Deerhunter's Cox Talks LP3, Atlas Sound, Dresses

"All this has ever been to me is a little boy fantasy that I've had since I was a kid."
Deerhunter's Cox Talks LP3, Atlas Sound, Dresses Photo by Greg Silver

It's difficult to reconcile the affable, chatty offstage Bradford Cox with the guy up there smearing himself in fake blood, sun-dress poking out from under his Tupac t-shirt. But Cox's transformation from self-described "unassuming dork" to galvanizing force behind Deerhunter seems as natural and engrossing as this year's throbbing, hypnotic Cryptograms. Cox is startlingly candid in his words and remarkably insightful about his own creative process, and, just as Deerhunter's music possesses a human warmth that belies its often distant, muddied sonics, Cox's manner reflects the charm that sets Cryptograms apart from so much other noise rock. Pitchfork spoke with Bradford recently about the shift in sound the band is making on their forthcoming third album Microcastle, his love of the LP form, and the root of his affinity for ladies' apparel-- not to mention the Arcade Fire's skill at Whirlyball.

Pitchfork: Much has been made of the leap you guys took, musically, between Deerhunter [the band's 2004 self-titled debut] and Cryptograms.

Bradford Cox: With Deerhunter, we were just happy to get a record out; it was kind of like premature ejaculation, you know what I mean? We totally stuck it in, and it was like, "whoa... oh, sorry." I'm so ashamed of it because the mixing and the vocals are distorted.

But I really am happy with Cryptograms. I'm so, so elated that it got a good response. Because it's like, we really tried so hard. It wasn't like we shit it out and we're just too cool... it's kind of like shitting in front of somebody, or shitting in public. It's embarrassing. We really tried so hard and put everything we could into it. Unlike the first record, I really am satisfied with it. So my satisfaction means to me, "okay, let's explore something totally different."

Pitchfork: So the next record, then, will be a departure from Cryptograms?

Bradford Cox: I'm more interested in the micro-structure. I want things to be a lot shorter, I don't want there to be as much long-windedness to it. I want it to be more collage-like. I think maybe the next record will sound a little dirtier or more blown-out or something. Less droney, less mopey. There will probably be a little less ambience. I definitely like trying on different clothes in terms of sound. I wouldn't want to repeat the next record either. I really like so many types of recording styles and so many different types of music and stuff, I think it would be a waste of time to try and find a sound and duplicate it, you know what I mean? I don't want to become a one trick band or anything like that.

I'll tell you this, here's an exclusive for Pitchfork: the next album is going to be called Microcastle. Swear to God.

Pitchfork: Do you have any songs coming together at this point?

Bradford Cox: I know one song that I know is going to be on there is called "Twilight at Carbon Lake" and it's kind of a doo-wop, 50s/early 60s, Everly Brothers, but through this kind of schizophrenic lens. So it has this really cathartic end, but it starts out really simple. I'm really interested in girl groups, I always have been, Phil Spector and stuff like that, and I feel like all we owe anybody is to explore what we're into.

Pitchfork: To that end, you're working on a solo album under the name Atlas Sound, right? How do you differentiate a song you write for Atlas Sound than one you might write for Deerhunter?

Bradford Cox: I definitely think of Deerhunter as a pop band, and it might be a weird pop band, but I still think of it as a pop band, and some of the stuff I do is really-- it doesn't fit into that range. The solo record idea, to me, seems kind of annoying and egotistical and cliché. But it's not to advance myself, it's not a careerist thing, it's just that I have ideas that I can't make work with a five piece rock band. I'm really into everything from R&B to a lot of the Kompakt label stuff, and house music, as well as really primitive garage rock stuff and old sounding doo-wop records, so there's kind of this palette of sounds that I use that I don't necessarily get to use with Deerhunter.

Pitchfork: In all the time I've spent with Cryptograms, I still don't hear it as an album of songs. There are moments I recall, that draw me in or repulse me, but mostly it seems conceived as a whole. Do you think about your music in those terms?

Bradford Cox: I always did that. When I was playing around in pretend world, making albums in my bedroom and stuff, I always did them as albums. I didn't record songs for songs, like four track songs, I would focus more on the album. When you've written something as an album, you don't want to say "oh, that's a good song, that's kind of a weak song so leave that one off..." Most people write songs and collect the best and strongest, and then sequence them to make an album. I kind of write things as an album and leave the weak things. I'm kind of all about leaving the weak stuff in, but when you have a band, they'll all listen to it and be like "well, we don't like this part," and you get to use this song, but you really like this weird thing at the end, but nobody wants to use it, it's like you're separating the puppies. You feel bad.

Pitchfork: Tell me a little bit about the Whirlyball single you just put out.

Bradford Cox: Imagine one of these suburban strip malls, with a family entertainment complex, where guys in suggestive tee shirts drink Bud Light on Friday nights, after they get off their construction jobs. That's Whirlyball. It's really weird. The Black Lips played there, Mogwai did one. Henry Owings of Chunklet Magazine came up with the idea of making this record the ticket. And so we had this song that we'd recorded years ago, when my dad had this building that we used to call No Town, this weird building where we used to record, and it's a four track recording of this really weird song, and I guess it just got put out. He just, like, put out this 7" and now it's the ticket.

Henry has this ongoing challenge with any band that comes through Atlanta, to challenge Team Chunklet at Whirlyball, and so bands all the time, after shows they go. As you know, Arcade Fire played there the other night, and they took him up on the challenge. And ended up being the most aggressive, insane Whirlyball players ever. The Arcade Fire evidently gave Henry a run for his money. Like, they never lose. Henry and his team are like, Team Chunklet, they're like world champions at Whirlyball. Nobody fucks with them. And the Arcade Fire were so bloodthirsty and extremely competitive.

Pitchfork: They don't seem like the types.

B: I know, I can't picture the Arcade Fire playing Whirlyball, but it happened. And I heard about it the next day and I was like, "that would have been something to see."

Pitchfork: We spoke a bit before your show in Chicago in April, and you were very friendly, soft-spoken, dressed down. Ten minutes later, you were hanging over the crowd in a flowery frock. It's still a little hard to wrap my mind around how much you changed while I was in line for beer.

Bradford Cox: I'll see footage of our live shows, and I'm just like, "What the fuck?" But then I'll see an interview, like I'll do an interview, and I seem like such a fucking geek. Like such a little unassuming dork. I've noticed that myself recently. The only time I really feel comfortable with myself is onstage. I feel like it's the only opportunity someone like me has to really rip shit up. It's really easy for me to just be myself and get on stage and, I don't know, kind of challenge the vibe of the room. Whereas, as a person, I would rather just be friendly, normal. I cannot stand meeting someone that I have artistic respect for and having them be, like, self-important, arrogant, or whatever. I'd rather be thought of as this unassuming dork than someone who's full of himself.

P: Are there any elements of your onstage personality that comes through when you're off stage?

B: Well, I can say things and go places onstage that, if I went there off stage, people might be a little freaked out. Especially in terms of sexuality. I've been really trying to trance out, and some of the concepts that will install themselves in my head while I'm performing will be pretty fucked up or weird, and there's no venue for me to get that kind of thing out in an everyday way without being a total creep.

P: Do you think there's at least some aspect of that personality that comes from your day-to-day life?

B: Oh, totally. All this has ever been to me is a little boy fantasy that I've had since I was a kid. I always wanted to do stuff like this. And the whole dress thing, things like that, I don't do that for any reason other than just like... I don't know how to explain it. I mean, I used to wear dresses when I was a little kid. My mom used to always dress me up in dresses, let me play house and stuff. She was never very selective in gender roles; if I wanted a Barbie doll, I could have a Barbie doll, and a G.I. Joe. And I just think it's funny, also. I went to go see my sister, and she's been Googling us and stuff, and seeing all these images and shit. And she's like, "what's with the dress, dude?" And I'm like, "I don't know, what was with the dress when you guys were dressing me up in dresses when I was a little kid?" My sister's friends would sleep over and they would doll me up and put makeup on me and shit. I'm not doing it in any way to be shocking. I just think it's kind of cute. I just like it. I don't like the idea of going around stage in just jeans and a t-shirt. It seems anticlimactic.

Pitchfork: From the bottom up, you guys all seem very much against the idea of the "bored" strain of indie rock performance.

B: I've never been able to deal with that. Like, I hate indie rock. The whole college shit, like, "I'm smart. Look at me posturing." Or trying to look good or look cool or look erudite or whatever. It doesn't really appeal to me. I'd rather see somebody, you know, stripping away layers.

[As for posturing], to borrow someone else's psychotic breakdown to dress up your own really, really boring heterosexual bourgeois identity-- it's kind of the same concept of suburban kids going to Hot Topic and trying to buy a "punk" outfit or something. But when punk is at its purest, shoegazer, whatever you want to call it, whatever it is, there's no genre necessary: it's psychotic. I guess what I'm saying is, we need to get some strobe lights. Don't you think strobe lights would add a lot?

P: I think you guys do just fine without 'em.

Deerhunter dates:

06-01 Roswell, GA - Whirlyball #
07-11 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom ^
07-12 Cambridge, MA - ICA
07-15 Chicago, IL - Union Park (Pitchfork Music Festival) &

# with the Carbonas, Selmanaires, the Coathangers
^ with Ex Models, Blues Control
& with the New Pornographers, Stephen Malkmus, De La Soul, Of Montreal, Jamie Lidell, the Sea and Cake, Klaxons, Nomo, the Ponys, Menomena, Craig Taborn's Junk Magic, Fred Lonberg-Holm's Lightbox Orchestra

Posted by Paul Thompson and Tyler Grisham on Tue, May 15, 2007 at 3:20pm