“You’re a pretty girl, look at you!”
Bradford Cox is squealing down the phone, midway through a thought about how Scott Walker would react to the music of Deerhunter. It’s quickly apparent that Cox has been distracted, as he frequently is throughout our brief conversation. He is out with Faulkner, the canine co-star of Deerhunter’s ‘Snakeskin’ video, who he adopted last June, and looking after his four-legged friend seems to be having a positive effect on his state of mind.
“All the puppies just ran over to me,” he tells me after a brief pause in our conversation. “I’m literally surrounded right now, they’re all licking me.” This image alone leads me to realise that more bands should conduct interviews from dog parks.
Cox found Faulkner around the time the band finished touring ‘Monomania’, their most aggressive album in years. Since then, the outspoken frontman has kept an uncharacteristically low profile. This is primarily down to his continuing recovery from a car accident in December, which understandably tempered his usually prolific work rate. Not even a year later, though, Deerhunter are back with a world tour – supported on most of the dates by Cox’s solo project Atlas Sound – and a new album entitled ‘Fading Frontier’.
The sixth Deerhunter LP, it contains their most reflective, emotionally open (and intelligible) work to date, a world away from the claustrophobic “nocturnal garage” of its predecessor. As I later find out, though, the change in sound wasn’t intended as a grand statement on Cox’s return to health, though the lyrics to ‘Carrion’ (more on which later) and ‘Breaker’ – “Jack-knifed on the side street crossing / I’m still alive, and that’s something…” – suggest a certain degree of lyrical tweaking after the fact.
Bradford’s concentration wavers again towards the end of the conversation; instead of switching between two calls to fob off the next journalist in line for another minute, he accidentally merges our two calls. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, he attempts to break the ice on behalf of the two baffled British scribes on the other ends of the line. “Maybe you guys know each other. Introduce yourselves! You’re both fuckin’ British if you can’t tell!”
He swiftly gives up, with the interview ending on a fittingly odd note: “It’s like I’m a whore and one of my clients runs into another one; one’s going in and one’s going out. It’s like I’m taking a little bath and saying ‘Don’t mind him, get ready! There’s loads of condoms in this side table.’” So as you can tell, the half-hour chat didn’t quite go in all of the directions I had hoped it would. Then again, expecting the unexpected is par for the course with Bradford Cox.
I started by mentioning how, despite only being off tour for about a year, it felt like Deerhunter had been out of the spotlight for a lot longer. Cox’s reply started on a tangent and got further out from there.
So, Bradford, why does it feel like you’ve been away for so long?
“It depends on how you look at it – in dog years, it’s been a very long time.”
In dog years, I’m like Scott Walker – the musician Scott Walker. That’s just sad that you have to say that now. Every day in America, I hear some square say, y’know, “Oh did you see Scott Walker last night on TV?” and I’m like “Who was showing Scott Walker on TV?!” And then I find out it’s just some fucking cunt, y’know? Some truly abhorrent cunt creature… [the Republican Presidential candidate Scott Walker]
I hear he’s a very nice guy, y’know? Very unassuming. I love that he’s got this sort of Dracula atmosphere around him. It’s something to aspire to. I’m not interested in meeting people like that [though]. What do I have to say to Scott Walker? “I really appreciate your work.” He’s heard it before. He probably would think my band was popular and trite – like, “pop rock” y’know? He probably thinks I’m very contrived.
What’s The Musician Scott Walker’s reaction to having the same name as a [now-former] Republican presidential candidate? Probably some big, weird grin, y’know? Some kinda weird, fucked up pleasure. He seems to always write lyrics about fascists – Mussolini and Ceaușescu – he probably likes the guy! I’m just joking – I love Scott Walker. Next topic.
“Really, the car crash is getting a little overplayed.”
It definitely affected me, it’s true, but a lot of these songs were already written. A lot of the songs on this album are older than ‘Monomania’. I chose to go a certain direction with that album – it was a very conscious choice, I was aware of the consequences. I knew that a lot of people would not be able to embrace it as much.
I was in the middle of writing ‘Living My Life’ when it happened – like, literally it was open on my computer. I was coming back to my house – I was like, oh, I’ll write the guitar line as soon as I get back from walking my dog. So if I died, it would have been the thing they discovered on my computer that I was last working on. Which, come to think of it, would be very fucked up, if after I was dead, they find my final song, and it’s called ‘Living My Life’. Scott Walker would enjoy that – he’d get a kick out of it. He’d be like [adopts Scott Walker voice] “Very interesting…” Pretty ironic.
So yeah, keep the train rolling. What’s the next chess move?
“I thought people would enjoy ‘Snakeskin’ more than they turned out to.”
You don’t wanna pick the defining song of the album as a single. It’s just not my… a lot of people would want to do that, but in my album philosophy, you pick a song that’s in the middle ground. A transitional song, y’know – OK, this is like ‘Monomania’, but the production is much better. That song was written around ‘Monomania’, if you can’t tell by the chorus. It was also written around the same time as the song ‘Parallax’. I think it has some chords in common, maybe it was written on the same day. It may even be like a disco version of ‘Parallax’.
I’m not complaining about anything – I don’t wanna talk curmudgeonly. People enjoyed it, but I thought it was going to be more like, I don’t know, in the late eighties or early nineties even, when a band as weird as The Fall could have a song that people could dance to. It’s not that I want some kind of crossover – I just thought it would be interesting to say hey, y’know, check out this very, like, banging groove. We’re good at this too! I don’t know.
“I first read Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus in seventh grade”
It’s been one of my favourite books ever since. [The song ‘Carrion’] is completely a reference to that book. That was how I discovered ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground’. That song could just be viewed as a very sweet little allegorical symbolism. Greil Marcus’s reading of those lyrics is so fucking dark and nihilistic. It’s not totally far from the Dennis Cooper influence on ‘Agoraphobia’ on ‘Microcastle’, where it’s about wanting to be buried alive. It’s kind of the same thing. So if that’s what you’re getting at, yeah, you discovered the hidden track.
In America, nobody went on about that book. You know how I found out about that book? The library. It was just there, and I opened it – the reason I picked that book up and checked it out of the library literally was because it had pictures and stuff in the margins. I thought, “Oh this’ll be fun to read.” I knew a little bit about the subject matter, but I didn’t seek it out knowing what I was getting into. I didn’t know who was on the cover, I didn’t know it was Sid Vicious, or care. To make a long story short I said” “Here’s a book, it looks like it was written in these kinda like cubes of information that I can digest, and it’s got a lot of weird little illustrations and pictures in the sidebars. This is interesting and this is neat.”
“Maybe a few teenagers will read this article and go out and find the book like I did.”
I actually wanted to quote Greil Marcus in the liner notes. I wanted to reprint that section of the book, but it just got too complicated, graphically. I didn’t want to have a bunch of words on a page. Plus, y’know, it’s more interesting if people find it like you did. But now they’re just gonna read your article and find it. Don’t put too much of it in there, because then it’ll not make them need to go out and find the book and read it for themselves.
I don’t know Greil Marcus – I don’t have anything against him or for him – but that book was how I found out about Situationism, Dada. That book informed me of The Raincoats, post punk – it was the book that gave me the biggest information boost in my life.
“Seventh grade is the most awkward year.”
In America, seventh grade is around twelve, thirteen years of age. In sixth grade, you’re kinda cute, you’re like a puppy – you’re smart enough to have your own intellect, but you’re still basically a little child. In seventh grade, your voice changes, you get bad skin. In eighth grade, you’re like a delinquent, and in ninth grade you’re the little puppy kid again, because you’re the freshman in high school. So to speak.
So it’s weird that in seventh grade I was learning about [French Marxist theorist, writer and filmmaker] Guy Debord, y’know? I definitely discovered Lipstick Traces at a very awkward time of life. It’s just like what the fuck? As a seventh grader, you’re like: “Wow, these people were doing things to… why would you want to challenge everything about society?” Especially when you’re bored with whatever’s being offered.
Lord, I would say that what I was offered was really high quality stuff compared to what kids have now – I had PJ Harvey, Radiohead, The Breeders, Björk, Sonic Youth, Stereolab… and it was new. You’d go see Sonic Youth and Stereolab play together, and it would be like this transcendental show. Noise was acceptable, and even encouraged.
“It’s weird to be part of a continuum.”
Stereolab went from being almost like my heroes and idols to more like friends. We talk, and we share stuff, we play on each other’s music, which is really strange, because Tim [Gane]’s been making music since the Rough Trade era. He’s like Aristotle to me.
“I don’t care if you’ve never heard of me before.”
There’s no need to go over the Deerhunter records. It’s not like I’m gonna quiz you. We’re not talking about those things – we’re talking about the current thing. I don’t care if you’ve never heard anything I’ve ever done; I don’t care if you’ve ever read an interview with me or not. Honestly, sometimes I’d rather talk to somebody who knows nothing about me.
It’s really easy to write an article – and I don’t mean you particularly – I mean in music journalism, everybody wants to contextualise everything against everything else. And the reality is that it’s not that easy. I think a lot of people read the last interview with me, and they say, “Well, I was reading that last interview with you, and I know that you were in a car accident, let’s talk about that.” And it’s like, well I just did fucking talk about that for like thirty minutes with the last interviewer. Let’s talk about something else, like… stained glass windows in Croatia, y’know?