If there is a busier guy in the indie-rock fraternity (and it does at times feel like a fraternity, complete with hazing) than Bradford Cox, I’d like to know who it is. The Deerhunter frontman — whose band made a stunning, droning, blood-smeared, dress-wearing splash last year with the acclaimed Cryptograms album, Fluorescent Grey EP and explosive live shows — has begun ’08 on a slightly more relaxed but just as busy note.
We caught up with Cox during the second week of a tour to support Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, the debut of Atlas Sound — a solo project that finds him in a dreamy, discordant, more electronic and less noisy place than Deerhunter. To go along with the new album, there is also something of a new Bradford. Having just recently kicked a dependence on the anti-anxiety medication Ativan, Cox seems more at ease both on- and offstage.
“My spirits are much better,” he said. “One thing about Deerhunter is that it takes a lot out of you to perform that way. With Atlas Sound it’s different, it’s more relaxed. My goal on this tour was to maintain my sanity.”
But as the year goes, his schedule only gets more insane. Atlas Sound will be on the road in America through mid-March, then will head to Europe to open for Animal Collective and play festival dates. In between, Bradford has penciled in a late-March trip to Morocco to spend a fortnight working on music with pals Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear and Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett.
“Ed’s rented this villa where we would record,” Cox explained. “We want to make, like, a pop album. We haven’t come up with [a name for the project] yet. Ed just wants to call it ‘Morocco,’ but I think we ought to come up with some name. It should be a lot of fun. I feel like I might have to get some [immunization] shots though. I’m real sensitive to, like, unusual foreign places.”
Closer to home, Cox also hopes to resume working on Ghetto Cross, his collaboration with fellow Atlantan Cole Alexander from the Black Lips. “I hope kids like it. Cole and I used to be the best of friends, and as both of our bands have been traveling more, we’ve kind of drifted apart. So as soon as I get off tour I am gonna call Cole up and say, ‘Get your butt over here, we’re gonna record some songs!’ ”
There is also the matter of a soundtrack he’s reportedly been working on with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, which is reportedly for the film adaptation of director Spike Jonze’s interpretation of “Where the Wild Things Are” (the uncertain status of that film has been the subject of much recent speculation in the movie world). Cox wouldn’t comment on the project except to say that “Karen is a wonderful composer and she’s just created some beautiful music.”
Of course, there is also Bradford’s main gig.
Plans call for Deerhunter to begin work on a new album this summer at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room studio, with an eye toward a Halloween release. While on their current hiatus, the members have been working on new music, and though it’s still early, Cox said fans may be in for a surprise. “I think we’re on a new page here with Deerhunter,” he said. “We’ve all been listening to pop music, and I don’t think any of us are quite as interested [as before] in ambient music right now. All the songs we’ve written, there’s no weird effects, it’s all just guitars plugged into amps, so it’s very much like a ’60s pop record or something. I’m really looking forward to it.” He laughed. “I don’t know how the [Deerhunter] audience will react to it, we might alienate a good portion of them.”
Finally, there is the copious “unofficial” music Cox works on during downtime (although it’s hard to imagine him having any), holed away hermit-like in his Atlanta bedroom. He creates several songs a day, both covers and new tracks, often unrefined and compiled into self-styled EPs posted on his well-trafficked blog. There, he also raves, rants, reminisces and even reaches out and offers “healing music” to kids with serious illnesses. Other artists may release more polished tracks online, but Bradford says that in terms of sheer volume, they can’t touch his output.
He is so prolific, he said, partly because music is his life, that it “occupies the same part of my brain” that a romantic relationship would, and also because he hopes to inspire other kids to take advantage of technology and create bedroom music of their own. But there may be another, darker reason: a sense of his own mortality.
“I made the Atlas Sound record last summer when I was going through some stuff related to my physical condition, and I had this impression that I didn’t have very much more time left.” The condition Cox refers to is Marfan syndrome — a connective-tissue disorder that has plagued him since childhood, and which can have serious cardiovascular complications that worsen with age. The 26-year-old says he “doesn’t really monitor” his health as much as he should, “so I really have no idea what’s going on. But that’s why I don’t really care about anything but making as much music as I can — to be remembered by.”
He’s already accomplished that, but contrary to what some other indie types have suggested, Cox scoffs at the notion that he’s “made it.” “A lot of young bands, like 16- or 17-year-olds starting up bands, say, ‘Hey man, all we need is a good Pitchfork review and we’ll be set.’ Well, we had the good Pitchfork review [three, actually: Cox's batting average on the much-ballyhooed site is currently 8.76] and I still make less money than I did putting vinyl on signs. It’s hard, hard, hard work.”
Still, he’s not complaining. “It’s been a fun, fun year. For the most part …”