This past January, after capping an exhaustive world tour behind his band’s breakout 2009 album Bitte Orca, David Longstreth, leader of Brooklyn experimental indie intellectuals Dirty Projectors, rented an old house in rural Delaware County, New York, to decompress and begin writing material for their follow-up. He settled in alone.
“It was amazing to be by myself and just write,” Longstreth tells SPIN. “It was the antithesis to touring.” But it was a tough winter, he says, “with, like, three feet of snow all the time.” All alone in the woods, things started to get, well, a little creepy — and that sentiment seeped into the band’s upcoming LP. Here Longstreth tell us about living and writing alone in seclusion and channeling themes of horror and fear on the DP’s yet-to-be-titled new album, expected in early spring 2012.
What’s the deal with the isolated house?
It’s this couple’s house that lived here back in the ’90s. It’s a strange place because it’s fully furnished but it hasn’t been lived in for 15 years. The first four months of the year, I was building fires in the wood stove and using New York Times papers from 1994 as kindling. It was weird to read some of the articles from back then before I burned them. The winter was tough. I got stuck a few times, which sucked. I have one neighbor up the road named Gary. He loves Keystone Light. He’s towed me out of the driveway a couple of times. This place is seriously haunted.
Really? How so?
Gary was telling me the house was abandoned for 40 or 50 years, beginning in the 1920s. Hunters would use the main bedroom of the house as a deer stand to pick off deer from this big meadow stretching out in front of the house. The house has this weird feeling about it. The house is basically part of the woods. This spring, a flood of ladybugs invaded the house and now in the attic there’s this weird flying bug thing.
How far along is the album?
It’s pretty close to complete. Right now we’re just making a shitload of music. It’s not very focused around the idea of an album per se, it’s just about making a lot of tunes. That sounds like we’re unfocused, but we’re trying and get the album out by next spring.
You spent the first few months all alone, but is the whole band up there now?
We’re going in cycles. All of August the guys were here with me. The girls were supposed to come up today, but Amber’s got the flu. Right now I’m just here with our engineer recording guitars and vocals.
Tell us about some of the songs on the LP.
There’s one song about navigation called “Swing Low Magellan.” It’s inspired by a GPS our manager gave me when I first moved up here. I fucking hate GPS. I just have these terrible memories of our first European tour back in 2007. We had hired this van and tour service from the former Czech Republic called Fluff Wheels and they sent us out with this 19-year-old vegan driver kid who had no money and refused to eat anything. So we’d slip slices of pizza into his bunk at night and this pale hand would grab the piece and take it. He had no idea how to get anywhere in Europe so he just relied on the GPS. I just remember driving around the ring roads of every major European city for hours when we were supposed to be sound checking. So I ended up giving the GPS to my dad [laughs].
There’s another song called “About to Die” which is a “Thriller”-style song. It’s like a monster song, except the monster is the looming specter of meaninglessness and existential nausea [laughs]. It’s actually a really funny song.
Yeah. It touches on horror. A lot of the songs are about horror or fear. Considering the last decade, it just didn’t feel right to be making this super exuberant music. It might just be that I was up here in the fucking winter when it was light three hours a day and there’s three feet of snow on the ground. There’s another song called “Terror Vast.” Also, there’s a song that’s a response to the Strokes’ “Is This It?” It’s called “Maybe That Was It” [laughs].
Why a response a full decade later?
I don’t know. It just sort of happened. But I’m really, really psyched about it.
How does the album sound compared to Bitte Orca?
With a lot of these songs, we’re going for a different drum sound from Brian [McOmber]. He’s such a heavy hitter. He sounds huge and so fucking awesome that the tendency is to exploit the space around the drums with a really big roomy sound. But this time around we’re switching it up, we’re getting really, really woody drum sounds. Really close in. In general, this album is much less about color and arrangements. It’s heading in the direction of Mount Wittenberg Orca in terms of stripping things back a little bit. Also, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better at songwriting. The fact that I spent so many fucking hours sitting on a bus or a van just wanting to write a song. [Laughs] And you can’t when you’re on tour. It fucking sucks.
Why can’t you?
Ninety percent of touring is a logistical maneuver, moving your body and everyone else’s from one city to the next. You’re like a piece of gear. Then you jump out of the box, get onstage and play. That sounds cynical, but it sucks to move around so much. We’re meeting new people and seeing the world, and that’s great. But you’re getting so much information that you can only glide over the surface of it. I can’t find a song in that context. I had just a shitload of songs that I knew that I wanted to write. I had to basically sit there for three or four months before I was tapped out. At this point, I’m definitely looking forward to… Holey Moley!
What just happened?
Oh, man. So, we’re recording everything up in the attic of the house and I just went up there and … Oh my fucking God. That’s terrifying. We were live tracking up in the attic in August. The attic leaks and August was super rainy, so we put these big bowls everywhere to catch the water. I forgot to empty out the bowls, so they’re half full with water, which is itself really, really gross. But I just discovered that a mouse crawled into the bowl and couldn’t get out. He drowned in this disgusting water. That’s really fucking gross. That’s just creepy. See what I’m saying?