Monday, February 23, 2009

An Interview with Deerhunter Drummer Moses Archuleta

Moses Archuleta plays drums for Deerhunter, a band he co-founded with Bradford Cox in 2001. I had the opportunity to speak with him before the band opens Noise Pop with their Tuesday evening show at the Mezzanine. I’d previously spoken with Bradford on the eve of the release of their second LP, Cryptograms (Kranky, 2007), and like much of the music-press-reading public, have been tracking his band’s rise, which seems like a model for a certain kind of meteoric-but-credible indie success in the late zeroes. Bradford’s relationship to media coverage and his once-prolific blogging were a relatable kind of public nakedness that probably also took a mental toll. It also shifted some attention away from the band’s other, less-vocal members. I took the opportunity to speak with Moses over the phone from his bedroom in Atlanta to digress from an album about which a lot has already been written.

BB: So how did your chores go yesterday?

MA: They went OK, then I ended up doing some Mardi Gras stuff in the evening, but my phone died and I never made it back home cos I was carpooling.

BB: What was the Mardi Gras thing?

MA: It was just a get-together at a friend’s house. We had some drinks and made some jambalaya and they had a little fire out back. It was really pleasant.

BB: You’re in Atlanta, right?

MA: Yeah, some of the friends are people from New Orleans who ended up moving out here.

BB: Has there been a migration of people from New Orleans to Atlanta post-Hurricane Katrina?

MA: I don’t know anyone specifically who came over for that reason. I know people who moved here before or were back and forth when they were younger. I guess there’s some kind of connection between the two cities.

BB: Are you coming out to San Francisco just to do Noise Pop, or is it part of a bigger tour?
MA: No, we’re just coming out to do Noise Pop.

BB: I’m not sure if it was a Noise Pop show, but I saw you guys play around two years ago at this venue that’s no longer around called 12 Galaxies.

MA: We’ve never played Noise Pop before — the 12 Galaxies show was actually part of our first full US tour, right after Cryptograms came out, and we were with The Ponys.

BB: I remember meeting you briefly after the show — I had written this profile for Dusted and came back to meet Bradford, who was the only person from the band that I’d interviewed.

MA: I remember that being a really good show, but that was a pretty bad night. I think that might be the only time I’ve ever not been able to load-out for a show.

BB: Because you got stoned?

MA: I was already drunk, and someone had something from Canada. I don’t really smoke very much. I will, if it’s social or whatever — I seriously took one puff and it was way, way stronger than anything I’d ever smoked before. I’m already kind of a lightweight anyways, and that put me over the top. I definitely remember the show being really fun though, prior to that. I remember it being a weird/interesting venue because it had that balcony that went all the way around, which must have been a strange view for some people.

BB: That’s interesting — the only other venue I’ve seen you guys play is the Great American Music Hall, which has a similar thing going on.

MA: At 12 Galaxies, it’s like people are looking over you, almost. Strange but pretty unique for a venue. Why’d that place close?

BB: I think there were some financial problems and maybe a lack of interest? It seemed to exist in this middle place that maybe isn’t as tenable as it was a couple years ago. Like, it seemed too big for the bands that the Hemlock books, but too small to compete with Great American or The Independent. But about the 12 Galaxies show, I recall being impressed with your outfit. I think you’re the best dressed of Deerhunter’s members, and I remember you wearing some busted jeans, an oversized tie-dye t-shirt, and moccasins before they got big with college girls. Do you have a favorite place to shop in Atlanta, or on tour?

MA: It’s mainly thrift stores, and beyond that there’s a place in New York that I like a lot but can’t afford called Opening Ceremony. I think there’s one in LA, too. There’s also this weird Japanese store, kind of like IKEA, called Muji, in New York. They sell house wares but have a few clothing items, and they’re actually really cool, among the dishtowels and DIY bed frames and stuff like that. It’s pretty random. Clothes are weird to me — I kind of get into patterns with them. With that tour, what you saw me wearing, I had probably been more or less wearing for a week. I’m a pretty clean person, so I’m not just wearing the same outfit ‘cause it’s the only thing I have. I get into certain moods where I’ll just want to wear one thing. Especially with jeans, because I have a hard time finding a pair I like. Same thing with shoes. It’s just like I need a new shirt.

BB: Like modular fashion.

MA: That shirt’s cool, I got it from Kristen actually, our tour manager at the time. It’s a tie-die shirt with an ankh dyed in the middle. I don’t shop for clothes very often — I’m not a good shopper, mood-wise. Shopping is usually pretty stressful for me. I either go all-in or nothing. It’s a lot of digging, I’m a lot less in the mood for it than some of the people I know. Bradford could probably go thrifting at the drop of a hat.

BB: I read on Stereogum’s “Quit Your Day Job” series that you used to work at American Apparel. Do you still have that job?

MA: I don’t work there anymore — I’m too busy with other stuff. In a practical sense, I would like one. I tried getting a job a few months ago and had to quit because I realized it wasn’t going to work, that I was in over my head with it. It just doesn’t balance out so well.

BB: Where else had you worked before Deerhunter took off?

MA: I worked at this 24-hour diner in Atlanta called The Majestic, which is where I first met [former Deerhunter guitar player] Colin [Mee]. I worked at a pizza place before that as a dishwasher, at a second-hand clothing store called Clothing Warehouse for seasonal work, at a United Artists theatre, at Pier 1 Imports, at Wendy’s, and this local coffee shop and ice cream place for a long time too.

BB: I remember you mentioning you would listen to Current 93 and Sleep while working.

MA: Yeah, you can listen to whatever you want in the stockroom. The guy I used to work with is this really awesome dude named Brian, and he’s still there. I got really fucking lucky to end up in the back with someone who had really good taste in music.

BB: Are you a metal fan? I just ran across this mixtape you made for Nylon that got me thinking about that.

MA: A little bit, yeah. A true metalhead would probably call me a “Nigel hipster.”

BB: What’s that?

MA: I don’t know if this is where the term was coined, but I was at a show in Brooklyn where Sunn 0))), Growing, and Nachtmystium played. When Nachtmystium were on stage, they kept calling out people in the audience, and there was one kid they singled out by calling him a “Nigel hipster.” It’s someone who doesn’t listen to metal seriously or who listens or ironic reasons. I have an appreciation for some parts of metal more than the whole, personally. I appreciate how hard metal bands try — by and large you’re not going to find a half-assed metal band. They usually have a unified aesthetic. Sonically, I appreciate what they tinker with, too. But it can be a little fatiguing.

BB: I find myself thinking about Current 93 in the same way.

MA: That David Tibet stuff, you can tell he cares about every aspect of his output. It’s not always time to listen to it, though. I love Swans, but I can’t listen to them day in, day out. We’re on Kranky, and a lot of the label’s records are pretty mercurial or ambient. When it comes to music like that, a lot of how you approach it comes from the details: song titles, artwork, things like that. They become heightened because of the kind of music.

BB: One thing that seemed to happen with Microcastle (Kranky, 2008) is that a lot of the ambient stuff on Cryptograms seemed to evaporate or flow into Atlas Sound.

MA: I’m not sure what happened, exactly, with that. I feel like I was, especially with Cryptograms, the one really pushing for soundscape and ambient efforts. I love tinkering with electronic things, getting certain sounds. I think what you’re talking about might be coincidental since the Atlas Sound record was a focused effort for Bradford, but maybe since we worked on Microcastle so soon after Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky, 2008), that side was toned down. Any ambient things that did happen on Microcastle happened during mixing, in contrast to Cryptograms, where those things were sourced from the band.

BB: Do you have any solo stuff?

MA: No. It’s not like I haven’t had opportunities to do it, but it isn’t as natural for me as it is for Lockett or Bradford, who have been recording themselves since high school. I’d need to decide pretty pointedly that that’s what I wanted to do before doing it.

BB: One thing I’ve wanted to ask you is about your ethnic background.

MA: I’m one-half Korean and one-half…I guess the best I could say is “Hispanic,” it’s mixed up. I don’t know the genealogy of my family that great, especially my dad’s side.

BB: Do you identify with one side over the other?

MA: Probably the Korean side, my mom’s side. But I’d be remiss to say that they don’t both have their own way of playing into things. Plus, I think I look more Asian than the other way around, though that could be a perception thing.

BB: Did you grow up in Atlanta?

MA: No, I was an army brat, so I grew up all over the place. Never in the city, always small towns and suburbs. This is the first time I’ve lived in the city.

BB: Did you move to Atlanta of your own volition, or did your family move?

MA: I moved on my own. It was the closest place to where I was living at the time, in Gainesville.

BB: I also wanted to ask you about the on-stage fight between you and Bradford at the show you played at the Great American Music Hall in the winter. From where I was watching, it seemed like a mic or delay pedal broke and Bradford kind of went off.

MA: It was just a misunderstanding between him and I — a drumstick of mine broke and when I discarded it, it hit him in the back. On stage, in the middle of trying to play a show is not the best time to try to hash out those details, so we ended up both getting upset at each other.

BB: I think I was also primed to assume Bradford was flying off the handle just because of the nature of the press he’s gotten, which paints him as a drama queen or temperamental performer.

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