DAVE DEPPER On Channeling Emotional Freedom Into His Musical Landscape by Wilhelmina Hayward

 

By Wilhelmina Hayward published on Performer Mag on September 12, 2017

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While staving off a sore throat with some tea, Death Cab for Cutie’s Dave Depper talks about his journey as a musician in various bands to writing his own music, with the release of his new album, Emotional Freedom Technique on Portland’s Tender Loving Empire.

Why now, are you starting to write your own music?

I guess my origin story is that all of this happened kind of by accident. I never really intended to be a musician or touring musician, or anything like that, but one thing lead to another. Basically, I moved to Portland in 2003, and I always loved music, I’ve always played music, but I didn’t really do anything with it. And, just randomly I bought an organ off this guy and it turns out he ran a record label, that was Hush. He asked if I played bass and I said yes, even though I didn’t, and I joined his band. We recorded an album at a recording studio and the engineer liked my bass playing and asked if I would join his band and that band took me on my first tours and I kept meeting people…anyway, so you get the idea.

It kind of just snowballed into stuff and then, you know, like all freelance kind of things, it’s who you know and word of mouth and one thing led to another, which all accumulated to getting asked to join Death Cab for Cutie. That was the single most surprising thing to happen to me, and here I am.

The whole time I was touring, I was really interested in creating my own music, but it’s like, nothing felt authentically mine. Every time I would sit down to write a song I just felt like, why does this song need to exist, I have nothing to say. About five years ago, some friends and I decided to play the twenty-song game, where you and a few friends commit to writing twenty songs in twelve hours and you get together and you listen to each other’s songs and critique them. It’s this insane thing where you’re put into this totally frenetic headspace of like, no ideas can be thrown out because you have so little time to work on any of these songs. You just have to go, “first thought, best thought.”

So, I did the game and I got to seventeen songs, and most of them were terrible. But a couple synth-pop songs sort of appeared and when we were all listening, everyone’s heads kind of cocked and we’re all like, “Whoa, what’s that? I didn’t expect that from you, you’re a guitar player,” and all of a sudden, I realized this is the music I was meant to make. I love listening to synth pop, I love the Pet Shop Boys, I love Air, I love Caribou, and I decided to pick up that thread. And I’ve been on the road for most of the time over the past four or five years, but I kind of worked on it on and off, alternately abandoning and hating it, starting over and that kind of thing. But eventually, about a year ago, I finally managed to finish it.

Let’s talk about what’s next, your new album. What are you trying to convey on Emotional Freedom Technique, as a solo artist?

Hmm, I guess, lyrically it’s a bit of a concept record about this period in my life that hopefully has come to a bit of a close. But it began with the demise of this very big relationship in my life and right around then, I started touring a bunch and instead of maybe properly recovering or healing from that, I went into this very strange world of being in a different city all the time and meeting different women in different cities, and dating long distance and all this stuff. Really losing sight of what I wanted out of love or relationships.

So, the album is sort of a self-indulgent meditation on some specific experiences I had with some people or kind of general feelings I have about the whole thing. I mean, the first song kind of lays it out. I had been dating someone and we were breaking up and she was just kind of exasperated and said, “Do you even want love?” and I just said, “I don’t even know what that means anymore.” And it was just a part of this long kind of break up discussion.

But thinking back on it, I was just like wow, that’s a really intense thing to think. It sort of just became the thesis statement of the whole record, I guess, which is why it’s the first song on it. So, lyrically that’s where it’s at. Musically, it’s kind of a weird hybrid of “dude learning how to make a record all by himself in his bedroom” and “the joy of discovering how to translate the songs in my head to actual sounds on a record” – combined with wanting to make my dream electronic dance-pop record, and not quite getting there but getting to something else that I really like in the process.

It sounds like a lot of the songwriting happened on the road, is that right? What was your songwriting process for this record?

Well, I’d say the songs didn’t get written on the road, they got written in between being on the road. I can’t write at all on the road. My brain goes into this really primordial, primitive state where all I can think about is what meal is next, or when I’m going to the gym, or whatever. It’s weird, and a lot of touring musicians I talk to feel the same way. It sort of lobotomizes you while you’re out there.

I don’t know why, but I just can’t write on the road. So, I kind of wrote the music in the fleeting moments I was home. The process was interesting, it kind of evolved in stages. So, when I first played that twenty-song game, I was really excited by the sonic possibilities. I had never had free reign to translate what I was hearing in my head to something on a record, so I just carried away making all these songs without lyrics. And then when it came time to write lyrics, I found that I still didn’t know what I wanted to say. I would listen back on them and just kind of be unconvinced.

I played them for other people and get those polite responses when you can tell you’re not quite getting there. Yeah, the album kind of existed like that for the first couple years and one day, I wrote… I just sat down and the last song on the record just kind of poured out of me. And the reaction that I got for that from friends that I respect was totally different. I realized right then, this is what I need to be doing. This is what’s going to make me feel better. I mean, because I immediately felt this almost therapeutic joy and relief in having made that song. And I thought the whole record should be that way. So, I made this rule that every song would be an honest snapshot of my feelings regarding this scenario that I told you about. And I wouldn’t say that the rest of the songs came easily, but once I came up with that as sort of the concept for the record and using that song as a signpost, the rest filled itself in.

Sure, it became sort of a cathartic experience for you?

Totally, and that’s part of why the album is called Emotional Freedom Technique. I didn’t come up with that phrase, but when I heard it, and I was trying to come up with the name of the record, I was like, “that’s it” because making this record was my emotional freedom technique. As cheesy as that sounds, I’m in a different place in my life now, having made this record, then I was before. And I’m grateful for that part of the process.

So, when can we expect to see you play the album live?

What I have on the books right now are a Portland show and a Seattle show after the album releases. And I just got added to Bumbershoot in Seattle, which I’m stoked about. So, I’m just waiting to see how people are wanting to hear the album live and where they want to hear it… I’m excited to start playing these songs [on the road].

*Photos by Jaclyn Campanaro

 

Dave Depper – Emotional Freedom Technique

Standout Track: “Communication” 

Follow on Twitter @davedepper

BEACH FOSSILS Open Up About Somersault and the Freedom of Starting Your Own Label by Wilhelmina Hayward

 

By Wilhelmina Hayward on July 5, 2017

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Beach Fossils are releasing their new album Somersault on Bayonet Records, a label frontman Dustin Payseur and his wife recently launched together. Before they gear up for touring season, we had a conversation about the band’s unique songwriting process and finding the bandmates that make collaborating a fluid experience. 

Let’s just dive right in. Can you talk a bit about your origin story with Beach Fossils and what has the journey been like from your last album to Somersault?

We’ve been through a lot of different changes over the years. In the beginning, it just started as a solo project, not necessarily by choice. I had moved to New York and I didn’t know anyone, so I was like, “Well I might as well start making music, I’ll just do it by myself.” I had kind of always recorded by myself anyway — recording on 4-tracks and teaching myself all the instruments and playing the parts myself, so I was already kind of used to it. Over the years, different members have come and gone. We finally got to this line-up that we have now. We would just get together and mess around with music a lot, and it sort of organically worked out that we were writing together; it wasn’t really on purpose. I had intended to just do this record the same way as all my other ones, to just do it by myself, but these little pieces of songs started coming out and I was loving how it was working out and I thought we should just make an album together.

 

Can you talk about your songwriting process as a solo project, and what it was like collaborating with your current line-up?

Doing it solo, it’s really nice because it’s always different and I don’t really have to think about it. It’s just really natural. I usually start with a bass line…. until something sounds right, or feels like it can be a good foundation for something. It’s almost like, a lot of the times I feel like I don’t even really have a choice in what I write, it’s like I just start hearing everything, you know? I hear the guitar parts, I hear the vocal melodies, I hear all this stuff and I just have to start recording it before I forget it.

Talk about how you found each other — it sounds like you have to be operating on the same frequency to be able to write songs in that manner.

We were all in different bands on Captured Tracks. The label is almost like a creative community, a little family that just kind of brought everyone together. Everyone on the label knew each other. Jack was playing in a band called the Craft Spells and we took them on tour, opening for us in 2011. We would just be jamming together every night because we shared a van together and I just remember thinking that every time we were playing, there was a really good chemistry between [us]. Then we had some lineup changes and I asked him to play with Beach Fossils immediately. And Tommy, he was playing in a band called Hoop Dreams. They came up to New York, and I remember watching him play guitar and he had this really weird style, I really like the way he plays. He’s one of those people who talk before they think, and he treats an instrument the same way. I think we all have really different playing styles that complement each other.

 

Let’s go back to the creative process. You described it as “almost like channeling” something – how does that process work for you?

It definitely comes in waves. It’s unpredictable, too. I feel like I don’t have any control over the creativity.

I don’t work well with deadlines, hence it’s taken four years to make this new record. It’s kind of like, I can only do it when I’m feeling it, like when you feel hungry or feel thirsty, you don’t choose to feel that way, it’s just there. I don’t try to press the creativity if it’s not there. I feel like the only time that works for me is with lyrics, but it doesn’t work very well with music. There are huge parts of time where I’ll be going to the studio and I’ll be recording for 17 hours and nothing can take me away from it, I’m just in there, I’m working and I’m hardly sleeping. And then after I finish up a couple songs, I just don’t have anything for a little while, I just go totally blank.

Speaking of lyrics, do you write completely on your own, or is that a collaborative process?

I do, yeah, that’s one thing that… I definitely want to always keep that one my own. I feel like they’re always insanely personal…that’s something that has to be done alone.

So, it sounds like there was a deadline, at least for the lyric writing process…

Right, yeah, I always think of lyrics as an afterthought. I listen to a lot of instrumental music, I listen to a lot of jazz and a lot of house music where it’s more about the way it makes you feel than what it’s saying. And so, when we’re working on a song, I feel like the music already says everything I need to say because I’m purposefully channeling a lot of emotion into the music and into how it sounds and feels. I kind of wish I could just put it out like that sometimes. But it does make a big difference when the vocals go on top of it finally, so I just try to ask myself what I was saying instrumentally here in this part; how do I translate this into a message?

What are you trying to convey to your listeners on this album?

I guess it’s just about being open and honest. You know, sometimes being alive is really hard, so I’m just going to write stuff that makes me feel better and can help other people. I was worried that if I put lyrics that were a little too heavy, I’d be bumming people out or something.

But then I got to a point where I felt you just need to write what you know, so if I’m depressed I need to just use it as a tool for creativity instead of letting it hold me down.

Is performing live a cathartic experience, or can it be really difficult at times?

It’s like a therapy session. I don’t think there’s ever a show where I’m not really thinking about the lyrics, and I’m not transported to the moment I was writing the lyrics. It always still feels like a raw nerve…and I like that. And also to have people come up to me after shows and be like, “I love this song and the lyrics” or “I totally know what you mean with this.” I’m just happy to be able to share that, it’s beautiful.

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When and why did you start Bayonet Records?

That’s been a huge goal of mine, ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to have a label. When I had a 4-track recorder, I’d just be recording songs in my bedroom on cassette, and as soon as I finished a few songs, I would…draw a cover and put a fake record label name. But I always really loved the idea of having my own label and when I got older and started learning more about independent labels. There always just seemed to be a sense of community and a real DIY power behind it, that you could just feel it like you just knew that there’s a community there, that these people are doing it because they believe in it, because they love it.

Everything just kind of came to together at this one point. I had finished my contract and I was working on a new record, I finally found some artists that I really liked and I was talking to my wife about it; we just decided to start a label on our own. There’s no way that Bayonet Records would exist without her, she’s unbelievable at how hard she works and how much she knows about the music industry. I couldn’t think of a better person to run a label with.

Is there a big difference when recording for your own label? Does it give you more freedom, or does it alter your creative process in any way?

Yeah, I think the biggest difference is, for one thing, I don’t have the deadline looming over me…I mean, at the end of the day, a record label is still a business, so if you have someone putting money into what you’re doing, they expect you to do it on a timeline. And I freeze up when I get deadlines, that’s hard for me.

What does life on the road look like for you guys now, and are you touring soon?

We just got new members in the band and so we’re in Los Angeles right now practicing with them [as we speak]. You know, we’re like a bi-coastal band now, I guess. We’re announcing the tour pretty soon, I think they’re still being finalized, but we’re pretty much touring from the summer through the end of the year. And I think next year’s going to be crazy; we’re just going to be on the road all year. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s one of those “grass is always greener” things. When we’re in the studio we want to be on the road, and when we’re on the road we just want to be in the studio.

 

Beach Fossils – Somersault

Standout Track: “This Year”

Follow on Twitter @beachfossils

 

Mutual Benefit by Wilhelmina Hayward

How The Process of Quitting Music Inspired Jordan Lee of Mutual benefit to Come Back to Music Full-Time

By Wilhelmina Hayward on June 16, 2016

(view original article: http://performermag.com/new-music-and-video/interviews-and-features/mutual-benefit-skip-a-sinking-stone/)

Mutual Benefit’s Jordan Lee is gaining well-earned recognition for his music, and his new album Skip a Stepping Stone is due for release this month on Mom+Pop. Before he gears up for touring season, we had a conversation about the ups and downs of his life as a musician.

 

Tell me about your short-lived attempt at the punk scene.

[laughs] Well, I grew up in the Ohio suburbs, so the idea of punk was like whatever was at the mall. After that, I think I was lucky to grow up in an age where it was pretty easy to home record. So, I just got into writing songs that way, through trial and error.

And did you bring in other people as you started writing music?

The very awful pop-punk band that I was in in high school had lots of people and we played shows in my parents’ basement…it was such a mess. The stuff I made on the computer was more of a solitary thing for the first couple years, because the songs were so bad I didn’t want anyone to hear them [laughs].

[RELATED: Read Performer’s 2014 interview with Mutual Benefit.]

Did you just start writing and gradually the idea of doing music full-time became the reality?

Yeah, I definitely never thought that this would be my job. I figured that was like the same odds as like, being a professional athlete. I had pretty realistic expectations, and I just really enjoyed doing it. So, I started having a goal where hopefully I could quit a full-time job and just have a part-time job and just keep trying to do less and less work that I didn’t like [so I could] work on art and creative stuff. I think just over the past ten years or so, it’s gotten a little bit easier each year to tour and put out records and do that instead of being a dishwasher or something.

 

You’ve spoken about ‘facing reality head on,’ so what does that mean in the context of songwriting and your journey with this new album?

A lot of songs that I hear have the phrase in it, ‘everything’s going to be alright,’ you know? That’s one of my pet peeves, except when Kendrick Lamar does it and then it’s awesome. But, I feel like, oftentimes people are either approaching songwriting like, ‘This is going to be a sad song’ or ‘This is going to be a happy song,’ and I think that obviously life is not a dichotomy like that. And so I guess I try to articulate more complex types of thought, but I don’t know, maybe that sounds pretentious.

[laughs] No, but maybe you can tease out what you mean by these complex thoughts?

I think the core of the project is the idea that the world can be a really scary bad place filled with awful people doing bad things to one another, if you think about it like that. You know, everywhere you look you can see corruption and racism and sexism, and just everything. And when I see people that are really really happy, it’s easy to kind of discount their worldview. Like, ‘Well, they just don’t know what’s happening,’ [laughs] and so, I think, at least for the last couple of albums my focus has been on how to have good mental health and how to still find joy, but also not turning away from all the things that make it pretty hard to be a human being in the United States.

Can you tell me a bit about the collective space that you worked in and how that assisted in your songwriting?

Oh, Silent Barn, yeah. So, Silent Barn existed in Queens, and it got broken into and they couldn’t use it anymore, and they opened up a new space in Bushwick that’s like a music venue and recording studio and apartments, and it’s run collectively. So I lived there for a couple of years because I was really interested in living in a collective space and kind of trying to do things a little differently, rather than just having a landlord and you know, not knowing your neighbors and stuff. T

he recording studio there was really beautiful and I recorded probably the first half of the record there, and I did a lot of the overdubs in my apartment. Then the last half of the record was in New Hampshire and Boston. Silent Barn was really a big part of making the album because the first year I was there, I was mostly touring, and the second year I had to finish the album, so I didn’t leave the city much. That was a very new experience for me to be in this bustling city and like, I couldn’t escape it. There’s a lot of strong personalities there; it was just a really interesting environment to live in.

And what does your songwriting process typically look like?

Normally a song starts with a little spark and it could be a lyric or an image that’s in my head or a keyboard sound, I never really know what it’s going to be. But otherwise, like if I just hear acoustic guitar chords, I’m not inspired to make a song. So, it just has to be a little thing, and from there I put it in to the computer and try to add things or take away things. One of my favorite things to do is to have something foundational, maybe a piano or guitar, build something around it, and then take that foundational thing out.

What does life on the road look like for you? 

Mmhmm, yeah, I just got my apartment back yesterday because we’ve been touring with Deer Tick. I guess it’s a little different each tour; sometimes the shows are bigger and we can have a big van, and sometimes like on this opening tour I had to kind of strip it down a little bit. It’s a mix of being extremely boring, just being in a van for hours and hours and eating junk food, but then sometimes it’s totally crazy, you’re in the type of city you’ve never been before, and everything’s confusing.

Do you do any songwriting while on the road?

In the past it hasn’t been a good space because we usually wake up pretty early and then get in the van and then sound check, play, then crash at someone’s house. So, there’s just not a lot of time to be creative or be able to be particularly thoughtful about what’s happening. It’s kind of an interesting headspace because you kind of know what you’re going to do in the day ahead of time, and then there’s so much waiting and then a cathartic release…and then waiting again. I feel like it almost puts me in a meditative space. This last tour I really enjoyed, and since I just got back, I’m now trying to adjust…

Was there ever a point along your journey as a musician where you almost threw in the towel and called it quits?

It’s easy to get discouraged, and it’s easy to look at the ecosystem of trying to put your music out there and just see a lot of cronyism and PR people…I don’t know, it’s pretty gross. And so I actually wrote a blog post saying that I was going to quit. [laughs] It’s around still, I don’t think I ever deleted it. But, you know, it’s just ‘I’m sick of the music industry, I’m just going to make things for my friends make it free, I don’t want to identify as a musician anymore, I want to live a full three-dimensional life and learn new skills,’ and [laughs] then I finished the record and all of a sudden my life became the opposite of what I said I would do. So, I guess I encourage more people to write a blog post saying that they quit, because I guess that’s what helped.

Is there something you can leave with other musicians who have been at it for years and still haven’t seen much for the fruits of their labors – step one: write a blog post?

[laughs] Okay, yeah, to not be facetious, I think everyone’s journey is completely different from one another so it’s kind of hard to try and give advice, but, even the way the question is phrased, that a person has been going a long time and don’t see much in return, that type of headspace is poisonous. I think that making art is a lot like a lightning bug, like it’s light. I think it’s kind of like a mating dance, sending off pheromones and it attracts other lightning bugs to it. I kind of think that everyone has something to say and something to make, and instead of trying to figure out how to find mass appeal, or how to market yourself the best, if you actually just focus on what you’re trying to say and work your whole life to say it in the best possible way, then I think all the connections that come out of that are really organic and beautiful.

So, what are you trying to say on this album?

I guess in my music I try to incorporate both the depression I feel sometimes, but also these moments of complete bliss, and I think those those two things are probably related to one another in some way. I guess, I like the idea too, that everything for better for worse is a season and is going to pass. It’s a calming thing to think about when life gets crazy…

Cool, well, we’ll end on a lighter note…

Please! [laughs]

What’s your favorite piece of gear when you’re on tour?

Probably a trusty synthesizer, the Alesis Micron. I blew it up in Berlin. I plugged it in to the wrong type of power, and then we had to get on the equivalent of the Berlin Craigslist and drive all over trying to find one. So, I’ve become very attached, I really like those.

What do you think of our Mutual Benefit interview? Read more artist features from Performer, sound off in the comments below or drop a line on the Performer Magazine Facebook page or on Twitter @Performermag.

Mutual Benefit

Skip a Sinking Stone

Standout Track: “Lost Dreamers”

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Follow on Twitter @mutual_benefit

Mutual Benefit Skip a Sinking Stone