Published on December 13th, 2012 | by Jessica Mickey0
The Gospel According to Andy D
I suspect Andy D has heard all the comparisons and relative pigeonholes. Listening to his albums, the electric sex synth-pop of 2008’s Choose Your Perversion and positive-plus bouncy anthems of 2011’s Songs in the Key of Magic, it would be all too easy to cast him off as a Leslie and the Lys/2 Live Crew lite hybrid, party rockin’ novelty act. But that’s before you’ve conversed with the guy.
Don’t let the neon duds or rat-tail fool you. He’s deep. Like über deep. He’s extremely thoughtful and opinionated, but not in a pretentious or annoying hipster way. In fact, I bet he hates the word “hipster” because it could imply that he’s pretending to be something he’s not, an issue he is extremely vocal about. But I don’t want to give anything away or twist his words. You can see for yourself below. Trust me, you want to.
I also imagine that people either love him or hate him, and that chances are if you’ve seen him live, you’d happily ride bitch on his unicorn and go to the end of the rainbow with him.
Andy D and his crew return to the Tin Roof this Saturday evening (Dec. 15), and Metronome Charleston had a chance to hear what’s what before his gig at the Earl in Atlanta with our very own Mechanical River supporting.
Metronome: What would you say is one of the greatest faults with most popular music of the day?
Andy D: Wow, this is a great question. I’m not a hater for certain. I support whatever people want to do to express themselves, but — and it’s a big but — I feel we are at a really critical time in music and culture that many people seem to be too self-aware, too self-critical, and too embarrassed to do what they really want in music and art. Because of this, there is a lot of music out there that doesn’t even try to be different or interesting or true to what the artist I suspect really wants it to be. Many are too self-aware that no one seems to being having any fun. It may also be commercial anxiety — people may be concerned with the bottom line, staying safe to produce what will sell.
We seem to be in a divided time. The radio is so dominated by the 10 or 15 musicians deigned to be music by the powers on high who will shove it in our faces at all times because it’s safe and scientifically calibrated to sell, and then there is this entire underground sea of music happening organically, people just making the music they want during the time they have without worrying about playing it safe for commercial return. I’m certainly concerned with doing this professionally, and our extensive touring (127 shows this year) and this new record are really experiments to see if there is a market for what we do, if the music industry has died by being so democratized by technology that the same innovations that made room for me to make the music I do has also made it impossible to make an actual living from it. I want to find out if I can make a living wage at this doing my art on my own terms. We’ll see. But the biggest sin an artist can make is to be boring, and there is so much boring music out there right now. The music I connect to most is usually music that is doing something innovative, something I haven’t quite seen before, a combination I’ve never thought of. Now I consider the music I make pop music. I want it to be popular, but I also use the verse-bridge-chorus-repeat pop song structure for much of my music. But what matters is what happens within that structure.
Metronome: I read that you are based in Bloomington, Indiana … feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I can’t help but be curious if you feel that this is a hindrance on your art or maybe that it provides you a sense of keeping it pure, so to speak? Sure, if you were still living in New York City, you’d most likely be able to expose your work to more people, but being so far removed from that in-your-face-24/7 environment, it’s almost like you’re void of any outside influence, so you can trust that your music and viewpoint comes from a raw personal place.
Andy D: My wife, Anna Vision [she sings and writes with him] and I lived in Bloomington for three years, and we started touring from there. But now we live in Indianapolis, where I am originally from, and tour from there, spending most of the time on the road. That’s our geographical reality. I am going to push back 100 percent on this question: I actually started doing this in N.Y.C .where I lived for eight years and where I met my wife. Shows in N.Y.C. are the exact opposite of what you characterize in your question. You don’t expose your work to more people, maybe potentially to the right people if you are looking to go the “get signed” route, which I believe is mostly obsolete and certainly not a strategy I’d trust for what we’re doing. New York is an expensive city, so people are so busy making rent there that they have precious little time to go to shows, so we actually didn’t get much exposure at all in N.Y.C. We still have a loyal following there and many, many friends, so our N.Y.C. shows are times to reconnect with them, but show culture in N.Y.C. is really gross and unhealthy and uneconomical. We left when we did because the cost-benefit analysis of continuing to live in the city was absurd; there are serious gentrification and cost-of-living and housing bubbles there that exist nowhere else, at least on that scale and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The real key to success at all with most music is to tour. We need to get real exposure to as many people in as many different markets as we can and return to those places three or four times a year and keep momentum going. In order to tour, you must have a vehicle, and owning one of those in N.Y.C. is the height of absurdity; insurance rates are crazy, and parking in non-existent. It is close to other Eastern markets like Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and D.C., and with my small set-up during the two years I did this in N.Y.C., I could have done some Greyhound bus tours of those places, but again, it was difficult and not really feasible.
Places like Bloomington and Indianapolis have smaller but actually thriving artistic communities because while N.Y.C. is a magnet for interesting people from all over the world who want to get out of their oppressive small towns and find like-minded folks, college towns like Bloomington serve the same function on a smaller, more manageable scale. Indianapolis is a pretty big city, but until recently, it didn’t have a thriving music or arts scene. Lately, key people in the scene have really taken great efforts to make it better, and it really is thriving and growing now.
Metronome: So, do you kind of have to define your own fun?
Andy D: You have to make your own fun no matter where you are. If you are bored, then you are boring. I haven’t been bored since 1997. I never don’t have something to do. But also, this guarantee that music come from a raw personal place — this sounds like the perennial quest for authenticity in our musicians. This authenticity is really an unrealizable goal. I’ve tweeted about this a lot recently because I feel that there is a desire in the zeitgeist for realness in musicians themselves. Musicians are the one group of artists that have to be authentic in their art for people to like them, and this is after Bob Dylan, easily the least authentic artist maybe ever, such a brilliant liar that delivered some great truth. I always lived by the adage “artists lie to tell the truth.” And every other artist gets to do this; no one expects a novelist to be factual — novels are fiction. So are songs, but when done right, they are fiction that gets more close to the truth of the human condition than anything else. But now you have this manufactured authenticity like Lana Del Rey who was branded “indie” and relaunched as a YouTube star like she came about it organically after tanking as a regular svengali-ed pop star. So, the anxiety over being authentic is pretty absurd now. People see what we’re doing and run the risk of thinking “this guy can’t be real” because there is an expectation of what musical authenticity looks like, and it’s not me. I don’t fit the image … of what? I dunno, a guy crying on his acoustic guitar? The truth is, I’m not playing a character. When I go on stage, it’s just that part of my personality that gets turned up to 11. The truth is I’ve embraced adulthood as not being just about having all these huge responsibilities, but also having the freedom to do everything you’ve ever wanted but were told you couldn’t do as a kid because now no one can tell you what to do or not to do with any authority, short of the law. I feel that if more people didn’t approach us with that assumption of what musical authenticity looks like, life would be better, less stressful, but that’s our fight to fight for the hearts and minds of our audience. What I mean to say is, I don’t buy into the notion of musical authenticity, but because I use humor in my music, and because I dress different than expected, people think I’m playing a character and that’s not true.
Metronome: Then that makes me wonder if you always have been the Andy D as we know him now, or if there was a memorable moment in life that led you to discover him.
Andy D: Andy D is not an alter ego; that’s why I use my own name [Andrew Duncan]. I make the music that I feel is missing from the world. And I give the performance I would want to see from someone on stage. When someone gets on stage, I think the audience has a reasonable expectation to see a show, not just have their time wasted by people faithfully reproducing their music in real time; might as well stay home and listen to the record. There was not one moment that lead to this expression of confidence in who I am, but my hero Andrew WK once said to me, “I decided to become someone more awesome than who I was,” and that notion of courageous self-improvement in the face of all the terrors and wonders of the world might have propelled along this path.
Metronome: If someone is coming to an Andy D show for the first time, what can they expect?
Andy D: They can expect to be amazed. They can expect to glimpse the potential that lies within them. They can expect to see two people at least — sometimes three if we have our guitarist Lord Midnite — singing, rapping, and dancing their hearts out to music they made because they love it and giving the best possible performance they can. It’s impossible for us to phone in what we do. We go hard or not at all. They should be prepared to be won over.
Metronome: Do you have a pre-show ritual? How do you get pumped up?
Andy D: No ritual, really. I get pumped on stage, from the audience. We put on slightly different clothes before we get onstage, really tart it up. I get nervous before every show, but the only symptom is that I have to pee a lot.
Metronome: I have yet to experience your magic, but I’ve had friends extol to me the virtues of a live Andy D show. What’s the craziest gig you’ve enjoyed in recent memory?
Andy D: We have so many good shows for so many different reasons. Some of our best shows and most receptive audiences are in smaller cities or college towns. Greenville, S.C. is one of our favorite places to play — people just go nuts for us there and are really supportive. Of course, we always love Charleston at the Tin Roof, there are some great bands in this town too — Sleepy Eye Giant and Mechanical River, both are amazing — it makes a show so much better when we are paired with other bands and artists that are exciting; it just lifts everyone in the room up.
Walla Walla, Washington is the craziest town for us, though. I got an email from Hot Poop Records — funniest shop name ever — in Walla Walla last year saying they played our record in the store and sold out of it in 20 minutes! I was floored, so they ordered some more and asked if I could come through town to play and in-store or something, and we had a tour with the band Electric Six — total heroes of mine — that went from Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho, and Walla Walla falls between these two towns, but with the drive and all the only time we could play Walla Walla on that tour was at like 1 p.m. on a Thursday. They said okay, and we rolled into town the day of and we were setting up and no one was in the store. We got ready and turned around and like 45 people flooded in the store promptly at 1 p.m. We played a few songs through an overloaded PA and people were going wild between the racks for CDs and records under the fluorescent lights, and afterward, everyone bought merch — T-Shirts, CDs, clip-on rattails — and then everyone wanted autographs. This one guy brought his two little kids, and the boy had me sign his coonskin cap, like a Davy Crockett hat. I have nothing to do with that type of hat, but I went with it. We were almost late to our Boise show, but we made it just in time.
So, the point is that it isn’t the size of the show but the power of the audience. Big shows can be great too, of course. One of our favorite experiences this year was playing First Avenue in Minneapolis with Electric Six for that band’s live album recording. Prince is a such a huge inspiration to us, so to see where Purple Rain was filmed and took place was nuts. And the venue is so amazing, probably the best in the country.
Metronome: You describe your latest album WARCRIES as “a concept album about the post-apocalyptic future in which robots and mutants fight over a wasteland that used to be America.” It sounds like a change from the neon party vibes of 2008’s Choose Your Perversion and 2011’s Songs in the Key of Magic. What inspired this departure?
Andy D: It’s really more of a logical progression. All my albums are concept albums; the previous two were about perversions and magic respectively. I feel every album should have a concept, or it’s not an album, just a collection of songs recorded chronologically close together. This is the first one, however, with a really discernible narrative, which is supplemented in the physical album by a sweet comic book drawn by local Indy artist Wayne Bertsch. Doing this album and this story really just felt right. I have been reading science books for laymen about quantum physics, and I’ve always been a fantasy and sci-fi nerd, so it was natural to use that framing device to contextualize these songs. This is the first album we’ve done entirely ourselves production-wise. We did a successful Kickstarter campaign, got a lot of support, and used the funds to re-vamp our home studio and make ourselves self-sufficient. So, not only did we record this album — being released nationally in January on record label Rad Summer — we are now able to record and release future singles and such as they are written rather than waiting for them all to get collected and done in someone else’s studio. This is probably the last record we’ll do for some time; it may just be singles and such for a while.
Metronome: What do you enjoy more, performing live or the process or writing and recording an album?
Andy D: Both are two sides of the same coins. I personally enjoy writing a song, figuring it out, and recording it. I enjoy that process of creation; it’s just so much fun. But, of course, I also enjoy then selling those creations to an audience, really forging that connection with people live I make this music for it to be heard by as many people as I can. I believe in what I do and I think it’s good and worthy of the world’s time. I wouldn’t make it otherwise; I wouldn’t be wasting mine time or anyone else’s on something less than awesome.
Metronome: You exude confidence and an envious fuck-the-haters attitude. What advice do you have for someone looking to break out of his or her shell?
Andy D: Just a simple realization — your biggest hater in the whole universe is inside your own head. You have thought worse things about yourself and what you’ve done or not done than anyone ever could. You have to tell that internal hater to shut up! Once you do this, you can more easily not care what other people think about you, except for those whose opinions you choose to care about. It’s this balancing act that is done — between truly not caring how others perceive you and still respecting your fellow humans and giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are not complete jerks — that really creates true confidence. I’ve found most people want to like you, you just have to give them the tiniest excuse to do so.
Metronome: What does Andy D’s heaven look like?
Andy D: Like a Lisa Frank Poster. Like the movies Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Goonies, and The Neverending Story all mixed together.
Metronome: What’s the one resolution for 2013 you might actually keep?
Andy D: I don’t make time-sensitive resolutions. I’m in a constant state of either deciding what I want to be or actively becoming it.
Preach on, brother.
Andy D shares the stage with Introducing Fish Taco and Bambery at the Tin Roof on Sat. Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. Admission is $5. Visit facebook.com/andydlovesyou2 for more.
Top photo by Dave Evans.
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