The reality is that there is no such thing as the United States, not really. Of course it’s there on the map, a criss cross mesh which sits between Canada and Mexico but in a real, tangible, emotional sense the United States is an impossibly wide concept. A continual whirlpool of ideas and fiscal forces, the United States revolves and evolves into a million different interpretations for a million different pairs of eyes.
Dan Deacon’s is perhaps the most potent we have heard this year. The American outsider artist returned in the summer with his new album, a highly ambitious set of songs which saw him plunge head first into some of his most provocative, daring material yet. Naturally, it would take its name from the land which spawned it: ‘America’.
“I drive back and forth constantly while on tour and it’s one of my favourite things to do is to see the country and to drive through it and to see its positive aspects and its negative aspects laid out there” he explains, almost gasping for breath as his enthusiasm rushes out from within him. “You see the rot of the cities and the corporate takeover of the American mindset of endless billboards, filth, garbage and consumer waste and fast food and gas stations. All of that. But you also see these beautiful ranges of mountains, these crazy psychedelic deserts, endless forest, fields.. all of that. This endless pockets of beauty and filth existing side by side”.
However Deacon’s concerns aren’t only fixed to the physical realm, but rather occupying the psychological as well. “The shifts in ideology – you can tell when you’re in a conservative area, one which isn’t liberal or progressive. There’s this shift in the air and the way which you interact with people, you can be in your own country but yet feel like an outsider in some of it. I’m sure people feel like that elsewhere – you can be German and yet feel like an outsider in Germany” he muses. “There’s almost like a balkanisation happening in the United States with political ideology and that burns in my brain. You have people who are so staunchly conservative that they are almost like, I don’t know, Satanic or something and then you have people who are so diehard on like organic food rights, and radical, awesome left wing ideas and they’re mixing with this blind, middle class which is stuck in the middle, confused with their ideology, choosing between these two puppets. Now I’m going into the realm of insanity.”
Yet perhaps that’s where Dan Deacon needs to go. ‘America’ isn’t the work of somebody who is happy crafting three minute pop songs – although there are plenty in place on the album, this is clearly the work of someone who is chafing at the constraints placed upon him. Switching from an electronic set up to incorporate acoustic instruments, this is his warmest and – dare we say it – more lush record thus far. “I don’t know if it really changed so much as it became available. When I first started I was the only person in the process and a lot of that was because of what was available. You know what I mean? I recorded ‘Spiderman Of The Rings’ in a small bedroom in a warehouse. I had my computer and my pedals and that was what I made the record with. With ‘Bromst’ I had more available to me – I met drummers and mallet players who could achieve the parts and were dedicated to learning them. That re-awoke this part of my brain which was sleeping which thought: wow, there are sounds besides computers. An extra thing I can use!”
Continuing, Dan Deacon emphasised the breadth of his imagination. “That was the main impetus, I wanted to use as many different sound sources as possible. Again, it’s not that I have a desire to not work with synthetic sounds my desire is not to omit any timbre. If I wanted to have a bassoon I shouldn’t have to make a synth sound like a bassoon or make a really, harmonic, rich bass synth we can just get a bassoon. Do you know what I mean? It has a very maximalist approach to it, which is very different to how I approached the previous records. I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m going down this particular path right now”.
The sheer vastness of’America’ – ‘USA’ stretches across an entire slab of vinyl – is something to behold. Seeming to match the endless space of the United States, it’s one whose breadth is matched by its multiplicity of meaning. Continually crossing over itself, contradicting itself ‘America’ is a prism of new ideas reflecting both its author and its audience. “You’d be hard pushed to find someone who didn’t know what America was” Deacon argues. “You’d also be hard pressed to find someone who thought about the word in the same way as somebody else. You can either have pride in the word of hate in the word of ambivalence in the word – more importantly what the word stands for. You can interpret it as two continents, you can interpret as one country. It’s endless, the attachments that people have to that word, the feelings and emotions it evokes and it is complex and it is a dichotomy and I wanted that to exist and I wanted it to be this sort of word which created a context for the album to exist in but not one that was overt. Again, one that people would internalise on their own and think: why the hell did the guy who named his previous record ‘Spiderman of the Rings’ and ‘Bromst’ name this record ‘America’? How did he go from meaningless to America? Maybe no one’s having that dialogue with me, and maybe it’s not important to anyone else to really have that dialogue but again – it’s obviously a shift”.
A torrent of ideas, in jokes, historical references and more ‘America’ is dense without becoming meaningless, challenging without becoming pretentious. Deacon thrives through his contradictions, abandoning old forms and invigorating new ones with the veracity of his imagination as if he can barely stop working for justonesecond in case the feeling dissipated. “I’m trying to put forth these ideas in music without being preachy or overt about them. To me, that’s not the way you get someone to start thinking. You get them to think by giving them a part or a hint or a shadow of an idea and then it grows in their mind, that conception” he argues. “They form the idea on their own and the put their own thought into it and that’s the whole point. We don’t want everyone to think the same, we want everyone to see the word in their own way and the problem is more and more people think the way that they’re told to think. So when I wanted to make a record that had substance to it or a political record in nature, I didn’t want it to be overt, I wanted it to be subtle. People could internalise it if they wanted to, and it would be there but it wouldn’t be a flashlight in their eyes.”