Progress Report: Elusive Montreal electronic artist d’Eon opens up about his debut, LP.
Montreal based composer/producer/professional weirdster Chris d’Eon has been gently blowing minds for a couple of years now with his sanguine electronic creations, though he didn’t fully appear on most people’s radar until Darkbloom — his split EP with Grimes — came out last year. Having released two fantastic and somewhat flummoxing mixtapes earlier this year– Music For Keyboards and Music For Keyboards, Volume 2 (the latter being a series of variations on Blink 182’s “What’s My Name Again?”) — d’Eon will release his first proper full-length, the aptly-titled LP, next month. As d’Eon himself is quick to point out, it would be a misnomer to call his new record “alternative R&B,” (and please feel free to punch in the face anyone throwing that term around) but it is not entirely off the mark. Like his previous records, LP is a weird amalgam of various electronic styles and textures, all of which are wrapped around his own breathy vocals. And while there is still something impossibly new-age-art-school about d’Eon’s work — LP is a kind of electronic devotional concerned with exploring matters of faith and, more specifically, creating a narrative about the angel Gabriel — the freaky ambition of his music is something to be admired. This is not dance music to make you move, but music created to move you.
STEREOGUM: Where was the bulk of LP recorded?
d’Eon: The LP was recorded all in my bedroom and my girlfriend’s bedroom. I use midi trackers on a laptop –- pretty much all done on a laptop. Some people ask me what kind of gear I use but really it’s just all keyboards and MIDI.
STEREOGUM: That’s cool. Has your way of working changed radically since you’ve started?
d’Eon: Thinking about the new LP compared to the other two records that Hippos In Tanks put out … I think the process is pretty much the same. It’s mostly DX7 patches and drum machine samples. It’s pretty much the same process all done on a MIDI tracker but on the new LP there are a lot more notes and a lot more parts.
STEREOGUM: It seems to me listening to this record — particularly in comparison to the last one — one can really hear your voice more. The singing seems a lot more confident somehow.
d’Eon: I can see that. I think on the last record I was more … well, on the splits with Grimes I think we were more trying to sound like each other. She was trying to make her d’Eon tracks and I was trying to make my Grimes tracks, so I feel like the vocals came off really girly in the split. Whereas on the LP, the lyrics are a little more frustrated so the there is little more graviliness in the voice and shit. But also I auto-tuned my voice too, which I had never done before. And started using a little more harmony and vocal layers.
STEREOGUM: You have a really good voice. You get a much stronger sense of it on this record than on the previous ones.
d’Eon: Oh, thanks a lot! I’m glad it comes off that way.
STEREOGUM: How long did it take to make the record? When did you start?
d’Eon: I started pretty much right when the split with Grimes got released. So I guess I started about one year ago … probably the end of April or the beginning of last May? So, yeah a little less than a year ago. I started writing the songs and figuring out what I wanted the songs to sound like and be like … and then it went until February and then I was mixing and mastering and stuff so yeah it took about 10 months.
STEREOGUM: Were you performing a lot during that time?
d’Eon: I went to South by Southwest, which was totally fun. And definitely worth it but I’ve been taking a break from live shows now for a lot of reasons but the main reason being is that I lost a lot of my gear in Austin.
STEREOGUM: Oh really? It got stolen?
d’Eon: I don’t know. I left it somewhere or it got stolen it sort of just disappeared. But I don’t know … none of the gear was really that expensive so it was no huge tragedy but it sort of forced me into thinking about a new live setup because before I’d lost all my gear my live set was mostly done using sampled loops of my own tracks. Just sampled and imported into a sampler. And it felt like, it was really fun to play that stuff on a sampler and play keyboard over beats running on a sampler but on the other hand it felt like it was just sort of trying to create some sort of ad hoc live set out of music that wasn’t really meant to be played live. So, I’m sort of taking a break now and trying to figure out how I can get a live set that makes more sense for the music that isn’t sort of secondary and put together just for the sake of being able to play it live.
STEREOGUM: That’s an interesting puzzle to try and figure out. Especially with the kind of music that you make. Because I could see a scenario where you have live musicians playing along to samples -– it could become really complicated.
d’Eon: Big time!
STEREOGUM: But sometimes that sort of thing can be -– well, I don’t know, losing all your shit can be a bummer no matter what, but it can be kind of interesting. My friend that is a DJ got her computer and all her music stolen and she was devastated, but she said to her it was kind of like a forest fire. Everything burned down, but it made way for new things — new music.
d’Eon: Big time. I agree it is like a cleansing fire. Even before I had lost my gear I had started to become burnt out and dissatisfied with the live set. So it was really the universe telling me I needed to do something different and definitely have a more keyboard oriented live set. After I lost my gear I had some more shows to play at South by Southwest and ended up playing just keyboard. No vocals or beats. Just straight up keyboard music. I want to be able to play the songs themselves live. But, as a live performer I am not really primarily a singer, I’m primarily a keyboard player. So that should definitely be more of the live set.
STEREOGUM: A lot of people may not know that you have been doing this for a while. Do you feel like the longer you do this you have grown more comfortable as a performer or has that always come easy to you?
d’Eon: Interesting. It kind of goes up and down for me in terms of being comfortable performing. When I was doing the material live last year for the Grimes split EP, I was actually a lot less comfortable doing that material than I was before from the first record because I think the first record the beats were simpler. I don’t play those songs anymore, but people would really get down to it. A few of the Darkbloom tracks –- you know, the tempo is weird and it’s oddly syncopated so it’s not quite intuitive to dance to. So I definitely had more confidence playing my earlier material than the Dark Bloom material. Now, I don’t know i’m sort of in a phase where I don’t really know exactly what I want to do. In terms of playing the keyboard I feel completely comfortable, but in terms of … well there are a couple of similar artists around like, Pictureplane, I’ve seen him live a couple of times and he hypnotizes the crowd and 300 18-to-22 year old girls just want to fuck him at all times and I’m really jealous of that kind of charisma. We’re the same age but I feel like an old man whenever I see his live set. I can’t tap into that part of me to hype shit up. I am jealous of people that are confident being a performer and confident being sexy on stage and can have pictures of themselves taken comfortably. I really admire people that can do that because I can play keyboard and that’s about it, in terms of talents. I mean you know, I’m sure I could figure out how to get a crowd going with the right music. But, I’ve never quite been someone who can incite a party.
STEREOGUM: Did you always know you would end up doing music?
d’Eon: I think so. When I was a little kid I told my parents that I wanted to play the keyboard and I took some piano lessons. We didn’t really have the money for a real piano so I learned how to play the piano on a keyboard. At the age of 4 my parents bought me a keyboard for Christmas. And I told them I few years later I wanted to be a musician, I wanted to be a composer. I never wanted to make pop music or dance music or anything like that. I always thought I would make proper, chamber music and academic music. I knew that I was going to be a musician and I think I was six or seven and I told them this and they said “OK, but you have to realize you aren’t going to have any money” and I said, “OK, that’s totally cool I’ll just do it and then some day I’ll make some money off of it” and so I’m still just banking off, OK, maybe some day! But yeah I totally knew from when I was a kid.
STEREOGUM: The new record really does pull in influences from a lot of different kinds of music. From R&B to dance music to what people would say –- and I don’t mean it in a bad way — but weird new age ambient music. Are people generally confounded by it?
d’Eon: The only people that have heard it so far are people that would have already been interested in hearing it. So, I’ve gotten lots of really astoundingly positive feedback from people me or my label have sent it to so far. But yeah I certainly expect a little … well like you said people being confounded. But just judging by the reaction from the Grimes split and also from my live set after that … who knows. I remember I played a couple industry showcases in Montreal and I was playing with a whole bunch of really good acts from Montreal and most of them were pretty easy to listen to – it was indie rock or it was rap or it was dance music. I played with a couple of indie rock bands and basically it was a bunch of music industry executives and the vibe in the room was that people were loving these indie rock bands –- the bands were doing a really good job –- and then I went on and everybody was like “What the fuck is this guy doing? Who is this long haired fuckface with a keyboard singing like a weirdo and playing all this weird shit you cant really dance to?” And I distinctly remember after my set it was like, the awkward silence, where nobody applauded and everybody was just kind of like “Oh, OK.” I mean, it’s totally cool, it is to be expected if you are going to go off the deep end sometimes. And it’s to be expected if you are going to look like an idiot. But I especially feel like this record is not super straight up –- none of these songs are a straight up jam that is a pop jam or dance jam. It is a little esoteric. The free music — the mixtapes — is a little more immediate whereas this LP was a lot more meticulous. it’s a lot more of like a prog album than a dance or R&B album … you know, people that really like Yes or Peter Gabriel-era Genesis will like this album because its like 75 minutes long and all the songs are 6, 7, or 8 minutes. I can definitely see what people will like and also not like in it.
STEREOGUM: Well, I think its cool because I am personally a big fan of what I think of as good headphone records. The pacing of the record has a deliberateness to it -– It’s really not meant to be thrown on as the back drop of a dance party. The pacing of it makes you consider what is going on in the song. Its not about being hit over the head with a beat.
d’Eon: I’m really glad you thought of it that way because that’s totally how I think about it too.
STEREOGUM: It’s an interesting time right now -– thinking about the success of someone like Grimes, who does make songs that are maybe more straight up dance-friendy, but is still kind of bizarre. It is refreshing to see people embracing stuff on a larger scale now that even a couple years ago would be too fringy and weird.
d’Eon: Oh yeah, big time. I totally agree. I was talking to a friend of mine, I think I was saying this to Claire (Grimes) that if either of us had put our music out in say, 2005 or even 2007 we would have been laughed the fuck out of the town. We wouldn’t have gotten any kind of record deals we wouldn’t have gotten the booking agent, we wouldn’t have gotten anything. You know, the way people looked at Ariel Pink, like he was a fucking idiot 10, 15 years ago. It’s interesting to see what people think is acceptable. But I do feel really scared of … how am I going to put it … I don’t want to be married at all to this sort of vague “alternative R&B” idea. Because I feel like there is a lot of really good music being pegged as alternative R&B but sometimes it doesn’t seem fair to actual R&B to call it that. It’s almost an insult to R&B to call my music R&B and I feel like if I still keep making songs like, for example, “Transparency” then in two years, again, I’m going to look like a moron. All kinds of music get burnt out and chewed up and spit out, so I’m very concerned about not having to make that kind of music forever –- this is probably going to be the poppiest album I’ll do. Everything else I’ve been working on is even a little more strange.
STEREOGUM: Well, I think most artists that are able to honestly follow their natural creative impulses, even a couple years later, they are generally on to doing something different.
d’Eon: Oh yeah, exactly.
STEREOGUM: I know Stereogum got a lot of response to posting your two mixtapes. For the second one, Music For Keyboards Volume 2 what was the genesis for how that came to be, the variations on that “What’s My Age Again?” song?
d’Eon: It’s interesting. I started a few months ago, took three weeks to a month to do all the variations. It started off and I was doing a couple of tracks that didn’t make it on to the mixtape itself but I did maybe two or three tracks with that keyboard patch and all the tracks were in F and I wanted to do a mixtape that was all in the same key and used the same vague chord progression. When I improvise on keyboard I’m really drawn to certain chord form, like, I’ll play … if something is in F Major, then my mind and my fingers like to automatically go toward … you know if I’m playing F Major on the right hand ill play in D flat on the left hand, and when I was improvising in that way it sounded a lot like “What’s My Age Again?” because you know the first three notes of “What’s My Age Again?” are B flat and then F and A. That’s really my favorite chord. I just started playing it on keyboard and I realized well … that song “What’s My Age Again?” really is one of my favorite songs. I remember years ago listening to it over and over and over again. Every note is just put in its right place in that song. The chord progressions and they way they sing over them –- the harmonies and the bridge — it’s just kind of perfect. And I thought well if I’m going to do this keyboard track in sort of the same chord structure as this song I might as well do it a bunch of times and look at all of the combinations of notes on a macro level. I’ll have one track that is an improvisation on the chorus, the fourth variation. And then the next one is a variation on the verse (sings) B flat, F, C, D, E. And then three is a whole bunch of other shit in the middle. And when I had started it there was never a point where I was like, “OK, I’m going to cover Blink 182 and I’m going to get a bunch of attention and its gonna be awesome!” Anybody I told –- I wouldn’t really tell people it was Blink 182 because I was worried that people would think it was a joke. And when we (me and Hippos In Tanks) decided to put it out I’m really happy that people didn’t take it as a joke. Because it would have been so easy that have that totally decimate any legitimacy I might have in certain people’s eyes. But I think that people who have written about it on the internet have all basically said “This sounds ridiculous but it’s pretty good” so I’m grateful that people like it and don’t think it’s a stupid joke. I’m sure there are lots of people that do, but also lots of people that don’t.
STEREOGUM: Like so many things, in theory it sounds funny in an ironic way, but then when you hear it it’s not at all.
d’Eon And to me, that song is already funny and tongue-in-cheek, so there is really no reason to make some sort of tongue-in-cheek post-modern take on a tongue-in-cheek song. If you are going to do that you might as well just make it super serious. Taking something that was lighthearted and meant to be listened to in jest — with a video with naked guys running around … OK, let’s get into something super super straight-faced and super serious.
STEREOGUM: Do you anticipate putting out more of these mixtape type things?
d’Eon: I have one mixtape that is going to drop soon –- I’m not sure when or how but probably within the next couple months. There is one mixtape that I finished that is not keyboard music … it’s almost jazz? It’s drum machine and keyboards that are being played but don’t have a set time signature … you know a steady tempo but not a 4/4 beat or any sort of repetitive beat it’s a little bit more free form. And hopefully I’ll do another couple of keyboard mixtapes as well throughout the year. I think it’s a good outlet just to do something really quick and make music on a keyboard without having to worry about mixing and mastering, since the album was just so fucking stressful to do and it just took so long to do. So, the keyboard stuff is so refreshing to do. I’m going to just press record and play for five minutes and then when I stop its done. The song is done.
STEREOGUM: There is something really liberating about that.
d’Eon: For sure!
STEREOGUM: Do you have a sense of what the rest of this year will be for like you? Are you in the process of figuring out your touring situation?
d’Eo:n I think that there are sort of murmurs of a tour in the fall. So, that will definitely give me time to get a really solid live set together. I have confidence that I will be able to put something really good together by September or October. But, I think the real emphasis will be on making music. I’d like to keep putting out these mixtapes, see how well the LP does and go from there. My plan last year for this year was to put out a whole bunch of free mixtapes and the record and I’ve really done that and I’m going from there. Seeing if the record allows me to have a real music career or if I’m going to have to get another job.
STEREOGUM: Well I hope you don’t have to get another job. I think the record is really great and I love the mixtapes.
d’Eon: Oh, thanks a lot! I’m so glad that you dig it and that other people do. I feel really grateful.
LP is out 6/5 on Hippos In Tanks.