A vista to whatever

Strange arrangement: Singer-songwriter and band leader Darwin Deez’s creative process includes Kool Whip for breakfast, plenty of TV, lots of solitude and “an unlimited amount of time to play.”

Darwin Deez on the incarceration and freedom of writing his new album in Asheville

who: Darwin Deez (with Hollerado and Decent Lovers)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, Nov. 14 (8:30 p.m., $8 in advance or $10 day of show. http://www.thegreyeagle.com)

Darwin Deez, frontman of the band that shares his moniker (his off-stage surname is Smith) doesn’t like routine. Or solitude. Though he needs both to get his work done, this work of crafting indie pop records so bubbly and hooky that, were it not for their inherent quirk, they’d be cloying. But Deez has a knack for balancing hand-clappy pep with psychosis.

The formula has served the musician well: a record deal, the kind of label support that means flying to LA to film a video for a single from his forthcoming album, and large fan bases in far-flung locales. “As soon as we hit the British and Australian markets, people will be there in droves,” Deez says. His last tour even included a South American junket, though of that trip he muses, “I was in Brazil, for Christ sake, but I was really blue.”

The blues seem to dog Deez, but they also play a role in his creative process. His follow up to 2011’s self-titled album (the new record’s title will be released in late November, according to a Lucky Number Music representative) contains themes of “incarceration and freedom,” says the musician. The incarceration part has to do with his decision a year ago to leave New York City (“It’s a lot of negativity and stress”) for Asheville (close to his hometown of Chapel Hill). It was a move that gave him the space to write songs but was also “like I got married to my job,” says Deez. “Music has always been my mistress. I could come to it when I wanted to it. It was always a good time.”

Then: “I realized when I turned up here, I’m committed to making music. There was a prison aspect to being here to do that, but there’s also a total freedom involved in it, because I can make what I want to make.” (Deez recently posted a photo from the new album on his Facebook page. It looks like a mug shot only instead of his name, the letter board is printed with musical notes.)

The themes, he says, also nod to his romantic situation (the life of a touring musician is not conducive to playing house). Though, Deez points out, “there are ways to be alone that are lonely and ways to be alone where you’re keeping yourself company.”

Deez’s typical (atypical) workday goes something like this: “I do whatever I want, and what I want to do is eat Kool Whip for breakfast and watch six episodes of Dawson’s Creek back to back.” He says that big doses of TV are a major part of his process, putting him in a mindset where “I feel irate and a little bit sad, and I’ve spent the last six hours alone in my own head. I set an unlimited amount of time aside to play. It’s a vista to, like, whatever.” And from that odd garden grows songs like jangly ode-to-lost-love “DNA” and twitchy ode-to-found-love “Radar Detector.”

Darwin Deez (the band, with a new drummer) will regroup in Asheville to get in shape for its upcoming tour. Deez (the guy) refers to the practice period as “the machine starting up.” It’s the machine that sweeps him away to the “crucible of time and friendship and bonding, that’s really precious, and comes on the platter of the dream career,” but also to a strangeness of outrageous characters and scenarios that eventually become road stories and inside jokes.

Deez’s approach to songwriting is also tied to “the machine.” The assignment that he gave himself with the new album was to “recreate the last record that you made, but make it different.” He admits that it’s a commercial approach and muses, “as far as my financial future goes, if I made, say, a noise album I’d just be wasting my time in terms of trying to promote it.”

But Deez also says that “if I’m not exploring something new, it’s not creativity any more, it’s just manufacturing,” so to combat any roteness (he does hate routine), he wrote the songs lyrics-first — a new approach.

While details are few, Deez did say that there are some existential songs, a lot of love songs, and the some good images in the writing. “I think it’s the best music I’ve made,” he says. “The lyrics are what I was excited about.”

Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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