On “Gliss Riffer,” the new album by experimental musician Dan Deacon, there’s a song called “Learning To Relax.”
Deacon has apparently taken the advice in that song’s title to heart, and it’s having a big effect on the live shows he’s doing now.
“I look back at the ‘Bromst’ tour, we did a show at the Troubadour, a sold-out show, and I couldn’t even appreciate it,” Deacon said, mentioning his 2011 studio album in a recent phone interview. “I was stressed out. And I was focusing all of my stress, because that was like my motivator was stress, and it overtook and it became something I didn’t recognize as, ‘oh, I used to use this to make sure the show went well.’ And it dwarfed it and it just became like, we had a really minimal bare bones light show using like flood light (effects), incandescent bulbs. And the venue’s like we don’t turn off the Troubadour sign. It’s like our thing. Like Tom Petty plays with it on. Everybody plays with it on. I’m like ‘It’s gotta turn off. I was arguing over a light bulb, when I should have been having the time in my life playing a sold-out show in Los Angeles at a legendary venue I had always wanted to play.
“I don’t even know if it translated to the audience, but for myself, I wasn’t enjoying the time of my life because of this addiction to stress,” he said. “That, I don’t have any more. Now I feel, even if things go wrong, there’s nothing perfect. Now I kind of relish that (feeling) and realize that it is an experimental performance.”
As Deacon does a few fall shows in support of “Gliss Riffer,” he seems to be taking his advice, saying the shows are getting more and more fun for him as he embraces the unpredictability of live performance and the fact that his music itself can challenge audiences.
“I like to think, luckily I’m established enough where people will give my music a chance,” Deacon said. “But I’m small enough where I can still really take chances and make changes (during shows). And I feel so, really like lucky to be in that position, where I feel like a small restaurant that can change its menu, but have like a few core items. I really like that spot, I feel like in a lot of ways I’m in this weird music zone, where I’m electronic music, but I’m not EDM, and I’m indie rock, but I’m not indie rock at all. I’m experimental, but I’m too pop to be avant garde and I’m too weird to be pop. I think when you throw that in there, you get this weird sort of like goofy mixture, and I like being that.”
Deacon’s description of his music is spot on, and he’s made himself hard to categorize by changing up his approach to how he makes music and shifting stylistic range from album to album.
His early albums were essentially made on computer in Deacon’s bedroom. Then with “Bromst” and his 2012 album, “America,” Deacon stepped away from his insular do-it-yourself methods, embraced the use of acoustic instruments and brought in (especially on “America”) a host of musicians to play the parts on the songs.
Now with “Gliss Riffer,” he returned to making the album himself on computer, which allowed him to build layers of electronic sounds into the songs, while on more lyric-based songs like “Feel The Lightning” and “When I Was Done Dying,” showing a pop sense as well.
Deacon’s live shows this fall will feature a good number of “Gliss Riffer” songs. That’s not all that will be new for Deacon, who was known on earlier tours for setting up his gear in the middle of the audience instead of the stage. The idea was to get the crowd involved in the performance, making them as important as the performer, and to treat every space in the venue as an integral part of the show.
“I’ve been slowly transitioning from the floor to the stage for the past two years,” he said. “I used to play in the audience. I realized if I viewed the entire venue as the performance space and everyone in the room is a performer, why did I ignore the stage? Why did I just not treat it as a part of the room at all? If I thought about the stairwell or the exit as just as valuable to the performance itself, why was I ruling out the stage? So with this tour, where I’m focusing on the stage, there’s a much larger stage show element. There are certain things you can do on a stage that you can’t in a crowd of people. I just want the show to engulf the whole room, have portions of the show happen in the middle of the room, have portions of the show be fixated entirely on the audience, and other portions be focused on the stage and have a visual presence with sets and projections and lighting. So this is my first time experimenting with that.”