Outfitted for the unusually humid morning in LA, I find Angel Deradoorian in line at Trails Café amid Griffith Park’s Oak and Walnut.
Neither of us is feeling particularly hungry and we opt for coffee and tea as we sit outside under the trees before our walk. Having been in bands since she was a teenager, Deradoorian broke into the spotlight as a bassist and vocalist for The Dirty Projectors. Deciding to leave the band was not the easiest of decisions. “I couldn’t really tell when I left the band how it would play out. It was a lot of self-discovery because when you tour you just put all of that to the side and then I didn’t really know what music I liked anymore. So I took some time to find that out and learn how to write in a way that wasn’t so simple to me.” Having since collaborated with artists like Flying Lotus and Avey Tare, the multi instrumentalist and songwriter decided to make the journey of recording her debut album a solo endeavor. “The process was mostly solitary and I meant for it to be that way. I really felt the need to do this all by myself.”
The result is The Expanding Flower Planet. This is an album where we find the constant merging of seemingly contrary images — old and new, plural and singular, the ancient and technological. Drawing from world traditions like Japanese, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian folk music, Deradoorian has crafted a sound that reaches both back in time and forward to places uncharted. Describing this tension she says, “I wanted to bond the idea of finite and infinite.” And in bonding those ideas,The Expanding Flower Planet moves towards a place of discord rather than perfection. “In eastern music, you have this one drone line that always meets back with the melodic line. And I think it allows for a certain kind of dissonance. It doesn’t allow a complete pure harmony, which I think is very prominent in western music right now, so everything sounds too clean to me.” From its meditative qualities to its earthly origins, read on to discover how Angel Deradoorian’s music transcends place altogether.
Being in LA do you feel that provided a backdrop for your new work at all?
I don’t think in a conscious way I would connect LA to the music on this record. I started writing this record in Baltimore. I think it was more of an inner journey so it didn’t really matter where I was. But I’m sure it affected it. More than I know. It was hard moving here, starting over again. Reestablishing myself over and over in the midst of trying to write my first solo full-length record — it was really challenging. It was the biggest challenge of my life because a lot of the time you’re like “why the fuck am I doing this?” [laughs]
The new material sounds like you take a phrase and reshape it throughout the song. Did that come about as a stylistic choice, or from writing by yourself?
It’s mostly drone oriented concepts and variations on a theme. I do like the idea of drone a lot and working off a tone. But I also like the idea of trance or meditation. Trance music doesn’t have to be “Trance” the genre. Any kind of repetition to me allows you to move through the experience on any level you want.
Did you listen to any specific people when you were making this music?
I was listening to some Middle Eastern, Indian, and Japanese music. I was listening to a lot of those Ethiopiques records because I really love the sound, recording production and rhythms. I love the polyrhythmic connection with all the instruments. So that played an important part in making the songs converse with one another.
And then production-wise, what kind of feeling were you getting from those records?
They’re oddly monochromatic color-wise to me. Those Ethiopiques records, they’re actually very black and white, like old school because of the years they were recorded in so visually when I see them playing it’s always in black white even though the music is extremely colorful. I do see music in color a lot of the time and then I try to use those elements for my own music. So my record is very weird colors to me.
What kind of colors would you say?
Mostly orange and pink and green and black and they’re always going like this [cue erratic hand motions].
There’s a pretty meditative quality to this drone. Is that something that you practice?
Yeah I’d say that’s the closest I get to mediation. I do kind of believe that you practice when you can and you don’t have to force yourself into meditation and certain self-disciplines because you think you have to. It’s when you need it. But being mindful and self-disciplined, that’s important to me. I’m always doing one thing that’s self-disciplined in my life. I could treat that as meditation in a way.
So in your single “A Beautiful Woman,” are you addressing anyone in particular?
It’s mostly about myself. It’s about not wanting to be so self-deprecating and it’s just about my own transformation. There are a few songs like that on the record. But that song is really sad to me.
In a way. Yeah, if I think about that one it makes me kind of sad.
Is it more about the headspace with which you wrote it?
Yeah. When you work on music alone like that you feel alone even though you’re around other people. But it’s really important to be alone too. It’s kind of the realization that whatever you want you have to do it. Even if there are other people around you ultimately you’re in charge and you better be ready. You better be ready for it.
In 2009 you released Mind Raft; what do you think changed between that EP and this, what were our goals coming out of that EP?
This one is much more about wanting to bond visual art aspects and textural, tonal musical ideas and bringing it into one thing. So this was much more mind oriented than Mind Raft which is…[laughs].
You’re also in Slasher Flicks. Is that a new experience for you in terms of playing live shows?
Yeah in some ways I feel like I’ve come into my own very much with playing live and all the instruments that I play so that felt really comfortable. But every band is different and this one has a lot of energy and a very different kind than Dirty Projectors.
It seems in Dirty Projectors all the parts were very constructed to fit together into a specific unit.
They’re not complete opposites though because I definitely had to work out a lot of challenging parts like I did in Dirty Projectors but there were also the improv parts to get into.
Do you think to get comfortable with improv you have to really work up your chops enough to be spontaneous?
I feel like I did. And besides that just being more open as a person. Because when you go and play music with other people like that a lot of the time you’re nervous because you’re like oh I could mess up or play something really shitty and it doesn’t actually matter. All you really want to do is connect with the person on a musical level and it doesn’t always work out and that’s just fine. That’s just practice. I think everyone probably approaches that differently or gets to that differently. But I had to work up to it.
You play flute too?
Yeah, a lot. That’s a really wonderful instrument. I never thought I would play it as much as I do but I like just the tonal quality. Its like concentrated breath and singing.
How do you see your album translating live?
I have these alternate versions of the songs that I’ve worked out with my sister — she plays drums. A lot of this record I wanted to focus on vocals. I think people very much react to that the most and my sister and I have been singing together since we were children so I think it’s very powerful for other people to hear those tones come together.
Should we talk about hiking at all?
There’s a lower trail that’s cool and it goes down by the water and I feel like there’s a bridge and a tunnel. A weird little magical Disneyland area all of a sudden.
Do you have any spots around here besides Griffith?
I like Elysian Park. That one’s awesome because you can do the entire perimeter and it takes two hours. It’s really nice to experience all the terrain levels of Elysian and how much you can see the city when you’re way up there. There’s a spot in Topanga. I don’t even really know how to get to it. It’s just all the national forest trail spots. Those are kind of freaky and psychedelic; you’re just out on the hills with the rattlesnakes. I really like the Point Dume hike. There’s a cliff hike you can do over there that edges the ocean. You go through the big parking lot at Point Dume and right when it ends there’s a trailhead. It’s not super private feeling but you get to these certain spots where it’s just the ocean and the cliff.
Have you gone anywhere outside of LA?
I’ve gone to Sturtevant Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s a little waterfall area. That’s up off of the 210. It’s cool because the water goes through the entire hike and you’re pretty deep in the forest. I should tell you about my friend Butchy (Fuego). He did the entire John Muir Trail. He started in Northern CA and ended here and I think he did 30 days of hiking and scavenging food. He came back and his eyes were all bloodshot and he lost 20 pounds and I was like you are an ascetic monk type with major self-denial. He’s amazing.
Do you ever feel the pull to do something like that?
Oh yeah all the time except I’m not as strong as him. Not yet at least.