T in the Park 2010: Dirty Projectors Interview
Dirty Projectors is the brainchild of Dave Longstreth, a 27-year-old chisel-cheeked, classically trained Yale graduate whose genius (and eventual beatification as the patron saint of art rock) is taken as given by the band’s followers.
At the other end of the scale are the band’s many detractors, who take wild exception to Longstreth’s persistent attempts to defy every convention of popular songwriting. Driven by an unbridled obsession with the creative possibilities of vocal harmonies – as demonstrated in last year’s phenomenal Bitte Orca album – Longstreth can count David Byrne and Björk among the group’s biggest fans (both of whom have collaborated with Longstreth in the past); a useful indication of the group’s eclectic music leanings.
If you like Dirty Projectors, then 2009’s Bitte Orca, which was released on Domino Records, was probably your album of the year. If you don’t, then you’re probably still trying to figure out what is going on in the opening track, ‘Cannibal Resource’. Even the band’s disciples find it difficult to describe the music.
Longstreth, however, is equally impervious to criticism and adulation.
‘My feeling isn’t particularly polar about it,’ says Longstreth. ‘I understand why people get so divided over it – I understand why they like it too – but for us it’s just making music.’
He pauses thoughtfully, before adding: ‘I guess it’s a cool thing that people respond to it so strongly. I can take it.’
So far so confusing, and Longstreth, who brings Dirty Projectors to this year’s T in the Park isn’t the man to ask for a definition of the band’s sound either. When describing the album, his Connecticut drawl slows down to a dribble.
‘I’ve always been obsessed with harmonies and the way one chord goes into another,’ he muses abstractly. ‘The expressive qualities of notes stacked together. For me that kind of feeling of colour is what I was obsessing over.’
The ‘colour’ is provided by the voices of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle, with Brian McOmber on drums and Nat Baldwin on bass. Bitte Orca is the band’s most accessible record to date, from a band known for arty, conceptual creations (such as a re-imagining from memory of punk legends Black Flag’s Damaged album).
Amid the jumpy rhythms, sudden changes in tempo and complex drum patterns is a lovingly offbeat nod to the best of contemporary R&B (Solange Knowles, sister of Beyonce, covered their track ‘Stillness Is the Move’) and moments of unexpected pop gorgeousness.
Longstreth explains: ‘I really wanted us to be the most incredible band we could be, it’s really that simple. We took some time recording the songs in a big old warehouse in Portland, Oregon and we didn’t stop until we got it exactly right.’
Longstreth grew up in Connecticut, and studied music at Yale before dropping out and moving to Portland to pursue a more experimental, less conventional music path. He later returned to Yale to complete his degree, and based himself in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. It’s clear that the two experiences at either side of the country have been reconciled to create the distinctive Dirty Projectors style. It’s the marriage of the renegade musician to the scholar of orchestration and harmonic theory. Bitte Orca, Longstreth’s fifth album (it took him this long to settle on the current line-up) is, he believes, the realisation of his artistic vision. This vision, however, is executed by the siren-like trio of female voices in the group’s instrumental arsenal. Longstreth’s bitter-sweet falsetto completes the package.
‘It [the album] was written pretty quick but then it’s one thing to have the idea and quite another to show it to the girls and have them learn it, and absorb it, and practice for a long time,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t take that much longer to write the kind of music that we write than any other pop song, but there’s a gestation period that we go through that takes us to the place where the song is on record or being performed at a live show.’
T in the Park audiences unfamiliar with Dirty Projectors’ curiously difficult-to-define charms can make up their own minds soon enough. True to form, Longstreth is giving nothing away: ‘We’re just going to get up there and rock really, really hard’.
And who can argue with that?
Dirty Projectors play T in the Park, Fri 9 Jul.