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The Dirty Projectors Rise Above

The wildly inventive Brooklyn band recreate their 2005 high concept album, ‘The Getty Address’ at The Barbican

From a song-by-song ‘misremembering’ of an album he hadn’t heard in ten years (as he did with Black Flag’s punk classic ‘Damaged’ on 2007’s ‘Rise Above’) to a chamber pop opera about the imaginary adventures of a certain Don Henley; David Longstreth’s albums as Dirty Projectors have always stood out against the masses of other American bands still following a tried-and-tested formula of Velvets/Stones. Here hip hop, jazz, classical, West African melodies are thrown into the mix to make something genuinely unclassifiable. Dense with jarring time signatures and off-kilter arrangements, these warped songs demands your full attention. But far from seeming oppressively technical, the leaps and left turns pull you in. Last year was a particularly good one for the band. In addition to releasing their most fully realized and accessible album yet, ‘Bitte Orca’; they worked with David Byrne, saw Solange Knowles cover their swooning R&B delight, “Stillness is the Move” and in a particular highlight, the band played an intimate show with Bjork performing a 7-song suite (that Longstreth had written in a week) imagining the meeting between band member, Amber Coffman and a whale.

Live, they are a riveting prospect – their intricate arrangements coalesce and Longstreth’s incorporation of the ancient vocal art of hocketing often ensures you hear the harmonies pop and flicker from all across the stage. This Friday, they recreate their 2005 album, ‘The Getty Address’ together with a full orchestra at The Barbican in what promises to be another fascinating glimpse inside Longstreth’s endlessly expanding musical universe.

Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to play ‘The Getty Address’ in its entirety?

David Longstreth: Last December we had these shows at the Disney Concert Hall in LA and Lincoln Center in New York and we wanted to do something special for them. They are really houses for classical music so we thought it’d be cool to revive this album that I had made really before Dirty Projectors had solidified the way it has now and bring the band into it.

DD: ‘The Getty Address’ was recorded with many different musicians’ contributions spliced back together again – how difficult was it making it into something as concise as an album that holds together? How did the songs evolve over the two years you took to make it?

David Longstreth: I had a vague notion of what each song was and I wrote a bunch of different arrangements for it – one that would use 7 wind instruments, string arrangements, and I had made these beats for each song. I didn’t think about how the different parts would fit together and I sort of just forced them all together in an accidental way, letting things stick that wanted to stick. For me there was a great spontaneity which is what I really liked about it. I made it with Pro Tools so there was a lot of creating and compressing and cutting away. I was surprised when it came together. It took so long because it took a while for it to settle.

DD: According to one review – “’The Getty Address’ is as much a fable of nature’s power and hope for constant renewal as it is the legend of a mythical Don Henley who represents both the force of colonization and the victim of his own power.” Could you elaborate?

David Longstreth: I would probably be doing it a disservice if I tried to summarize it because it really doesn’t make any sense! (Laughs) But it hangs together in this way. I was obsessed with those things at the time like the American land, cosmology, Aztec mythology, photographers like Robert Adams and the music of The Eagles, but all that stuff is just a buttress on which to build the music on.

DD: You had a classical training in music at Yale – with the music you make as Dirty Projectors, is it about unlearning those techniques or do you use them to communicate new ideas?

David Longstreth: I dunno. I think too much is made of that aspect of the biography. I’m obsessed with music and so when I went to Yale, I studied the shit out of it. But I hated that culture of academia and the way they approached the history of music. For me, I’m just obsessed with music. The music should be a vessel for emotion or a spirit.

DD: With ‘Bitte Orca’, was it an attempt to get away from the grand conceits of previous albums and be more direct?

David Longstreth: I just wanted to let it breathe a little more rather than make a whole nest of ideas and things you have to talk about for the songs to sit in; just to let it swim and fly. Music always comes from something. Albums like ‘The Getty Address’, maybe I was trying to force it to be something in a literal way but maybe it’s bit more effortless to just let the songs be.

DD: When Solange Knowles covered your song ‘Stillness is the Move’ – did it feel like a validation? “Yes we write pop songs!”

David Longstreth: (Laughs) It was really weird – I love her version. We were in Portland, Oregon. At the time we had a day off and I had spent the whole day driving around with my friend listening to booty shit and then we rolled back and we heard it. It sounded so huge – her voice sounded so great on it. It’s cool she did that. We actually played with her (at a party at Opening Ceremony during fashion week) – that was really fun.

DD: What’s instructive about working with Bjork and David Byrne?

David Longstreth: Different stuff with each person. With Bjork, I’m sort of in perpetual awe of the depths of her talent. She’s just brilliant! To get a little taste for how she approaches things was so cool. With Byrne, it was a little bit of the same, to see how he stays open and fluid and responsive to the world.

DD: Are you irked by this impression of yourself as some kind of mad genius who pushes the band to 12 hour long rehearsals?

David Longstreth: I don’t really care. If you make music that is written about, the writers are going to create a narrative for it which is probably a parody of what it really is. (Laughs) I think every band works hard – you’ve got to.

DD: Each album seems a reaction to the one that preceded it – how is the new material shaping up?
David Longstreth: There’s not too much of a story there yet. I don’t know but I’m pretty psyched about it.