A cozy fire flickers in the intimate lobby of the Walker Hotel in New York’s Greenwich Village. At a stretch of tables for two all pushed together, David Longstreth (founder and frontman of Dirty Projectors) sits with friends and colleagues, slumped over a laptop.
Minutes later, he moves to a tucked away corner and takes a seat on a plush velvet bench situated under a chandelier. While reaching for a cup of water, he explains he had to finish editing a video. Though for Longstreth — who, as of late, has had tentacles in several simultaneous projects — the work is never really finished.
Over the past few years, Longstreth has worked with Rihanna, Paul McCartney and Kanye West on their hit “FourFiveSeconds,” scored the 70-piece orchestral arrangement for the closing track on Joanna Newsom’s divine album Divers, produced the rhythm section for several songs on Solange’s standout A Seat At The Table, and much more. The project that has consumed much of Longstreth’s mental space, though, is his most personal: the upcoming release of Dirty Projectors, the eighth album from the nearly dissolved alternative indie group behind favorites like “Stillness Is The Move,” “No Intention” and more.
Following the somewhat recent and unannounced departure of Amber Coffman — a once vital force in the group who will soon release her solo debut (City of No Reply) — the band’s next steps were unclear. Her separation from the band resulted in the end of her and Longstreth’s relationship outside of music, too. While the heartbreak left Longstreth distraught and questioning the band’s future, it ultimately led to its revitalization.
“It’s a unique moment,” Longstreth tells Billboard of his choice to create again as Dirty Projectors. He says after making music under the band’s name for over a decade, he had to step away from the concept for a while, which allowed him to grow his resume and work with the previously mentioned artists. After several conversations with producer Rick Rubin, who essentially advised Longstreth to “keep your name” (thus spawning the title of the album’s first single), and eventually relocating from the East to West Coast, Longstreth says, “It felt like a moment to rediscover, or redefine, my relationship to music.”
Along with Rubin’s words of wisdom, Solange — who co-wrote “Cool Your Heart” — also proved helpful in inspiring Longstreth on his road to rediscovery. Solange had rented a house on Long Island while starting to work on what became A Seat at the Table and Longstreth says he would often stop by to play around with some of the music. “She had a really specific vision of where she was going with things and I loved what she was working on, and that was when I really didn’t have a clear sense of what to do and how to go forward as a writer. So to be there and feel her confidence meant a lot to me.”
That boost of confidence led Longstreth to finally begin work on an album of his own, Dirty Projectors. The self-titled project is a brutally honest breakup album at its core (“it’s all about emotion,” he says), much like his first album, 2001’s Graceful Fallen Mango, was. Unlike the aforementioned, Dirty Projectors has a well-developed arc that painstakingly guides listeners from a point of deep and sorrowful sadness to a place of foggy hope. “It starts really sad and angry and it goes through all these different feelings of various degrees of bummed-ness,” Longstreth suggests. “But it gets to a place of acceptance and resolution.”
In between point A and B is a handful of thickly textured, heavily produced songs that musically reflect how Longstreth rerouted his own life in order to move forward. The sonic twists and turns veer towards ambient experimentation — best heard on opening track “Keep Your Name,” a song drenched in reverb, tempo shifts and pitch slides — and highlight the lone, rich baritone of Longstreth (save for D?WN’s featured vocals on electro-pop track “Cool Your Heart”), a notable difference since Coffman’s departure. A difference, though, that helps set this album apart and prove the indie rock roots Dirty Projectors laid down so long ago were well worth watering.