Youth Gone Wild
Deerhunter's young punks try to fight off adulthood
"This would be a good point of interest for your article," says Bradford Cox, who fronts the band Deerhunter, during a pre-show interview at the Earl, where they were opening for NYC garage rockers Modey Lemon. "I think what's interesting is the fact that, like, I mean, there's a lot of high-speed evolution in this band that I'm really proud of, being that we're so young."
The five members of Deerhunter — Cox, drummer Moses Archuleta, bassist Josh Fauver, and guitarists Colin Mee and Lockett Pundt — are all under 25, which makes them pretty young but not as immature as, say, Smoosh, the teenage indie-rock sisters from Seattle. Deerhunter's ethos, says Cox, is about holding on to their fading youth and refusing to assimilate into adult society.
First forming in 2002, Deerhunter issued its first, self-titled album via local imprint Stickfigure Distribution last summer. It is riff-heavy with a hard, punk-rock thrust. The songs frequently stutter along, breaking down into sheets of distortion. Cox, whose vocals on the album are mostly buried underneath the band's cacophony, calls its wafts of white noise a symptom of "adolescent rage."
"The first album is influenced by all these chaotic things that were happening at the time," he says. "Our original bass player [Justin Bosworth] passed away [in 2004] in a skateboarding accident. He was a very big influence on us as a person and as a friend. He was a very positive person.
"So I would say, if anything, that the album was the result of a lot of negativity. It was a final statement for that set of feelings, I guess. Once it was done, I said, 'OK, I don't ever want to make this album again.'"
In contrast, Deerhunter's soon-to-be-released Cryptograms opens with an ambient scene: sounds of a flowing river followed by a medley of keyboard sounds. Then the band launches into a propulsive, atmospheric volley. "My greatest fear, I fantasized/The days were long, the weeks flew by/Before I knew, I was awake/My days were through, it was too late," Cox sings.
The band's first album exhibits rage at innocence lost, and the follow-up attempts to come to terms with impending adulthood. "It's a complete departure," says Cox, who considers it a "more mature" and musically varied work than the band's debut. "I think that we're just coming into our own for the first time, with our own distinctive sound."
Deerhunter plans to issue the disc through a new label sometime next year, which is a sign of their growing popularity. (Four songs from the disc have been posted on its MySpace page, www.myspace.com/deerhunter.) Cox declined to reveal the label's name because nothing is finalized yet, but he described it as "bigger" than Stickfigure Distribution. (When reached by phone for a response, Stickfigure Distribution owner Gavin Frederick replied, "That's news to me. The band hasn't told me anything." He seemed amenable to the idea, however. "I'd like to see them do the album with a bigger label because it could help sales [of the first album].")
Each of the five band members collaborate on Deerhunter's songs. Cox, however, is clearly the group's frontman and leader. After the interview, when the quintet gathered in the Earl's back room for a sound check, he called out numbers to rehearse and conferred with the club's engineer on the sound levels that he desired. During the concert, the guitarists turned their backs to the audience. Only Cox stood face-forward at the mic. In spite of the meandering performance ("We weren't feeling it," Cox later admitted), his reed-thin body, topped with shaggy brown hair, made for a strong focal point.
The unofficial title of Deerhunter's debut, Turn It Up, Faggot, comes from Frederick. Cox says he is gay, but then, oddly, clarifies himself. "I don't even consider myself actively gay. I consider myself asexual," he says. "I have no interest in the bourgeois life of growing up, getting married, and having kids."
Cox compares himself to the Stephen King heroine Carrie, or the outcast who gets invited to hang out with the hipsters that comprise much of their growing audience. "I don't understand it," he says. "I don't relate to a lot of the people that do respond to it. I don't relate to heterosexuality at all. I don't relate to the couples who come to our shows and hold hands while they watch us." He adds, however, "I have a lot of respect for the people who like us, because it's challenging music."
Cox's ideas may seem wishy-washy and indulgent, but it hints at why Deerhunter attracts listeners. The group is slowly forming a unique sonic, personal and political philosophy beyond the dance-rock beats of its most accessible songs. It has a record label, Notown Sound, through which it distributes CD-Rs of live shows and albums, as well as experimental electronica by band members and other musicians. All of that activity threatens to draw greater attention and scrutiny to Deerhunter's micro-world.