Geographer's music may lean heavily on electronic textures, but there's nothing remotely robotic or distant about it; on "Myth," a full-length record from 2012, singer Michael Deni's voice soars above crashing drums and guitars, which subside once in a while, allowing his tenor to shine on its own desolate terms. After leaving New Jersey for San Francisco nearly a decade ago, Deni quickly turned sorrow into music; he's an old soul who makes sounds that are wholly contemporary.
Geographer performs at the Ballroom at the Outer Space on Sunday, May 18, with Hooray For Earth. Deni responded to our questions about old records and new directions.
CTNow: Your recent blog post recapping the band's high points during the year 2013 was a great read. In the post, you talk a little about some of the albums that have inspired you — "Born to Run," Paul Simon's self-titled album, and so on — and elsewhere you've mentioned you don't listen to a lot of new music. Generally speaking, what draws you into repeated listenings of music, old or new?
Michael Deni: Well, that's something I'm constantly trying to figure out myself, because I want to create that response in people with my own music. But it seems to have a lot to do with depth. The songs I like aren't linear, they are like an entire small town. The singer/band guides you down the main street, but you pass roads to your left and right that you could wander down, houses that you can wonder about the inhabitants of. They are rich with implied meaning, both in the lyrics and the music. A lot of the songs I love are very, very simple, and that's the most fascinating part: How did someone make something so simple so full?
CTNow: You mentioned also that you played a ton of sold-out shows last year. Is there a more satisfying feeling than a sold-out concert?
MD: Of course there is. But I think what you're trying to say is, "Isn't it awesome?" And yes, it's a very awesome feeling. The validation of your dream is up there on the top five feelings.
CTNow: When you're creating new music with Geographer, do you ever find yourself measuring it against some of the great albums you've been inspired by?
MD: When I'm doing good work, I'm not measuring my own songs against others. When I'm obsessed with another artist I never make good music, because I'm learning what they're doing, and making something derivative. But once I get that out of my system, I can use what I learned to make something that's my own. It's when the thing is done that I really measure it. And that can be hard. Because I'm not sure you ever look at something you've made and say, "Perfect!" Others may love it, but you never love it like they do. Because it's of you. It's part of you. And you may appreciate yourself, but you can't really love yourself and shouldn't, as you love another person. Songs are the same I suppose.
CTNow: What's the first thing you like to do when you reach a new town on tour, assuming you have the time to do anything?
MD: We always just go right to the venue and start working. We love what we do, every aspect, and we like to take care with our sound checks. If we have time after that, I like to find a great restaurant. When we're in the middle of nowhere driving we don't get such good eats, but the wilderness can more than make up for that. For instance we chanced upon a frozen lake near Aspen, CO. It was so isolated and peaceful. That's a rare treat on a tour, a moment like that of true peace. There's a lot of ecstatic joy, but not too much peace.
CTNow: What's the most recent record you've purchased, and do you remember the first album you ever bought with your own money?
MD: I just bought [Tom Petty's] "Hard Promises" on vinyl from a guy on the street in San Francisco. And it was so scratched it wouldn't even play. But just holding it for a while was still a fulfilling experience. That's the magic of vinyl. It's like a line right to the artist, it's something they MADE. The first album I ever bought I think was the "Romeo and Juliet" soundtrack, with "Talk Show Host" on it by Radiohead, which was why I bought it. I didn't know who they were at that time. But that became one of my favorite songs, and I only discovered later that it was the same band.
CTNow: What are you listening to these days?
MD: Cat Stevens, Can, lots of late '70s early '80s Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen B sides, really got into Elton John, who I had never given a real chance before. Very unique and astonishing songwriting. But mostly what I'm listening to are the bands we're touring with, Tokyo Police Club and Said the Whale, and thank God they're both amazing.
GEOGRAPHER performs on Sunday, May 18, at the Ballroom at the Outer Space in Hamden, with Hooray For Earth. Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $12-$14. Information: manicproductions.org.