Video & Photos By: Summer Luu
Interview By: Rachel Frank
Electro-indie synth trio, Geographer, put on a fantastic show for the first stop of their 2015 tour at The Casbah with the release of their new album, Ghost Modern (out March 23rd). We got the chance to chat before the show with Michael Deni (vocals, guitar, synths), on progression of their music, favorite TV shows, music festivals and OPRAH.
I read that you found a synthesizer and guitar on the street and started composing music. How did you find it and what inspired you to start writing music?
I’ve been writing songs for a while now, since I was 13 since my parents got me a little cassette track so I would be in my basement in middle school just with my dad’s guitar just making songs. It’s funny to think I’ve been doing it pretty much the same way since I was 13 years old. Now I use a lot of other musicians and other sounds you know but that’s the most fun thing for me. How do you pull the best performance out of people, whether you know them or don’t know them. In your touring band, it can be a lot easier cause you really get a language going together but if it’s a studio musician, someone you don’t know, that’s really fun for me. I like making people feel comfortable so they can do well in the studio.
But I found the synthesizer on a run. I moved out with very little stuff, I was sleeping on my friend’s floor on the Upper 8 and so I was running in Golden Gate Park and I ran by this synthesizer. I’m coming from the suburbs of New Jersey, if you lose something on the street, it’s still yours. But something told me, this is up for grabs…Even when I got it, I still sprinted home (laughs). So, I’m sorry to the person if I stole your synthesizer.
If there’s any current TV show you could have your music on the soundtrack of now, what would it be?
Oh man, I always wanted to get my music on the O.C., do you remember that show? (laughs) but a current TV show…I mean, I really like Walking Dead but I can’t watch it cause it scares me too much. That would be fun. Just a beautiful Geographer song playing while everyone’s getting eaten.
Say Oprah came to you and said “I love Geographer” and she wants to produce your new record, how would you go about producing a record if you had an unlimited budget?
I’d ask Oprah if I could produce it and if she could just give me the money and then with the money, I would just go into a studio, not even crazy, like 4 months, and be there every day and I would demo in the studio. Because I feel like a lot of the magic that happens in the initial discovery of what the song is, I’m really exploring and trying and I don’t know what I want to do until I hear it so that has a lot of magic in it but it has to be recreated in the studio. People I like working with, I’d like for them to be there, like Eli Crews. There’s a couple other producers in the Bay Area that I’ve been checking out and would really like to produce with. Like if I hit a wall, it’d be really cool to hit them up and be, “Well, what do you think?” But I tend to go in, with everything mapped out, so I’d love to have that ability to just discover so Oprah, if you’re watching, I’m here, come find me and I think we’ll make a great record.
I saw you did some crowd surfing at Outside Lands, I’m a big crowd surfing fan. What’s your favorite music festival to play or that you’ve played before. Is there any you’d like to play at that you haven’t before?
I mean, SXSW is really hard to beat but it also comes with that intensity you know where the end of SXSW, I’m ready to go. Because it’s really, really cool, and really exciting but it’s like two or three shows a day. Outside Lands was so…so…cushy. Driving me around on a golf cart everywhere, and I went backstage meeting Passion Pit and Big Boi was there and it was really exciting. So that was probably the most fun festival I’ve played. I’d really like to play Bonnaroo and Coachella.
Well, maybe next year Oprah…if you’re watching.
You never know. She controls everything. All the music festivals.
How do you feel your new album has progressed from your previous albums?
Well this one I took a lot of time with the songs, a lot more than when I started making the demos. Sometimes I would write it with a synth but then I would pare it back and just be “What is this song?” and just play it on guitar or keyboards like a wurlitzer that I have back at my house. And so, I feel I really got down to the essence of what every song was before I started building on it. In the other songs, I would build and build, and the foundation gets a little lost. I still think those turned out really great but I’m particularly proud of a couple of songs on this record.
What song is your favorite on the new record?
There’s this song on it called “Patience” which I don’t think it’s going to be a big hit or anything like that. I did things on it that I wasn’t able to do before on it like I wrote a lot of string, like full string arrangements. Rather than just writing for electric cello, I wrote violin, a viola part, and a cello part so they’re all blending together; I didn’t think that I could do it but you know, tried and I think it came out really well.
How many instruments do you play?
Saxophone is my best instrument. If I practiced for like a year, I’d get really good at it again. I started playing piano when I was 6, sax when I was 9, guitar when I was 12, and if you can play the guitar, you can play the bass and I can play the harmonica. But so can you (laughs). And I learned recently, I can play the clarinet and flute so I’ve been really working on the flute.
What music are you listening to now?
I don’t think I listen to music that would really excite anyone. I listen to Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. I always throw a little Radiohead in there. I’ve been checking out Bobby Gentry; I watched that Muscle Shoals documentary, which you should watch, I think it’s on Netflix. But it just goes through all the people who recorded in Muscle Shoals, like Aretha Franklin. And it’s crazy how many hits these couple of guys played on. And that’s what I kinda like. Artists would just show up with the song and they’d be like “Okay, let’s make a record”. And I would just love to be able to do that. And to think, Paul Simon flies down and just does one song and flies back. Whereas I’m like “Okay two weeks, we gotta do this”. But as for new bands, I really like Waters. They’re a San Francisco/LA band. They’re so good, they’re getting such great tours. The EP is out but the main album is going to come out and I just think they have the potential to get really big and I’m really excited for them.
This is the first stop of your tour – you’ve played the Casbah before. What’s your favorite venue in San Diego?
I mean, it would probably be the Casbah. It’s really fun. It’s not the biggest venue but we like playing here; you really feel the energy here, you almost have to be concerned about it. So it’s really nice to come back here and recognize the staff.