Any interview with Bradford Cox is rarely that. The Deerhunter frontman displays a serious penchant over the years for turning the typical Q&A model into mostly one-sided forums to carry on as long as willing listeners remain. Questions about the new album? Nah. The writing process? No, but how about innumerous topics that range from television, pop culture, drugs, politics, etc. Inquiries for the other members? Sure, but Bradford prefers to respond with how he thinks they would answer. And quite honestly, this isn’t even a complaint. As longwinded and tangent inclined as he may be, Cox’s willingness to riff can be an enticing and often hilarious experience to listen to.
I join a handful of other writers in a room at the Ace Hotel. The band is posted up for a press day and Bradford is strewn across a fainting couch with us circled around him. Drummer Moses Archuleta comments, “It looks like you’re trying out therapists.” For as many snide comments he makes throughout the two-hour session about our questions, the media, etc., the sheer volume of which he speaks indicates that he enjoys the exercise. Two minutes in, he sighs and mentions he thinks he can only has another five minutes or so, citing how exhausting it is to consistently entertain people for 24 hours straight. Of course, in actuality, he effortlessly continues for nearly another two hours, offering his opinions on Spring Breakers, Stephen Malkmus, and gay marriage, but mostly Law & Order.
Regardless, it certainly had to have been an exhausting period. The night before, Deerhunter performed “Monomania”, the title track from its upcoming sixth album, on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show. In it, Cox donned himself in drag for a look that recalled some kind of Patti Smith/Joey Ramone Max’s Kansas City cocktail garment. In the midst of pondering aloud how many people watched it, Bradford explains that the original concept for the show was to serenade a live, fat sewer rat in a Hamlet-inspired turn because the person the song is about is a “rat, junkie fucking person”.
Mini-outbursts about his personal life like these are the only real insight offered into the content of the songs. Similar to the press surrounding his 2012 Atlas Sound album, vague references are made here and there of an emotionally difficult period he was going through when the songs were written but nothing specific ever breaks through. Surprisingly, the Fallon folks nixed the whole vermin idea however and his CBGB character had to do.
If anything at all got divulged during the session about the inspirations surrounding Monomania, it was an influence from these 1970s New York scene icons. Cox tells the story of how before recording he had the band kneel on the ground outside the John Varvatos store on Bowery where CBGBs once was, say a silent prayer and kiss the ground. His preference for the rock ‘n’ roll of yesteryear has been well documented but he touches on it again, stating, “I wouldn’t say I draw from anything current, aesthetically. I wish I could.” You may be tempted also into thinking the line “I’m a poor boy from a poor family” in “Dream Captain” is a nod to a certain Queen rhapsody, although when asked by another writer, Cox patently denies the notion insisting instead that it’s like two people wearing denim completely differently. Alas, whatever details could be revealed, Cox explains, “There’s a lot of stuff I won’t be talking about in interviews that would be very interesting to all of you. It would explain everything and enlighten you to the entire concept of the record that is actually very structurally strong and would let you know why this is more or less the greatest rock album that your generation will ever be able to review. But I won’t be able to explain that to you.”
Such as with that assertion, a prevailing theme of the interview is the difficult task of gauging when Bradford Cox is serious or not. While explaining the portion of his rat plot where he’d hoped to nab his duet partner from the subway, everyone in the room chuckles and Bradford sharply proclaims, “That is not a joke. This isn’t comedy”. Similarly, once the conversation naturally transitions into one about the alleged Gambian pouched rats found last year in a Bronx shoe store, Cox is listing off details about the situation that sound in jest but once we all laugh, again pointedly clarifies, “I’m not being funny.” A quick fact check proves his recollections correct. Even with a fact confirmed, deciphering Cox as genuine or a jokester is a shrouded path to endure. Several times he stops mid-sentence to oddly ask different writers if they used to work for Pitchfork.tv. Once again, it’s entirely unclear if it’s intended as a jab to keep him entertained or is a genuine question but we move on.
By now, Bradford’s longtime friend and bandmember Lockett Pundtt and new guitarist Frankie Broyles have nodded off on the couch, Archuleta is buried in his phone while bassist Josh McKay hangs in there. He carries on about Law & Order producer Speed Weed, why he thought Spring Breakers was boring and general disinterest with current culture, but the keynote seems to be that we’ll never know if all his musings are for real or not and that is just how Bradford Cox prefers it.
He mentions, “That’s the weird conundrum that you’ll never figure out: is he serious? Who is he? Who knows?” We’re simply left to our own psychoanalyses.
Deerhunter's Monomania is out May 7 on 4AD.