Mike Deni of Geographer

With a unique reconciliation between live instrumentation and electronic innovation, Mike Deni of Geographer has forged a name for himself in the Bay Area, becoming one of its most prized sources of music culture. If you didn’t know it, Deni actually grew up in New Jersey. After moving to San Francisco in 2007 to find something greater, he subsequently met the synthesizer and companions that enabled him to translate his experiences into sound.

Since then this artist has released albums such as Innocent Ghosts and Myth into the music scene, bringing an eclectic yet relatable account of his own life imprinted into the songs that influenced the development of indie music to this day. With each new release, another complex chapter of his life opens to the community.

On March 24, the chapter known as Ghost Modern will release into the network and you can be sure that it’ll swim right into your radar soon after. This album is the culmination of experience Deni has cultivated and turned into art. This is where we find a new entity altogether, invoking within us a fuller sound capable of embedding its emotional depth cinematically into our own lives. This is Geographer.

The Bay Bridged: You mentioned that you worked on some of the album while along the coast of the Presidio and that it has influenced the production of this album. Do you feel that your music and the Bay are intrinsically connected? How do you think Geographer fits into the developing music culture of the Bay Area? 

Mike Deni (Geographer): I think an artist is inextricably linked to the place in which they make art. That doesn’t mean that a musician in Miami always makes sunny music, but there must be something about the place that informs their music. I made this record in a lot of different neighborhoods, wrote it under very disparate circumstances. Sometimes I was near crackheads, sometimes I was alone near the ocean, sometimes I was cloistered away in a window-less room. All these things swirled together to inform my emotional state and my ability to get the music out of me. But just like using a particular kind of analog mixing board colors the sound of the music you put into it, so too does the Bay Area — equally as subtly — color the tone of the music I write and record.

As far as how the band fits into the music culture here, I think there are a lot of people, yourselves

[The Bay Bridged] included, that have been rooting for us for a long time, and it’s always been my mission to never let you down. I want to make people proud to be from here. To give them something to think of besides Google buses and burritos. One of the many things that drives me when the going gets tough.

TBB: This album comes off as a recognition of the meaninglessness of life and the emptiness that later ensues. Do you feel that the songs in Ghost Modern more so resemble the darker end of this void, or do you feel that they are an indication of your finding meaning in it?

MD: They are definitely not an indication of my finding meaning. But they are walking towards the light. They are finding a different currency than meaning with which to measure a moment, a life. Meaning has let me down. It fades away like dust in your hand in the wind. Humans are hard-wired to find meaning. Our thirst for meaning seems to me to be a vestigial instinct left over from caveman days, when it used to help us survive and grow. Now we’ve hit a ceiling. Most of what our searching calls to mind is more questions, a lack of answers. We’ve gone as far to believe we understand what started the universe. But what was there before that? This kind of thinking excites a lot of people, makes them feel wonder and awe, but for me it just deadens me. I can’t rise above it.

It’s what plagued my mind during the writing of Myth. Ghost Modern says, “So looking for meaning has left you high and dry. Are you just going to give up? What is beyond Not Knowing? Look down at your feet. You’re here, you’re somewhere, you’re something.” The album is about dismantling the world around us under the auspices of disillusionment, but really we’re left, like an unraveled sweater, not only naked, but unraveling ourselves. We find the string we’re pulling is part of us, and not only have we pulled down every artifice that might have supported us, but we’ve also begun to dismantle ourselves.

TBB: What does the track “Need” mean to you? 

MD: The first line I wrote for that was “I need your love.” And it doesn’t get more simple than that. We need each other. We need love. Both in a good way and as a crutch. We long to feel safe. I think so much of what troubles people is a lack of confidence that they will be safe. That’s why we fly off the handle at each other, why we jump into fight or flight responses when really all you need to do is say, “oh, okay.” We’re wild animals. But very sophisticated ones, and it’s quite a paradox. We’re simple and we’re complex. So to say “I need your love” is really saying quite a lot.

Then I started thinking about well who is this guy who’s saying this. And it was about that time that I saw The Master, by Paul Thomas Anderson, and so began my obsession with the ocean. There’s a shot in that movie where the ocean is this roiling mass of unknowable truths and delights and horrors. Looking at the surface of the ocean is like looking at the surface of a person. You see the placid skin, the furrowed eyebrows, but beneath all that is God knows what. We are each as complex and obscure as the ocean. And this is what I believe Anderson is saying about the main character, Freddy Quell. He’s wild, he’s uncontrolled. And he longs for a master, but can’t abide them, because they all tell lies. He thirsts to believe, and yet can’t bring himself to. The way he gets so close to belonging, and then at the last second can’t help but to dismantle the whole thing, because he sees it’s all held up with toothpicks. He can’t help it. So that’s the guy in the verse. The guy in the chorus is everyone.

TBB: It seems like the emotional content in your music has matured into a more greatly produced sound. Are you concerned that this growth could also mean losing your own identity in the face of a greater following? 

MD: Haha! Hell no. This is not a dinner party, it’s a festival. The more the merrier. But I see what you’re saying. I don’t worry about that, because while my identity is wrapped up in my vocation, my goal is not to demonstrate myself to the world, my albums are not unveilings of myself. My goal is very simple and very difficult. To write the perfect song. Thankfully I imagine that’s more or less impossible. It’s like perfection is a force of such repellent gravity that no matter how close you get to it you can never quite touch it. But the areas around it, near it, these are the places of great things.

And I think that falling short is integral to the creative process. It never allows the artist the satisfaction that they crave. And this craving is our fuel. You can never get so rich that you feel secure that your money will never go away and you can do whatever you want all the time. And you can never write a song so good you can hang up your guitar. And who would want to? Life would become so boring. Or peaceful, who knows.

TBB: We’re looking forward to covering you at Noise Pop! Are there any changes to your performance style or live shows that fans can expect at Friday’s show? 

MD: Well they can expect a lot of new songs. We’ll be playing about 6 songs from the new album, as well as all the old favorites. And the other big change is the people playing those songs. Nate and Brian no longer wanted to tour, so I’ve gotten new musicians to fill out the ranks of Geographer. It was a lot of work, took me about 6 months all told of constant rehearsals and auditions to find just the right people. But the nice thing for me is that the songs on Ghost Modern are different in a lot of ways from the old material. They are more full, more thought-out. On a given song I would write 2 violin parts, a trombone part, a french horn part. And it just got to the point where I couldn’t really pull the music off the way I wanted it to sound with just two other people.

So I took the opportunity to hand-pick musicians that can showcase the songs to the fullest, rather than bending the songs to fit a pre-ordained system, which is how I always used to do it, and that was very limiting and often quite frustrating. I often felt chained to technology as the fourth member of the band, rather than a wielder of its power as just another instrument. The addition of another guitarist/bassist/keyboardist has been a great excitement to me, as well, since so many of my songs are just full of guitars, and there were some I just never played live because they didn’t function with just one guitar. But now I can play those. It’s been a very arduous but extremely gratifying process. I’m just thankful I had the time to do it right. I couldn’t be more excited to show the world what Geographer is capable of now. I’ve got the best album I’ve ever written about to come out, I’ve got the best musicians I’ve ever played with, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

We have three (3) pairs of tickets to give away to Friday’s Noise Pop show with Geographer! To enter for a chance to win tickets to this show at the Fox, email contest@thebaybridged.com with “Geographer” in the subject line and your full name in the body of the email. A winner will be selected at random and notified via email.

Geographer, K.Flay, Empires, Bells Atlas
The Fox Theater
February 27, 2015
7:30pm, $25, all ages