Brooklyn indie-rock sextet Dirty Projectors, led by singer/guitarist Dave Longstreth’s eclectic, knotty songwriting—noisy skronk, skewed folk, straight-up pop/R&B, and proggy pseudo-funk sometimes occur all in the same tune—and the band’s absolutely heavenly three-part female vocal harmonies come to town in support of both this year’s Mount Wittenberg Orca EP (their collaboration with Björk) and last year’s critically acclaimed LP Bitte Orca. We caught up with Longstreth for a quick chat.
What’s the set list gonna entail at this show? Any new material?
It’s gonna be a lot of Wittenberg stuff, Bitte stuff ... we’ve spent the last several months playing festivals so we’re super psyched to have it be our own kind of night, give it a real arc and try to tie the Wittenberg and the Bitte together. I’m psyched to rearrange some of the songs live, in the moment.
That can be scary—how do you develop the confidence to take songs to different places without it becoming a total trainwreck?
[Laughs] Sometimes it is a trainwreck! But we all have a lot of confidence in each other and we can read each other pretty well. That comes out of playing with each other all the time for years at this point.
How early on any given night do you know if you’re totally locked in as a band or do you have to work to get to that place?
It’s obvious pretty immediately if it’s not quite right, and you definitely have to work for it. Sometimes we’ll get up there and I’ll feel a little surly for whatever reason, and [guitarist/vocalist] Amber [Coffman] will catch it immediately and she’ll look in my eyes and acknowledge that she sees how I’m feeling and that makes me feel like, “OK, it’s all cool now” and we’ll get in the zone. We’re all pretty tight like that.
When you were younger and first getting into music, did you think that bands were all best buddies and lived in a big house together and did everything together all the time?
At what point did you realize it’s not really like that?
I dunno, I still kinda think that! [laughs] You kinda have to ... like last night we were all at this show at Death By Audio in Brooklyn and we were all hanging out, and then we went to this party and we basically hung out together all night, the whole band. So I dunno, it’s sort of this extended sleepover party, being in a band. Yes, you have to have separate identities and you need your own time to process your own shit on your own level or whatever, and tour is super intense, but you have to be down for the sleepover. All the bands that I love I think there’s this larger ... it sounds cheesy but there is something about brotherhood.
A lot of people talk about how unique Dirty Projectors is in terms of the songwriting and the somewhat complicated song structures and all of that. Has doing things in a different way than much of what’s out there been a natural process for you, or have you challenged yourself to do things that you weren’t sure you were capable of?
I think I’ve challenged myself a lot. I mean, even now that’s a big part of whether it keeps on being interesting to me. At the start, I want it to be impossible for me and everybody else in the band. Right now, starting to write new songs for another album, I just wanna do something that I can’t even imagine [laughs]. Something that would be impossible but also inevitable for me.
So many people want to be in a band or make music for a living but they never actually do it—how did you make that leap from wanting to do it to actually doing it?
I dunno. I know a lot of people for whom it takes a lot of courage to think about expressing yourself and forming some sort of honest encapsulation of your set of feelings about the world or whatever. But for me it was never like that. I always just wrote songs, like, picking up the bass for the first time and my brother taught me Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” riff and I just made up some riff that was kinda like “Come As You Are” and I was like, “That’s a song.” Whenever I picked up the instrument I’d make a little thing like that. So for me it was always just what you do. I guess I didn’t think about it as an expression of self or something that was built upon confidence or expertise or anything like that. I just thought of it as fun. I guess I skirted the whole dilemma that a lot of people have. It’s not like I conquered it or anything. I just skirted it.
Wed., Sept. 8, 7:30
With Owen Pallett