Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors becoming a regular Austin act
When multi-instrumentalist Dave Longstreth and his ever-evolving experimental rock band the Dirty Projectors bring their singular brand of art pop to Antone's Monday night, it will be his fourth swing through Austin this year.
The New York sextet hit South by Southwest back in March, popped through Red 7 for a sold-out show in July and replaced Sonic Youth at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Is there any threat that Longstreth will get a bit tired of the Live Music Capital of the World by year's end?
"Not at all! Man, we really love Austin," said Longstreth with a laugh, speaking by phone from his Brooklyn home. "It's great to have brunch at the Bouldin Creek Coffee House and walk around such a beautiful city. It's amazing in March. It's amazing in fall. It's cool anytime. Well, not literally, of course. Figuratively."
Longstreth's ties to Austin go back to 2003, when Austin-based Western Vinyl released the first Dirty Projectors album, "The Glad Fact." After releasing one lo-fi solo album under his own name, he started the Dirty Projectors while still a music student at Yale University. Members rotated in and out, and the band released two more albums on Western Vinyl.
Longstreth hardly labored in obscurity — with his Yale degree embodying his musical bona fides, the Dirty Projectors gained a reputation for eccentricity, synthesizing a wealth of influences from classical to '80s pop. The band frequently embraced loose concept albums, as with 2005's "The Getty Address," a rock opera centered on Eagles front man Don Henley.
But the band hit a new level with this year's "Bitte Orca," a dazzlingly diverse nine-song masterpiece that Longstreth described as "very slowly and lovingly assembled." With its oddball but accessible blend of everything from gospel choirs to R&B harmonies to West African guitar lines, it attracted considerable pre-release buzz and sterling reviews and eventually landed the band appearances on late night television. It also showed up on Pitchfork Media's best albums of the decade list — at number 56.
"The album seems to resonate with people, and it's kind of an inexplicable thing," said Longstreth. "But I'm really glad that people have responded. Being on tour, and music in general, is all about communication, and when people in the first four rows are singing and know every word to the song, that's just really gratifying."
The success of "Bitte Orca" has led to a whirlwind year for the band. Longstreth's attempt to rattle off a rough chronology of the past nine months leaves him dazed. It's a mess of interviews, tour dates, video shoots and TV appearances. But one thing he has no trouble recalling is the year's high-profile collaborations. The Projectors recorded a song written by ex-Talking Head David Byrne for "Dark Was the Night," a benefit album raising funds and awareness for AIDS and HIV. And in May they performed an original composition with Björk to benefit New York's Housing Works, which helps provide shelter for homeless AIDS victims. Longstreth plans to record the composition before year's end.
"They're very different, Byrne and Björk, but one thing they have in common is that their talent is almost a force of nature. It didn't seem honed or maintained. It seemed biological," said Longstreth. "To watch Björk carry a melody is like watching water move down a hillside. It'd just be trickling at first, but very quickly it'd turn into this rush of water carving its way through the sediment."
But ask Longstreth to name the collaboration most important to him, and it all comes back to that sold-out show at Red 7. Longstreth opened for himself that night, with a 45-minute jam with Greg Ginn, guitarist for punk legends Black Flag who now lives in Taylor. It was another full-circle moment for the Dirty Projectors, whose acclaimed 2007 album "Rise Above" was an attempt to recreate Black Flag's "Damaged" entirely from memory, years removed from having actually heard the album. "I feel like we were able to show him that it was an homage, that it wasn't this, like, ironic thing," said Longstreth. "That was very moving to me."
With all that success, artistically and otherwise, it's probably no surprise that the notoriously shifting band might, at long last, have an essentially settled lineup. The ethereal harmonies of vocalists Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle have come to define the Dirty Projectors as fully as any of Longstreth's contributions. It's no coincidence that Coffman and Deradoorian are placed literally front and center on the cover of "Bitte Orca," while the album's signature song, infectious R&B throwback "Stillness is the Move," features Coffman on lead vocals. With a recognized album and a powerful band dynamic now in place, Longstreth isn't looking to change things anytime soon.
"It feels like a family now. It feels like a completed unit," said Longstreth. "With music, things always feel like they're moving a thousand directions at once and I'm trying to write three different sets of songs, but things feel pretty good right now."