INTERVIEW: Geographer's Mike Deni on His Dreamy, Inventive Brand of Synth-Pop
    • THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2017

    • Posted by: Jake Holzman

    When you listen to Geographer's music, the first thing that will hit you is how richly produced and lavish everything sounds. It's no wonder why the most commonly-used adjective for their music is "dreamy." The instrumentation is enough to carry you off into space, but what really keeps everything grounded in reality is the songwriting of frontman Mike Deni. His lyrics are so descriptively personal that they read like the intimate diary entries of somebody who's not only experienced everything there is to experience in love and heartbreak, but also knows exactly how to dissect those complex emotions with wisdom, insight, and honesty until there's no detail left unsaid.

    I recently had the opportunity to ask Mike Deni some questions about his songwriting and recording process, and his answers were interesting to say the least. Check out my full interview with him below, and be sure to look out for Geographer's upcoming Alone Time EP, which comes out this fall.

    JAKE HOLZMAN: The chorus to your new song, "Read My Mind," has this really striking line in it: "If you could read my mind, you'd be happy all the time." It really captures the difficulty of being unable to express yourself when you're in a relationship. Does songwriting, for you personally, help you express emotions that you might have difficulty expressing otherwise?

    MIKE DENI: Absolutely. When I'm faced with an insurmountable problem I always turn to music. When there's nothing I can do, and I just have to sit with a horrible feeling or truth, I can't stand to feel that way, so I'll sit at the piano or start making a track. And that allows me to send the emotion somewhere. It makes it easier to bear, to have done something with it, to have manipulated it in some way, rather than just deal with it.

    JH: Your songs sound like these really well-thought-out electronic pop compositions, but the lyrics seem to be equally important. What comes first for you, the music or the words?

    MD: For these songs it often came at the same time. I would have an idea in my head that would be an entire chorus, and then I would build the song around that. So I would flesh out a little of the music, then work on the lyrics as I went along. Sometimes though I would mostly finish the music and then sit and think about the lyrics or take a walk and then come back. The lyrics always take a very long time to finalize. A single wrong word can ruin a whole song, and it's very important to me to get them right and real. The shower is my secret weapon. For some reason I write from the subconscious very easily in the shower.

    JH: One of the most striking characteristics of your music is how you mix organic instrumentation with electronic sounds, especially through those gorgeous string arrangements. "Patience," from the album Ghost Modern, and the song "Kites" are perfect examples of that. Do you think those more organic elements help to keep your songs grounded, so that they don't veer off in a direction that is purely electronic and synth-based?

    MD: I do love to humanize my music. Most of my favorite albums are folk albums or 70s rock albums, but the sounds I'm excited by are very modern and electronic. For Ghost Modern I was noticeably obsessed with writing string sections, but I try very hard to make the arrangement suit what the song requires to fully make its point and blow the roof off, whether it's with a gentle breeze or an explosion. It's kind of like dressing up for different occasions while maintaining your own personal style. Sometimes it's black tie, sometimes it's board shorts. Actually, it's never board shorts. But you know what I mean.

    JH: Since your new EP, Alone Time, will be your follow-up to 2015's Ghost Modern, how do you think you've changed as an artist since then?

    MD: I spent that entire 2 year period writing and recording, pushing myself to do things I'd never been able to do before, to see where I could take my music. And I went pretty far out there before I landed the spaceship on these 5 songs. So this EP is the result of that journey. And all the while I was going on tours, writing with other people for their projects. So I was more steeped in music than I ever had been. I became incredibly focused after Ghost Modern. And I wrote over 100 songs, which essentially doubled my output as a songwriter up to that point. But it took going everywhere possible to find out the place I really wanted to take my music. This is also the most solo album I've ever made. I only used a few session musicians. It was mostly me alone in my bedroom, which is how it started out, and then me alone with my producer to finish the songs off.

    JH: Your music is often described as being very "dreamy," and it's a really accurate description. When you're recording a song, is that something you shoot for, or does it just come out that way naturally?

    MD: I think it just ends up that way. I never attempt to make a dreamy song. All I focus on is the song being impactful. I just work it until it feels right in my gut, because I want my songs to feel as large as the feelings that create them. It's guess work most of the time. Then sometimes research comes in handy. But mostly it's throwing things at the wall til something sticks. But I think my melancholic nature contributes to that dreamy sound. I'm a dreamer, after all. I live in my head. My triumphs happen there and my losses, for the most part, are the same way.

    JH: Your cover of Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting" was so awesome! Has her music had a big influence on you?

    MD: I came to her relatively late, and then I became obsessed. I haven't listened to her for a long time but while I did, I consumed enough for a lifetime. That's what I tend to do. I'll go through musical obsession phases where It's like I'm getting a PHD in Kate Bush or Bruce Springsteen. I got my bachelors degree in Radiohead, and I went to Paul Simon summer school. Kate Bush's arrangements and song structures amazed and baffled me. She is a 100% badass and so unique.

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