Deerhunter's Bradford Cox on Obsession, Nostalgia & His Hundreds of Unrecorded Songs

Courtesy of 4AD/Deerhunter
Deerhunter

When Deerhunter announced their eighth album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, the Atlanta-based band asserted that culture was dying, along with nature, logic, and human emotion. It’s a world view that the band’s frontman Bradford Cox says seeped into his songwriting over the past few years, like on the album’s opening number “Death of Midsummer,” which he says was loosely inspired by the murder of British politician Jo Cox. “It’s one thing of 100 things going on that that struck me as dystopian and incredibly awful,” he says.

Cox recently sat down with Billboard on a dreary December night in midtown Manhattan to talk about the band’s new album (out Jan. 18), his prolific output, why living in solitude is the best thing for his creativity right now, and more.

This album title Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? sounds ominous. What’s going on with this new one?

I don’t like to talk politically. It’s a bit much to hear musicians who have relatively privileged lives of following their muses complaining about a world where they’re relatively safe.

Without getting too political, I was just revisiting a lot of my favorite science fiction writers, many from the British New Wave — J.G. Ballard and things like that. I felt an uncanny realization that they were kind of too familiar now.

I remember when President Trump was elected people saying, "Oh no, it's Black Mirror.” But this is not an episode of Black Mirror. We’re all responsible. We're all addicted to information, we're all addicted to escapism and staring at phones and constant content. We don't even really have enough time to think about anything.

Are you addicted?

I have to say it, not to sound self-righteous or something, but I don't have interest in looking at my phone that a lot of people do. I view it almost an obligation. I should post something on Instagram, right? People are just only living in that world. They’re only existing as an avatar. But that’s a science fiction premise we find ourselves in.

But it does feel like on this new record there are some political themes that peer out a little.

Yeah, but it doesn't offer a reliable narrator. When I wrote it, I wasn't writing it with anything in mind or any goal. So when I look, I look at it exactly with the same amount of insight as you do. The listeners impression is just as right, to whatever unconscious intent. The thing that strikes me is, there is no narrator that is offering the solution.

There’s only 10 songs on the album. You must have had a lot more to choose from.

I would say I have something like 500 songs in the archive.

How do you find just 10 then?

I take the ten most recent I wrote and the rest just gets put in an archive. When I say that, I know it sounds like an exaggeration and I wouldn't lie and say that they're all like, fully ready to go. But fully ready to go, I’d say at least 200 songs are fully ready to record. And it's an issue of not being able to record them as fast as I would normally.

Are you pretty critical of your albums these days when they’re done?

For a certain period of time, I’m completely obsessive. We turned this in two or times and then I would call and say, “No, stop the presses.” I’ve done an enormous amount of tinkering, more than I've ever done before on this one and I got it just right. There's nothing I would change.

How many times did you listen to it to get that point?

Probably ten. A song like “Death in Midsummer,” I think I recorded the vocals 230 times. And one day I got it, and it was done. When it’s right, it’s right.

When you're in that obsessive zone, does it drive you crazy?

No, I feel good. I feel like I have a purpose. It makes you feel really happy because there's a goal and I'm working towards it.

You sleep good.

I sleep regularly.

The concept of nostalgia is something you seem to hate.

I used to find nostalgia to be pretty. But I think culturally speaking it's the worst thing right now. The more we live in the past, the more the present and future decay.

Do you meditate?

I think everyone has a way to meditate. I think playing with my dog is meditation. I just want to make my dog happy. Another way I meditate is I like to go to art museum and I just totally get lost in aesthetics. I don't have a specific mantra-based meditation ritual. I just turn off my emotional output. I shield myself from any incoming missiles. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I live alone and I live a very solitary existence.

Deerhunter has been a band for more than 15 years now. Do you look at success in a different way than before?

I view our success as being attached to the fact that we've never made a bad album. We've never been forced to release something that we weren't certain about. The only complaints I would ever have about past material would be just little things that I wouldn't have known at the time. Technical things that are boring, and not worth going into.

If we're talking about success in terms of popularity — if we were any more successful, we’d have a lot less time for our families, dogs, children, wives, husbands, whatever you wanna call it. I'd have a lot less time to sit around in positive solitude. Reading, ingesting, and getting inspired. My days are very full, because I'm always in a mental process of trying to get somewhere where I can be creating.

That sounds nice.

Well, some people say I'm very privileged, but could they handle the solitude? Could they handle what I believe you guys call “lonely”? There's so much inspiration around to tap into.

Now, there are situations that I've experienced where there are problems with the brain — chemical problems, depression, and that can make connecting and inspiration, impossible. Just like you have a Wi-Fi signal going out or your cell phone battery dies and you can't send a message or receive a message. I'm not trying to ignore that a lot; I speak as if everyone can live like I do. Having experienced the depths of depression and mental illness myself, there are times I cannot be happy or satisfied. There’s times where I think everything I’ve done is shit.

Was that the case in the last couple years?

At times. I wanted to give up. How many times a day are you like "I should probably think about a new career"?

Is it always like that for you?

It’s like that for everyone on earth.

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