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Viva Phx Q&A: Geographer

Geographer band interview

Geographer, the indie-rock, synth-pop project of musician Michael Deni, formed in 2007 in San Francisco. The band has released two full-length albums (Innocent Ghosts in 2008 and Myth in 2012) and will expand its discography on March 24 with Ghost Modern. See Deni and his band perform its rendition of “soulful music from outer space” on March 14 at Viva Phx — Crescent Ballroom (21+) at 11 P.M..

Read our interview with Deni below and purchase Viva Phx tickets here
*For more interviews with Viva Phx 2015 performers, visit here.*

Very first concert you attended and a memory from it.
James Taylor. My only memory of it is sleeping underneath a blanket the entire time, waking up periodically and thinking, “Wow, there’s a lot of people everywhere.”

If you could have any musician (dead or alive) as a mentor, who would it be?
Paul Simon.

Very first concert you played and a memory from it.
I got 20 of my high school friends and we all drove into Princeton, the next real town over from mine where I grew up in NJ. I had somehow got up the nerve to ask if I could perform at our favorite coffee shop (those were just getting big again in those days. Hadn’t really been big since the early ’60s, when they were the epicenters of the folk scene in Greenwich Village).

I think I had given them a CD I made in my basement, to prove my music was at least unoffensive. I was so nervous I don’t remember a note, it’s like I blacked out. Even then, I had a sort of “hit” among my friends, it was called “Just Me.” I remember everyone doing those supportive, “Wooos” that friends do when I played that one, but that’s about all I can recall. I was so relieved when it was over, I felt like I had just climbed Mt. Everest. That was the first time I ever played my own music in public.

Artist you would most like to collaborate with or have produce your music?
I’d like to produce Bruce Springsteen‘s next record. I’d make it now, I’d make it him, and I wouldn’t “yes” him. He might fire me. But we’d make some good music before he did.

Personal truth that fans would be surprised to know about you.
There was a time in college when I gave up music entirely. I didn’t even listen to it. I listened to books on tape instead, in the car, at home. I decided I wanted to be a novelist, and I wrote three books in one summer — all terrible. Then I wrote one mildly decent short story and even more mildly decent novella.

And it’s one of the few moments in my life I feel I’ve made a level-headed decision, when I looked at my work, and it was so clear to me that this was not my calling. I could work tirelessly at it and become good at it, but what I was meant to do was make music, even though I wasn’t particularly good at that at the time, at least “I could sing,” you know? And I haven’t written a word outside a song or a blog post since.

How do you spend a typical day when you’re not touring or busy recording?
Wake up, drink tea outside, read a little. Then answer the slew of PR or other business-oriented emails for a couple hours. If I don’t have practice with the band, if I’m writing, I’ll just spend the next four or five hours working on songs. If I’m not feeling creative, I’ll practice the guitar. I like driving around and practicing singing. I’ll drive up to Twin Peaks and look out over the city for about five seconds, and then get back in my car and sing scales. Then I usually have dinner with my girlfriend, and either go to a friend’s house to listen to records, or watch a movie. I usually end every night with a few pages of a book, or some late-night writing. A lot of times an idea will strike me right as I’m going to bed and I say, “Goddammit, now I’m gonna be up til 3 A.M. again.” But you gotta take it when it comes.

One artist or album you could never get tired of listening to?
Paul Simon’s album Paul Simon. Do you ever get tired of looking at natural beauty, like the ocean tucked amongst bluffs, or the sun just after it’s set? It’s the same deal with that album. It’s just so beautiful.

Earliest music-related memory you have?
Playing a new synthesizer my dad brought home one day in the ’80s. It made such cool crazy sounds, and it had cartridge after cartridge of sounds. I use that same exact synth on every record I’ve made.

Nicest thing a fan has ever said, or given, to you?
I was having a conversation with a fan in Vancouver, and he said, “It doesn’t make any sense to me why you haven’t blown up! I just don’t get it!” and I explained the music industry to him (such that you can in three minutes), and the last thing I said was that no huge publication had ever written about us, no Rolling Stone article, no Pitchfork, that everywhere we’ve gotten is because of the support of smaller publications and just word of mouth grass roots stuff. Later that night, I heard him talking to his friends through the wall of the green room, and he was saying, “we’ve gotta start a magazine so we can make Geographer huge.” And that really made me smile, because it can be hard to wait around for your moment, for your chance, and I just found it very heartwarming that our fans are waiting right there with us.

Interesting fact about your newest release.
I’m Ready” was the last song I wrote that made it onto Ghost Modern. We were about to start recording, I think we were about two weeks out, and came home one day and picked up my toy synthesizer that I do a lot of writing on, and it just poured out. I told my girlfriend, “I’m gonna be in here for a while,” meaning my bedroom, and I recorded the whole song (in demo form) right there. I added the string parts the next day, but there it was, the whole song. That’s rare for me. Hadn’t actually happened since “Kites.” And I knew I had something special, but I was still nervous to send it to my manager, cause I wanted him to be as enthusiastic as I was, you know. I wanted it to make the cut, it was pretty late in the game to add a whole new song. He wrote me back a little while later, “We’ve got our single,” and we recorded it a few weeks later.

Xperience you will never forget.
Stepping up on the crowd barrier at Outside Lands in 2012, looking into the eyes of the person in front of me and then launching myself into that crowd of almost 20,000 people. That was my first crowd surf. I don’t usually give up control in my life, and it was a downright ecstatic feeling to give myself over to those people. Oddly peaceful and gentle. But my God! How many people get to be lifted on thousands of people’s fingers? I’ve never felt so connected to strangers. Crowd surfing should be a form of therapy.

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