Darwin Deez's songwriting secret: Couch potato the f*ck out
Lucky Number Music
Holed up in his New York City apartment, Darwin Deez wrote and recorded a quirky, ten-track ode to failed relationships. Driven by drum loops and laced together by four guitar strings, Deez's 2010 self-titled album gave him the opportunity the travel the world. Now in 2013, he's made the move from busy New York streets to the cozy mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina.
Filled with new travel stories and relationships, Darwin Deez shared with Gimme Noise what he did differently in his new album Songs for Imaginative People and what we can expect from his 7th Street Entry show Wednesday.
Gimme Noise: What prompted the move from New York City to Asheville?
Darwin Deez: I got sick of New York. [It's] high stress and expensive and there's a lot of distraction. North Carolina is my home state, I grew up in Chapel Hill. After being on the road for so long, I really wanted to feel like home. I really wanted to unwind. So we came through Asheville a few months before tour ended and I kinda fell in love with it a little bit. I have lots of friends there that I never really spent much time with, but they're sweethearts. I also got evicted for subletting and decided that place was a rat's nest anyways. All of those things sort of inspired that move happening. Asheville is cool. It's got great restraunts. It's very beautiful and it's not as cold as New York.
What does the change in the environment do to your songwriting?
You know I'm open to speculations about it from other people, but personally I'm not a believer. I think it's minimal. I almost always write at home indoors, alone. When I write, [I'm] dealing with egos and the world of musical figures. A whole world of ideas and pictures are just totally in your head. So for me, my own world of imagination is my environment. In order to go there, you have to block out whatever is around you. So it's all the same to me, but I could be missing something.
If your location doesn't matter, what gets you into that creative state of mind?
My latest research on what gets me to that mode is working on a lot of non-creative stuff for a few days, then I'll rest. By rest, I mean I'll totally couch potato the fuck out and watch TV all day. After that decompression, that's when I find the creativity happens.
What kind of shows do you watch?
My latest is White Collar on USA. I'm really addicted to TV shows. When people get really excited about shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad, I get afraid of those shows. I know that they're going to be too good and I'm not going to be able to control myself. So I like to stick to the crap, or the older shows that aren't so engineered like crack cocaine. I always watch TV on my laptop that I've already seen, or that's really old from the '90s that has sentimental value and not so much addictive power. I don't have internet in my house, I don't have television, I don't have cable so I'm really strongly addicted to that stuff. I have to watch out. Every now and then I binge.
Would you say there is a unifying theme to your lyrics? Listening to the album, I get the feeling it's comprised of many different romantic situations whereas your self-titled was a little more monogamous.
There's some themes. There's some of freedom/incarceration, hence the album cover photo. There's also a lot of different romantic situations that are represented as a story, tracks two through six being different, but sequential, romantic situations. The first one ["You Can't Be My Girl"] being about a new aquaintance to whom you feel attracted, but it's in a conflicting way, like you can't be my girl. The second track "Moonlit" is kind of about fast forward to "what if you had started a relationship with that person?" You'd probably end up in a steady relationship, that tends to happen.
Then after that is "No Love", [which is] the thought about running into your ex in a social situation. You don't regret breaking up with them, but it still sucks. After that, you get to a point when you realize how much you enjoy being single, and that's track 5 "Good to Lose" Those are all kind of an in-sequenced romantic situation that has happend to me over the last few years. Mostly [different people], there are a couple repeats. It was a smaller pool of people [for the first album] definitely.
When you create a song, do you write while recording, or do you like to craft the song beforehand?
I think it's more of the former. I get a really good sense of geting started. A lot of the songs on the new record I actually started by writing the lyrics first. That was new for me. I'd never done that in my life. That's where I was drawing inspiration. My objective was to get those songs recorded. For "Chelsea's Hotel." There's so many different melodies in the verse, as opposed to having one melody that repeats three times for each verse. When you write lyrics first, the amount of syllables is all over the place, it makes space different. For ["Chelsea's Hotel"] I started recording saying "ok these are the words" and throwing the melodic theme down. That's how that song is.
So you are used to writing words to a melody, as opposed to writing a melody to words. Now that you've done both, which are you more satisfied with?
I think I'm more satisfied in the end by the first [writing words to a melody]. The second way, the process I used for this record, that was the easiest way to write, becuase that was where the inspiration came from. At that particular point, I think my music comes out better when it's simpiler. When you write to a melody and limit yourself lyrically, you end up with a more simple song, a more fun song. I tend to like those better.
Your guitar sound is very distinct. I feel like it carried over to your second album as well. What do you do to come up with that?
For the first record, I composed all the songs on a four-string guitar that was missing the lowest and highest strings. I tuned them sort of weirdly, so that a minor seventh chord was one of the easier voicings. It's a strange tuning which stuck after years of expirimenting and trying to get a different sound. I even tuned the strings down, which is something that I heard Animal Collective did. So that's where that kind of chord voicing stuff comes from, and you're moving through that one shape a lot. You're much more limited to that shape and you end up sliding it around the neck. That, and it's just a certain amount of crunch that's not too much and not overdrive. Not too much overdrive and not too clean. That was the guitar I limited myself to using. That's where all those chords came from.
So did you use the same guitar on this record?
I switched back to a regular six-string and actually had to re-learn how to play it. That was kind of another project I did this year through the writing of this album. So I'm surprised when people say that the guitar sound carried over. I'm glad that it carried over. I was still using a different approach and different amps and different guitars and different tunings and different chords. Most of the songs on the new record are on standard tuning.
What kind of guitar do you play?
I like Stratocasters. I like the single coiled sound and the curved fretboard. That's just what I'm used to. My parents bought me a Stratocaster when I was 11, so that's always been natural and comfortable to play. The Stratocaster makes a more comfortable guitar, the way the back of it's taylored to fit your body. I care about that.
Darwin Deez dances to Enya/Rage Against the Machine
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