Geographer Interview with Michael Deni

01/23/2012

Photograph by Victoria Smith

A lot has changed in the four years since the release of Geographer’s debut album, Innocent Ghosts. To start, the band was praised by Spin, highly reviewed for their EP Animal Shapes, sold-out The Independent for Noise Pop Festival, and named by Live 105 as one the “Bay Area’s Top 20 Bands in 2011.” More importantly, the personal tragedies that fed lead singer Michael Deni with cathartic inspiration are now just a memory. On Myths, Deni’s focus shifts to the societal myths we uphold as truth, as he searches for his own understanding to life. “I felt like this was the first time I wrote lyrics,” Deni explained about the concept album, “when it’s said and done, we did what we tried to do and that’s the first time we’ve ever done that.”

SF Critic (SFC): And what would you say you sought out to do?

Michael Deni (MD): I wanted to write more songs that were not balls-to-the-wall, dance-extreme songs. We were really adamant with each other about wanting to have an album that was a complete experience, where every song was trying to do something different, so that no song was like, the failed dance song–or the second-awesomest dance song.

We really wanted to make something dirtier, and I know it’s not a punk record or anything, but we wanted to make something that was rough around the edges.

SFC: It’s interesting how you describe it, I definitely get the impression that this album is grittier than the last one. “The Myth of Youth” seems like a track that wouldn’t have existed either on the EP or the first LP – it’s very removed from what you’ve been doing in the past.

MD: [For] that one I was listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen. I know there’s a lot of guitar on the record, but when it started out it was all synthesizers and I was like, “there’s no guitar song on this.” I had been listening a lot to (Arcade Fire’s) The Suburbs, which is really guitar heavy and obviously very impressive, and Bruce Springsteen’s The River. I mean, I liked Bruce Springsteen before, but I went through an intense Bruce Springsteen experience for a couple months there.

SFC: So what does it mean you went through an intense Bruce Springsteen experience? Does that mean like, having breakfast with Bruce Springsteen, going to bed listening to Bruce Springsteen?

MD: Well, unfortunately we’re not in close physical contact (laughs). I do have his album The River on my bedside table, and during this phase I was consistently saying goodnight to him. I’d come home from practice and be like, “I think I did a good job tonight, Bruce. I think we’re getting close.” I had him in my mind a lot – very much lyrically, the content of his songs and the particular way he pulls the heartstrings. He just has that amazing gift to be able to tap into something people feel they all understand, even though I’ve never worked in a construction crew on the highway, and I don’t think he has either.

SFC: I have read some lauded reviews about how Geographer has stayed true to their sound, and now it sounds like you’re venturing else where before really establishing a huge presence.

MD: With this album, we really wanted to set ourselves up for the future. We want to be the kind of band that could put any song on an album, and it makes sense to people.

“I felt like this was the first time I wrote lyrics. Before, I just had to sit around and wait with my mouth open to catch something inside it and turn that into a lyrical kernel.”

SFC: It sounds like you were worried about being typecast as a band.

MD: I hesitate to say we were worried about it, because I don’t feel like we pushed any of the music in any direction. I hope we sort of guided it gently…like an elderly lady (laughs). Cause you know, if you push stuff, it’s gonna sound bad. So for us it was more the music we want to be able to play in the future – by that I mean, people will be able to come to our concert and…at least steal our record.

SFC: When we spoke almost two years ago you said to me that the lyrics just “poured out” for Innocent Ghost. Given the negative circumstances surrounding your father and sister’s death at that time, now removed from the incident, I imagine you’re at a different place.

MD: Yeah I’m still fundamentally a bit of a sad bastard, so it’s not like “I’m rock and roll!” and writing songs about hanging out with people. I do have some distance from those things, not as much as I’d like, but it’s definitely not as creatively relevant really to me right now. This record is about the things people to do cope with the profound nature of their lives. It’s not really a great place to be feeling really disconnected from the fiber of your own life or the world around you.

SFC: I brought this up because originally the group’s storyline was about transforming this tragedy into a positive creative expression. Now that you’re removed from the event, it seems that your core, at least creatively, might have changed and I wondered where your inspiration – aside from Bruce Springsteen – comes from. Were the lyrics pouring out on the page this time around?

MD: I felt like this was the first time I wrote lyrics. Before, I just had to sit around and wait with my mouth open to catch something inside it and turn that into a lyrical kernel. I was trying to be impressionistic before and create lyrical landscape as we did musical landscapes. This time I actually had a notion and it spans the whole album.

SFC: Where did this idea come from?

MD: The idea was to explore myths in our modern society. Myths were created when society was really young. A lot of the earlier myths were like “Don’t eat shellfish or animals with a hoof, because you’ll get sick” because they didn’t have sinks or toilets. I don’t mean to trivialize traditions because I’m envious of people that can relate to them.

Apparently in life we think we dispelled all those myths, and we live based on science, which actually answers the questions and is all encompassing. We take these myths very seriously and it’s almost as though they’re made real. We get a lot of them from commercials or even music. You know, like the “rock star,” he gets the babes all the time. The myth is that your pursuit will make you happy.

SFC: Is there a particular myth that we might close this with that might have an influential parallel on this album?

MD: One of my favorite ones is, when you get older you’ll understand things. That was something that I really lived with when I was young looking out the window thinking, “God I don’t understand everything, but isn’t this beautiful because one day I’m going to understand it.” That never happened. I grew up and I don’t understand.

 

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Check out Geographer for their home opener and album release party at The Independent on March 3rd.