Culture, Indie / Alternative, Interviews — February 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Interview with Dirty Projectors’ groovy Amber Coffman

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Dirty Projectors_Amber

Concert promoters Your Mum have been bringing a continuous stream of hip, Pitchfork approved acts to Hong Kong over the last several months in a bid to bridge the gap between tweeny Kpop/boy band/flavor of the month groups and veteran record company approved arena artists. Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Grimes are just two of the acts they’ll be bringing here soon for those who like their music left of center. And last month, they were responsible for getting two New York acts to play before a standing room only audience at Grappas. Indie rock/pop act Ra Ra Riot, with three albums and several prime time appearances to their name, was one of them.

The Brooklyn band Dirty Projectors also took to the stage. Over the course of their seven albums, they’ve recorded a series of Black Flag (the famed 80s Henry Rollins led punk act) songs from memory, recorded with both David Byrne and Bjork and have shaken off easy pop-rock comparisons due to their need to constantly expand their sound. It helps that the six member group boasts three female singers, which keeps the group from being lumped in with the lo-fi/Strokes/Brooklyn based acts du jour.

Vocalist and guitarist Amber Coffman explained more during an email interview…

 

Can you share any gripping anecdotes about the tour so far? What moments have made you laugh hardest, cry, cringe, and/or push you as an artist and as a person?

The things that are always good for a laugh are the manipulation of words and the inside jokes and shorthand that you develop with the people you’re touring with. Those spring out of moments in time and are special and significant to whoever was there in the moment. It’s one of the coolest things about being with the same people all over the place for weeks on end.

One amazing thing we got to do is go on a lovely boat ride around the Sydney Harbor. We were all just beaming. We don’t often get to do such things and it was truly a highlight, along with the Mona museum in Hobart.

Something that definitely pushes all of us as people is staying civil and navigating moments and different personalities with very little sleep. We all have to remain sensitive to each other’s needs, strengths, weaknesses. Something that pushes us musically on tours like this in particular (flying tours) is playing on different equipment every night and trying to put on the best show you can with things you’re not always used to. We’re so lucky to have amazing crew members who are super hard working and knowledgeable and who are constantly doing so many things to help us pull all this off.

 

Why does the name Dirty Projectors suit your band?

Well the name is sort of like–whatever someone’s interpretation of any given element is, they’ll always be projecting a bit. And that’s fine. Maybe that’s even good. Or maybe it’s neither good nor bad. Dave (Longstreth, vocals and guitar) has always loved to be sort of right on the edge, in this place where…can people grab onto it? Maybe it’s like chasing something in a dream that you keep almost catching. I think a lot of the people who’ve embraced this music have been cool with it not being something super clear, or super obvious…people who like the feeling of chasing the thing in the dream. I suppose we really can all relate to that as much as we can to everyday life or love or something.

 

© Chris Lusher

© Chris Lusher

The Guardian ran an interesting story about your band. Can you talk about your reaction to this translation and why you felt that way? Also, do you ever worry that such academia might make your group come off as pretentious?

People can only base their judgment off their own experience and the information and context they are given, I suppose. If someone decides to themselves that our thing is ludicrous and pretentious then I guess that would be the darker side of “Dirty Projection.” Dave tries to do some extreme things that aren’t always easy to interpret, and that makes some people uncomfortable. But it’s not insincere. He genuinely is extremely energized by ideas and creating. He’s not like a prog-musician jerking off onstage or whatever. It’s all very deep for him. He puts absolutely every thing he has into it.

I can only say to people who might have those negative feelings about us that we are very sincere and honest and fun. And we’re just doing our thing.

 

Can you tell a funny anecdote about working with Diplo? How does that differ and overlap with your Dirty Projectors work?

I remember when he sent the backing track for “Get Free” and it was this little reggae jam. I thought, ‘Huh, what a strange choice to send me’ but I also connected with it. The working vibe was really loose and free. I don’t know anything about recording programs beyond Garage Band or something, so I just put down these little scratches and sent them on. I remember thinking ‘God I hope they can see beyond how badly recorded these ideas are’.

I think they thought it was real weird at first and then they really warmed up to it. Some of the takes are straight from my Garage Band night. They flew me and Dave down to Jamaica so we could finish the track and that was where I wrote the chorus and Dave wrote the bridge. It was dreamy and inspiring and relaxed. Working with Dirty Projectors is also dreamy and inspiring, but it’s much more intense and there’s a lot of sheer will power involved often times – like making something crazy happen in a very short amount of time, or like playing a guitar part and singing a part at the same time that feels impossible at first.

© Chris Lusher

© Chris Lusher

How did growing up in California, playing in the band and other experiences from that period, helped inform your work in the Dirty Projectors?

I sort of grew up all over. I was born in Texas, lived in Texas and Ohio until age 8, then to California in the middle of 3rd grade, to a school in San Jose. It was very different. The kids were less innocent there. They seemed to know a lot of dirty words which I had no idea about. I remember the music time was this hippy dude who would just play Beatles songs that we’d sing along to. I was one of the only white girls.

But I moved around a lot within California as well. When I was 16, a turn of events had me moving back to Ohio, to a tiny school in the middle of a field and it was a major culture shock. I was used to this all outdoor campus at a school of like 2,000 kids where at lunch time they were blasting Beastie Boys and Nirvana for our listening pleasure. Suddenly I was “the new girl from California” at a tiny school of farm kids and jocks. My last year of high school was in Flagstaff, Arizona (a quirky little mountain town.) As a northern California kid, I had always wanted to move to sunny San Diego. I wasn’t really aware of needing to move to a specific city based on what you wanted to do – I was 18 and I just wanted to play music with people, and live by the ocean. Sleeping People was a great thing for me – I taught myself all of their songs by ear when they asked me to join, and it was a great challenge for me, and meant a lot to be accepted by them. I didn’t sing in the band – only played speedy guitar riffs. I guess I wanted to prove I could keep up with these cool rock dudes.

I only met Dave Longstreth by being on tour with Sleeping People, so it all feels like it was all very important for the time and that I was on the right track.

By the time I met Dave I was really ready to be singing more, and he loved R&B shamelessly (which had not been the case for any rock musicians I had known previously.) Suddenly, it was okay to dig back into that part of myself, and it all felt much more like me.

 

‘Dance For You’ is a pretty song. Can you talk a little about working on that song, how you interpret its lyrics, and what feeling it instills in you as you play it?

I really feel like that song is a very personal and deep one for Dave, and I think the spirit of the song is very much about how Dave approaches his life. And the spirit of the band is very much in line with that.

He is a dreamer and a searcher, and he embraces the scary and the unknown with wide open arms. I’m always really happy to play it because I feel like people should know more of that side of Dave and this band.

 

By Scott Murphy

Scott Murphy is Head Writer at SIREN FILMS – a HK based independent production and creative house.

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