D’eon interview: ‘I just want to hear notes.’

05.11.10 Words by: Charlie Jones

Chris D’eon is a Montreal resident working in a call centre doing political surveys: “it’s awful… stuff like ‘do you think Barack Obama is a Muslim?’,” he says via skype. This job – and the fact he complains about it – is the only typical thing about him.

He’s been making music since he was a toddler, composing on a keyboard and sequencer his parents gave him, and soon after taking piano and violin lessons. In 2007 he decided to try and pick up on music outside the comfort zone, and spent several months in an Indian monastery surrounded by the sounds of that culture: “it was strange to wake up at six in the morning and hear the ceremony going on in the main hall, and to hear their like huge huge six foot long reed horns and their huge gongs and bells, and throat singing…” Eventually he returned to a by this time recession-stricken Canada, to live in a neighbourhood of unused warehouses, making music while flitting between jobs. Hippos In Tanks (Games, Von Haze, White Car) took interest, and are this month set to release his debut album ‘Palinopsia’.

It’s his early immersion in music that is key. He’s used to music being there, and to using it to converse. The various twists and turns of life can’t help but show through. It gives his music a certain wordliness. Not in any world music or fusion sense. It’s more about sensitivity. A D’eon song is like a glass globe. Open and transparent, helixing out, unfolding sparkling skeletons of drone-dance with a pristine inclusiveness. Vocals are laid-back, blurring any notions of where exactly on earth these songs are coming from. Lyrics aren’t escapist, but taken pick ‘n’ mix from his environment and memories. It’s music precision made to connect from the DNA outwards, siren-calling to anyone and everyone to come join in and dance.

d’Eon “Keep the Faith” from Megazord on Vimeo.

So, the basic question: how did you first get into making music?

Umm, I think I was about 4 or 5 years old, and my parents bought me a couple of keyboards and a sequencer. And basically, I believe I asked them to put me into piano lessons, so they put me into piano lessons when I was like 4 or 5, and then yeah, I quit for a couple of years when I was like 10, and then I got into violin, and then I quit violin, and then I went back to piano for like another 12 years… It was weird like, when I was really really little, 4 5 6 7 years old, I was making stuff almost similar in sound to the new LP. Like old synthesizers from the early ‘90s, house beats, 4 to the floor…

Then would you say the music you make now a kind of going back to your childhood thing? Is that a conscious decision?

(Laughs) No, it’s funny I like realized that it was really similar to what I was doing as a kid long after I started making the music, so it was like really really really subconscious. And the prominent bass sound I use in most of the album is like a pretty common Yamaha DX7 synthpatch, and I remember when I was a kid one of the keyboards I had wasn’t a DX7 but it had a whole bunch of presets that were DX7 patches, so I always used that bass sound. And then I don’t know, using it again, it was really subconscious. I just sort of realized that wow! This sounds exactly the same.

So why do you think music works for you as a medium of expression? Is it because you’ve been doing it since you were so young?

Yeah definitely. That’s definitely part of it. I think also because I was an only child and I was also very, er, strange as a kid. I was really really strange as a kid. Like nobody talked to me, I was a real pariah. And I was totally fine with that because all I wanted to do, I didn’t want to have any friends, I just wanted to work on music, and you know, I’d like to draw like pictures of towers (laughs) on glass paper, because I wanted to be an architect for a while… That’s really all I did was sit in my room, and that’s really all I do now. I mean, I don’t really go out, I go out once a week and I’m just like hiding in my closet when I’m not.

But you’re based in Montreal at the moment. Would you say that as a place it impacts on the music you’re making?

Yeah yeah. For sure. Big time. I don’t know like, somebody asked me a few months ago about that and I sort of had to think about it, but yeah definitely because before I moved to Montreal I had lived in Northern India, like near Pakistan and Tibet. Coming from there it was really really different and was like the opposite of what I’d been used to. I live in a neighbourhood where it’s all unused warehouses and factories. It was an old industrial district in the 1800s, an English speaking ghetto, so I sort of live in this place where nobody lives at all so it’s really conducive to making house music, electronic music, especially industrial music, everything in Montreal has gotten way back into industrial music.

“I met this Tibetan musician, I saw him playing, I think it was at a school or something, the dra-nyen which is like a six string lute from Tibet, so I came up to him and said ‘listen I’m here for a few months, can you teach me to play the dra-nyen and how to sing Tibetan music?’”

You mentioned being near Pakistan. How did that come about?

Well, I intended to go to Pakistan. I had my ticket, I had applied for my visa to go to Pakistan, but then a whole bunch of really really awful shit happened like right before I went, like two weeks before – this was in like 2007 – and so, you know, Pakistan, it was starting to get bad again. Anyway I had to not go to Pakistan so I went to India instead. I stayed for a year in like the Punjab area, near Kashmir and near Tibet. I wanted to study, I actually had music lessons all set up in Lahore Pakistan with some like Qawwali musicians, like Sufi Qawwali musicians. So I was going to hang out with the Sufis in Pakistan for like half a year to a year. So when I decided to go to India instead I was sort of aimless in that I was wandering around looking for something to do with myself, and so I started living in this monastery, and I met this Tibetan musician, I saw him playing, I think it was at a school or something, the dra-nyen which is like a six string lute from Tibet, so I came up to him and said listen I’m here for a few months, can you teach me to play the dra-nyen and how to sing Tibetan music? So that’s what I ended up doing. Spent like a few months with him studying music and yeah, it was definitely worth it.

Fantastic. What appealed to you about staying in a monastery?

Umm… I don’t know, I guess at the time I checked in, moved in, to the monastery, it was maybe two days after the terror attack in Mumbai, so there was a lot of like tension in the city… it was on edge. I mean, it was totally safe up there, but everybody was really on edge. So I went down out of town and I saw like, there was a path to a monastery – it was like 400-500 steps down on these old rock stairways going down into a forest on the side of a mountain and there was the sign to the monastery. And I just thought I’m sure they have extra rooms, so I asked them and they gave me tea and a room and it was super cheap. I paid like a dollar a night.

Do you think that whole experience has impacted on the music you make?

Umm, I don’t know, I don’t think so I mean, when I came back from India I made a couple of tapes which I just sort of passed around, I made like 40 copies of, and that was definitely influenced by that. By Tibetan songs and some Indian music. But I don’t know. With the new LP, it’s definitely about the fact after moving here, moving back here, the economy had collapsed. And I’d been, up until about a month ago, I’d been pretty much unemployed for the past two and a half years making no money. I lived, I mean I still live, in rags and I live in a windowless closet. But it’s sort of about the fact that you know, things were ok, and then I went to India and hid out in seclusion for a while, and then I came back and the world had like completely disintegrated. So I don’t know, I think the whole thing is about like malaise. I feel like everybody has this sort of malaise. In Montreal a lot of people are really really bummed out you know, nobody has a job in Montreal. You know, people don’t have any money. So I don’t know, I guess it’s not really that bad, you know, relatively. But I think that the whole album is really just about the fact that any inner peace I may have gained in the mountains has pretty much been whittled down to a tiny little box of what it used to be because of the bullshit that is going on around us all the time.

Listening to your album I was aware of a kind of tension between a lot of the sounds seeming quite steady and spiritual, and then some of the sentiments to the songs seemed to have a dark, almost political bent, like Kill A Man With A Joystick In Your Hand

Yeah, I don’t know, I’m not a political guy. I’m not an activist, I don’t have left wing or right wing views I don’t think… I don’t know, I guess with that song, the song about Pakistan, it’s just my own you know, personal thoughts… I feel like if I’m going to write lyrics to a song, I’m not a very good lyricist, I’m not a prolific lyricist, but if I’m going to write something I don’t really give a shit about writing a love song. I’d much rather write a song about you know, playing war like a video game. I think that’s interesting. I think the song is much more just me thinking about it, thinking out loud about it, but it’s certainly not politically inclined one way or another, or trying to convey any sort of political message with it. I guess, if you’re in the business of writing songs, you might as well write songs about the shit you have to listen to and the shit you have to read about. I think that’s more interesting than like a love song or something.

I want to ask about the album name, ‘Palinopsia.’ I hadn’t heard the term before. Wikipedia tells me it’s something to do with seeing afterimages…

Ah yeah, Palinopsia, I think it means like ‘seeing again’ in maybe Greek? It’s a vision condition I had basically since I was a little kid. I don’t know, I have a couple of theories as to what might have caused it, like I fell down some concrete stairs when I was like two years old and hit myself in like the frontal lobe, so that might have caused it. Basically what happens is that anything I look at, at any time, I see an inverted colour afterimage which stamps into my retina or into my brain. Apparently it’s a neurological condition. It’s sort of like, you see those optical illusions where they say look at a picture of like an inverted American flag for like a minute and then look away, and you’ll see the American flag? That’s what happens to me, but in like a split second. It happens any time I look at anything.

So how come you decided to name the album that? Was it because it’s something quite personal to you?

Yeah I guess so. And then I tend to take pure lines or melodies or loops that I’ve made, and then sort of layer them on top of each other and sort of off-set them in matters of seconds so they’re sort of phasing… I don’t know, kind of like a Steve Reich rip off. So I tend to do that a lot. It’s sort of like an audio version of what I see all the time. And there’s also the fact that when you see the opposite of everything all the time… I feel like the lyrics are sort of the opposite of the instrumental tracks sometimes. You know, there’s a lot of opposites in the album, and I guess it corresponds to what I see all the time.

I like the fact that your songs never feel rushed. There’s something quite peaceful about the repetition. Was that a conscious thing to make it sort of gently paced? I mean I’d still consider it dance or pop music, but kind of chilled out…

Yeah I don’t know. I think it’s unintentional because I always end up, I’ll quote a whole bunch of melodies that go together harmonically, that all sort of fit together like lego, and when I’m doing that I’ll think ok, this is going to be the verse, this is going to be the chorus, but I sort of don’t take length into account. Like the 40 Dollar Paycheque song ended up being like two riffs for seven minutes. In retrospect I probably would have made that a formal song, but like, I don’t know, it’s gone through so many edits that I’m just like not going to… So yeah, it’s a little of both.

“I’ve always been really really secluded, I’ve always been sort of quiet and alone. Like, most of my day I have to be alone or I’ll freak.”

But simplicity is often the hardest thing to do well. It’s a lot harder to make something that simple last and work.

Yeah you’re right. Simplicity is really hard. And I have to like, if I don’t want to put a whole bunch of shit on top of my tracks then I really have to think about what notes are being put down, and I think that’s really important. Especially now that it’s so easy to produce music on a computer. Really anybody can. And that’s great. Although I feel like sometimes, the music gets too caught up in like synthesis and production and you know sound processing, granular whatever. You know, you hear a lot of sounds especially in dance music, like when a drop is coming you can hear like piiissshhhhoooo and it sounds like radio advertisements! Like ‘you’re listening to 101.1’ piiishhhooo! And like, I don’t really give a shit. Those aren’t notes. And I sound like a fucking ass hole because I only care about the notes, and I don’t want to hear a bunch of swooshy swooshy bullshit, I just want to hear notes. But I mean that’s hard. If you’re only going to put notes instead of other production techniques, and if the notes suck, you’re going to look like a jack ass.

I was also thinking, there’s something quite euphoric and celebratory about the music. Was that something important to you?

Well yeah. But like, in terms of being celebratory or euphoric, I feel like personally, as a person, I don’t feel celebratory or euphoric. At any time. But I do feel like maybe, if there is a sense of euphoria, or happiness or uplifting nature, if there’s any of that in the music then it’s probably a product of like longing for that sort of ecstasy. I don’t know, I’ve always been really really secluded, I’ve always been sort of quiet and alone. Like, most of my day I have to be alone or I’ll freak. And so I maybe that like euphoria sort of comes out in a really concentrated like, pent up form. Pent up euphoria. Longing for euphoria, for ecstasy.

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