Press play. Hear the sound. The guitar moves around, strings in the wind. It’s a gray-pink day and you’re walking in a field of burning trees. A light voice is singing from the sky, shifting like marble tablets on a dreamscape jigsaw. The road beneath you is dirt. You can see animals living in it. They move under your feet, in time with the slow drumbeat. And then there’s that uncomfortable shift of consciousness. The knowledge that what you’re experiencing can’t be real. It doesn’t exist. So how is this happening?REM moves fast, and it clicks. You’re in a dream.
Such is the feeling when listening to Deleted Scenes’ Young Peoples’ Church of the Air. An eerie happiness that feels like knowledge in fantasy. And based on the conversation I had with singer, Dan Scheuerman, and bass/keyboardist, Matt Dowling, intelligence is not something the band is lacking.
How did the band form?
Dan: We all met in the suburbs of Washington D.C. As kids in high school or elementary school. We played in bands growing up and stayed in touch. This band has it’s roots in post-college. We graduated and weren’t doing any music, and lived in the same place. So we started Deleted Scenes.
You’ve been compared to a lot of bands: Modest Mouse, Talking Heads, The Shins, how do you feel about this?
Matt: The comparison list is quite extensive, because our music bounces around all over the place. We listen to all different music and styles. We do what makes us excited in terms of writing music. We try to do stuff that has a merit in terms of originality. I think there’s a basic level of merit in any song we write, if the influence shines through to other people we can’t really control it, but we understand it.
What makes your sound different from other bands?
D: We’re interested in exploring the weird technicalities in music. Using a double kick to create a pattern that would not be possible in a standard indie rock set up. To use dance beats that have really fast kick patterns or sort of emulate something from R&B or even heavy metal, we’re able to do that with the use of a double kick petal. You don’t see that a lot and it adds a cool influence to our sound. I try to make the lyrics as brutally true and penetrating as possible. There are a lot of great lyricists out there, but I think I write lyrics in a very personal, autobiographical way. It’s similar to the way someone like Morrissey or Leonard Cohen would write. I’m not interested in writing stadium hooks or even lyrics that are clever, as much as I’m interested in finding the poetry in my experience. It’s very much a map of my life, my head, my experiences in the way it filters through me. It’s solipsistic or ultra personal whether you like it or not.
So you do most of the songwriting?
D: I do the lyrics, Matt and I collaborate on the music
Have you ever written a song and thought, “This is too much. There’s too much of me in this song?”
D: The most personal song I’ve written is probably the song “Get Your Shit Together for the Holidays,” (2009, Birdseed Shirt) it has a phone call from me to my mom when I was in college. I didn’t have any money. I was living like a college idiot. I had to get my shit together in order to get back to Kansas City to see my family, but if you’re living like an idiot you don’t really want to see your family. It penetrates and uncovers a real universal experience, that most people can appreciate. Most people can feel the realness of the lyrics and get a tremendous amount of meaning from it. I sometimes shutter when I think about how personal some of the stuff is, but if I keep it up to a high level poetically it becomes universal.
How were you living like an idiot?
D: Not having a phone. Not answering calls from anybody. Making everybody worry about me. Rejecting friendships and family relationships. Drinking a lot. In a certain sense you have a free check to get as messed up as you want. Being an idiot in that regard.
You named your 2009 album, Birdseed Shirt, a nod to Jonathan Safron Foer’s Extremely and Loud Incredibly Close, how’d you decide on that?
D: The birdseed shirt is an imagined invention by this kid who wants his father to survive the World Trade Center attack. He imagines this shirt that would’ve sent birds to capture his father, and anyone who had to jump from the building. The connotations just seemed so doomed, and yet hopeful. It fit a lot of the themes of the album.
M: As a side note: we actually got it cleared with Jonathan’s assistant, prior to releasing the record.
What’s the meaning of the new album, Young Peoples’ Church of the Air?
D: The content is trying to come to terms with a world that doesn’t really offer truth. A church offers a sort of truth, but it’s a church of the air so it’s not tangible and may not actually be true. It’s about losing faith in yourself in the best way possible. Understanding the mental blocks that keep you away from people and keep yourself away from appreciating what you have. It takes a moment of faith to sort of trust yourself to enter the world. I think that’s what the album is about.
When did you have that moment?
D: I think finding someone who loves you is a huge help in that, because you can think your a great big piece of shit, but if you’re loved, it’s hard to trust that feeling.
You guys seem relatively literate, what’re you reading right now?
D: I just started reading Brideshead Revisited. I’ve been reading everything Evelyn Waugh has written. I grew up Catholic and I love Catholic writers. Regardless of the truth or non-truth of it, the ideals of the world are really represented in the writing. It wraps me up in a blanket of understand and a place I can recognize.
M: I’m kind of a science guy, when I’m not doing music I do research and development at a start up company. The book I’m reading is by Robert Root-Bernstein, Discovering. It’s basically about the science of science. It looks at the history of science as data points. He’s trying to understand and answer the question, are there any specific components that are vital for making discoveries? In science right now, it’s so institutionalized. There aren’t that many important discoveries being made. You might think otherwise because of news stories, but it’s not really the case, and it’s because people don’t really have a lot of freedom to pursue eccentric ideas. There’s also the affect of people not thinking as simply as they used to, which makes it difficult to make discoveries. I think there are a lot of parallels with music. The internet makes everything so accessible. It’s hard to make innovations when it’s all at your finger tips. With the band, I’m interested in trying to somehow isolate ourselves in someway. Think more simply. Think more basic. Try to somehow make some real advance.
What are you working at in research and development right now?
M: I work on materials that stop severe bleeding.
So beyond the severe bleeding, where’s Deleted Scenes going?
M: We’re still doing quite a bit of touring. We’ve toured a lot off Young People. We’re about to go on another tour at the beginning of the year. Going to the west coast and midwest. We’ve definitely started thinking about a new writing phase, or a new experimentation period with sound. As much as things have changed, things haven’t changed with the cycle a band goes through. You put out a record and try to tour as much as you humanly can. You get it out there as much as you can. You work on something new and try to get that out there. We’re going to start working on new stuff soon, and who knows how long that’ll take.
Deleted Scenes will be playing with Bear Hands and Fort Lean at The Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday, December 16th.
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