Interview: Dirty Projectors songwriter David Longstreth achieves discovery in seclusion

This interview appears in ALARM #40. Subscribe here to get your copy!

Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (Domino, 7/10/12)

“Gun Has No Trigger”

Dirty Projectors: “Gun Has No Trigger”

Dave Longstreth has one hell of a view. Slumping his lanky frame in a plush leather chair, the Dirty Projectors front-man has been given a room in Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel that has a massive floor-to-ceiling window, displaying the island of Manhattan in stunning panorama. The funny thing, as Longstreth points out, is that the accommodations are a bit superfluous. “I live just a couple blocks that way,” he notes.

Despite the junketed overkill of the meeting place, Longstreth can attest that time away from home can really clear one’s head for answers. Last year after touring behind his band’s breakthrough 2009 album Bitte Orca, Longstreth hid himself away, renting a house in upstate New York for the sole purpose of writing and recording new songs. Narrowed from more than 50 demos to 12 final tracks, the resultant Swing Lo Magellan is Longstreth’s attempt at concentrated songcraft. “This album, for me, is just about the songs,” he says, “this idea of a verse and a chorus and lyrics and melody.”

Alarm Will Sound

Q&A: Alarm Will Sound

Alarm Will Sound: 1969

By the end of the 1960s, The Beatles had been absent from any kind of live performance for years. This supposed retirement from commercial concerts, however, never fully quelled speculation that the group could return to the stage in some way. Of the various conjectured shows, none held more what-if potential than a rumored collaboration between the Fab Four and German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

According to a vague report noted in a biography by author Michael Kurtz, Stockhausen was said to have arranged a meeting with one of The Beatles at his New York apartment in 1969 to discuss a joint concert, but a blizzard ultimately kept the two parties apart. Between Paul McCartney occasionally citing a fascination with Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Junglinge” in interviews, The Beatles including a image of him in the cover crowd of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and John Lennon’s “Revolution 9” getting regular critical comparisons to Stockhausen’s Hymnen, The Beatles and Stockhausen maintained at least a shred of connectivity to make such a collaboration possible.

Though the rendezvous, like most hearsay, has been proven to be devoid of truth, fiction has never gotten in the way of inspiration. Such is the case with avant-garde ensemble Alarm Will Sound and its most recent work, 1969. Mixing musical composition, scripted acting, audio dialogue, and archival video, the group’s live production uses the myth of the would-be collaboration as a jumping-off point to examine a time period rife with political, artistic, and social change. ALARM recently spoke with the ensemble’s conductor, Alan Pierson, to discuss the new work, its combination of history and falsehood, and why the year of 1969 was such a big deal.

Let me ask you about 1969. How did this concept develop?

We had been working on this for a long time. In a way, it goes back to those composer portraits as one-composer concerts. Those sorts of concerts, we felt, were a really good way for us to be developing our reputation in New York. But at a certain point, we felt like we wanted to do something broader than that. What I liked about the composer portraits was that they were a way of creating a contemporary music concert that really felt like an event, rather than just a collection of pieces.

There was a really special kind of vibe that you got when you had people walking into a hall to experience an entire evening of Steve Reich or of György Ligeti. The question was “How [do we] create that kind of experience with a broader repertoire?” and “What is a way to bring together really different kinds of music in a coherent framework?”

We did a couple of things along those lines. We did a show called Odd Couples at Carnegie Hall in 2006, which I think was really successful. But as we started brainstorming ideas for concerts, one thing I started thinking about was this idea of doing music of a single year and using a period of time as a way to connect really different kinds of music. Nineteen sixty-nine just emerged pretty quickly in that process as a really interesting time to look at. In the process of looking at that more deeply, I stumbled on this story of the planned meeting between Stockhausen and The Beatles, and it just seemed like too great a story not to tell.

Rachel Goodrich

Q&A: Rachel Goodrich

Rachel Goodrich: Rachel GoodrichRachel Goodrich: Rachel Goodrich (self-released, 2/21/11)

Rachel Goodrich: “Na Na Na”

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About two-thirds through her self-titled sophomore album, Rachel Goodrich devotes an entire track — 38 seconds to be exact — to boasting from the perspective of a thugged-out prehistoric reptile. “I was hanging out with my sister, and I had just got this T-shirt, and it had a dinosaur on it wearing a gangster chain,” the singer/songwriter says.

“So it became the ‘Gangsta Dinosaur.’ My sister was the first member of my band when I was seven years old. I don’t know, we like to mess around, so we kind of came up with that line: ‘I’m a little gangsta dinosaur,’ and she would go, ‘Bam ba ba bam ba ba.’ I just thought to myself, ‘That is brilliant.’ So I was home, bored, one day and turned on my computer and shuffled up a beat. It was awesome. Originally, it was just for fun, and then I showed [producer] Greg Wells and a couple other people, and they were saying, ‘This has to go on the record.’ And I’m like, ‘Nuh-uh. This does not belong on the record.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to put it on there.’ I just went with it.”

Though a song like “G-Dino” isn’t the best of example of Goodrich’s typical vaudeville-pop aesthetic — which uses ukuleles, kazoos, whistles, xylophones, and rhythms that range from swing to mariachi and jazz pop — it adequately represents her playfulness. Having recently moved to Los Angeles, the former Miami native took a few minutes out of her day to talk about her Tinker Toys follow-up, ladybug costumes, and inspirational adventures.

How has living in LA been treating you thus far?

I’ve been here for about a month and a half. It’s groovy, you know. It’s not too bad. It’s a little cooler out here — less humidity. I love Miami, though; don’t get me wrong. I’ll always miss Miami. It’s a great place to go back to.

What prompted the move?

A really strong cup of coffee and good conversation. I don’t know. It was right before a rehearsal, and I was hanging out with my band, and we were just talking. We love traveling, and we love going on tour, and we were talking about just leaving Miami, and so we did it. We just decided to go.