Dan Deacon reflects on Baltimore and his career

Emily Herman sat down with the Baltimore music scene fixture to pick his brain about life in Charm City.
Emily Herman: What’s different about performing in DC versus in Baltimore?
Dan Deacon: I feel like DC is like where the Lannisters live for this Game Of Thrones reference. I don’t feel like I’m an hour from Baltimore. Even though they’re so close, they’re divided by so many different things. People keep being like, oh you’re from around here and I’m like…sort of.
EH: Being a Baltimore figure, how has the last year influenced you as an artist?
DD: It’s really made me try to become even more aware of being a white artist in a predominantly African-American city. It makes me think about how much more I can be conscious of what I do in Baltimore and being more inclusive and trying to make sure that places I like to go and things I like to do don’t disenfranchise other people. I think the whole city’s been that way. The whole city’s been focused on being positively self-aware.
EH: How did you get to Baltimore and how has it influenced you as a person?
DD: I moved there 11 years ago right after college. I was seeing someone at the time who was living in Severna Park. I liked the city, but mostly it was really affordable. I could rent a warehouse space and tour, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like until I moved anywhere else. I didn’t really start touring until I moved to Baltimore, but since my rent was like $180 and I could have shows in my house, it made it really easy for me to travel as much as possible to get my name out there but also to be able to host acts in the city, and start like a network. The vibe of the city – the nickname “Smalltimore” makes sense. It’s a huge city surrounded by the absence of the city. It’s 1/3 full or half full. I live in Mt. Vernon but you could walk two blocks over and there’d be one house on the block that’s occupied. I keep wondering how different the city would be if it was full. I remember at one point early on, I remember saying to my friend, oh I wish the Red Line was built and we had a real subway system, and he was like, well then we wouldn’t be able to afford to live here. I just want it to be full and vibrant, but at the same time I’m worried about it being taken over and turning into a different city as I point to that one over there [D.C.]. It’s hard. Baltimore’s like a good friend of yours that’s going to do their own thing and you want to be there for them but I don’t know how and I’m trying to get in tune with that.
EH: Where do you see yourself going next?
DD: I see myself going to bed. [laughs] I love writing textural music and really ambient music but I feel like my main skill – kind of like Michael Jordan was good at baseball but he correctly focused on basketball. I would love to work more in ambient music but I feel like have a skill for writing rhythms, and I write dance music that you wouldn’t hear in a dance club. A lot of people don’t want to go to a club but they want to dance. So I try to write music like that – I feel like I’ve figured that out on the road and in the DIY scene, mainly, being in Baltimore, which is where I started playing really crazy shows first. The first times that I was like, wow this can be insane. Is this safe? We should stop if this is dangerous. Baltimore’s really different from New York or L.A. because there’s not a glaring eye so you can really experiment. In New York, when I go up there I don’t really play a song for the first time in New York because I know it could really fail and be permanent. I think failure is important, having a risk of failure is how you learn and how you grow. What I like about Baltimore is how I can try out new material, see if it fails, and then get an honest critique from a community of artists that I really love and respect.
EH: Is there anything you want to tell people at Hopkins?
DD: I just wouldn’t be afraid of the city. I would try to leave campus as much as possible. I feel like when I moved to Baltimore 11 years ago, MICA was really similar – people at MICA didn’t want to leave the MICA zone. Then luckily the warehouse scene started popping up and it was just close enough for people to come. It’s odd because people from Goucher come all the way down from Towson to party in the city. I feel like I don’t really know any Hopkins people besides professors. I know there’s a whole gigantic world of people there that are wanting to get into whatever the f*** they’re getting into. I would just explore and see what you like. I’m not saying people are afraid, but get out there, get out of your dorm.
EH: I loved your set. Is that the real Dan Deacon?
DD: It was me. I’m pretty candid onstage, I don’t really have a good way to filter what I’m saying, as you can tell by a lot of responses in this interview. I feel great about it. We had a technical problem at one point but the thing about that is, I made a really large wedding cake that I was really proud of, but then there was just a little bit of bird s*** in the corner. I’m trying to cut that piece out and let everyone know that the rest of that cake is.
Our favorite track:
“Feel The Lightning”
Check out our other Landmark coverage:
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