Interview: Darwin Deez

Darwin Deez plays the Academy 2 in Dublin tonight, and played Cork last night.  So in honour of his visit, here’s a recent interview I did with him for the Evening Echo.  Nope, I didn’t ask about his hair…

The Evolution of Darwin Deez

By Aoife Barry

WHAT would music be without Darwin Deez, the New York City-based, mop-haired, skinny-jean-wearing, pop-music-analyzing quirky indie kid? Trust me, it would be very boring indeed.

Since he brought his neon-bright guitar-based pop to the world’s ears just one year ago, he has been an instant hit thanks to his honest lyrics and unique take on the love song. His self-titled debut album spawned singles like ‘Radar Detector’, a paean to the latest lady in his life – which had a wonderfully inventive video, complete with funky dance sequence.

When we speak, he is on a rare day off, ambling around Norwich with his band mates. Just a few days earlier, he had been laid up with a sore throat, unable to do our interview. Then, his bandmate, bassist Andrew Hoepfner, had stepped in to speak to the Evening Echo about how the tour was going. The band – who will play at Cyprus Avenue on Monday 8 November – were midway through a tour of England.

Darwin Deez (born Darwin Smith) played with Andrew in Creaky Boards, a band which enjoyed modest success on the US indie circuit. It wasn’t until Darwin went solo that things started to really go well for him. Now, the entire band are reaping the rewards of his success. “It’s really wild sometimes, especially to be the one someone is asking for an autograph or a picture. Sometimes I feel it’s a version of playing house. Sometimes when I meet the crowd after a show it’s like I’m playing a game,” said a clearly happy but bemused Andrew.

When I chat to Darwin three days later, he too is intrigued by his own success. Things have gotten so mad at his live shows that he has had to ask fans not to take photos with him when he’s signing their records. “It’s been a great year, it’s been an incredible dream come true year,” said Darwin, before recounting a peculiar memory. “I remember last year, at one point I was cuddling with my girlfriend in bed and I was like ‘I just want to tour for like 6 months and not stop’. And she was like ‘wow, but wouldn’t you miss me?’ And I said yeah I would…but now we’re broken up and we’ve been on tour six months.” He pauses to collect his thoughts. “Life is bittersweet but it’s been great, it’s been so good that I start to worry that maybe I don’t know how to further it.”

Indeed, one thing that worries him is his place in the indie pop world – and he has quite a self-deprecating attitude. “People look to me now and they say, oh he can do it, he can write, he’s good, but I’m not,” he sighs. “Actually, I sit down and I write the same crap that the Jonas Brothers would write…it’s just a matter of putting another filter on it.”

Then he gets a little philosophical. “According to Nietzsche’s theory of aesthetics there are two ruling principals as far as creativity or art goes. One of them is symbolised in the Greek God Dionysus – passion, overflowing cups of wine; that theory is intensity. And the other one is governed by the God Apollo which is rules and rhyme schemes and a calculated approach,” he says breathlessly. “So you gotta have both in order to have great art. But when I just go for the outpouring, the overflowing emotion, it’s just crap the same way its crap for anything else. But if you go too far on Apollo it’s lifeless – like Katy Perry working in a room with five producers.”

So for Darwin Deez, it’s all a matter of balance. He says he gets bored easily, and that “creating something does drastically change the way I feel about myself”. “If I’m in the middle of creating something I’m really content. But if I’m not I’m a pain,” he admits, saying that he has been writing songs and making electronic music since he was 11.
These days, it’s all about pop for him. “I’m after the holy grail of pop composition; I’m trying to give that to people because I think that’s what they want.” His favourite music is pop music – everything from Cheryl Cole to Kylie Minogue. “I like to study that stuff, I like to critique them in my head.”

Darwin is currently working on his second album. “Lyrics have been rolling around in my head, I’m even writing some silly rap songs for fun to keep juices flowing,” he smiles. He may even work with a new producer.  But whether he records his second album at home in his bedroom again, or works in a top studio, one thing is clear: he’s still going to aim for the top. “I really wanna blow it out of the water – I want to go Thriller,” he pronounces.  No small dream for a man with big ideas.

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