“I’m sorry if I’m giving you really long, boring answers to questions,” Dan Scheuerman tells me, his self-consciousness catching up with him for a moment. “I just think aloud. I tend to think aloud.”
Scheuerman doesn’t come off as particularly long-winded and his responses certainly aren’t boring, but he does speak with the candor of someone used to publicly airing his inner thoughts. It’s a habit that’s served him well as frontman for local art-rock quartet Deleted Scenes, with whom he’s penned memorable and effecting tunes as emotionally blunt as their titles would suggest: “Get Your Shit Together for the Holidays”, “The Days of Adderall”, and “What an Awesome Backhanded Compliment”.
And after years of subsisting primarily on blog adoration and a relentless touring schedule, things are beginning to pay off for Deleted Scenes: In April, the band made the jump from DC’s upstart Sockets Records to Park the Van, a mid-level indie label based in New Orleans and home, most notably, to Dr. Dog. As Scheuerman explained in our conversation a few weeks back, this means the band will have the luxury of an actual recording budget when it comes time to capture its in-the-works third LP, as well as the means to physically get it into stores across the country.
But first, Park the Van will give a proper release to Deleted Scenes stunning sophomore effort, last September’s Young People’s Church in the Air, complete with revamped cover art and bonus tracks. The record’s gauzy atmospherics and portraits of domestic unease still feel inextricably linked to autumn, but the band’s penchant for sugary hooks – see the one-two punch of “Baltika 9” and “English as a Second Language” – will sound just as good cutting through the summer air tomorrow night at Red Palace, when the band wraps up a short tour and officially celebrates the reissue.
BYT: How did the move to Park the Van come about?
We were searching for a label to put out our next record – which we’re working on writing right now – and we sent our current album to Park the Van and they were like, “How about you build up a little more interest, a little bit more of a market, before we release your third album?” So they’re rereleasing [Young People’s Church in the Air] with some extra tracks and new art, to give it more distribution and get it in stores – the sort of stuff that a full time label does. They wanted to give that treatment to this album, because they liked it and they thought it could a little bit wider reach with the connections that they have and stuff.
BYT: Is it odd to be going through the cycle of having to talk about the record after it’s been out for ten months?
Yeah, I gotta say. Although, the more I do it, the more I get back into it, and look at it from a different viewpoint. Maybe I even have more objectivity about it at this point, so I don’t feel like I’m selling it.
BYT: How has your opinion changed?
I have, I think there’s a term for it: “last albumitis” or something, where you just want to do something completely different than you just did, so all I know now about the record is the sort of weak points about it. I guess I’m not the right person to interview here. [Laughs]
BYT: What kind of weak points do you hear?
Oh my god, this interview is turning horrible. [Laughs]
BYT: I’ll put it differently: Going into your third record, what is that you want to do differently?
I want it to sound performed. I think we focused extremely on sort of seeking sounds that were unfamiliar, and that’s obviously a good thing, but in hindsight it has the effect of distancing the listener. It doesn’t sound like a performance. It doesn’t sound like a band got in a room and that’s what they sound like. It sounds like a piece of art, you know? It sounds washed out in places and it’s got some amazing textures that I love. But I think that if we had done it more delicately, maybe with more time and money, or if we were just more creative, it would have struck a better balance between experimentation and immediacy. I definitely want to go more in the direction of immediacy. I feel like with the two albums we’ve made, we’ve really made an effort to try to learn how to break the rules and create startling moments, texturally and dynamically. I guess that it ends up sounding technical and probably unrelatable because that’s a very technical way of approaching music. I want to approach this album in a more organic, more immediate, and ultimately more emotionally raw way.
BYT: Is that a realization that came with performing Young People’s live?
We recorded it after more than a few tours of playing those songs live. 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. But I wouldn’t say that… I mean, we definitely loved the songs, but there was no lack of playing out of the songs live. There was just a great need to explore new dimensions and strange ways of presenting the sound, and it fit the material pretty well. There’s an argument to made for an album that feels obscure emotionally sounding obscure, through the use of effects and weird stuff. I think it fits. It works as a piece of art, but I’m more interested now in exploring, like, the human voice for example. What emotions can the dynamics of the human voice express, or the dynamics of the guitar? As things get digitalized, it can lose nuance. I think a lot of now are hungry for something a little more human. That’s the hope for the next album.
BYT: Where are you in the process for the next record?
We have some new songs, but it’s a totally different process now. It’s less me and Matt [Dowling] writing songs in a room by ourselves and saying exactly when each part happens, and then giving it to the drummer and guitarist. We’re becoming much more of an organic beast. There’s a lot more jamming and figuring out all the various colors of the people in the band. In that sense, we have a lot written, but haven’t made a lot of decisions that are going to need to be made, because we’re trying to postpone any sort of structure until we really know what everybody can offer and everybody feels like they’re adding something.
BYT: Is the band still split between DC and New York?
Yeah, we’ve been spending the last few months basically trading files and doing remixes of each other’s ideas. We’re doing that digitally, although we’re moving into the phase where we’re going to be doing that in a house. We’re looking for a place for August and September to flesh it all out as a band, which is honestly something we’ve never done. We’ve never gotten in the same space for a long period of time. We’ve been a long distance band for most of our existence. There was a need for me and Matt to do as much of the prep work as possible, because we were in DC and the other guys were in New York, but that sort of dictatorial process only took us so far – it only represented the viewpoints of me and Matt. We’ve decided that to do what we really want to do musically, we need to involve everyone, so we’re changing our process and doing that.
BYT: Will you guys have a substantially bigger budget for this record?
We do have a budget – like, there’s money. There was no budget on the previous two albums. The first one we did mostly by ourselves and I think we paid the producer, L. Skell, what amounted to a penny an hour to produce and engineer it. Matt went into some debt to make the second record. This time we actually have enough time to not insult everyone we’re working with.
BYT: Aside from paying people what they deserve, have you all discussed how you want to utilize the budget?
Aside from paying someone who knows what they’re doing and knows how much they’re worth, we’ve been talking about producers, but we haven’t made a decision yet.
BYT: So no children’s choirs or orchestral arrangements?
Oh gosh – no! It’s not that kind of thing. It’s more like, “Can we afford to be in a real studio and not be crippled with anxiety about the fact that we don’t have this money to spend? Do we have money that’s not really our money?” I think that was a big source of stress for the band: that we were all spending money that we weren’t making on the off chance that it was going to go somewhere. Now it’s paid for beforehand, so we can enjoy it.
BYT: Do you think that there are challenges that a band out of DC has to confront, in terms of levels of exposure and existing channels to get your music out there?
I think as a band coming from DC, we’ve kind of soaked up the vibe of “we’re just doing this for the sake of it.” That definitely, to me, feels like a DC view. We know that there’s no music industry here and so it becomes sort of a pure pursuit when you’re a band from DC. It becomes more about creating something and a lot less about whether you’re going to be able to sell it. That’s how cut our teeth and that’s how everybody in DC who makes music acts. I mean, there’s the occasional careerist band, but I think most of the time DC offers a pretty humble view of the potential for a band and that’s ultimately a good thing – it breeds character.
But on the flip side, I’ve heard recently that the view of DC nationally is that it doesn’t have a story, that we basically squandered the Dischord legacy and now we’re just a bunch of scattered minds who can barely afford to live in the city and didn’t have the gumption to move to New York to actually make a go of it. I think that’s the cliché of DC. It’s true in some ways: there is no music industry here; people don’t try to seek out DC bands; there’s not a scene that’s recognized in the national sense. But there are still a lot of creative people. Maybe that hurts, but it’s also our heritage. It’s kind of a punk, do-it-yourself heritage that doesn’t beg for outside attention. I think DC is the exact place that it tries to be. It’s small, it’s humble, it’s pure, so it’s not hype right now, but who really cares?
BYT: There’s somewhat of a debate in certain enclaves of the Internet over whether there is a marked resurgence in DC’s indie rock scene, or whether there’s always been a thriving scene and more people are just starting to pay attention. I saw a blog post where you wrote, “D.C. is just now emerging from a long lame spell that began when the Dismemberment Plan broke up.”
I mean, I have a subjective view. I wouldn’t say that I’m a scenster even, because I don’t go out enough – we’re going on tour all the time – but, in my limited view, DC has gotten distinctly better from when we were first starting. I wouldn’t say “just now” – I think that article is a little dated. But, in my limited view, there are a lot of really great bands in DC right now, and maybe it was just where we were when we first started, and who we knew, and who we didn’t know, but when we started, it felt like a really lonely place. I obviously caricatured it in that quote – I was kind of joking.
Mind you that when we started in DC that there were a bunch of bands in DC that sounded like other bands – very obviously like other bands. Now you have some really creative and original things going on, and of course there was creative and original stuff going on when we first started too, so maybe there’s no truth to what I’m saying, but it definitely feels momentous now. I mean, Hume just moved to Baltimore, but basically everything Sockets has put out has felt like part of something really worth expressing. It’s not the first label in DC – there are other labels – but the Sockets thing feels like it’s picked up steam in the past three years. There’s Future Times, which is awesome – it’s great stuff. Before people thought about DC as post-Dischord, and now people think people think of DC as maybe fallow – I think that’s the word that Ian MacKaye used: “fallow.” There’s been a long period of nothing really and things are starting to pick up.
BYT: Do you plan on continuing your relationship with Sockets even after the move?
Sockets remains the distributor for the vinyl, and that was all they really wanted to put out. We begged them to put out CDs, because we wanted to send them to college radio, and music directors won’t review unless you have a CD. That was really the extent of what they wanted to do, so they did the vinyl issue. In the future, Sean [Peoples] and I have talked, and he’s like, “Dude, if you do a side project, hit me up.” If I put out a side-project or a solo record, I think Sockets would be my first stop.