Dan Deacon is a music screwball but that’s what makes him so intriguing

Dan Deacon is a music screwball but that’s what makes him so intriguing

Photo: Frank Hamilton
Words by Tammy Walters

We chat to the music mad scientist about his new album, Mystic Familiar.

Five years after the release of Gliss Riffer, American composer and electronic musician, Dan Deacon unleashes his fifth studio album, Mystic Familiar.

Upon first glance at the track titles, including the first single ‘Sat By A Tree’ and opening piece, ‘Become A Mountain’, you will piece together a picturesque landscape of the natural world, a world often represented as tranquil in essence. Dan Deacon flips this notion on its head throughout the 11-track body of kaleidoscope-coloured chaos.

“We tend to think of nature as stoic, calm, ambivalent but somehow still positive in quality when it’s riddled with chaos. A deer is beautiful, majestic creature but it’s riddled with anxiety,” Deacon explains. “There is a chaos behind it – a mountain is utterly full of chaos and messes. Imagine cleaning a forest, as a domestic standard for cleaning. When you look at a well-sculpted backyard as compared to an overgrown forest they are completely different environments and that nature is utterly chaotic.

“If you pick up a handful of leaves on the forest floor and look underneath it, after a while you’ll see life and buds sprouting, little ants on the trees, fungal on rocks. Chaos exists everywhere and it cannot be fought – it has to be embraced. If we can learn one thing from history and from contemporary politics, it’s that chaos reigns.”

He represents this frenzied landscape through intense textures, extreme crescendos and pulsating patterns of epileptic proportions. This isn’t unusual territory for Deacon, however, who consistently pushes the envelope of electronic music. To understand Deacon’s sonic positioning on Mystic Familiar, one must first understand the brain behind it.

“I’m someone who is always fidgeting and it’s easier for me to pay attention when there is a lot going on. I’m the kind of person that if I have to sit still and give all of my focus to something, it’s hard for me to do it, where if I’m looking into the space between the leaves as the breeze hits them it’s easier for me to comprehend and take things in. I think you hear that in my music,” he says.

“It’s pretty dense but I try to make sure everything has a spot and a space to fit in and I think the clutter makes it easier to listen. I also like things that give you multiple listens and give you so much to look at and you can zoom in on a detail or you can pull back and see the macrostructure.

“Often when I’m working on music I will just loop it in the background for hours and hours until something will stick out and I’m like ‘what’s that?’ and that’s when I will make a change. That’s why it took me four-and-a-half years to make this album.”

Those four years didn’t come without interruption. Among other activities, Deacon composed a handful of film scores including Rat Film, HBO’s Well Groomed, ESPN’s 30 for 30 short Subject to Review and collaborated with the NYC Ballet’s resident choreographer Justin Peck, LA Phil and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on projects along the way. In fact, it was that four-year period that moulded the album into what it is today.

“Four years a really long period of time and I kept thinking about that and tried to use it as an advantage rather than a disadvantage where I was like, ‘This record would have finished all of university by now’, ‘How much did I change when I was in school, how much did I change in the four years after school?’.

“My life in the last four years has dramatically changed. I started thinking about how beautiful that was, that every day is a different shade and if you want you can create a different colour centre point of your life. As a musician I get to make albums that become that.”

Dan Deacon’s new album Mystic Familiar, is out now via Domino. Give it a spin via streaming services.