voids, things like that. On a pure inspiration level. On an aesthetic level, Cryptograms was influenced by tape music, field recordings; Animal Collective were influential on that record, but we recorded that way before they went off into that pop direction. Like I was listening to Here Comes the Indian a lot. What ended up happening is that Cryptograms sounds like it was influenced by Animal Collective to some degree, but with Atlas Sound I toured with Animal Collective. I’ve always really admired and I got to know them, and also watching them every night was just mind-blowing. But this happened long after we recorded that record. But when I first heard the last Panda Bear record, it was very similar to what I was trying to do, but better executed. It was just better. Sometimes you have an idea and someone else also has the same idea, maybe even before you did, and they just do it better than you. It’s awesome because I enjoy listening to music, but also because it freed me up. They did it really well, so I thought I should go farther back into the real psychedelic, dreamy… I mean I would say that Animal Collective were more of an influence on Cryptograms than My Bloody Valentine, which is what it always gets compared to. I rip off more of early My Bloody Valentine than Loveless. There are a couple of songs on Weird Era that sound kind of like Isn’t Anything B-sides. What I’m trying to say in a long-winded way is that if I like something a lot and respect it a lot, I generally avoid trying to imitate it. I don’t try to imitate Loveless because it’s too good. I don’t try to imitate Animal Collective because why be the second best? So I decided to go down a different road and what I was really interested in when I was younger was more garage rock and girl groups, doo wop, and it seems like it’s become a real trend now. Everyone’s talking about that stuff, but I didn’t really predict that happening. This happens to me a lot, y’know. I start getting into an idea early and then that idea becomes a trend, so we’ll probably get thrown into a doo wop, girl group revival. Everyone’s gonna connect us to the Vivian Girls.

So what did you want Microcastle to sound like?
I wanted it to be a spooky, ’60s kind of… actually I was way more into the ‘’50s when I first started conceptualizing it. Another influence was some new wave stuff, Television was a big influence on the guitar work. A huge influence on this album was the Wipers. I mean "Nothing Ever Happened” is a straight-up Wipers jam. The working title of that song was "Wipers Jam.” But other bits were stapled together from random scrapbooks. Like "Never Stops,” I’ve had for a while, it was just a catchy song that I view as a 60s song, but I wanted to push it further, which is why there are miasmic guitars, kind of disturbing squealing sounds. It wasn’t a reference to shoegazer… I don’t think of records in terms of genres, I think of them in physical realities. Like, "I want this guitar to sound like an eruption under the ocean water,” or "I want this guitar to sound like it’s being played in the middle of the desert.” I just don’t think of it like, "Oh, I want this guitar to sound like Phil Spector from this particular record.” I’m not interested in copying other people’s work.

So what was the idea behind Weird Era Cont.?
It was just kind of a "fuck yeah!” idea. Like, "You know what we can do? We can make an entirely new record.” Basically what I was saying about the Atlas Sound situation with Logos, I don’t want to let people know what they’re already gonna get. I want there to be some excitement and some anticipation, because it’s very important, especially to young people. When I was in high school I was always excited when a new record out… There’s a new Animal Collective album coming out; I don’t want to own it before it comes out. I want to look forward to it because I know it’s gonna be amazing. So I want to recapture the excitement I had as a kid about a record coming out that I know is going to be exciting. And then I want to put it on the day it comes out and listen to it all the way through. There’s just a certain excitement that people are robbed of now, and they don’t even realize because they’re robbing themselves of it. I mean, I do it myself when I’m checking out new stuff. Like, I downloaded the Vivian Girls record a couple days ago.

And did the album leaking ruin what you wanted to do with Weird Era?
The plan was to include it in some kind of hidden way. Instead of having a hidden extra track, I was like, "What if it was a hidden extra album?”

Really?!? How on earth would you do that?
I don’t know, that’s not my job. My job is to come up with the concept; it’s the record company’s job to figure it out. And they figured out a way to do it, it was gonna be fine. It would be hidden under the jewel case. It was never gonna be included in with the vinyl because that was already sent to production. People don’t understand, vinyl takes about seven times as long as CDs to be manufactured. Microcastle was already being made before Weird Era was even recorded. That’s how fast things happen. So, it was going to be included as a CD with the vinyl, and I know that disappoints people, but I’m sorry: It’s a free fucking album that you’re not paying for. Like, if you don’t want the CD, donate it to the Goodwill. I wanted it on vinyl but it can’t be. I got some mean emails about that — the fact that Weird Era isn’t coming out on vinyl. I want everything on vinyl — I’m a vinyl person myself. Down the road it could be released, maybe, but then I’d be ripping people off for something they already have. CDs you can give things away for free. Microcastle is gonna cost the same as a regular CD, but you’re gonna get a free album, a free second disc. You’re getting charged for one CD but you’re getting two. Vinyl costs about fucking eight dollars a record, I don’t know the exact amount, but I can’t expect my record label to accept that much loss. That’s just not fair.

So, how exactly did the person get the album? Did they hack into your Mediafire account?
It wasn’t hacked into, to be fair to the hacker. And I don’t own a Mediafire account.

They just found it online?
Nobody searched for anything. I never accused anybody of stealing from me like, "you are breaking into my house.” It was more like, "hey, I left my front door open, that doesn’t mean you can fucking steal the apple pie that’s cooling on the window sill.” Sure, I download music all the time and I expect our fans and don’t blame them for downloading our leaks. I don’t want our albums to leak though, I’ll be honest, because I’m a hypocrite, I’ll admit it. Nobody wants this to happen to their record.

Will this affect how you release music in the future?
I don’t care… I’m certainly gonna be more careful on the internet.

So, do you see Microcastle and Weird Era as companions?
Not necessarily, but maybe. They could be totally separate or together. Yeah, a lot of people think Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey are attached. But to me, they’re not really. Weird Era has its own concept. It’s kind of a sprawling, abstract thing I can’t put into words. I don’t do concepts in the traditional sense that, "oh, here is my concept about Europe in 1913.” I don’t do that. I do concepts like, "oh, when I was 19 I used this specific kind of Chapstick and I did ecstasy in a parking lot, and that whole summer was kind of cool, so this will be an album that will be related to that summer.” Weird Era is actually kind of about the evolution of Deerhunter in a way. Not lyrically. And also my concepts, all of my albums are concept albums, whether it’s Deerhunter or Atlas Sound. But a concept is not a singular thing or a lyrical thing; a concept is what you hold in the back of your heading when you’re writing it. I can say that Weird Era is a concept about our evolution as a band personally, not musically, our career. Microcastle is the end point, and Weird Era is like the digest, in a lot of ways.

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