On the tail end of an Australian tour which took in Brisbane and Melbourne and included a last minute Atlas Sound show, Deerhunter’s willowy singer-guitarist and stand-up comic in the making Bradford Cox entered the 2ser studios to trade words with Static’s Chris Berkley about all things in the Deerhunter-verse including forgetting lyrics, screaming at his family, the art of the first take, a possible chat show and more. (Bradford would front Deerhunter for a gig in Sydney later that evening rounding off a wildly successful couple of weeks for the band.)
And joining us in the studio on Static this evening it is a pleasure and a privilege to have Bradford Cox from Deerhunter. Welcome to Sydney!
Hi, the privilege is all mine. (deep voice)
Nice radio voice Bradford.
Oh, thank you.
You’ve been filling in your days pretty well on this Australian Tour haven’t you? Atlas Sound shows, Deerhunter shows, there hasn’t been a moment to breathe.
No, but breathing is overrated. (laughs)
Was that how you built the Deerhunter reputation at home — really touring a lot and playing wherever you could? It seemed especially when Cryptograms came out you guys were on tour forever, it was a real word of mouth thing.
That’s been the case, yeah, and it’s been really rewarding. There’s more and more people there and the audiences are really responsive and it’s a pleasure to meet everyone and play for people that are excited and stuff. That’s something I never take for granted, because when you’re starting out in a band – I’m sure it’s like this everywhere all over the world – there’s so much time spent playing in these tiny rooms to nobody and they don’t know who you are and they don’t care. And when you first start playing shows where people actually know your songs and they recognize your music or they know the words or something, it’s really unusual, it’s hard to describe, but it’s really rewarding.
It must be a weird thing as well where it’s got to the stage now for the Atlas Sound solo show, people know your songs better than you do and you can’t remember the names of some of your songs…
It’s really funny: I didn’t mention it last night, but before I played that show I had to go on the Internet and look at guitar tab websites to get the chords because I couldn’t remember the chords to the songs and so I decided to look up where people had — it’s site where people put chords on the Internet.
It’s a big help for the artist himself, let alone the fans.
Well a lot of people do that, I read that Michael Stipe has to google his lyrics.
Yeah well he writes the lyrics in his hand on stage because he can’t remember them…
Really…? Well he has a lot of wordy words so…
Shaun Ryder from The Happy Mondays when he was here used a teleprompter…
Are you serious?
…and freaked out when the teleprompter cut out .
Oh wow, that’s embarrassing.
It must be hard to remember some of those Happy Mondays lyrics.
A lot of times with Deerhunter and with Atlas Sound though, I improvise.
Do people notice?
Oh yeah. Like I just change the words sort of, it’s something I guess I always admired about Stephen Malkmus, he used to do that in Pavement, he would change the words.
Yeah, and you can get away with gibberish as well sometimes I guess.
Yeah, sometimes it’s better than the real words.
Well I mean on the recorded front with Deerhunter it seems to be equally in the studio that you’ve built a pretty impressive legacy. When you started out did the band stem out of your own home recording? Is that what you were doing before the rest of the band fell into place?
Yeah it’s where a lot of it came from, but everybody’s contributed equally to Deerhunter, it’s not just like me or my home recording, like Lockett [Pundt] — some recordings have a lot to do with it too, and Josh and Moses, they both write a lot of stuff.
It’s not like you’re forced to delegate or anything like that?
No no no, we all kind of come together on it. That’s why Atlas Sound’s liberating to me because I have total control. I don’t need it with Deerhunter, there’s no power plays.
Well it definitely seemed to fall into place after the first record as well when Lockett came into the band — it seemed that things solidified a lot more?
Yeah definitely, Lockett and I shared a lot of the same influences and we grew up together finding out about the same stuff, growing up. So it [was] natural for him to join up.
It seems that with the sound of the band, you’ve always retained a lot of effects on your songs even with the band setup. There’s reverb on the vocals and guitars and those sound collages of film dialogue and stuff on tracks like “Saved By Old Times” — is creating music in the studio for you a way of making something otherworldly Bradford? Is that the way you look at it?
I do appreciate the ability you have to stretch time and create artificial environments just with reverb and stuff like that.
It takes you out of your own environment?
Well it sounds more like you expect, you can do more. Live it’s more like: that’s what it really sounds like. Whereas recording in the studio can make it sound like what you want it to sound like — you have more control, obviously. Live you try and achieve something different.
Well you still record pretty quickly though in Deerhunter and prolifically as well, do you know in your head when a song’s done? Or could you agonize over things forever?
Oh we don’t agonize over anything, we all just leave the mistakes in. But I think the mistakes add to the charm, and I’m really bad at overdubbing vocals — like double-tracking them.
You get them out of time or something?
Yeah always, and people notice it, but I think it wouldn’t sound the same if it was perfect. I think it would sound artificial.
So let’s pray you never get it together then Bradford! (laughs)
Yeah! If I did nail it perfectly I wouldn’t make it less perfect. It’s kind of the whole idea of honouring the first take.
That’s the rule that you keep to?
I’m trying to think, I’m pretty sure almost every song we’ve ever recorded has been a first take.
Are you becoming more interested in succinctness, or for want of a better expression, sort of simpler pop structures? I mean Microcastle seemed to take you in that direction and the latest EP, the songs on Rainwater Cassette Exchange are for the most part very concise.
Yeah but I don’t think it’s any indication of the future, I mean if our first album — the untitled one — if that was an indication of the future it would be in bad shape. You know what I mean? We’re always kind of changing it up, I mean after Cryptograms and touring that album, it was always really ambient and kind of drone-y, so I was ready for something less affected, and then after Microcastle, now I’m missing the dronier weird parts.
The pendulum’s swinging back?
Yeah, but I mean the EP is just songs we had, y’know?
Is there going to be a point where you feel any pressure then for Deerhunter?
I mean as the band becomes more popular?
No, no pressure.
No mess, no fuss?
Yeah I mean I don’t think we really ever expected a wider audience and I don’t think that anybody gains a wider audience by fretting over it. I think the least interesting thing a band can do is start paying attention to what people expect of them.
And I like the idea of keeping people guessing as well, you mentioned a great thing when the Animal Collective album leaked, about if people want to think about how anyone’s next record sounds they should make their own. Is that what you used to do as a kid?
Yeah I used to do that all the time, and it’s interesting, because it’s nice to get proven wrong when you make a record that sounds like what you want. When a record comes out and it’s truly surprising, what comes to mind is — I’m not like the world’s biggest fan — Radiohead. When Kid A came out I think every teenager in the world was — I mean everybody was — but as a teenager who was still developing a sense of style or taste or whatever, it was pretty mind blowing.
It’s good to confound people.
It was completely confounding — it’s a good word. Completely, yeah we were all just scratching our heads.
Well here’s to plenty of head-scratching from future Deerhunter releases, Bradford.
I hope so, yeah.
It was great to have you here of course. It’s been too brief so now you’re going to have to come back.
We’ll definitely come back, maybe next time I can bring the rest of the guys and they can sit and not say anything.
(Laughs) Is that what they normally do?
They don’t like talking, I think I talk way too much.
Look, after seeing your shows here I’m hoping there’s a future in stand-up comedy on the side, because you got it nailed.
It’s funny, it’s just how I grew up: silence meant awkwardness. My family is really loud, we’re a loud family. My mom and dad and sister are always yelling at each other. When my sister got married and my brother-in-law came into the family I think he was pretty confounded — you got me into that word now — because we just scream and scream! We’ll be so hateful but then afterwards it’s all jokes, it’s all in good humour. I just don’t like awkward spaces where people are just standing there, I’d rather just talk or make a joke or something.
Maybe a Bradford Cox chat show at the least would be great idea?
I don’t have a good voice.
Well, we’ll work on it, okay?
Yeah maybe if I could just have a deeper [voice]. Like something more like this.
On that note Bradford I’ll say thank you.
First broadcast on Static on 25/06/09. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).
Transcription: Chris Butler