Monday, October 06, 2008

Dead Science off the dome


For nearly ten years now, Seattle band The Dead Science have been one of the most stridently drastic and dramatic bands in the world of independent pop music. Just over a year ago, KDVS Recordings released a split 7" of The Dead Science with Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and this summer, the band released their first full-length album--Villainaire--for their new label, Constellation Records, also home to another outstanding pop deconstructivist in Carla Bozulich's Evangelista. I'm no longer bummed that Deerhoof's last couple of records have been so rhythmically un-daring (relatively, anyway) because the Dead Science have only ratcheted up the excitement now...jazzier, more drastic and obtuse than ever, yet undeniably alluring!

In support of Villainaire, the Dead Science are touring this month and will play a "KDVS Presents" event on Thursday, October 16th at Luigi's Fungarden in Sacramento (1050 20th Street, #160) with local psych desert-drifters San Kazakgascar and the Canadian neo-no-wave danceparty, Twin Crystals. (All ages, 8-11pm only, $5) This is a tremendous band in live performance.

Dead Science guitarist/vocalist Sam Mickens emailed back and forth with me after I'd finally come to appreciate that--while all of their albums and EPs have been very good or even great--Villainaire, replendent in beckoning beauty yin to severely obtuse angular yang, is their first true masterpiece!

Me: For better and for worse, so many critics and bloggers talk about The Dead Science as music with a high degree of difficulty and complication---not just for you musicians, but for the impatient or casual listener as well. I love the challenge and reward, but surely a lotta people wilt almost immediately. How do you suppose this difficulty and complication affects your relationship with your audience? Both fans and a more general audience?

Sam: Well, I don't think of the music itself as exceedingly or
intentionally difficult; it is definitely, for us, fairly pure pop
music, in the sense that it is perpetually about trying to construct
and refine the most exciting and emotionally decisive moments we can,
though I appreciate that what we consider the most beautiful and
immediate musical decisions may sometimes register as unusual or "out"
to others. I think in terms of lyrical content I do value the idea of
encoding and encrypting a lot, and trying to build patterns and arcs
that may only be readable with invested attention.

Me: Particularly in the pop/rock world, complication is thought by many to be an unnecessary contrivance? But I get the sense that these complications unfold your genuine selves? How authentic an expression is The Dead Science's music?

Sam: 100% pure realness.

Me: As individual musicians, you each seem to have a very singular voice, which I especially notice in your live performances. It makes me wonder how collaborative a project is the Dead Science during songwriting? What do you value about Jherek and Nick's individual approaches to the process? How much of a negotiation process is it to write a new song, or do things snap together magically? (A combination of both, I imagine...)

Sam: Generally things snap together really rapidly and in a nice group-mind
sort of way. I think, most basically, our songs will usually start
with Jherek or I having some kind of musical figure or figures that we
then build up from together. There is a good amount of negotiation in
that we will sometimes move through a few different approaches to
arrangements but generally we all coalesce pretty easily on what seems
the illest.

Me: How is Villainaire different from any of your previous records?

Sam: I think that musically and in terms of the arrangements and
production, it is much more fully realized and complete than anything
we've made, due largely to the fact that we made it all ourselves,
with Jherek recording, so we took absolutely as much time as we felt
necessary to make things as we wanted. I think thematically, too, it
is the most thoroughly designed and well-honed record we've done; it
forms a much stronger whole and the themes that exist in the record
pervade every atom of it. I think it is also more instilled with
agency, violence, and forward motion; where the last two full-lengths
were maybe more about being submerged and buried by energies, this one
is much more in aggressive concert with them.

Me: You write about hip hop with such grace and authority for The Stranger (popular alt-weekly newspaper in Seattle). That struck me as something completely unexpected. In what ways does your appreciation for hip hop creep into what you do with The Dead Science?

Sam: In a ton of ways, and not just my appreciation for Hip Hop, but Nick
and Jherek's as well. I think those influences are certainly much
more pronounced on Villainaire than on anything we've previously done;
the music itself definitely bears more of the blood of modern R & B
and Hip Hop, and some of the ways of approaching and dealing with the
content are definitely somewhat similar to rap records.

Me: I've heard about the School of Villainy-The Villainaire Prequel mixtape. What an astounding idea! How did this idea develop? I can't even think of a precedent!

Sam: Thanks, Rick. I don't know of any precedent for the mixtape in the way
that we made it, though obviously there are countless excellent
mixtape predecessors from the Hip Hop world. The idea just kind of
sprung out, but in developing it and working on the tracks, it
definitely took shape as something with two main intentions-one being
to work on lots of sorts of songs that are somewhat outside of the
natural realm of our band and try to exert our creative powers in a
more free-roaming way, and the other being to involve, showcase, and
culturally gene-splice with both our friends and immediate community
and music and film that we worship and adore.

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