Angel Deradoorian lives in Los Angeles now, but a few years ago, she was a New York City indie rock star, thanks to her role as bassist and vocalist in Dirty Projectors. She played on that band’s breakout album Bitte Orca and left before their album Swing Lo Magellan. Since leaving Dirty Projectors, she’s played in Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks and collaborated with Flying Lotus. She also worked as a housecleaner in Baltimore and went through some profound emotional turmoil. She’s now restarting her solo career, with her debut full-length The Expanding Flower Planet out August 21 from Anticon, currently streaming in full via the New York Times. It’s her first release under her own name since 2009’s Mind Raft EP. The Expanding Flower Planet is a lush, carefully fussed-over collection of psychedelic pop experiments.
During her visit to New York, Impose sat down with Deradoorian at Selamat Pagi in Greenpoint. Deradoorian ordered chicken hash. After 13 years as a vegetarian/pescatarian, she recently got a signal from somewhere that she should start eating meat again. She was feeling “depleted,” somehow. This sort of mystical-spiritual explanation makes sense; The Expanding Flower Planet sounds like the work of someone who listens to what her body has to say. Deradoorian is a mostly introverted person who makes introverted music.
After our interview, Deradoorian was off to Virginia to rehearse with her sister Arlene, who will be accompanying her on their upcoming tour with Laetitia Sadler. Arlene and Angel can be seen in action in this live video for Expanding Flower Planet opening track “A Beautiful Woman”).
What took so long between Mind Raft and this one?
I didn’t start writing this record until like 2011, two years after the release of Mind Raft. I wasn’t focusing on it immediately. I was in Dirty Projectors for five years, and I was really focused on that music. And that was like all I did. I wasn’t really experimenting on my own.
Dirty Projectors must have been very demanding.
Very demanding. I was very invested in that music. And then when I came out, I was five years older, and I didn’t know what I was into for myself. So I had get over all these hurdles. People would compare me to Dave Longstreth [of Dirty Projectors], and I’m nothing like Dave. I had to be okay with fucking up and making shitty songs for awhile and just realizing through the process what I really liked musically. It took me years. And then it shifted one day. Maybe I put in my 10,000 hours. But I just worked as much as I could until it felt good.
I know you toured and worked with Slasher Flicks and did some stuff, but it seems like there was an in-the-desert period between Dirty Projectors and now. What were some of the things you did in the intervening time?
I was living in Baltimore for a time. That’s where I started writing. I was cleaning houses. I was working for my friend’s mom, who runs a spiritual center. Just working whenever I could. It was a good job to have during that time, because I could listen to music or podcasts for ideas. It was the best way to do it during that time. And it was mellow in Baltimore. I had a great time living there. When I moved to LA it was harder to get a job, and I was really stressed out. Luckily I had a studio space so I was able to keep working. There were really stressful periods, when I had no idea how I was going to keep making money. Fucking super broke.
Did you ever think, like, “I worked with Bjork and now I’m cleaning houses?”
That’s the funny thing about how people view musicians. Like “you did this one thing, so you must have money,” but really it’s the most volatile kind of job. You really are the starving artist. It’s hard. You’re an artist like any other artist. You’re going after your money. I’m actually not surprised at all I ended up in that period. Because I set myself up for it.
I had to be okay with fucking up and making shitty songs for awhile and just realizing through the process what I really liked musically. It took me years. But I just worked as much as I could until it felt good.
By not saving money during the Dirty Projectors?
I couldn’t. Living in New York was an expensive life. And then I would want to buy instruments or things to invest in making music. And eating food. When I was in Dirty Projectors I kept kind of reminding myself that all these things in life are temporary and you never know where you’re going to be after this. And to just be very grateful for what you have now, because you’re not going to have it all the time. So when I went into that phase, I knew it was going to happen before I even talked about leaving the band.
There was probably no way to know how much attention the band was going to get going in, because that didn’t come until a couple of years after you joined.
It’s also subjective, because we were working our asses off. So the attention part of it was not even what we were paying attention to, we were just thinking about going on tour and practicing. Just in my room, three hours a day in the morning, running scales. It was busy. That band is hard. But I’m really proud of myself and everyone in that band for what we did.
I know you’re still friends with at least some of them.
All of them. Amber [Coffman] is one of my closest friends; Haley [Dekle] moved to LA so I get to see her more, which is awesome. I just got to see her perform last night with Tune-Yards, it was great. Everyone in that band is such a force on their own. I respect everyone in that band very much.
I imagine there was some burnout after that.
Yeah. Like I was saying, I was a totally different person by the time I came out of that. Also when you’re touring, you don’t really deal with yourself. You can’t. So there are all these other layers of things that come with it: emotional recalibration, dealing with pain or trauma in whatever level or form you got it in. And then having to go through all that, and then let it go as much as I could, that was all coinciding with writing.
Is there some of that on the album?
Not really. There’s stuff about myself for sure, but it’s not really about that kind of pain. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I don’t want to experience emotions in a certain way anymore. I want to reevaluate what pain is, I want to reevaluate what anger is, and love. All emotions. I don’t want to completely intellectually rationalize anything, but societally, and in a lot of music, too, there’s pain and heartbreak or there’s love. That’s what most people talk about in mainstream music, and I didn’t want to observe that. These intense emotions of “you hurt me” or “you betrayed me,” and everyone’s gone through that kind of stuff. But I don’t want to dwell on it in certain ways. I want to try to transcend those feelings in a way where it’s like “shit happens, and you experience it, and you gotta let it go.” I wanted to bring other kinds of emotions to the music, because I’m an extremely emotional, sensitive person. I experience things on a very intense level a lot of the time, and I wanted to portray that in the music in a different way other than just “I’m sad” or “I’m heartbroken.” It was more about, “I’m just trying to fucking do this.”
A huge part of spiritual and emotional growth is just learning how to have feelings.
In your early 20s, you’re just experiencing everything. We were all doing a lot. But only at some point do you have the awareness where you can say, “oh, that’s how I dealt with that? I don’t want to do that again.” Or “I want to do that again.”
Everything is about you, you, you. Because that’s all you know. You’re the only thing you know. Your life through your eyes is from all of your experiences, and to try to get out of that and experience what it is to be outside of that, is basically impossible to me. But if you can start to draw that awareness, that can bring more empathy in your life, and you realize, “there’s a bunch of shit that’s never happened to me, and what would that have done if I’d actually gone through that, and what kind of person would I be, because I know I’d be really different.” I think mostly everyone’s just trying to get through life and not be totally depressed. It’s a very intense time in the world. Very crowded on visible and invisible levels.
What do you mean, invisible levels?
Think about cell phone technology, the internet, all these invisible waves of energy through the air. It’s more than ever. Maybe that doesn’t affect people, but I feel a thickness in the air from all that energy. How do you keep your forcefield around you? How do you keep your defense so you can keep your energy high? Because when you’re really sensitive to that kind of stuff, you get drained. I get drained fast. I have to do a lot of alone re-upping, basically. People don’t take care of themselves enough. They don’t think they deserve it. And everybody does. Everybody works their ass off and then they’re super stressed out. Everyone needs many vacations, more time off. More time to just be alone and experience who they are.
I think mostly everyone’s just trying to get through life and not be totally depressed. It’s a very intense time in the world. Very crowded on visible and invisible levels.
I hear this kind of thing on the album, where it sounds like you’re very conscious of how the world affects your body and how your body affects your mind and spirit. A little bit from the lyrics, but even from the music itself it. It sounds very connected. Sort of internal, but in an exploratory way.
I think I’m the kind of person that views introversion as experiencing truth in the outer world, if that makes sense. I seek answers. And a lot of what I realize is how connected all of that is – like treating your body kindly, and how that affects your mind. Spirituality is almost looked down upon in our society. To me, it really does exist, it’s not bullshit. It’s not New Age. I’m not a New Age person or whatever you wanna call it. It’s more like, always push yourself to not subscribe to any one thing, but to absorb what was important from all those things. Like religion. There’s plenty from religion that I absorb and can use, but I don’t want to confine myself.
One of the biggest things that I’ve learned, and understand, is that everything is connected. My main therapy in my 20s has been yoga. It’s been the most effective. Moving the energy and toxins out of your body and giving your brain endorphins gives this whole other level of clarity that you don’t get if you’re just sitting around.
My brother is a martial artist. He studied martial arts all through his childhood, and then he took a break and was losing some direction for himself, and he started up again, practicing, and got really good again. He can kick ass if he wants. But he’s the sweetest, gentlest person on the other side of it. He focused on this one thing and it changed everything. Everything about his personality opened up more and everything about him is sweet and loving and everyone loves him, but he’s also this fighter. When you have something like that in your life, your fear lessens.
Growing up, did you all have the sort of discipline to practice things? I imagine you didn’t get as good at singing and playing as you are without putting in long hours over many years. Have you always been very able to commit?
Yeah, actually. But I think that’s a personal thing. There wasn’t a lot of pressure from my parents. They were like, “you should practice, you’re taking lessons,” and I was like, “okay, this is what I have to do.” So I sat there, checking off every fucking scale I played until I was like “I did my job.” It was really good for me to start that young.
How old were you?
Like, five. And I did this so intensely until high school that I got super burnt. Then I went to college young and I was failing some classes, and I was like “I don’t even fuckin’ care.” I was just so tired of it. I just needed this break. I didn’t sing very much until I was in Dirty Projectors.
I consider myself a musician more than anything, a player. But Dave gave me this opportunity to sing a lot, and I just practiced so much and in such technical forms that it was just really helpful.
Think about cell phone technology, the internet, all these invisible waves of energy through the air. It’s more than ever. Maybe that doesn’t affect people, but I feel a thickness in the air from all that energy.
Did he hire you first as a bassist?
It was both. It was singing and bass. But I’d never played bass, either. I played guitar a little bit. But bass is very natural to me. I love that instrument now. At first I was like, “oh, great, I’m going to be that chick bass player in the band.” It’s a female fear. I had to move into this role of being a stereotype, and having to transcend out of the stereotype. I remember going to a show, and a guy who was working there came up to us in a group and was like, “lemme guess,” and started guessing our instruments and was like, “you, bass,” and I was like, “why did you say that?” When you’re a woman, that kind of stuff comes up, and you have to keep working through it.
You played almost everything on the album, except the drums, right?
Some of the drums are me. I wrote and played everything when I demoed it, and then there were parts where sonically or for the execution I needed a drummer to come in, or to create a different vibe to the music, because some of the songs are drum loops and some of the songs are fully performed parts. But yeah, I played everything except some of the drum stuff and some of the vocal stuff.
You’re sort of like Trent Reznor. He always brings in drummers.
That’s right: buff, little, tough. Drummers are very unique in bands. They’re the wild card. There’s so much personality in playing drums. I can play drums, I’ve toured and played drums, but I’m not, like, my brother, who has been studying since he was 10.
Does he play on the album?
No, but he did help write one of the beats. My friend Mike [Lockwood], who’s a very experienced jazz drummer from Cal Arts, played on a few of the tracks, and then Jeremy Hyman from Boredoms, Ponytail, Slasher Flicks plays on one of the songs. I really wanted the record to be me. I’m totally open to having other players, and I understand how everyone contributes, and everyone’s vibe is very clear. But I felt the need to keep this as close to me as I could for this one.
Right, because it’s not quite your debut, but it sort of is.
It’s been so long. It’s sort of like starting over. It’s funny, because I think people know all this stuff about me from being in other bands, but no one really knows anything about me or what I’m up to. Now’s my chance to explain myself.