Geographer: Music Inspired by Life and Loneliness

 
 Film Photography by  Thien Nguyen

Film Photography by Thien Nguyen

 

After a few years of quiet solitude, Geographer released his Alone Time EP in April 2018.  DC locals were ecstatic that the tour included the Nation's Capital. Longtime followers and new listeners filled up U Street Music Hall to hear Geographer perform moody, heartfelt songs enveloped in feelings. 

The synth-pop, indie rock star stepped on stage and played to the audience, inviting them to journey with him in his pain and happiness. His melodic voice, electronic beats, and acoustic sounds were enough to make fans go wild. The performance was nothing short of perfect. But before all of this, TEAL Magazine was given the opportunity to get to know Michael Deni and capture a few intimate portraits of the brilliant musician. 

Why the name Geographer?

A map is an imperfect abstraction of a place in the same way that a song is an imperfect abstraction of an emotion.  They're the best tools we have to bring the information to other people to share it, but it's nothing like standing in the place or feeling the emotion.  

What was it that compelled you to be a musician?

I'm not sure.  But as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a musician.  I think I saw James Taylor when I was 8 years old, and knew I loved to sing and play music, and that people thought that's what made me special, and not much else, so I think it was just pre-ordained.  I looked at the tiny man on the stage and I thought, that's what I want to be.

What do you think your biggest challenge is as an artist? 

Staying positive and focusing on the work.  I've watched life change from touchtone phones to 24-hour face on a screen, and it's really hurt the process of being an artist.  There's no isolation of the self, only obfuscation of a purported reality.  And it can be very damaging to your creative center if you let yourself believe in it.

If you could meet an artist who inspired you, whether they’re still around or not, who would it be and why?

Bruce Springsteen.  There are people I like more, but he seems like the greatest conversationalist of all the people I hold as gods.  Meeting your heroes is weird.  But if he for some reason wanted to talk to me, that would rule.

Geographer: Music Inspired by Life and Loneliness

How many hours did you spend on Alone Time?

Well.  Wow.  I would say…4,000?  I just worked on it all day every day that I was not on tour.  Every single day.  With very few breaks.

The songs on Alone Time are mostly about love and loneliness; what inspired this?

Just my life.  I've felt very lonely for the past 10 years.  Increasingly so.  I think I feel like an outcast that people don't have much use for out there in the world.  I feel like I don't know the rules, and so I isolate myself.  And then I had a long distance relationship, so I fell in and out of love with someone from afar.  Lost a bunch of friends.  There's a decent amount of death in my life.  I'm a very happy, optimistic person by nature, but my experiences have beaten me down pretty considerably.  So you combine that with a spirit that refuses to go out, and you get Alone Time.

Geographer: Music Inspired by Life and Loneliness

 What’s your favorite song on the EP and why?

My favorite changes.  But I'm extremely proud of the way Lonely turned out.  It was a last minute addition to the EP, but one of the first songs I wrote for it.  I just couldn't get it to sound right, so I essentially scrapped it.  And then Taylor Locke (the producer of the track) reached out to me and really inspired me by how much he was affected by the song.  He saw it for what it was, and he helped me guide it where it needed to go.  It was very hands off for me.  I'm usually very involved in the production and very picky, and meticulous.  But for some reason I just felt, you know what, you failed man, let someone else try, or this song you love won't see the light of day.  And he brought in a group of incredibly talented musicians, laid out a few synths for me to play on, and we cut the song in a day, mixed it the next, and that was it.  One of the easiest, most enjoyable recording experiences I've ever had, and the result is so emotional.  And I am lonely, so…It's nice to just say it with such an epic arrangement behind you.  It's very satisfying to play live, cause you can feel the room sort of empty of air between the dance numbers.

Camera system: Contax 645 | Film stock: Ilford HP5 | Developed and scanned by Photovision