d'Eon interview: "I had angels in mind." The Montreal artist on internet revelations, speaking in tongues, and the paranoia that fuelled his extraordinary new album.
d’Eon has had many incarnations: the lo-fi 90s R&B guy (it was debut album ‘Palinopsia’ that first sparked the Phil Collins comparisons); Grimes collaborator (while his half of their split record ‘Darkbloom’ was arguably the more refined, it was Grimes’s Vanessa, and specifically its highly styled pop video, that grabbed the headlines); and the keyboard master (his recent ‘Music For Keyboards’ showcased his compositional prowess). While he says he still views himself as a keyboard player first and foremost, with ‘LP’, his new album on Hippos In Tanks, he introduces d’Eon the album artist.
‘LP’ approaches contemporary cultural dialogue about our digital lives with a genuine freshness.
For ‘LP’ is a remarkable album, an album of ideas – and new ones at that. It approaches contemporary cultural dialogue about our digital lives with a genuine freshness, applying religious allegory to the secular realm of the internet to arresting affect. What if, d’Eon asks on ‘LP’, the angel Gabriel is hiding in the internet? It’s not so leftfield a question: Gabriel was God’s messenger, the guardian of divine information, according to both Christianity and Islam. And, of course, the internet with its infinite well of information and scrolling script(ures) is the most predominant faith of our times. But without a guide who do we trust and what will happen on judgement day?, asks d’Eon. ‘LP’ traces his search for Gabriel, and for salve to a steadily growing paranoia about the internet’s grip on our lives.
It’s a journey that finds him showcasing both sides of his personality: the ethereally inclined composer and the sophisticated pop artist. There are moments of contemplation (Annunication, I Look Into The Internet), moments of despair (Chastisement) and moments of exaltation (Transparency Pt.II, Century By Century). But most of all, perhaps surprisingly for its subject matter, its an album of slowly building joy that releases in Al-Qiyamah, the album’s closer and own judgement day. For all ‘LP’s worrying, for all its questions, its spirit is elevatory, which is what drew me to it, and why it’s the album I’ve listened to most so far this year. Despite, or perhaps because of, his paranoia, d’Eon ultimately becomes his own guide on ‘LP’, his own Gabriel.
When I spoke to him via Skype last week he was sitting in front of the window of his Montreal apartment. The light streamed in around him, obscuring his face and softening his silhouette with a rainbow coloured glow.
You have purple and green light around you.
d’Eon: You know what, I’m kind of seeing this weird aura. Is it blue on the top and green on the bottom?
Yes, totally. It’s also pink at the edges.
d’Eon: I love it. Like right here [gestures to the Skype video screen].
Yes! Seeing as you’re sat in front of the window now I’m going to start with that. Dummy has done a couple of interviews with you now and I remember Steve [Kerr] asking you about your four songs on ‘Darkbloom’ and you said they were bad-time music, because they were made when you were living in a place without a window. When did you move?
d’Eon: Claire [Boucher; Grimes] and I went to Mexico for a week and just before me and my roommate had moved, so I came back from Mexico to a new apartment, and that was when I got this window. Every day I am so grateful; I open it up wide and it’s amazing. I’ve been here for a little more than a year. I really like this neighbourhood. It’s less hectic, less people than I know on the street. It’s mostly south Asians here – a lot of people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. I think it’s the most densely populated and the poorest neighbourhood in Montreal but it’s really chill, and there’s lots of really nice Indian food so I’m really happy.
When did you start writing ‘LP’?
d’Eon: I started working on ‘LP’ soon as I got back from Mexico. I was inspired – it was one of the greatest trips I’ve ever had. I started working on a couple of songs that I knew were going to be for the record; I guess in May or June of last year. For the first six to seven months I was working on and off on these tracks there was no lyrical content or concept. There was nothing about the angel Gabriel or anything like that – although, musically, the actual texture of the music and the notes, I had angels in mind when I was making it. I knew that I wanted it to be basically like the same sort of format as my side of the split with Grimes: four songs that semi go into each other – but times four. I wanted it to be 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes. And so I started working on tracks that were in the same key, or had the same motifs. So this is going to be one LP side, there’s four songs or whatever. After that I wrote all the lyrics in one.
d’Eon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I finished every single song, all the vocal melodies – what the vocals were going to sound like – and then I sat down and wrote all the lyrics in maybe one or two weeks. The lyrics really came together at the very end.
I like that because I feel like the lyrics lead you to certain themes very clearly but there is ambiguity with some of the music and the titling. Like, the instrumental track I Look Into The Internet actually comes across very spiritual.
d’Eon: That’s funny because that the first track I did on the LP. I did that in April or May of last year. Now You Do was the second one I think.
Gabriel is a huge presence on the album – either you’re looking for him or he’s watching over it. There’s this tension between those two things. Obviously he was this messenger, but for your album – what does he represent to you?
d’Eon: I guess at the time I was just thinking a lot about how I wasn’t coming from a place where the internet is utopian but from a place where the internet is really confusing. I’m almost sick of having too much information. I don’t want to know what people are doing on Twitter, on Facebook; I don’t want to read the news. I just don’t want to hear any of it; some days I feel like that.
I hear that.
“The lyrics come from a place of confusion – why is the time of the prophets over? There is a lot of shit going on right now and we could totally use a scripture.” d’Eon
d’Eon: In terms of the perspective to the album, according to Christianity and Islam Gabriel was the bringer of information, he would bring information from God to the prophets, for the prophets to deliver. The album assumes that Gabriel last appeared in the world to Muhammad 1400 years ago. That was the last time we had heard anything from God. The lyrics come from a place of confusion – why is the time of the prophets over? There is a lot of shit going on right now and we could totally use a scripture or something. According to the Islamic perspective, Muhammad was the last prophet and after that we’re on our own until judgement day. So no matter how bed things get we’re not going to hear from God until the end. Most of the songs are about this frustration: I have access to every piece of information imaginable on the internet and I can watch over anybody on YouTube or on Twitter and see what everybody is doing and everybody can see what I’m doing but the only person who isn’t watching over any of us is God himself. And the only person who isn’t giving us any information is Gabriel.
So it’s sort of this fatalistic feeling that we’re getting all this information but it’s just shit, it’s not holy. We’re being surveilled over by the government and Facebook and our friends and our peers on the internet. But we’re not being surveilled over by God. Later on in the album the lyrics start turning into this idea of I’m going to look for Gabriel in the internet because if the internet provides us with all this information, maybe that’s his home or something. Maybe Gabriel has something to do with the internet if he’s the propagator of information. There’s a lot of art nowadays that’s kind of portraying this utopian vision of the internet – and I really like art that does that but I only wish that I felt the same way because I feel very scared and really overwhelmed at the amount of information. I feel like that there’s probably going to be more and more paranoia as more and more information becomes available to us.
Based on the fact that we have limited resources in the world I think there will be a blackout period where we won’t have the technology infrastructure that we have now. Maybe there’s going to be a new period of the dark ages and a new period of enlightenment afterwards.
d’Eon: Exactly, I feel like we’re like “we know absolutely everything” but a lot of people over the ages thought they knew everything and they all got fucked over in the end. It’s funny that you mention some kind of blackout period because my paranoid mind sometimes thinks that it might be a good idea for people to transcribe their music onto sheet music in case – who knows – what if the internet shuts down and we run out of oil or something. At least you can play your songs on the piano.
That’s where you started.
d’Eon: Exactly, yes for sure. I haven’t written down music for years. I probably wouldn’t know where to start now.
Maybe the real judgement day will be the day when the internet shuts down and we have to actually properly figure things out for ourselves. There is always the massive tension between faith and technology in the modern world, with technology having become the new faith – the thing you lean on to help you make decisions.
d’Eon: Yes, and even coming from a secular standpoint, whether or not there’s any God in the equation, it’s still pretty obvious that at some point there will be some sort of judgement day – whether it’s an environmental crisis or technological crisis or a financial crisis…
Or maybe all of them at the same time.
d’Eon: The lyrics do come from a questioning of whether God is out there any more but it certainly isn’t only for religious people. I don’t practice a particular religion heavily although there are some that I have more theological tendency towards.
How do you think humanity will fare on judgement day?
d’Eon: Oh man, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I have a hunch that maybe things aren’t going to go so well for myself and others but who knows [laughs]. It’s hard to tell. We could get to the point in maybe 30, 40 or 50 years where we can transfer our minds into the internet and what will happen then? If God exists are we going to be left out of the rapture and just left in the internet forever in this weird digital purgatory after the end of the world? Anything could happen.
I kind of accept that if human beings have the ability to imagine something then it will probably end up being real. Sure, we will upload our minds to the internet but still… that’s impossible.
d’Eon: I hope it’s impossible.
We are hormones and chemical signals but we’re also more than that. I’m anti-religious to an extent but I do believe in souls. That thing that makes you you, that isn’t there when we die.
d’Eon: I hope we have something that can’t be transferred to the internet.
I love that jungle is still a big part of this album. Especially Signals Intelligence, that has a lot of heart. What is it that drew you to jungle originally?
“I think that jungle really has a sense of paranoia to it. Even though it originated in the 90s it sounds super modern.” d’Eon
d’Eon: I was nine when jungle was popular in Britain so I certainly wasn’t around for that. I think maybe as a little Canadian pre-teen, I probably first heard jungle around ’97/98. I would listen to jungle mixtapes that friends would make me on the internet and I would burn them onto CDRs and listen to them on my Discman. When was 11 or 12 I was really into Underworld, The Prodigy and The Orb – all that really joyful rave-y stuff – and definitely stuff that was 160/170 bpm. I’m more of a 160 kinda guy – the jungle. I’ve never been there but it gives me a feel of what London is when I listen to it. I think that jungle really has a sense of paranoia to it – the syncopation and the basslines. That’s the tone I wanted to go for; even though it originated in the 90s it sounds super modern.
It suits the tone of the times.
d’Eon: Yes, you walk down the street and you have all these cellphone signals and 3G and WiFi all tagging you in foursquare and your iPhone has GPS and all this shit and everyone can see you apart from God. We’re all alone out here in this weird digital soup that’s all around us. All in all, pretty paranoid.
Would you ever want to unplug?
d’Eon: You know what, I did a few years ago when I lived in that monastery in India for three months. I need to do it again. If ever any advertisement wants to use my music then I would do it so I could not be on the internet.
It’s such a paradox that the way to be able to unplug is getting money from an advert.
d’Eon: The only reason I was able to unplug before was that I was working in a call centre pushing bits of information around and the endgame for that was to unplug. So it’s kind of funny – it’s hard to get away from. I can talk shit about the internet all day but the only reason anyone ever listened to any of my music because Dan Lopatin [Oneohtrix Point Never] found me on Twitter and sent my shit to Hippos In Tanks, so that was all the internet.
One of the big stories that’s circled this album was your time in the Indian monastery, which is actually a few years ago now, but this feels like your first body of work that reflects the idea of a monastery: this state of contemplation.
d’Eon: It’s funny I never really put those two together – when I was writing the album I wasn’t really thinking about that period. It does have a little bit of a hangover from that period but the album itself is pretty hardcore Muslim/Christian themes. But there are probably some moments that bubbled up from memories of living in a peaceful religious community. I’m not necessarily a spiritual person, I don’t meditate but I’m sure some people on the internet think I’m a hippy.
I love the way that you reverse the vocals on the album – aesthetically and also conceptually because it’s almost like speaking in tongues. There was always that urban myth about rewinding certain pop songs and hearing something about Satan.
d’Eon: It does sort of sound like speaking in tongues, a lot of the time when that happens it often will be after a stanza of lyrics with something blasphemous. One chorus ends with something about Gabriel being in my imagination and right after it goes into distorted reversed speech.
Also on Al-Qiyamah a lyric that keeps affecting me is “The smoke I’m breathing is real”.
d’Eon: All the lyrics in that block are all signs that judgement day is coming according to Islam. If you Google the signs of the judgement day, there are all of these things that, just like Nostradamus, you can apply to any period of time. But it’s still exciting and interesting to think what if inanimate objects speaking to us is Siri, and great distances being travelled in a short space of time is a plane, obviously.
d’Eon: Another one of the signs of judgement day is that there will be a huge smoke over the cities, as a physical manifestation of the evil we’ve done. And that’s true – we can sit in our apartments and use the internet and feel like we’re in a utopian world but our air is rotting. If you go to Hong Kong you can barely breathe and it’s because of the lives that we lead with technology. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use technology or making any kind of political or religious statement with any of the lyrics on the album but it’s coming from the perspective of there is smog. Even in Montreal there’s a little bit of smog and if that’s one of the signs of judgement day then that’s really interesting. A big what if.
I think it’s stronger to ask questions than to make statements.
d’Eon: Yes, obviously I’m not a Christian and I’m not a Muslim – I’ve spent a lot of time studying Islam and Christianity but I certainly don’t have any statement to make at all. It’s coming from a perspective of I’m very confused – I don’t know what God is up to or what is going on in the world.
It’s so easy to live in the internet. I have been very aware over the last six months of how much time I spend on the internet and it’s ridiculous. It breeds a refresh, refresh, refresh mindset.
d’Eon: I feel like people really do like to be watched and to be judged and scrutinised. Back in the day people would feel like their actions in this life are going to be scrutinised by God and now I feel like maybe that has been replaced with our peers. We just want judgement and approval from our peers, to be watched by our peers.
It makes us real.
d’Eon: If we can’t see any physical manifestations of ourselves on the internet then we all just strive for people to fucking retweet us or something. It’s sad but true.
It’s interesting learning about the ever-evolving desires and limits of humanity. It doesn’t stand still. There are all of these really compelling and deeply interesting things in the album to pick and mull over but on a completely other level, it’s hugely enjoyable as a listening experience.
d’Eon: Thanks a lot. I’m glad you enjoy them. I’ve always wanted to hear a prog album by Yes or Genesis – and yes, they did that at points in their careers – but a whole bunch of easy-to-listen-to songs that all go into each other. I like extended pop music; pop songs that are extended into long forms. Most of those songs – there are some that are a little weirder and thicker than others – but several of those songs could be listened to on their own. Even if you don’t give a shit about all the God shit or the Gabriel shit, you can just ignore the lyrics. It’s not something you have to think about.