Seven Questions for San Francisco's Next Great Chamber Pop Band Geographer
Consider Geographer our fair city’s answer to Passion Pit. The local electro chamber-pop trio wins hearts and minds and ears the same way, with big synths and clicky percussion and Nathan Blaz’ electric cello atmospherics. And there’s also that same sense of intimacy, like a devoted friend whispering secrets at a high school dance.
Vocalist-guitarist Mike Deni’s ghoulish voice remind of Grizzly Bear’s haunted slo-mo lyrical approach, deep and urgent and capable of the occasional wistful high register. Their debut album Animal Shapes was an immediately and consistently intriguing collection of songs (“Original Sin” may be the poppiest number of the bunch, looping a sugary synth riff over plenty of chamber-pop business). So their recent release, Myth, demands high expectations, and dutifully exceeds them. If you’re lucky enough to have tickets to Saturday’s show at the Independent, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Mr. Deni took some time out on Thursday to answer some of our questions before the home court gig.
Your new album Myth is many things: fun, dramatic, dense, always interesting. And it does seem like there was a maturation process from the magical Animal Shapes to Myth. Did you guys feel a certain impetus to build on ideas and themes and certain sounds of the first record?
We wanted to make a record that was more of a varied experience, that pushed us beyond our comfort zones individually and as a band. We all covet and revere the experience of listening to an album. We love classics as much as we love new innovative artists. And we wanted to create a record that would be a complete statement, a full listening experience, not just a collection of songs, that could at least attempt to hold its own among the things we love.
How much attention do you guys pay to critical and fan feedback?
I suppose we pay a lot of a attention to it. That might get dangerous at some point, but for now it feels so good to see the reaction that people have to our work. I know we'll get some bad reviews that will sting, but I'm sure we'll help each other deal with it. It's really a head game, creating. If your mind is in the right place, you make good choices, and it is about choices, even if most of them are unconscious.
You recorded Myth at John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephone studio, which is essentially inside a shack in a corner of Potrero del Sol Park, or so I've read. What intrigued you about that situation and atmosphere?
Ha! Well, that is not how I would describe it. I had heard about Tiny Telephone even before I moved to San Francisco, so for me it was always a dream to record there. I recorded some synthesizers in there for Innocent Ghosts, so I already knew the place had a great energy. John is such a guru and a great friend now, and his impeccable taste and skill at acquiring the right gear and people to work with make Tiny simply the best studio in the Bay.
What part of the Bay Area do you all live in, and what are your favorite aspects of those neighborhoods?
My favorite thing to do is to drive out to the Richmond and eat dumplings or Korean BBQ, or eat at Mission Chinese (if everyone could please stop eating there, that would be great, so I can get a table faster). I eat there about once a week and now they know my name. I was almost as proud about that as when we sold out the Independent for the first time.
I heard you guys played a wedding right before Treasure Island Music Fest, and book gigs around the city for other special occasions. What other types of gigs has this band played in the last couple of years?
We like stretching our legs whenever we can, but there's nothing like playing in a club or a festival for people who know and love your music. We always have fun playing acoustic shows. The songs take on a different, elemental feel, and it's so fun to just play an acoustic guitar and ditch all the gadgets sometimes. We played a show in an airstream trailer at SXSW last year, and we played at the end of Bay to Breakers, which was so fun. There's nothing like watching two drunk people dressed like crayons grinding to your music.
I read Mike Deni's a big Bruce Springsteen fan, and I also see that you guys are gonna be playing SXSW, where the Boss is the keynote speaker. Any plans to check him out or...dare I suggest...try and seek him out for an autograph or some other fanboy-type encounter?
Definitely going to see Bruce. I'm not looking for a fanboy encounter. My long-term life goal is to sing with the man onstage. You always gotta have a crazy dream. That's how you do crazy things.
You guys are playing a hometown gig at The Independent on Saturday. Do you have any special memories of seeing other bands there?
One of my favorite shows there was Holy F*ck. Lovely Allen gets me moving like a 14-year-old again. Music never does that to me any more, and it's magic and it's precious.