“This is all pretty personal stuff,” Dan Scheuerman pauses to admit. “It’s maybe not the best story, but it’s real. It’s just the way it is.”
As a songwriter and a journalist and a generally self-aware person, Scheuerman is keen to how a story ought to take shape, even if those realizations occur after he’s already answered a question with blunt reflectivity.
“I would say that the role of producer is to be really good at scheduling,” Scheuerman says when asked about working with Brian McTear – whose CV includes albums with Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, and the National – on the band’s forthcoming LP, Lithium Burn. “Actually, strike the scheduling thing. It’s true, but it’s totally boring.”
The tendency to self-edit and rethink and possibly over-think was something you could hear on the band’s sophomore effort, 2011’s Young People’s Church in the Air. “We recorded it after more than a few tours of playing those songs live,” Scheuerman told BYT last July. “I think that the live feel of the band is distinct, and that may have gone a little bit into why we chose to scuzz it up on the album, because maybe subconsciously we were tired of it and wanted to reach a new perspective on the material.”
Scheuerman said at the time that he wanted the next record to sound “performed.” The band has achieved that with Lithium Burn, an album that is by far the most direct and immediate document Deleted Scenes has produced to date. It’s an incredible record. From opening adrenaline rush “Haircuts/Uniforms” through lumbering and cathartic closer “You Get to Say Whatever You Want”, it never lets go. Along the way are tempestuous slow-builders like “Caught in the Brights” and “Let Not Try to Fix Everything at Once” and more stately ballads like “Landfall”, all of which benefit tremendously from the commitment to sonic clarity. (Oddly enough, the only song that really flirts with studio playfulness is frenetic lead single “Stutter”.)
Washington, DC has claimed partial ownership of Deleted Scenes for most of its existence – the quartet’s composition had been split evenly between the District and Brooklyn – but that stake was diluted when Scheuerman and his wife moved to Omaha, Nebraska almost a year ago. But even as the band spreads further apart, Scheuerman says Lithium Burn is the story of Deleted Scenes coming together.
When we spoke last summer, you said that Deleted Scenes was mostly trading files across the internet.
The story of this album is how we had to completely recreate the way did things. We had been split up between New York and DC for a long time, and that made our creative process very strange. It made it so that Matt [Dowling] and I – the DC people – were writing everything and then passing it to the New York people. As you can imagine, that created a strained creative process. Playing someone else’s parts for a hundred shows in a row can lead to some pretty shitty vibes. We had hit a brick wall. We kind of fell apart, and then we regrouped. We rented a house in Nashville for six weeks. It was basically the opposite process of what we had ever done. We were collaborating in the deepest sense possible, and we were living together. That’s how we wrote this album.
When is the album coming out?
We were going to do it February, but it’s going to be [later] now. We want to give things a little bit more time to build. It’s not really in my hands. We’ve done a poor enough job promoting our band for the last seven years that I’ve relinquished any decision-making in terms of scheduling and PR. If people think it’ll have a better chance [later in the year], I’m willing to do that.
How long has it been finished?
We mastered it in August, but it was mixed and finished in June. We had to do some final overdubs, and we recorded a b-side for the “Stutter” single in June too, but the bulk of recording was done in April. It’ll be [almost a year] after the sessions that we release the album.
Has it been difficult to sit on your hands?
The decision to sit on our hands just happened, so it’s a little fresh. We’ll have plenty to do before the release. Personally, it’ll work out a lot better if it comes out [later], because my wife and I just had a baby. The idea of being on tour such a short time after having the baby was difficult. Now it’ll give us a little more time to figure out our routine and hopefully the baby will be sleeping through the night and stuff.
Do you like Omaha?
It’s pretty cool. Omaha is a place where I feel comfortable doing stuff. It’s the kind of place that appreciates creative people, more than DC and definitely more than New York. Maybe it’s because creative people leave Omaha and go to the East Coast, so when a creative person comes to Omaha, everybody wants to meet you and help you find opportunities. I’m able to do more cool shit in Omaha than I was in DC or New York.
Given that sort of life change, and the jump to Park the Van Records, is there a sense that the stakes for this record are especially high?
There are a lot of different angles to that question. Going into the making of the record, we weren’t sure that we wanted to be a band anymore. Even staring at the Park the Van contract was difficult, because we were spiritually sick with the seven years of playing for sound guys and being on the road all of time and not making any progress. We weren’t really seeking commercial progress, but when the band is costing you real money and real job opportunities – and I was turning 30 at the time – the idea of signing up to be beat up for more years was daunting. I’d say going into record that we viewed it as one for fun. If this record is received well and we can afford to keep doing it, then we will. If it’s not, then we’re all OK with walking away.
What happened in the process of making the record is that we all fell in love again. We rediscovered something about we make music and got somewhere really exciting. It’s somewhat like a second marriage. A first marriage is like, “Woo! We’re doing it!” Then you have a divorce, and the second marriage is like, “Whoa, we can spend time together and like each other.” It’s a little less pointed and a little more touch-and-go, and lot more adult.
How did you settle on “Stutter” as the lead single? There’s such a wide range of sound of the record and different directions that you could have gone.
It was a tough decision. We really like a lot of the songs. Someone told us not to do it – he said it was a red herring and people wouldn’t know what to make of it. But it’s just so “what the fuck?” Every time that I played the album for somebody this summer, there was always a “what the fuck was that?” after “Stutter”. It’s just so “what the fuck?” that it’s a good icebreaker.
We just finished shooting a video for it. Dustin Diamond is starring in it.
How did that come together?
Dustin Diamond’s manager’s phone number is on his Twitter. Anyone can just reach out to him. We really wanted a video captured the dark, antisocial, and somewhat goofy vibe of “Stutter”. The song’s about social pressure leading to a personal breakdown, and I think Dustin Diamond perfectly captures that vibe. He has that intensity – this comedic presence that is both silly and angry at the same time. We reached out to him and he liked the song, so we worked with a director names Alex Sutherland and he shot it on Monday out in L.A.
What was the shoot like?
You’d have to ask Matt. He was the only one out there. We couldn’t all fly to L.A. – it just wasn’t in the budget. Matt flew out there and was basically his runner and drove him around and stuff. Matt plays a flaky, disinterested film director in the video, so he gets stare at his cell phone while Dustin auditions. The idea is to portray the worst day of Dustin Diamond’s life. He has this slow breakdown. I believe he dies in the video. I haven’t seen the final product, but I believe he drowns in a swimming pool. [Ed Note: Scheuerman later sent the on-set photo below.]
There are a lot of musicians in Nashville that are working. You meet people and they’re in a band or they’re a music director for a band or they’re a songwriter. There’s a music industry in Nashville, which is bizarre. There isn’t a music industry in most places. We were looking around for drummers and we met people who are really professional and awesome and quick, and that’s not what we’re used to. There’s much more preciousness in every other place we’ve been, but in Nashville, there’s a professionalism that showed us that there was another way to make a record.
We spent six to eight weeks in Nashville, and did a couple other long sessions: a week in Philly and a week in Troy, Missouri and another week in Philly. Those were spent tightening up and working with Ricardo [Lagomasino], our new drummer, because he wasn’t down in Nashville with us. It was me, Dominic [Campanaro], Matt, and another drummer.
When you entered the studio in Philly, how sure was the band of the material?
Everything was written, but the lyrics were still nebulous in some parts. They were mostly done, but they were the last pieces to fall in.
We recorded in Philly at Miner Street Studio in Fishtown. The guys who run it are Brian McTear and John Low. John engineered the record and Brian produced.
We wanted a producer to protect us from our over-precious tendency to reinvent everything in the studio. We wanted a really honest document. And Brian respected that. One of the things he said to us is that it’s really hard to pick apart these songs. The parts that Domenic and Matt and I are playing are kind of woven together as performance. It would have been harder to dehumanize the performances and cut them up and produce them as we’ve done in the past. We were playing much tighter as a group.
Did the backing of Park the Van have an effect on how you were able to make the record?
I don’t even know if we spent more than we did last time. We still put a lot of our own money into it. You get to a higher level and there’s more expenses. We got some money, but we probably spent the same amount of our own to make the record and get everything done. It’s really not a big budget – it was a small contract [with Park the Van]. We’re not talking about a big advance or anything. It was basically enough to pay for kinda most of the stuff, but it wasn’t everything.
How was working with a new drummer?
Oh man, Ricardo is awesome. He’s a jazz drummer. He studied at Oberlin. He’s in a variety of noise bands and improv jazz bands. He’s so intuitive and so positive and quick. It feels great to play with him. He’s got chops like a motherfucker. It’s the best thing. [Laughs] It’s probably the biggest reason that this album happened.
He’s the kind of guy that hugs everyone that he talks to. That goes a long way. He’s also got great ideas and you don’t have to tell him what to play. And if you do have to tell him a small thing, he’s totally cool with it. And if he disagrees with you, he tells you why. And it’s awesome. [Laughs] It’s really great.
How did you meet?
We had finished in Nashville and we wanted to record over the winter, but we really didn’t have a drummer, so we contacted Brian McTear. We were like, “What are we going to do? We might have to use a studio drummer.” Brian recommended two studio guys – Chris Powell and Eric Slick, who are the drummers of Man Man and Dr. Dog, respectively – so we contacted them, and they both simultaneously recommended Ricardo. We talked to Ricardo and played with him once and we were like, “So do you want to do this as a project? Do you want to join the band?” And was like, “Yeah, I want to join the band.” We were just super stoked.
Have you gotten any responses to your call for postcards?
I checked the P.O. box today and, yeah, nobody sent anything in. We were talking about how we would use that – we’re trying to create some kind of reality based connection with fans. I think what we’re going to do – I mean, this is just something we talked about today – is have people send artifacts and a small story, and try to write songs based them; you know, do some sort of contest or project. That’s not set. We just thought it would be a cool way to interact with people as human beings. I don’t know if anybody has taken it seriously. We’ve got to figure out a way to make it real.