Deerhunter — Reflections on a Broken Mirror

Recently, AQ spoke with Deerhunter drummer and co-founder Moses Archuleta, about the group’s origins, the arduous recording sessions for their latest LP—Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? (4AD Records)—and how the band has evolved beyond its ambient punk origins. Deerhunter was formed by Archuleta and front man Bradford Cox in Atlanta in 2001, and they were part of a wave of indie-rock and metal bands that emerged from the city in the early 2000s—a scene that included groups such as the Black Lips and Mastodon. Deerhunter’s 2010 breakout LP, Halcyon Digest, is generally regarded as one of the best albums of the decade, and since then, they have released three additional albums: Monomania, Fading Frontier, and now this latest release. Deerhunter is hitting the road this spring, and they play Brooklyn Steel on February 27.

Moses, Deerhunter’s ascent into the spotlight has been in the works for a while, but for our readers who are just learning about the band now, can you give us a little back story on how the band got started?

Bradford is someone that I met pretty early on when I came to town, because I would see him at shows, and he’s clearly striking looking. I think at some point we struck up a conversation. It seemed like we had a lot in common but coming from different places…. He had some recordings and demos, and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is really great.’ It just kind of happened organically from there.

I’ve heard Deerhunter’s music often categorized in the press as “ambient punk.” In your mind, is that a good description of the band?

You know, I feel like that’s possibly an outdated moniker. It was probably completely applicable for the first half of our band’s existence. But, I feel like where we’ve gone on the last few records… we’ve diversified and expanded beyond that description.

The band’s latest release is called Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, which has been described as a “science fiction album about the present.” Can you expand on that concept?

The album has a detached or removed quality about it that speaks to a removal of time, so it could feel like it’s something from the future…. But, it also mirrors several historical incidents, as well. It’s basically a mirror reflecting back on the socio-political hardships of a time before ours, but there’s also an imagining of what someone will see when they look back on now. I guess that’s why the cover has a sort of post-apocalyptic mood to it. It’s like a time capsule in a way.

One of the tracks that stood out to me was “No One’s Sleeping.” Lyrically, the song seems be speaking about a global society under extreme duress. What can you tell us about that track?

Well, we were under a lot of duress making this entire album. It was just really hard to figure out how to make it sound, because what we had done—and this was the first time we had ever done this—was we played the songs on tour for a reasonable amount of time before going into the studio. So, there was a false sense of feeling like ‘Oh, we know what the demos sound like, and we also know how to play this stuff extremely well. This is gonna go easy.’ But once we started tracking certain things, it became clear that whatever version we wanted to exist on the album was sort of neither of the things we thought we do really well. Like, it wasn’t supposed to be exactly like the demo, but it wasn’t supposed to sound like a live rock band in a room, which was a result of playing these songs already at our shows…. But the time booked for recording was coming to an end, and it came to a point where we sort of had to wrap it up—and I don’t mean in a rushed way… it was like sort of like leaving milk out for too long, or something. It felt like it would get spoiled…. But that sense of urgency, I don’t know if it comes through in the music, but it’s definitely there, and to circle back around to what you were saying about under duress… it was not a linear experience.

It does sound like it was a bit of an ordeal.

Yeah, like… we thought we would be able to do the whole record in one session, and it ended up taking three, basically.

Wow. Thanks for unpacking that experience for our readers, Moses. As it relates to sound, Deerhunter records—in my opinion—tend to shift between being either guitar-driven, or atmospheric and spatial. But this new album sounds like the band captured the best of both those worlds. Would you agree?

Yeah, there was definitely an effort to not make the guitar the central sound. There was definitely an attempt to diversify with a lot more playing of keys than we had before…. It was part of the structural approach to making the songs. Like, ‘Why not approach it from this angle?’

I think most people agree that 2010’s Halcyon Digest was Deerhunter’s breakthrough album. In your mind, what is one thing that you can point to that illustrates how the band has grown since the release of that album?

I guess that album…. You know how you brought up the ambient punk thing? It would seem to me upon reflection that that would be the album that represented six years of momentum outside of this one kind of idea, and into something more musically realized—like in the realm of trying to exercise more musical intention and inspiration, rather than being this one kind of thing. And I think that album is sort of like a turning point, for where we would continue to go, but also where we were coming from.

Cool. You know, the first time I saw Deerhunter perform was sometime during the summer of 2007, I believe. It was a matinee show at the old McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg. You were playing alongside the Black Lips and King Khan and the Shrines, and at least back then, those bands relied to a degree on crazy stage antics. But Deerhunter was all about giving a high-energy performance—one which left me blown away, and an instant fan. I know it was a while ago, but do you recall that show at all?

Yeah, I do.

It was a pretty wild show!

Yeah, yeah…. I don’t remember a ton of details about it, but I definitely remember what I was wearing that day (laughs), and the weather, and of course I remember the show, not the least of which because it was the only time we ever played McCarren. That was towards the end of its existence, and it was really cool knowing that we were going to play it, because it was a place that I had a very fond memory of. Just like… the first time I ever came to New York as a teenager; I remember breaking into McCarren with friends and beers while staying up all night, watching the sun come up. So, it was really nice to play there.

It’s unfortunate they don’t have shows there anymore…. So, what plans does the band have for the remainder of the year?

Lots of touring! So, we’re in the middle of rehearsals right now, and it will be exciting because the songs are sounding really good. But it’s like anything, you need to get warmed up. Any tour is like that. We pride ourselves on putting on a consistently good show, so… we’ll see you in Brooklyn!

Catch Deerhunter on Feb. 27 at Brooklyn Steel in Brooklyn, NY