Catching up With... Bradford Cox
Last year was big for Deerhunter, in terms of both critical acclaim and controversy. Lead singer Bradford Cox was understandably at the heart of it all. Next week, Cox breaks out on his own, with Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, his excellent, first proper solo effort under the Atlas Sound moniker. Fans of Deerhunter's rowdiest moments beware: Atlas Sound's approach on this record leans heavily towards the minimalistic, electronic vibe of Brian Eno’s pioneering work. Paste caught up with Cox to talk about straddling the line between hyped-band frontman and burgeoning solo artist.
Paste:Every Atlas Sound song sounds like it’s a lot of work.
Cox: You know the band Grizzly Bear? I recorded something with Chris [Taylor, vocalist] the other day. It sounded so much warmer. I realize that I’m a bit limited in how I record drums. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing; it sounds so full. Then again, I don’t have a giant church in Greenpoint to record in. I mean, that’s a big part of it.
Paste: One of the things I was wondering, with this record, did you want to intentionally draw away from the Deerhunter sound?
Cox:The Deerhunter sound is a result of five personalities coming together. It wasn’t like I was trying to prove anything. If anything, I get too much credit in Deerhunter. I think people think I write the songs. Deerhunter is a very collaborative effort, you know? It’s probably like—I’m not comparing ourselves to this level or quality, but—Can. When you look at Can, every member of that band sticks out and is crucial to the whole.
I wanted to do something that was more at home. I wanted to make something kind of therapeutic. On a band’s MySpace profile, you can make jokes out of what type of music you are, and [bands] never take it seriously. The options are hilarious. One was "healing music," and "tape music." And I chose this, because it was really close to what I am doing.
I’m really into music as therapy. It’s been an interesting year in terms of PR. People have been hating me. Some people really like us, and the backlash is overwhelming. The reasons why I even still play in public is that I get messages from kids all over the world who tell me that my music is helping them through a really hard time. There’s something about our music that kids going through tough shit can relate to. There’s an authenticity that kids can see.
Paste: The Deerhunter record is a confusing thing to listen to. Maybe that’s why they latch on to it.
Cox: People latch onto the flaws. We were definitely awkward; it comes natural for us to be that way. We’re not going to change or get any less awkward.
Paste: Does working on a side project such as Atlas Sound help you bring ideas to Deerhunter?
Cox: The way I work on music is very natural and loose, and I record songs virtually every day. I usually decide after a song is written if it is better as an Atlas Sound or Deerhunter song. Deerhunter songs usually go through a much more intense refinement process, and the other group members bring their ideas to the table. I usually will bring Deerhunter a fragment of a song, a verse guitar and vocal part for instance, and we flesh it out through addition and subtraction.
Paste: You tend to release a lot of unofficial recordings via the web. Do you ever worry of putting too much out there?
Cox: I just like being able to write a song and have it out there immediately. The songs I tend to release that way are usually a bit fragmented and aren't part of an album concept. I kind of have two ways of writing: songs and albums. When it's time to do an album, I write all the songs together in one long, creative outburst. In terms of having too much out there, I have mixed feelings. I think about Robert Pollard a lot, and his method of releasing tons of music and how a lot of it might get overlooked just because of the sheer density of his output. I don't want to have songs that get missed or forgotten, but I think as a musician I find it more important to just make music and not consider how it is received or ignored too much.
Paste: There is definitely a downside to the
Internet for Deerhunter in terms of controversy. How do you cope with
the immediacy of it all?
Cox: I just don't take it too seriously. That's one thing I think some people might not understand. I'm kind of just being myself and having fun. It leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation or for people to say, "He just does this for attention," or whatever. I just do stuff when the mood strikes me. I sometimes fail to filter what might be distasteful, but who's perfect?
Paste: I thought it was interesting when your
bandmate [Colin Mee] cited the extraneous Internet diversions
distracting from the music. Is there any way around this?
Cox: To be honest, I don't want to be nasty, but his response was fucking retarded. The reason he left the band was because he had another project (his heavy-metal band, Chopper) that he wanted to concentrate on. I think he was just looking for a way to look smart and justify himself and make himself seem above it all. He was right there laughing when I published a lot of the stuff he later criticized. We've worked it out now and we are buddies, but it did hurt my feelings that he treated the situation as an opportunity to be critical of how I do my thing.
Paste: Finally, 2007 was pretty big for you. Is there any pressure to keep that candle burning?
Cox: In some ways, yeah. I have bills to pay and rent and stuff, and this is pretty much how I make my living. But making music is what I do. It comes naturally, so I don't worry too much. If I fail to reach people, I can always go back to having a day job and a more stable existence. I'm 25 years old and very lucky that people have responded to our music at all. I'm just trying to make as much music as I can when I'm at the age when I can afford to live this way.