Just coming off a tour with Tokyo Police Club and Said the Whale, Michael Deni of Geographer was kind enough to walk with us and settle down outside an old abandoned building to have a chat with us on a warm Thursday night in May.
Summer: So you guys were just on tour with Tokyo Police Club, and wrapped it up. How was that?
Michael: Yeah we wrapped it up in Boston. It was a great tour. It stuck out because you know a lot of times on tour you’ll have a really strong connection with one person or one band, or one person in each band, but just everybody in every band was wonderful. I blame Canada. It just seems to be a really good place to be from. But everybody was just so cool, you know? The keyboardist bought me a book that we’d talked about. It just felt great. You’d drive for eight hours a day and then you show up and see all your new friends.
Kolin: So I know this is your fourth time in St. Louis, have you found any good places to chill, or eat?
M: Oh, no. Wait! We went to a sushi place. You wouldn’t think that there’d be good sushi in St. Louis. But it didn’t have a very creative name, probably like Wasabi or something. But the guy at The Firebird [the last venue they played] recommended it to us and it was really good. But I can’t say more than that.
Summer: Being on tour allows you to go all over the country and see places that a lot of other people haven’t been. So what has been some of your favorite places that you’ve found while you’ve been on the road?
Michael: I mean I like going to my mom’s house, that’s pretty cool. But we once got this idea into our heads that we wanted to go into a slot canyon in Utah. Do you know what those are?
M: The walls are so close together that they just form [these canyons] and they fill up and flood in like ten minutes, so if there is any rain you can’t really go in them. So we were driving through Utah and saw that there was a national park, so we pulled off at the next exit and there was an entrance to a trailhead. We just walked around inside these canyons for a day. It was really cool. It’s not what we expected. There were like sneakers and jeans.
K: Could you give us a little bit of an insight to how you prepare for a show? Do you have any special rituals or anything?
M: I just do my vocal warm up and just get my body ready for the show. I jump up and down, stretch. I try to get my body to where it’s going to be throughout the show, because it is very athletic. You are jumping up and down and singing. It’s hard to hold a note while doing that, so I try to shock my lungs first, so that they don’t get shocked on stage, you know? Like when Axel Rose came out and was like “Welcome to the Jungle!” and it was just like (panting).
S: I think it was Beyoncé whose dad had her singing and running on the treadmill at the same time.
M: That’s a really good idea. I should really do that. I’m always amazed at what some people can do and sing, you know? I mean maybe it’s prerecorded, but a lot of people are singing and jumping and just holding out a note. I don’t know how they do it. I mean they probably do that, sing and do jumping jacks or something.
S: How do you guys pick out which songs you’re doing for each show?
M: Well, at this point in the tour we know what works. We know what’s a really exciting way to start, and a good drop in the middle, and then we pick it back up. But there’s a dude that lives here that has “Night Winds” lyrics tattooed on his chest, so we’re going to play “Night Winds”. Different towns you get a different sense of what they like. Like in DC, the really like “Original Sin”, some towns really like “Blinders” more than others. I’ve heard people yell from the audience. But it’s really just what we feel like playing.
K: So going with that, do you have a favorite song or lyric? It’s kind of like picking your favorite child.
M: Well I don’t have any of those. I really like singing The Boulder, because I can really concentrate on the singing and the emotion behind the words and the melody, and that’s really nice for me. Also I’ve really been enjoying “Night Winds” this tour, actually. But it’s kind of for the same reason. It has those peaks and valleys. Its just really fun to play.
S: Geographer’s last release was in 2012 with Myth. How would you say that your style has changed since then?
M: I would say that there’s more concentration on the song, less than creating the cool sounds first and then creating a song out of that. For the new material I really worked the songs hard at home in a way that I never have before. I made sure that all of then sounded good on an acoustic instrument and then I started adding the cool, wacky sounds to them. Also, there was just no holding back on this one. On one song on the new album, there’s a song with a horn section, and I was like, well I wrote a horn section, I guess I’ll change that to synthesizers. But then I thought about it and was like why don’t we just hire horns for the studio? So we had a horn section. Myth was really us trying to stake a claim and saying that we can do whatever we want, and we want to set our career up for people expecting that, and this album is us doing that. But at the same time it’s not that avant-garde. It is just us trying to write really, really worthwhile pop songs.
K: So off of new material, where do you get your inspiration to write your songs, be it an artist or a song?
M: Well it’s hard to say where the inspiration comes from. I mean I just want to make things. I want to make something that is beautiful. I’ve learned that making songs is what I’m good at. I really don’t like making bad things, so I’m not going to dabble in painting or pottery or something. But I think that just being alive, some people can take it and some people can’t, and a lot of the people that can’t make things to sort of say, well I made this, I sort of understand this, life was made, cause its here. And maybe since I don’t understand that, then maybe I can understand this other thing that I made. So I think that’s really the driving force behind a song. I think also music is so important to me that I couldn’t really muster believing in a world where I can’t be a part of something that’s important to me. Like people love songs, and these are the most important things. I’ll be home for a couple of days and I’ll take a break but I’ll just start writing again.
S: I know that you’ve been touring a lot and I know that you had a fairly long break before going on tour with Tokyo Police Club and Said the Whale. Is there any difference in writing songs during a break or on the road?
M: I can’t really write on the road from scratch. I can fine tune things on the road, but I just really need down time and privacy, or all my instruments. I’ve never started anything from scratch or just come up with something in the van. There’s just a cacophony of activity at all times and it’s all you can do to keep yourself together to play good shows. We’ve been lucky enough to have enough breaks, some of them have been short, but between tours I can get a lot of good writing in, but I don’t like it when the breaks are so long that I start repeating myself. Because that happens if I’m just writing a couple of songs every week for two months. I mean they aren’t all going to be zingers. It’s nice to have space to learn and grow.
S: You have mainly an electronic sound but occasionally for video recording, you have done acoustic versions. What is it like stripping down the songs and playing them?
M: It’s really cool. I mean the ones that started out electronic it’s really challenging because I’m not a great player of the guitar and the piano. My best instrument is the saxophone, but a lot of good that does me. But it’s a challenge to arrange all of those different parts, Nate’s playing this and also playing this, and I’m playing this and also this on the record. But it’s great. It’s forced me to push myself and made me better as a musician. It’s also fun to see what the song is made of. Is this song good, does it hold up? It’s fun and refreshing to strip it down. We take so much care with the electronics and god, there’s so much to set up and carry and it’s really nice to just sit down with a guitar and a cello and just play. It’s like, hmm, I see why some people do this for a living.
S: I think one of the best versions of that, and my favorite, is when you played “Night Winds” acoustically in Paris.
M: That was just a magical time in my life. It was awesome.
K: If could describe your sound in three words, what would they be?
M:I have no idea. Isn’t that your guys’ job? [laughs] I hate this, trying to describe the music. It just doesn’t make any sense. It takes so long to make it. If I could use three words to describe it, I’d have just said those three words. Sold that record, gone platinum, you know?
S: So one things that we always like to do is ask some random questions towards the end to get to know people, so who is your favorite author?
M: Oh, favorite author, hmm. I feel like none of them are exciting. I mean I love Hemmingway. It’s probably Ernest Hemmingway. He’s a lot manlier than I am.
K: What was the first concert you went to?
M: It was probably either James Taylor or Kenny G. I do remember Kenny G holding out a note and just like walking and the people were going crazy.
S: If you had a superpower, what would it be?
M: Flight. I really want to fly.
K: Do you have any guilty pleasures music-wise?
M: Music-wise? Yeah, Coldplay. I love a new Coldplay album. I watched that whole American Express thing, their unstaged with Coldplay. I would just keep watching this, the whole two hours. There’s something about them that you recognize that they’re not edgy, but you can’t fault those guys for what they’re doing.
S: I know that you don’t listen to a lot of contemporary music, but who are two or three recent artists that you think people should listen to?
M: That’s true. You should definitely listen to tUnE-yArDs. That shit is bonkers. Oh and Waters, it’s a new band in the Bay. He used to be Port O’Brien, but they broke up and he started this new project. The first record was cool, it had a great single, but this next record which isn’t out yet, but I’ve heard a lot of is just amazing. It’s like all the best things about the 90s, like pop punk and grunge, but distilled somehow to sound now.
S: Then who are a couple of underrated artists?
M: Well I don’t think that Waters is to well known yet, but I think they’re going to be a huge band. There’s Said the Whale, who we just toured with. There also one that I was like, why isn’t this band huge? Sister Crayon, they’re a really good band that I think a lot of people will like. It’s kind of like Portishead, Bjork, Radiohead, that kind of thing. It’s cool.
After the interview, Geographer went on to play an energetic set full of new and old songs alike. Deni even broke out his saxophone to play a cover of Arthur Russell’s “This Is How We Walk on the Moon”. All we here at Introverse can say, is that if you ever get the chance to see Geographer live, go do it, because you certainly won’t regret it.