Sonic Youth

2.24.2008

By Jason Lamphier

Bradford Cox, the "asexual" front man for Atlanta-based psych-punk band Deerhunter, was one of 2007's most controversial, intriguing breakout musicians. Now the gaunt provocateur -- who last year frequently performed on stage in housedresses, his face covered in fake blood -- has released Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky), under the pseudonym Atlas Sound. In an exclusive interview with Out, Cox talks about his dreamy, therapeutic first solo album, his suspended adolescence, and growing up gay in the South.

Out: First off, I want to talk about the new record. I read that when you write, you generally try to think of an album as a whole concept, as opposed to its individual songs. Did you take that approach with Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel?
Bradford Cox: Yeah, that's exactly the approach I took. The title was just a bizarre thing I pulled out of a dream. It was like I was walking, and then there were picketers. They were protesting something, and I just remember one of them holding up a sign that said, 'Let the blind lead those we can see but cannot feel.'

Do you actually see words in your dreams?
Yeah, I have a notebook by my bed, and I just wrote it down. The concept of the album is letting the disadvantaged and the people with flaws give those without flaws perspective on their own flaws. Does that make sense?

Yes.
'Let the blind lead those who can see but cannot feel' is kind of like you are able to see, but you might not know the right direction to go in. But somebody who can't see might -- just by instinct -- lead you that way. Those who can see but cannot feel are advantaged but don't appreciate or recognize it. To strip it all down, it's like sad, downtrodden people have a lot more perspective to give than your average happy, hetero, bourgeois, white hipster kid.

So what do you think of the hipster collective? You seem as if you're shunning it, as if you don't want to be considered a hipster.
Nobody does, but they all like the clothes.

Do you think being a hipster is mainly about the fashion?
With a lot of hipsters, there's a reduction of value. It's stripping things of their value, commodifying or reproducing them. But I'm not an elitist, and I refuse to criticize the way culture works. I'll go into Urban Outfitters, and if I see a jacket I like I'll buy it.

So you don't necessarily have a set of rules.
Yeah, that could be something a lot of people would criticize -- that I don't have any rules. You have to try as hard as possible to be yourself and you'll avoid the hipster trap. Maintain your identity. Wear whatever you want and listen to whatever you want. If somebody thinks our records -- Deerhunter or Atlas Sound -- are something they're supposed to listen to, I urge them to turn it off.

But your music has been generally well received.
Well, there's also been a huge backlash. A lot of people are just like, 'Why does this deserve attention? Why should I like this?' Well, if you don't like it, don't listen to it. That's what I think of when I think of hipsters -- people who just listen to music based on its rating. They just want to subscribe to the culture that's current and relevant. They're just striving for relevance.

I read that for Deerhunter's next album you're going to strive for this '60s Phil Spector sound.
I want to make a record that's free of modernism. I look around, and I think everything has become so oversaturated with information. Everybody is so fucking smart and so elitist. It's new escapism for me. I want to go back to a time when people just made singles to make singles. Like pop 45s.

The Atlas Sound album -- your solo album -- seems a bit more accessible than Deerhunter's Cryptograms, which is very psychedelic and dark. There's always something new to discover in that album.
The album was made as a puzzle, even for the band. I listen to it sometimes, and I'm just kind of creeped out. We didn't question any of our instincts. It's a difficult record.

If you could go back in time, would you tailor it a bit? Make nips and tucks?
No. Never. Part of me has this subconscious urge, like when you're getting your picture taken. You don't want to wake up in the morning you're getting your picture taken and be all broken out, you know? But the zits are here right now. They should be part of the photo. The mistakes are on the album; they should be there. I think what really attracts a lot of our fans is the flaws, the fallibility. Especially what they see in me. I think they see a really frail person. I'm kind of in a state of suspended adolescence. That's why I decided to write this record. I wanted to make healing music, a record somebody could listen to all the way through and feel like they went through a bad period of time and came out of it.

So are the tracks placed in chronological order, as if you're telling a story from start to finish?
It is chronological. I'd just wake up one morning and record a song. That's kind of how dreams operate' and how I felt making the record. I think the first half is a little stuffed with more accessible songs. I was very depressed in the middle, and it created this kind of black hole of misery. Then I tried to bring it up again at the end. So it does have a dynamic arc.

I feel like there is momentum on the album, but it's also suffocating, intense, and very dark. Do you feel like you've mellowed out, that you're not in that dark period you were in before?
No, but I can go back there tomorrow. I'm beginning to feel like I've kind of avoided doing the things that would probably help me be more stable. I stay in certain types of relationships that aren't healthy.

Why do you do this?
Probably insecurity and just feeling trapped. I mean, the album is dedicated to [my friend and band mate] Lockett [Pundt]. We live together, we're in a band together, and it's a very difficult situation.

But you also have this interesting relationship with the Black Lips' lead singer, Cole Alexander.
Yeah, but that relationship was more of a ridiculous, manic, nonsexual obsession with each other.

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