Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth explains how the musical stylings of Lil Wayne, Nickelback and Nirvana influenced the Brooklyn band’s sixth studio album, Swing Lo Magellan.
“Fuck Tha Police – NWA
“Hard Times” – RUN DMC
What I love about these recordings is that they pair urgent political and social ideas with stripped down, naked production – just a beat, some low end, and the grain of the voices. It’s so direct. In making “Gun Has No Trigger,” I decided not to run from the political implications of the lyrics, but to embrace them. I thought of the production of these early RUN and NWA albums as a jumping off point: so “Gun Has No Trigger” is just a beat, a bass line, and our voices.
“Hold Yuh” — Gyptian
I love the beat and the low end in this song from the Jamaican dancehall crooner Gyptian. Still a little dissatisfied with the low-end mastering on “Dance For You” because I wanted it to feel big like this song but with out the insane hard-limiting – which it turns out is paradoxical and impossible. The beat of “Hold Yuh” is so sparse and skeletal, but so huge at the same time. I love the idea of decoupling the snare/hi hat and the kick drum. A couple of the beats on our new record do that. You hear it in a lot of commercial hip hop right now too, but I wonder if it came from Jamaica. This song is three or four years old.
“Atmospheres” – Ligeti
I’m still mystified by this kind of orchestral writing. The textures that Ligeti pulls out of the same old 19th century orchestra are insane and still futuristic. Looking at the score, it seems like he’s approaching it like writing primitive modular synthesizer music for an orchestra. The bridge of “Dance For You” is me trying to figure out how the F Ligeti did this.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana
I love the terraced dynamics of grunge music, quiet in the verses and loud in the choruses. “Offspring Are Blank” is all about putting one thing in the verses and its exact opposite in the choruses, so I think of it as kind of a grunge song. That and we completely copped the drum fill into the chorus.
“A Milli” – Lil Wayne
I love Lil Wayne’s 2006-2008 output so much. This one’s obviously the tip of the iceberg, but the beat, just the handclaps and the 808, inspired the beat for the verse of “Offspring Are Blank.” Our claps are more artisanal though; we made our own sample (Jk; I hate myself).
“How You Remind Me” – Nickelback
In the chorus of “Offspring Are Blank,” I dare to yarl. I’m not saying Nickelback inspired me directly, but I remember watching a lot of Nickelback videos with my brother last summer, so you never know.
“Monster” – Kanye West
“Thriller” – Michael Jackson
I love the macabre as a mood in pop music. The tone of “Monster” is so playful and fun, but the “Monster” conceit allows Yeezy, Jay, et al to get into some deep and dark stuff. Likewise, I’ve always felt that “Thriller” is one of MJ’s very most honest and candid moments, despite its extroverted hugeness and brash theatricality. It’s a genre song, and the fact that it plays so completely into its genre somehow actually allows MJ to sing more personally and vividly about his demons. Heightened macabre is the mood of “About to Die” too – proceeding from the monstrous/thrilling idea that life is utterly pointless, we’re all going to die, and none of it matters at all, unless we create meaning for ourselves, in our lives and in those of the people we care about.
“Verklarte Nacht” – Schoenberg
The string writing in the bridge of “About to Die” is like the sad bastard child of Schoenberg’s writing in this piece, originally for double string quartet. He wrote it when he was like 24 and it’s ridiculous. Actually kind of the same mood as “Thriller” in a weird way – sickly and terrifying, but sumptuous and romantic at the same time. I love this music so much!!!
“Mambo Sun” – T Rex
I love that string quartet and fuzzed-out Les Paul vibe. The back-end of “Dance For You” is indebted to this wonderful record.
“The Ballad of Spring Hill” – Peter, Paul and Mary
So far in the 21st century, the idea of the topical song has seemed so hokey. I’m not sure why. One of the photogenic things about the 60s is that some bad shit was happening in the world, and artists found themselves capable of responding to it in beautiful, powerful, direct ways. Why not now? By all accounts, we are facing human & environmental challenges beyond anything that’s ever gone down before — but most pop songs are either opaque or resolutely escapist. Are artists just failing to rise to the challenge? Is our entire society hell-bent on denying our huge responsibilities to the present and future? Or did we all just decide that songs should be purely aesthetic vessels, as they’re unreliable for carrying truth? I don’t know. “The Ballad of Spring Hill” is as pious and doomy as a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary — but it’s a good tune, and it tells the story of a real-life mining disaster that happened in Nova Scotia in 1958. On the new record there’s a song called “Just From Chevron” that’s about an accident on an offshore rig in the Arctic Circle.
“Borrowed Tune” – Neil Young
I love that Neil Young just took this melody from a Rolling Stones b-side and repurposed it. But the theft is actually part of the drama: he talks what he’s doing and why he’s doing it in the song. I tried the same thing on “Irresponsible Tune,” the last song on the new album, lifting the production qualities of the early Sun Studios recordings to talk about this internet-era ahistorical archive thing we seem to be trapped in. That and the weirdness that more and more of our energy as a society seems to be devoted to aesthetic labor, like we’re in some crappy Warholian dystopia. We’re all bad artists, aestheticizing our lives for one another on our social networking sites, posting what we had for dinner, etc. There’s a question about ethics and aesthetics in there, but like a crappy artist, I can’t quite figure out how it should go.
Words by David Longstreth
Swing Lo Magellan is out today.