Photo by Sean Stout.
With 24/7 access to every bit of art in the world, it’s easy to forget what a rare occurrence it is that anyone would identify a certain gift at a young age, create a passion for it, and refine it against all of life’s distractions. Sometimes (extra rare) these people end up developing a healthy relationship with said talent and the aspirations attached, even after it has replaced a student loan or waiting tables as their main source of income.
Now in her early 30s, California native Angel Deradoorian has seen many crossroads in her artistic life. At age 16, she left school in favor of music, moved to Brooklyn, and went on to become a core member of David Longstreth’s Dirty Projectors around 2006, when their brand of psychedelic indie ruled the music world more than anything.
After parting ways with the Brooklyn art pop troupe, collaboration remained a huge part of the self-proclaimed “loyalist”’s career. Besides playing with Slasher Flicks, a trio headed by her then boyfriend Avey Tare, Deradoorian lent her vocals to projects by The Roots, Brandon Flowers, Flying Lotus, and Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, to name only a few. In 2015, she signed with legendary leftfield imprint Anticon for her first solo full-length, The Expanding Flower Planet, a collection of colorful and upbeat pop psychedelics.
While maintaining a knack for experimental songwriting, her 2017 EP, Eternal Recurrence set a stark contrast to her pervious solo work. Predominately written on an array of analogue synths, the EP creates its introspective mood by stacking layers and layers of sound over which Deradoorian examines the abyss and occasional ecstasy of isolation.
The following conversation about her life on the road and its effects on her art, daily routines and relationships, as well as her ideas about the death of the ego, fame and astrology, started in the summer of 2017, when Deradoorian was travelling Europe, and was eventually recorded shortly after Christmas when she was back on the West Coast for the holidays. — Julian Brimmers
You moved around quite a bit last year, currently you’re in LA. When did you get there?
Deradoorian: I moved from upstate New York to Brooklyn last year in May, and then I got to LA in mid-December.
Last time I saw you, you weren’t sure if you wanted to keep your flat in Brooklyn.
Deradoorian: I’ll probably keep it until the lease is up and then I’ll be homeless, which I’m used to.
I wanted to talk to you about that. The way you live your life as an artist requires being constantly on the move and adapting to new situations all the time. Where’s your most permanent base?
Deradoorian: My most permanent base was when I was in a relationship. But even then we moved from New York to Baltimore to LA. But we always had a home. New York feels more like a homebase than California at this point. Having to constantly uproot is emotionally difficult. But I’m so used to it that if I don’t do it, it’s odd too.
The homelessness part is not fun. But I literally can’t afford to live in certain places if I wanna focus on making music. I’m just too poor. I’ve done this for so long and it never really paid off because I focus more on my own music and that is not popular. But I prefer to suffer and make my music than make something more accessible and have money and comforts of life. I’m not there yet. Maybe when I’m 40. Maybe not [laughs].
Do you feel your music has become less accessible over the years?
Deradoorian: I think it’s less accessible because it’s not promoted very much. People are gonna have to come find it. Sonically or structurally it’s not inaccessible, but in my songs I’m not talking to you about somebody cheating on me and then I’m sad and I find revenge. That’s part of what pop music is, people find that comforting. I don’t want to make that kind of music.
Your latest EP, Eternal Recurrence is a breakup record, or at least a relationship record, isn’t it?
Deradoorian: Yes, in a way. Lyrically I’m ambiguous, to a degree. I prefer for people to find their own relationship with the songs and how they fit into their lives instead of offering something so explicit that it could be nothing else. There are definitely songs on there that have to do with a relationship to a person. But it’s also, hopefully, universal. The last song, “Mirror Man,” could be specific and universal. Some of the other songs are more about the aftermath of a relationship or learning to be alone. It’s a different kind of cathartic release to make that type of music. I put the experience into the music so I can objectively view it later.
In terms of sequencing, “Mirror Man” struck me as the starting point for the whole record.
Deradoorian: The truth is, I sequence more sonically than topically. On the last record I made, the final song is called “Grow” and people asked me “why would you put that at the end”… why wouldn’t I, you know [laughs]? “Love Arise”, the first song on the EP, just felt like a nice introduction. The first half is way more expansive sounding and the second half are more sparse weird jazz songs.
So “Mirror Man,” that song could either be written from a male perspective, or it deals with a significant other that shares similar character traits as you.
Deradoorian: This song started out about a person. This person and I had a lot of similarities, it became a reflective type of relationship, an intermittent one too. I didn’t see this person very much, but when I did, I saw a reflection of me. I’m interested in duality and the dynamic between a male and female-identifying pair of people. The things being mirrored are positive or challenging or disruptive, or obsessing and they are all you, too. That’s how it evolved into the idea of finding yourself in other people.
Do you have to let your ego die to a degree in order to function in a relationship?
And is that a good thing or not?
Deradoorian: Ego is separateness. In Hindu and Vedic beliefs the ego means being separate from the oneness that we are. That’s how it’s viewed. I believe in Western idealism it’s a little more about your sense of self and your identity. You hold on to your ego, you defend it.
The way I look at it, I have had an ego death—and it is not fun. It is terrifying but also very liberating, because you don’t rely on another person to create your identity anymore. You see a fault in another person because you have that fault in you, that’s the mirror. If you want to get past that and become individuated, that is when the ego dies and you’re able to have an objective understanding of what you are doing, and why. The ego death is important. You never really get past a certain point until you stop judging others. You’re limiting yourself to something far more beautiful on the other side.
Take any relationship that’s defining of your character—a romantic relationship, friends, your job, a place—whenever you detach yourself from any of these things, there needs to be a personal redefining process. Is that easy for someone like you who has to adapt to new situations and environments all the time?
Deradoorian: It’s interesting to consistently practice letting go. I didn’t see it like that for a long time. I travel regularly, the longest I stay in one place is two months. It kind of disallows the settling of identity, or a routine. Which is hard, because I like having routines.
What’s interesting is that the people that I am surrounded by in these places, they illuminate different parts of my character. All of those people really are making up aspects of your personality. That’s what’s really cool, there is no real core structure of your personality anymore. When I’m in LA, I’m tapped into a far more feminine energy, because a lot of my female friends are here. New York gives me more lonely-ish feelings.
Traveling around Europe last summer was fascinating because it was so new in certain ways, being around people that feel the same things but through a different lens of culture, influenced by their democracies, governments, societal structures. It made me realize how deeply capitalist I am, whether I want to be or not.
Do you have a lot of stuff?
Deradoorian: I do, but not too much. I have a full apartment’s worth of furniture and then I have all of my music gear and some books. I have a small studio worth of gear—instruments, synths, microphones, interfaces. But I got rid of a lot of my clothes. I don’t like accumulating stuff, I like getting rid of things, especially related to my music. I don’t wanna keep posters, tour badges…I probably will forget to save a copy of my records for myself. I don’t want all these reminders of things I did.
Why is that? It’s what you’ve done for the past 15 years…
Deradoorian: It’s a burden to me. I am not that person anymore. I’m nothing like the person I was in Dirty Projectors. It’s funny that people would still attach that. I’m not even who I was six months ago, or earlier this year. I’m so emotionally attached to the past that reminders of it are more negatively triggering than positively.
Not that it would be interesting to anyone but I’m glad no one constantly asks me about the person I was at 23…
Deradoorian: That’s so weird about the recording of information. People record these things about you and they want you to be a certain way. What is a famous person and why are we obsessed with them? A famous person is a person who is recognized by a lot of people they don’t know. They become exalted and idolized for a thing they do. The fans of mine, I’d say a good amount of them I know [laughs]. The recorded information, these lineages that people create, that seems destructive to me. People don’t grow into their own because they put their faith in another person. On the other hand, I see how the famous people we look up to can be a catalyst for getting to know ourselves.
It’s all projection, isn’t it? If someone is inspired by your music or your ideas and the way you live your life, people will project their own idea of you onto you. Performers provide a clean canvas first and foremost.
Deradoorian: On a purist level I love famous people [laughs]. Some of them are fearless about being judged and criticized. That energy is incredibly powerful. Just the fact that people out there want to tear you down and lift you up simultaneously, and for you to endure that…if you can do it gracefully, that’s inspiring and honorable. A lot of people who are in those positions are not doing well. They’re dissolving under the pressure. They don’t feel they get the chance to be alone and grow for themselves. Not many of them are good at being famous.
Is there anything uncomfortable about the thought of becoming more of a star yourself?
Deradoorian: Yes, it is. I’m not afraid of what happens to me, if more people wanna listen to it, or I became popular, that’s okay with me. What I fear is the expectation to be something. All my records sound pretty different from each other because I’m not interested in having a specific style or identity, or fill in an archetypal role. Which I could. I could do this much more intently but I really don’t want to.
Up until a few years ago, I had a music career and the goal was to get more fans and play more shows. And then I finally asked myself—what is actually the goal? Is that it? I’m sure if I do get more popular it only gets to a certain level—especially because you age. I’m probably not gonna play amphitheaters. I’m 31 and I make weird music. So now, there is no goal. The only goal is to be creative and to make the things that I feel at the time.
Would a day job be liberating or not?
Deradoorian: No. I hate working for other people [laughs]. I don’t have that kind of patience. I admire people who do. I personally feel it’s a waste of my life. But I’m not judging people who choose to have stability in a crazy ass world. The only reason why I would want a day job is if I had health related issues. That’s why I struggle to live here. I’m very, very careful. I had shoulder problems for almost two months and I can’t go to the doctor because it’s insanely expensive.
Everyone in this country works at least 40 hours a week and barely gets by. When do you have time to be creative? So that’s all I do: hope that my health is good and have random, weird ass jobs, make music and play some shows. My music, I wanna say, is not my life goal either. Music is my outlet. Sometimes I don’t even think of myself as an artist, like, this is my thing, but it is my channel.
Do you still enjoy performing the material?
Deradoorian: Performance feels like the chance to connect with people. To go play a show in front of a small group of interested people, that feels good. I like performing and I really do love music. I love it. I do feel the need to have extroverted periods of time with the creative outlet. I believe if you do have knowledge that’s beautiful and helpful to the world it’s kinda your duty to do it.
Do you feel you have become more of a solo act over the last year than you have been previously in you career?
Deradoorian: I mean, I wrote everything by myself on this last record and only got people to play on it when it was something I couldn’t do myself. That thought didn’t come until the very end. There was a solo journey leading up to both of my last two records. I don’t think it will always be that way. But I do feel this is the most solo stuff I did, for sure. This project will continue in some form.
Are you working on new material?
Deradoorian: I’m here in California because I wanna start writing the next record, but I don’t really know what will end up on it. I do play a lot of synthesizers but I don’t want to write everything on synths. We’ll see. I’m also out here writing music with other people. I think it will be a more collaborative year.
Music aside, how’s your astrology degree going?
Deradoorian: Going pretty good, it’s lots of information. I’m a Vedic astrology student, we’re going to study Saturn after the holidays, which will be interesting.
Why is that?
Deradoorian: On January 17th, 2017 Saturn moved into a new sign. In Vedic sidereal astrology Saturn went from Scorpio into Sagittarius, which felt good for me. You and I, actually, we both have these Saturn in Scorpio placements in our chart, which can invoke a lot of fear and anxiety in people. I had all these psychologically unsettling feelings, I started going to a therapist, all this stuff just came bubbling to the surface in a very dark, scary way.
Now Saturn has moved into Sagittarius, which is more about religion, philosophy, higher teachings, in an extroverted type of way. People with Sagittarius in their sign are often more preacher-y types, heavily philosophical. Alan Watts, the philosopher, his sun sign is Sagittarius. When Saturn went in, that’s where you see the cold, hard truths and realities around those themes. It was going from Scorpio, which is about anxiety-ridden fears and feelings, into something that has to do more with your beliefs.
Anyways, on June 21st it went in retrograde, back into Scorpio, one of the darkest stars. During retrograde it’s more about being still and it’s uncomfortable for people who are wondering, “why are all these projects stopping?” You’re dealing with a lot of delayed projects and have to revisit themes you thought were done. That happened until October 26th. Now we’re back in Sagittarius, we’re out of our Saturn return.