DERADOORIAN: SINGING ON A MOUNTAIN
photography by daiana feuer
Ever since putting out her solo Mind Raft EP in 2009, Angel Deradoorian felt a calling to pursue her own music further. But she happened to be a member of a very popular band called Dirty Projectors and since cloning herself was not an option, there wasn’t enough room in her life to fully commit to both projects. In 2011 she made a big choice—she left the band and moved to California. She spent the next three years exploring her own sound and writing the songs that would eventually be collected on The Expanding Flower Planet, her new album for Anticon. Her jams direct the listener inward to a sandy shore of consciousness, and invite us to swim in our own self-awareness like a dolphin searching for the cosmic horizon. She performs tonight at the Echo with Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
You’ve been in Big Sur for a few weeks. Was that for pleasure?
Because I’ve been floating around so much I just really wanted to be alone and play music. And since I don’t have a studio situation set up, I went with all my instruments and wrote and played music and cooked for myself and looked at the ocean. It was cool. It was also wildly pretty intense.
Intense to be by yourself?
Yeah—because I was in a dark zone for a while, and that was sort of the culminating end of it: being there and having to sift through some heavier emotional stuff in a very solo way.
What is your interest in self reflection? On your album there are themes of mind-expanding, knowing thyself, figuring things out in your head …
For some reason it feels very important to me. I think a lot of the truth seeking or understanding things that I look for are within myself first. I have to figure it out through me as opposed to an extroverted finding it out in the world. There’s an important aspect of introspection that I need in order to feel like I can keep creating or moving forward. I need personal time to process. I’m very emotional. I hold on to emotions in a way that I don’t even realize sometimes how deep it goes. And when I go into those modes I can actually deal with it and become a better person or more clear. And that contributes to creating or understanding the world.
Is creating a necessity for you in that process? To put ideas into music?
More and more, as I get older, that’s how it feels. I’m not a person who does a ton of creative output. I’m pretty slow.
It only took you five years to make this album.
Ha! As I get older it feels more and more necessary for that to accompany my life—the creative output—even though it’s slow. It feels necessary. Living on earth and in society, it’s one of the ways I can handle being alive.
What are your ideas on mind expansion and how music might be a way to access that? Without necessarily just taking acid and staring at the wall?
Well, I did a little bit of that! But music is a universal language and it doesn’t have to involve talking so it’s a way to access deep breathing and exercise your mind. Psychedelics and music are both access ways to not talk but ‘experience.’ So going into those zones with music takes you out of intellectualized mental space. It’s a freedom experience. And on my end to be creating that is a personal level of expansion. Sometimes I will just play an instrument for a while. As I was writing the album, I would get too stoned sometimes and just hold down a key on the synthesizer for a while and just sit there drifting off. It sounds good in there. I love drones. It feels good. The physical experience of music affects your mental and spiritual space. I like the connection that I got to discover just by experimenting. It was a nice alternative to maybe taking psychedelic drugs. Music is like a smaller or different kind of dose to take—it doesn’t deplete me in the same way, it’s not as demanding, and it’s rejuvenating in its process. A lot of growth can come from doing mushrooms. Those moments are a big leap. But more so than those experiences, maybe it’s the afterthoughts from those experiences that make me realize I don’t know anything—like that’s the big answer. All my experiences are subjective. I’ve had some objective experience of myself, but it all comes back to realizing I’m not right about something. Maybe you are … but you aren’t because it’s all relative to yourself. Every day something happens that guides me. As of recently I’ve felt lost in what I know.
Just the social issues of the world, and not being able to fully relate to all the pain that people are going through in the world or to understand their lives. I really only have my life and my experiences. I just have what I have. The more I start to think about those issues, the more I feel disconnected—feel that I don’t know anything. It makes me re-evaluate my spiritual beliefs or personal beliefs, or want to refine those beliefs and stay open. There’s not one way—there really is not. You will never know all the ways that there are to ‘be’ in the world.
You’ll get bogged down if you’re always comparing your way to the ways of others.
When you decide that you want to be the kind of person that’s constantly exploring and expanding your mind, you feel really alone. It’s scary. You don’t have anything or anyone to rely on when you start to process that kind of stuff. There’s no outline for your trajectory. For instance, I’m not just going to pick a religion and live within the confines of that religion. I want to keep exploring and I don’t know where that’s going to go, and I don’t have any fixed answers for any fixed questions. I understand why people need those things: structure, guidelines. You’re going to go fucking crazy without a good balance.
But is the aim really to find an answer? Isn’t it to be always questioning?
I definitely don’t think there’s an answer but I want to access the places where I feel in this metaphysical way that I’m hoping to get to. I don’t know if I will get there but at least I can explore it. And that’s kind of hard to explain—what that ‘thing’ is—but it’s something I want. Trying to actualize experiences that either I feel or have inside … I want them to be a physical reality but they won’t be because they’re not real … in the physical plane, that is. It is real to me. But it’s also just fun to ask questions all the time. Just keep asking. I appreciate the stoner people of the world who ask stoner-y questions because they can really take you into these different places. People get made fun of for asking silly existential questions but they’re totally reasonable.
Those are your people!
Totally. I’m down! I’ll go there.
As you grow older, no one is giving a purpose to your life. You’re no longer doing what somebody says. You have to find a reason that makes living worthwhile.
Definitely. Going through that process and doing that alone feels really important but it’s also intense and difficult. But it’s the way I want to do it. It makes me realize how much I need to rely on myself and trust that I’m making the right decisions for me. And I feel that I have. But it doesn’t just come to me. It doesn’t just happen. I have to apply myself to a process.
Some people just coast through life while others dedicate themselves to making sense of it. Coasting might be a little easier but is it as fulfilling?
Either way you have this incessant worry that’s in you. You’re coasting and worrying about money and security, or if you’re working to be a creative person, it’s also really hard because you’re worrying about the same shit, plus trying to come up with a way to make life relatable to others. And you’re dedicating time to something that’s not going to pay you right away—you’re not part of a company and you’re not in school either, so it demands a lot of yourself. It’s all on you.
But you need to do that because it ties into the type of person you are.
It’s true. Also being a woman and being in a male dominated industry, and being in bands since I was sixteen and working with a lot of men, it’s made me even more motivated to do things on my own. That’s how the guys work. It’s more the mentality of focusing on one thing that I’ve been around a lot. I had that notion before I was in bands but it all became more real as the years passed for me and I put the idea into practice. So by the time I got to do this album I didn’t want any help. I wanted to show myself that I could do this.
How planned was the process of creation?
This was pretty concentrated actually. There was a point with Dirty Projectors where we were about to head into the Swing Lo Magellan cycle of recording and touring and that would have been about two or two and a half years of work, and I already had a solo project going. But it’s such a time consuming and demanding band to be in because of how difficult the music is, so you kind of have to dedicate yourself to one or the other. So me leaving at that time, it was for this. I didn’t work on anything for two years after my EP, since I was still in Dirty Projectors, and I’m a one thing at a time type of person. That’s why the decision had to be so clear-cut. Nat Baldwin is able to be in the band and make [solo] records somehow, but I’m not so much like that! Then I started writing and never stopped until it was done. It took about three years. It was 2011 when I started and I finished in 2014. Then I had to find support, once I mastered the record and it was all done.
Did you play most of the instruments?
I had drummers come in and redo some parts that I wrote, and Niki Randa and Arlene, my sister, came in and did some extra vocals. Everything else is me.
Do you think the technology or instrumentation you use lends itself to the outcome of the music?
These are all instrument songs. There’s not a lot of in-the-box editing. I treat GarageBand® like a 4-track. I will say that it’s true the instruments I have dictate the outcome for sure because they’re such specific sounds. I never really thought about what I have being part of me in the creative process. But now I hear it and I see that it’s all my stuff in there—all of it. In order to maybe create new sounds or new songwriting structures or progressions I need to get different instruments for the next record!
How did you figure out the live show?
I took an economical approach. First I thought to bring in my sister for shows to sing vocals but as we started rehearsing I realized we could do more. So I incorporated the loop pedal more and have her playing drums, and that way I have more time to play other instruments. We created this live set that works well between the two of us to re-imagine the songs from the album. It’s nice actually because it’s a fully different approach to the songs. It doesn’t have to be exact in any way.
It’s cool to watch the songs create themselves in the moment.
Merrill of tUnE-yArDs did a similar thing when she was playing solo and I really admired her ability to create these songs on her own. We toured with her a lot and I was inspired by the possibility of building a live show with less people in your group. I also didn’t want to use a computer on stage or use computer beats. I just had to learn to really use the loop pedal in a live context and not be afraid of it. Also because you want to engage people. I wanted to create an interesting live performance and challenge myself.
How do you think this format might engage people on a meditative level?
People generally respond to it much more than I thought they would. I had this complex that my music was boring for a long time. I had to tell myself to not think that. Coming from a band that’s so stimulating and interesting … whereas now I play slower, repetitive music, and I thought I would lose people’s attention. But it turned out not to be that way. People seem to get into it. And then other times people are just talking loud over your music and don’t give a shit.
Which begs the question … why did they buy tickets to see a show?
It’s distracting more than anything. You just got to play anyway.
What was the band you were in at age 16?
It was called An Angle. And I was in that band for a couple of years—from Sacramento. I really wanted to be in a band. My brother played music and I was like, ‘I want to do this.’ I was doing visual arts and music growing up and I got to a point where I wanted to decide on what to focus. Music won. I played in tons of bands after that on the west coast, then on the east coast, and I finally moved to New York in 2006 and was playing in six bands at once, which was crazy. But I wanted to play music as much as I could. And then I joined Dirty Projectors two months later and went on tour … for a long time.
Your music isn’t bound by genre. I mean—would you even try to classify it?
I don’t want to be bound by genre. When people ask me what it’s like, I say ‘There’s a lot of singing.’ Even the people that I feel influenced by … some people know about them, but they’re not super mainstream. It kind of depends on who you are explaining it to and how much they know about certain kinds of music. I might explain a certain influence or the sonic aspects of the music. When I applied for Red Bull Music Academy,® I had to sum it up and I said something like ‘shamanic cave-woman choir’ or something silly like that.
‘Women singing on a mountain with a loop pedal and a synthesizer.’
DERADOORIAN WITH LAETITIA SADIER (STEREOLAB) ON TUE., SEPT. 22, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / $12-$14 / 18+. THEECHO.COM. DERADOORIAN’S THE EXPANDING FLOWER PLANET IS OUT NOW ON ANTICON. VISIT DERADOORIAN AT FACEBOOK.COM/DERADOORIAN.