In 2017, David Longstreth released an album heavy with heartbreak. He’d been going through a rough period. The self-titled record emerged alongside details that Dirty Projectors collaborator and former lover, Amber Coffman, had exited – or was ejected from — the band. It was the kind of narrative media and fans savour. A tortured artist channelling raw and vulnerable emotion. A damaged soul striving toward creative peak.
The album was heart-wrenched, sure. It carried plenty of emotional gore. So much in fact, that David quietly refused to tour. But It wasn’t strictly all the record, or the Dirty Projectors for that matter, are about.
But let’s not sit her dissecting the past for too long. Dave’s gloomy moment hasn’t lingered long. Lamp Lit Prose follows on surprisingly fast, alive with brighter contrast.
His sharp and literate lyricism returns. Word-drunk on the giddy joy of self-discovery, Lamp Lit feels like another high. In a matter of seconds, Longstreth is back to speed and sliding between high class love in Middle-Earth to the irreducible cool of Julian Casablancas. It’s a long-player unbound by possibility.
Lamp Lit is a new chapter of the project’s narrative, Longstreth confirms. Having escaped the confines of New York he’s currently spending most of his time in his spacious LA studio. There’s an impression that he views life as a recordist as a true calling. But Dirty lovers should not despair. Dave’s discovered a newfound passion for bringing it all together live and is currently touring throughout the USA.
They may just make a hard tourin’ musician out of him yet. No word on returning Down Under however. But the tone of his voice would suggest it’s not altogether out of the equation. A fan could only hope.
Music Feeds: I’d like to start off with a question about a song from the new album ‘Break-Thru’ which I think has two of my favourite lyrics. The first one is: “Just hanging out all Julian Casablancas”. Can you tell me a little about what was running through your head when you threw that one in there?
David Longstreth: [Chuckles] Um. Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s funny… in the time between when you write a lyric, you record it and when it comes out. Anything can happen you know? There’s been a bunch of Julian Casablancas-related happenings since that lyric.
For me it’s just – you know, Julian has an enthusiasm. He has a kind of a just irreducible coolness that seemed like an appropriate comparison for me in the moment. I didn’t think much about it. I just thought, “Yeah. That’s Julian Casablancas!”
MF: Do you think there’s a kind of subconscious nostalgia in those words? I mean, you have The Arctic Monkeys talking about The Strokes on their new record as well. Are we hitting into a period where people are collectively looking back nostalgically to the early 2000s?
DL: [Laughs] I think I would almost go the other way with it! Obviously, I like that Strokes music from that time. But I think Julian is cool now because he does what he wants to do! I love the new Voidz record [Virtue]. I just think he’s taking it forward without nostalgia and without apology. And like, that is cool.
MF: ‘Beak-Thru’ has this second lyric in there too. “She’s Middle-earth highbrow.” Explain yourself!
DL: [Laughs] I mean, I don’t know. We’re getting to the territory of not really illuminating the text or anything like that. The lyrics says it better than any different combination of words would you know? It’s describing a person.
MF: Are you still based in LA?
DL: I am, yeah. I live in Los Angeles.
MF: Well the reason I ask is that Lamp Lit Prose feels kind of at ease. As if you’ve absorbed some of that classic El-Lay vibe…
DL: I can see it, I can see it. You know for me, the palpable way that LA has influenced me and maybe rubbed off a bit on this album is just having the space to make a studio. It’s just been massive for me, being able to have a place to go every day and just work on stuff. It really got me into a great sort of slow momentum.
I was never going to tour the self-titled record. I didn’t want to do that. When I finished the self-titled I just started making, going to work every day in the studio. Making songs and starting to work out arrangements and recording. So it has this sense of momentum or energy of inspiration. I guess with this record, this period, I have to give proper due to LA for that.
MF: Were you surprised that Lamp Lit did follow on so quickly from your last record? It’s only been only a matter of months really…
DL: It was! Yeah, it was. It’s just like the product of a lot of work. A lot of discovery. Ideas music and yeah just inspiration. It feels good!
MF: There’s a heap of collaborations on the new record. Is there single moment which stood out for you above the rest?
DL: It all came together a little bit by bit. But I think when Lorley [Rodriguez], Empress Of , came and we were recording the various vocal parts. As soon as she laid the third part harmony on top of what she was doing in ‘Zombie Conqueror’ I was like, “Oh yeah!! That is awesome!”
MF: Of all your Brooklyn and New York contemporaries – Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, LCD Soundsytem and so on — it feels like the Dirty Projectors is a project that’s continued to consolidate its successes. Not to say that these others aren’t still making beautiful records. They are! But is there a secret to the Dirtys’ longevity?
DL: Did you say the Dirty longevity?!
MF: ‘The Dirty’s’. Sorry, I abbreviate band names sometimes for no reason. Have people ever called you that? The Dirtys?
DL: Oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know! [Laughs] That’s a funny coinage. I don’t know what to say about it. I mean yeah, keep your head down and just focus on the music you know? Be unafraid of change. I try not to be too beholden to these notions that I think most artists have internalised about brand identity in a late-capitalist prison-state or are tempted to internalise. It’s difficult not to internalise!
For me it’s to remember that it’s about music. It’s about what excited me at a given moment and record that. That’s something that feels important for me to do.
MF: You’re not exactly an artist beholden genre but I’ll ask this anyway because it’s something a lot of people are talking about. Is rock dead?
DL: Well, I think rock ‘n’ roll has always affected death. So there’s little wonder that we would be preoccupied with whether it’s dead or not. But music is alive! Music is very, very alive. And it doesn’t matter what you call it. For me it’s an immaterial question.
It’s probably some inversion of what Moby said about Thom Yorke. Thom was railing against Spotify. Moby was like, “He’s an old man yelling at fast trains.”
MF: Hah! I remember that.
DL: I feel like it was. You know I think it is people yelling at an invisible, amniotic spirit that moves fast than the speed of light. It’s difficult to apprehend.
No! It’s not dead. There’s more possibility than ever.
MF: This is a bit of a tough one. And don’t answer it if you don’t want to. There was a big narrative of heartbreak hanging around the last record. Do you feel hemmed in by the story that’s been woven around you? Or do you think it’s a valid takeaway?
DL: Well you know it’s the subject of a lot of the music on the self-titled record. And so, I understand people’s preoccupation with that. Did I feel that people ended up focusing on a narrative over the music? A little bit. Did I feel like people got hung up with the more negative parts of the album? I think so, yeah.
I thought of the album as really trying to tell – to have an arc. To try and tell a story which begins in heartbreak and dissolution — those sorts of things — and works its way towards acceptance and forgiveness. To sort of work it’s way through the stations of all those feelings that I think a lot of people can relate to. I think people took away from it what they’re going to. Once the music is out there in the world that’s everyone’s right and place to do so.
As a songwriter it’s tricky. You’re in a sort of vulnerable position. You have to work from what’s in front of you. You have to work with your feelings. So yes, it was a record that I had to make and I’m excited to continue making music and for this new record to be in a different place.
MF: Is Lamp Lit continuing that narrative or is this a whole other story, another book?
DL: It’s another chapter. The writing is a new chapter. The feelings are pretty different. The overall sense of grace and character is uh, very different. Yeah.
MF: I know you said just a moment before that you didn’t have any plans for touring the last album, but I know there are a lot of huge Dirty Projectors fans here in Australia. Do you have any plans of bringing the record Down Under?
DL: Oh man, that’s amazing to hear! I love coming to Australia. I love your cities. I hope we really do get the chance to come on down.
In regards to touring, yeah definitely. We’re actually on tour right now. I’m in Portland Oregon. We’re on a run of West Coast dates right now, I’ve actually been out for three weeks doing other parts of North America.
And like, I’m loving playing shows. I forgot or something how much energy and song there is in playing music for people and bringing songs to different cities. It’s been so awesome. I really hope we come down.
MF: What’s the touring setup like? There’s a lot of brass on the new album! Was it difficult once you recorded it to go, “How are we going to tour this?”
DL: Well it’s always a challenge. You think about arrangements and production without looking at the eventuality of touring. It’s not governing my imagination.
There’s string quartets and brass quintets. A lot of brass. But I feel that the translation that is involved in reinterpreting those arrangements is another invocation of imagination. I tend to get excited about translating studio creations into a live context. Having different things and bringing a different side to the song.
In this case it was using voices, different kind of fuzzed out harmonised guitar, to play a lot of the brass parts. It works pretty good!
MF: I’m almost scared to ask this of someone as sonically adventurous as yourself. But I will anyway. What does the future hold? Where do you think you’ll be going next with your music?
DL: Well you know this album isn’t even out yet! [Laughs] So the immediate future holds probably touring on this record. Again, it’s been like five years since Dirty Projectors have done any touring and live shows.
If I can say the shows are fire on this record. This has been some of my favourite touring! So yeah, I’m looking forward to doing that and I have a lot of other ideas about things to do.
But it’s about hours in the day. The disadvantage of writing, arranging and producing – doing everything yourself – is that you can only move so quickly. For me the challenging has always been just the hours in the day…
Dirty Projectors’ new album ‘Lamp Lit Prose’ is due out on Friday, 13th July.