New York City’s Macula Dog is a duo known for their singular style of clattering electronic synth music. The band is also known for their live performances, which are highly visual, with the duo donning elaborate costumes and operating custom control rigs. Their current live set features a luminol-glam experience with live video of each member’s face recorded by head-mounted cameras and projected onto screens around the performance area. Their live set has been covered in The New Yorker and their last LP earned a Tiny Mix Tapes Eureka designation.
The band’s first self-titled EP was released on their own Haord Records label in 2014, followed by their debut LP for Wharf Cat, 2016’s Why Do You Look Like Your Dog? The Natural Dog cassette followed by a U.S. release tour and performances on Adult Swim. The Breezy EP was be released on 4/17 but the band had to cancel the Eps release tour because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Macula Dog is currently working on their next LP, after which a support tour will be planned when it is safe to do so.
(Photo Credit: Ates Isildak)
Matt and Ben are the Brooklyn-based experimental pop group Macula Dog; Dan Deacon is a veteran electronic musician and composer. Matt, Ben, and Dan hopped on a Zoom call to catch up recently, the transcript of which you can read below!
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Matt: The reason I thought we’d be good to talk to each other is because we have the same amount of letters in our band names. That’s mainly why.
Dan Deacon: [Laughs.] Yeah. I saw it on the list of band letter names and I was like, “When are we gonna have this Zoom?!”
Ben: We got matched up automatically.
Dan: I think it’s a good algorithm.
Matt: The only reason I have this headset mic on is because—
Dan: You want us to hear all your breathing.
Matt: Dan, do you use headset mics live?
Dan: No. I think about it all the time, because I just like holding — a microphone is kind of like a very cumbersome fidget spinner for me, so I think I’m going to stick to it. And if I wore a headset, mic, it would just be like, [Breathes heavily]. Like I would need a foot pedal mute—
Ben: You’d need a pop filter on the headset mic.
Dan: Just like a pop filter mask.
Ben: And a sound guy dedicated to muting it.
Dan: You know when you see an old live setup where they have two mics, and one was just to phase cancel — I guess you could have one just to phase cancel the breath.
Matt: What was that German show that had, like, Captain Beefheart and all those people on, that’s on YouTube?
Ben: Oh, Beat Club?
Matt: Yeah, on Beat Club they always had the two microphones. I mean, everybody, I guess had the two microphones—
Ben: You have to have someone who breathes the exact same way as you breathing into it in a phase cancelled mic.
Dan: Like Blues Traveler, but instead of playing harmonica they’re just in the back, like, huffing and puffing.
Matt: But wait, what’s the point of the two mics?
Dan: Are you talking about for the original purpose, or for this absurd scenario we’re talking about?
Matt: I mean on, like, the show.
Dan: They were phase inverted so it would cancel out feedback. I’m pretty sure it was just a feedback suppressant and they had a high pass on it, so all of the high frequencies that would feedback would just be phased out immediately.
Ben: Yeah, we everyone’s gotta start doing that again.
Dan: Yeah. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but I remember learning this at some point.
Matt: I don’t know why they couldn’t just make one mic to have the two…
Dan: I think this was pre-monitors! So I think the vocalist would be singing out of a speaker behind them. This is some, like, pre-Grateful Dead shit. This is for a TED talk, right?
Matt: That’s what I’m set up to do.
Ben: We’re gonna do a really technical rig rundown, like an hour-long talk about phase cancellation and feedback.
Matt: Dan, you don’t, like, hide the gear on your table to stop people from copying your rig?
Dan: What are they going to do? Like, “Oh, I found out he uses MIDI controllers!”
Matt: No, seriously, that was like a thing in bands I loved when I was in, like, early high school — they would cover up all their pedals so that people couldn’t tell what they were,
Dan: That’s so insane. Could you imagine a cellist, like, playing underneath a blanket, being like, They’ll never know. I played with My Bloody Valentine once at this festival — and I was never a fan. I wasn’t, like, anti-the band, I just never listened to their music growing up. Now I actively dislike them.
Ben: Oh, god!
Dan: Well, the dude was a fucking dickhead. What’s the guy’s name?
Ben: Are we gonna get Kevin Shields doing this?
Dan: How can we get in trouble?
Ben: I don’t know. What label are they on?
Dan: They’re on Domino, they’re on my label. [Laughs.] I might get in trouble. But they had this kitchen cart, like a kitchen cabinet with wheels and all these racks of pedals. I was like, That’s pretty cool, and I tried to take a picture of it, not knowing the the long, storied history of hiding—
Matt: Oh, shit.
Dan: I’m side stage, I’m playing and my equipment is right next to it. They played, like, an hour or two long, and played all during Tinariwen’s set, and just screwed the whole rest of the festival, just didn’t give a shit. And he was just so mean to his crew! He kept yelling at his guitar tech, and it was actually snowing — it was supposed to be a nice warm spring festival, and he kept running offstage and screaming. Why the fuck am I still talking?
Matt: All this is leading up to you just saying you’ve missed me being at festivals this past year.
Dan: So many people love that band, and he was just so mean. He was he screaming at this poor guy, it sucked. But anyway, people cover their gear. It’s insane. I guess Eddie Van Halen would turn around so people couldn’t see how he was doing solos. But I think he was just turning around because the solos got—
Ben: Because he was shy.
Dan: [Laughs.] He would get shy during those particular parts of the song.
Wasn’t it Les Paul who used to pretend that like, before Varispeed was a known technique, we was like, “No, I can just sing that high and play that fast.” That was his grift for a while. He was like, “No, I’m just a magician in the studio.”
Matt: Have you ever put on your records all the gear you’ve used?
Dan: I guess not, no. But I’ve done rig rundowns, if that’s like a genre of YouTube videos. It was more like in the early days, back when people would be like, “This guy makes music — get this — with electronics and computers.” Now it’s just sort of like, “You don’t use exclusively electronics, like what the fuck are you doing?”
I was listening to [Macula Dog’s Breezy EP] — great record, by the way. Really, really beautiful. How the fuck do you count it, like when you’re playing live? There’s a lot of stuff that’s, like, odd meter… Maybe I’m just listening to it wrong, but I feel like it has a really wild groove, and I just kept thinking about live, how you would — like do you play to a click?
Ben: That record was obviously before this situation now, where we’re remote and we’re recording mostly on the computer and not with each other. But now with that record, the EP we recorded live, and we just have these sample drum pads. Everything from our studio, we sample onto the drum pads and stuff, and he plays keyboard — like rhythmically alternating, like I’ll hit one sample, he’ll hit the other one, and then we’ll just do this until we create these convoluted loops. We’re not musicians—
Dan: [Laughs.] I love when people say that.
Ben: I don’t know what a note is.
Dan: You’re not a music theorist.
Ben: I used to drum a lot and I can count, but we don’t count it out or anything. It’s just kind of like, “This loop feels just short of being very straightforward, so we’ll try and see if we can create something compelling with something so hard to withstand,” while you’re playing it or something. And then meanwhile, we’re like, you know, wearing a bunch of—
Matt: We make it really hard for ourselves, basically.
Ben: I’m like surfing on a kick pedal and a volume pedal at the same time, and playing this drum pad while not being able to see anything that I’m been doing in it. So we get really good at playing whatever beats those are.
Dan: They’re real nice
Matt: Ben will record some sample, and I’ll notice that there’s some click in it at some random time. I’ll be listening for that weird pop or that click or whatever it is. I mean, our stuff isn’t that crazy. I mean, we sometimes, like, jump from 4/4 to 5/4 and do polyrhythm stuff.
Dan: Are you huge ska fans?
Matt: Are you?
Dan: Oh, yeah.
Matt: Ben, do we want to put this on the record?
Ben: I will put everything on the record, but I’m not talking about certain aspects.
Matt: All I’m saying is, Dan, the first band that Ben and I were in together was it was a ska band when we were both middle schoolers.
Ben: In fact, I just found recordings and it is the absolute most flat trombones — this, like, cluster of microtonal trombone, trumpet. Like, I would love to have that again now with what I’m into now, but back then I just like, “Yeah, cool.”
Matt: [Laughs.] “This sounds great.”
Ben: “This is like a real horn section!”
Dan: That’s kind of an amazing idea, to put out a call being like “Looking for a high school ska band horn section to record horns for our record.”
Ben: It’s coming back, man. The fifth wave…
Dan: Who’s that wild band? Something gecs?
Ben: Yeah, they did a ska song, 100 gecs.
Dan: I was shocked. People were like, “Have you heard this band?” Like talking shit. And I was like, “No, this is fucking awesome.”
Ben: That record is good.
Dan: I think a lot of older people are bewildered when younger people are doing something weirder than they could have imagined, that challenges their identity. They’re like, “No, but I used to be the weird—” But like, I love when I hear something like that. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but like, if you were 15 right now and you’re into weird music, you’re going to be making the weirdest shit in the world when you’re, like, 25. Like what the fuck is a 15 year old during covid who’s into weird shit — they have listened to, like, everything on earth during this period. Including, hopefully, ska.
Matt: I hope 100 gecs got people more into ska. I think there’s a connotation with ska—
Dan: Wait, what do you mean? [Laughs.]
Matt: People get really pissed. It’s just like nu metal — [third wave ska] is this crazy suburban American hybrid that, like, I don’t know how people are not really impressed by the weirdness of it.
Dan: Third wave ska, to me, the reason why people hate it so much because it’s all just about, like, having fun. On Long Island, there was a ska scene, a punk scene, and a hardcore scene, and the punk scene and the hardcore scene were very much rooted in, like, teenage masculinity, being like an emo. It was all like, “Look at how serious I can be,” and ska bands were like, “We bought an inflatable octopus and we’re throwing it into the audience!” We’d play with these bands, and — not intentionally, but we would just, like, shatter the facade of importance that being a musician had.
There’s this book that just came out called In Defense of Ska, and it’s an amazing sort of history — I think it mostly focuses on ‘90s ska, like the people who made it and still make it. And I interviewed for it and he sent me a copy, and at first I was like, Oh, no, am I ruining my career? But now I’m like—
Matt: I didn’t realize you’re an authority!
Ben: An academic ska scholar.
Matt: What’s your role in the book?
Dan: I was in a band in high school, and then after Spiderman of the Rings came out, Brooklyn Vegan published something like, “Hold the phone, everybody: Dan Deacon was in a ska band, and it’s time to stop liking his current music!” It was like a gotcha kind of piece. But people were like, “Oh, I remember seeing Channel 59, they were fun. It makes sense that Dan was in a ska band.” It just felt so weird, where people were like, “Hold on, get this: ska band. We can murder him legally now, right?” But I get what you’re saying. Did you ever openly talk about being in a ska band prior to this?
Ben: Yeah, I think I tried, but no one cares.
Matt: [Laughs.] Maybe it really is just the 10 year gap or something, because I have not felt the hostility that it seems like gotten. Like, the fact that Brooklyn Vegan was even making a big deal about it, like just from a high school too-cool-for-this sort of… I mean, I guess that’s what Brooklyn Vegan sort of was, right?
We were just talking about overly serious [people] — I love Lou Reed, but I was just watching this video of Lou Reed, and it was like… It’s weird when it seems like someone doesn’t have a sense of humor at all, even though the stuff they’re doing can be kind of goofy at times.
Ben: But that’s also what’s kind of endearing about him. I feel like people know that about him, so he’s a weird example.
Dan: I wonder what his relationship with Laurie Anderson was. I saw Laurie Anderson with Kronos Quartet at a college show, like in an auditorium outside of DC — I was working with Kronos at the time, so I went down to see them, and I really wanted to be Laurie Anderson obviously. So I’m waiting backstage and fucking Lou Reed is there, and I did not expect Lou Reed to be there. And he comes barreling towards me. And I’m like, Oh, this is amazing. And I reach out my hand, and he just fucking pushes me with both hands and he’s like, “You’re standing in front of the catering.” [Laughs.]
Matt: [Laughs.] Holy shit.
Dan: Which just is funny. It’s just like, “Get out of the way so I can eat snacks!” And meanwhile, I was just eating a shitload of snacks.
Matt: You’re like, “We can bond over this!”
Dan: It was kind of like getting hit by a really soft train that turns out to be Lou Reed. But I don’t even know if I knew they were married at the time — I was like, Wait a minute, this is blowing my mind. Because she seems to have a pretty good sense of humor.
Matt: As far as the relationship between the two of them, it is something I’m very curious about. I guess it’s just some New York magic or something like that.
Dan: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s just some New York magic. [Laughs.]
I miss the diversity of music press. There used to be so many more small blogs and sites, and even the ones that exist would cover more weird obscure music regularly. So as much as I like that that snark is gone, just the coverage is also gone.
Matt: Other than it just being a money thing and they’re just not being an outlet to do that, what’s the why, as to that to why that’s happening for you?
Dan: Well, I guess a lot of it is the money thing, it’s hard to survive. But for the sites that do exist, I think it’s just the way the data works, like your writing needs to be read by a certain number of people or get the impressions. So it’s much easier to cover something that you know is going to get a million unique views than something that you want to foster.
Matt: I’d love to think it has nothing to do with the amount of new weird bands there are.
Dan: No, I think there’s so many. You can scroll on Spotify and get deep into a hole and find weird shit where people have, like, six listeners.
Matt: I have a lot of trouble finding new stuff. Do you do this a lot?
Dan: Oh, I do it constantly. I’ve got a radio show, so I’m constantly looking. I don’t want to just play old shit, so it gives me a dedicated couple of hours that I have to do new music listening. I love it. It just blows my mind that they’ll literally have six listeners — and I don’t even know who I would share it with. I mean, I send it to friends, but there’s no local alt paper in Baltimore anymore. There’s no small journalist that I can be like, “Check this out.”
So that’s what I miss. It’s mainly the print. The internet still has a great diversity of places, but I don’t know. I look back on it and maybe it’s just that I was naive in 2007 — I didn’t know much about music press, so when it started happening to me, I was like, Wow, there’s all of these outlets! Now that I know of them, there seems like there’s less. Kind of like how when you’re going somewhere and you don’t know how long it takes to get there, it feels so much longer than when you turn around and go back. Does that make any sense?
Dan: Like the long road of ska, it seemed endless, and then when you got to the pinnacle of ska, and you look back and see all of the — wait, did either of you play trombone?
Matt: Me. I was the flat one in the band. We had two trombonists, the other guy was really good and I was very bad and flat. I remember just being on MySpace and endlessly finding ska bands on MySpace. That was like me finding new six-listener bands.
Dan: See, this is the feature that Spotify should have: Instead of their algorithm telling you what other fans like, the band should be able to be like, “This is my top eight.”
Matt: Well, they do that on Bandcamp, right? Bandcamp has a recommended albums thing.
Ben: But that’s not really in the interest of Spotify as a company. like that doesn’t really help them. They’re trying to gather data on what people like.
Dan: I’ve heard from people in the music data game that the “sounds like” is inaccurate. It’s only accurate for, like, the first six months of the account and it never updates.
Matt: I know our music ended up on these DJ websites where it shows what BPMs and stuff, and supposedly other music that fits the mood. And it’s just like, This is not right.
Dan: I don’t think anyone’s like putting on The Books and then like, I need to listen to some Dan Deacon now. Like my “sounds like” or “fans also like” has been exactly the same for, like, eight years.
Ben: I don’t want a “recommended if you like,” I want, like, the same ethos. Like, I don’t care what it sounds like, I just want the ethos — give me the recommended attitude for this band.
(Photo Credit: left, Frank Hamilton; right, Ates Isildak)