Dan Bodan

"I'm emotional. I'm not sensitive."
by Maxwell Simmer  
portrait by Julia Burlingham

The first time I saw Dan Bodan perform he was singing into a hot-wired set of iBuds because someone had forgotten to bring a mic to the bar. Since then he's performed, shirtless and sweaty, in dozens of seedy locales on four continents, and worked with a throng of different artists, musicians, designers and producers to make everything from his first digital downloads to a self-styled record label. He’s become a fixture at the now-defunct / newly-itinerant bar TIMES where he'd MC nights of maudlin crooning, and his latest single, Aaron, has just been released by DFA and MMW1. I talked to Dan after his whirlwind tour of London (see reviews of the 2012 Greco-Roman wrestling on his twitter) in VTC's Berlin offices where he's been working on his new album.

What are you working on there? You're working on a flyer?
That's the back flyer for the single. We're using one of the drawings from Julien Ceccaldi. This is the front.
Oh, that's super nice.
Yeah, Sean Monahan did this one.
This is for the single that you're doing?
No, this is a mid-single promotional thing with Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip. He covered one of the songs, so we're releasing the demo of mine. One side will be his cover.
Have you had people cover your stuff in the past?
No, I've never had anyone cover my stuff. Not that I know of at least.
What about Mesh's remix of "D.P."?
That's a remix. It's not a cover.
Mm-hmm.
It's kind of a big difference.
Yeah, it is. How did you end up getting “covered.”
I think it was my mangers who asked Alexis to do a cover, and he had very specifically chosen this song because he liked it. It was a huge compliment. The direction he's gone with it is so intuitive. Instead of driving through Route 55, it sounds like driving through Dubai at night. Sexy.

Cover Art Draft for Under a Cancer Sky, DFA and MMW1, 2012. Artwork by Julien Ceccaldi

Are you going to work more with people remixing your stuff in the future?
Yeah, totally. That's more of the angle now, working with different producers on tracks. Not even necessarily remixes, but the final product will be a little more dance oriented, or at least have the texture of dance music.
How do you choose who remixes you? Or who does your production?
It's a mix. There’s a lot of friends. I approached Jamie (m.e.s.h.) because I knew Jamie, I liked his work, and wanted to see what he would do with it. When Craxxxmurf remixed me, he approached me and asked if I wanted to do a remix. I wanted to meet Howie B because I grew up with all those productions on Bjork and U2's albums. My managers got me in contact and I just sent an email being like, "Yo, I'm a fan. You were a big influence on me growing up. I'd love to meet you."  So he invited me to hang out at his studio one afternoon and we listened to music, he told me stories and gave a bunch of really useful advice in a really chill way.
It sounds like you’re going through a transition. Will you keep working with people like Julien and working with other people designing your album art and stuff?
Well, it's really great to work with people who are already established and have been incredibly influential for me. At the same time, you're working more in their domain than your own. If you're working with friends it’s a little more mutually experimental. I think it's important to do both.
What is it that you're looking for with the people you work with?
I think it's intuitive. I knew somehow Sean Monahan would be a good foil to Julien Ceccaldi. There’s also the fact that we all have shared influences to some degree and we've all fucked the same people, so there's probably something happening there.
Do you feel like you're continuing in some sort of musical heritage where people get visual artists to design their album art?
I wouldn't consider Julien Ceccaldi to be a fine artist. He's a commercial artist to me. Same with Sean Monaghan. What they do is more commercial work. I don't see them as gallery artists. That is to say their art is a little more plugged in.

Promo for Nudity and Atrocity, Mangrove Records, 2011. Photo by Britta Thie, Album Artwork by Simon Denny

But Simon Denny...
We approached it as sort of an art object. It's not so important to me anymore. I'm still going to keep my eyes open to people in the art world. I like Simon’s work, so I asked him to do it.
Is the reason you were approaching it more as like an object because it was a vinyl?
Because it was an edition and we thought it'd be a way to monetize the music. It was the same with getting a different artist for the last project to do different videos. I thought it might be a way to monetize the vinyl. In the end, I lost $2,000. I mean, it's great, I have a wonderful object, but I still have 200 of these wonderful objects that nobody seems to want.
You share an economy with the art world because of your editions.
And with the music world, too. I don't know what my record sales are for the 7’’ that DFA just put out. I don't think they're that high, especially, since on their Twitter, they're saying stuff like, "We wish people would start buying music."  You know nobody buys music. The only way that I think you're able to pay yourself is through live gigs and commercials.
Have you thought about licensing?
I would license myself to anything.
Okay.
Anything. Even right-wing politicians who believe in baby-dog abortion. The thing is whether somebody like that would want to license my work. I'm not exactly shy about how I live my life.
What about licensing at Spotify?
I'm on Spotify, but I’m not exctly sure how Spotify works.  It may just actually be that somebody else put it on or that they have some connection though iTunes or Amazon because I'm on iTunes and Amazon as well. I have absolutely no idea... I'm just assuming that my managers aren't trying to swindle me out of my fortunes.
Should there be any.
Yeah.

Still from "Anonymous," 2013

It seems like you're coming into a more visual space where you need to assert a definite brand identity. Is DFA into it?
Something about the Universal Little Bro brand clicks with them. I'm not Anthony & the Johnsons. They get that I'm more little brother on the street.
We were watching your music videos the last time we saw each other. There were a couple of versions.
The first video for DP was part of the Nudity Atrocity Project from the album last year where I got a bunch of video artists to make video art for each song. Like the video as a piece of art, but I wasn't happy with the representation of myself. I asked the same artists, Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel to do another version of it - one where I looked good or I wasn't in it.
It reminds me of Nine Inch Nails videos where they'd release the clean versions or the censored versions, which is what you'd see on MTV. But whenever you would get a DVD re-release later on, you'd see these really, really graphic, kind of horrible, uncut S&M scenes of people having their genitals chopped off . Do you think that culture still exists where you can secretly kind of endorse your brand and then, release that through the channels that you have more control of?
I'm wondering that. That's what I'm trying to figure out. The example I know of concerns that band Girls. They released a video where it's L.A., fun in the sun, young bodies - It was very pretty. Then there was a not-so-safe-for-work version where the gay couple have a scene where one of them is using the other one's penis as a microphone. Granted, the second version played to the exact same audience. They were both released on Pitchfork. Like, “Remember this video? We have the other version of it, so please, watch it again, 500,000 times. And get us up to the million mark.” Mine was more that I really liked the video that we ended up producing but I knew it wasn't a good commercial. Music videos need to be a commercial for the music.

Land Of Girls, 2012. Made in collaboration with Haracoza

Marketing aspects aside, is it something you want to continue doing, like the Nudity Atrocity Project ?
I'm kind of done with the art world at this point within that context. I've done my shows. I've had my exhibitions. It gave back what it could but it wasn't totally accepting, at least in the way that I wanted it to be.
I remember having a discussion with you where you were talking about how you didn't want to be seen as a performer-like musician who performs at galleries.
I don’t want to play a gallery again. It was fun at first because I was given this social system that I probably wouldn't have had access to, at least on my own terms. But when you're playing to one demographic for over two years every performance is the exact same reaction from everyone. Everyone's always sort of impressed because if something kind of nice musically comes out of a gallery, they're always a little confused because I'm not banging my head against the wall and screaming...
Sometimes, you are.
But I look pretty.
You have a really strong stage presence, a lot of charisma when you get in front of a microphone. I've seen you perform less and less lately... Are the performances going to change?
I'm trying to find a different way to present intensity in the performance. Before, it was sort of about really aggressive posturing. Now I want the voice to be the thing that really keeps people as opposed to the delay on the voice or a banging bottle or something. Teaching myself to sing is a big part that's also come into the recording process. Also, with the move towards dance music, changes where the intensity will come through the fact that people can dance to the music, as well as listen to it. They get to participate more directly rather than just observe.
Your music does have a lot of pathos.
I hope so. I try not to think about the tone or the emotions coming out of it that much because I don't want to analyze them and make them seem contrived.

Still from Aaron, 2012. Directed by Natasha Goldenberg

They’re also love songs.
Everything's contextualized as a love song in my words. You're just going to automatically think it's sentimental. I don't know why everyone uses love songs. I'm sure 95% of all good songs are love songs, but I can't tell you why.
It's like internet cats. There's things that you just can't argue against.
Yeah, exactly.
What are you working on these days? You've been hard to get a hold of.
I'm writing new music. I didn't write music for almost a full year. Part of it was because putting together Nudity & Atrocity...  was atrocious.I had a very difficult year. I would sit down to make music and it was so disheartening because nothing was coming out. I don't believe it when people say that they make a lot of their music out of the most painful parts of their lives. They might make it about the most painful part of their life. I don't see how human creativity can actually thrive under really bad emotional circumstance. I've gone through that year and so much music is pouring out now.
That's good.
Also, we’re in Berlin. If I started to become really available, I would become too available. I would disappear into nightlife.
Do you feel like that was inhibiting you from writing music? Did Berlin have an effect on that as well?
How I used the city...definitely. I can't record if I don't have a voice. I'm sure for six months out of last year, I was hoarse as fuck and couldn't reach any notes. I made some poor decisions, poor choices, rather. I chose something over being creative, that just didn't work out. It's not a sob story, but I'm not going to do it again. But if everything that you know is sort of going on that trajectory and everyone you know to some degree is on that trajectory, to step outside of it can be a really lonely place. Which is why London was sort of a savior for me because on top of stepping away from that, I also met a shitload of people who had entirely different mindsets. It was nurturing and comforting.

Dan Bodan performing at Times, Berlin, 2012. Photo by Analisa Teachworth

You were talking about moving there as well.
I like London. It didn't have some really overwhelming sense of history to it that even Berlin has. I didn't feel smothered by walking down the street and recognizing everything from a movie, or every situation already having happened to somebody more famous, which is how I feel when I go to New York. I love New York because I really like the people there, my friends, but as far as the city goes, aside from being New York and something you can't really criticize, I don't enjoy it that much.
I’ve always wondered, would you ever have a backing band?
I hate the idea of bands. There' something a little bit too high school jock about a band. Even Sonic Youth, it’s like they're bullies or something. They're actually the ultimate example of that. Sonic Youth are the biggest bullies in music. I would go on tour with a DJ or maybe an electronic duo.
Who would you like to tour with?
People making dance music. Probably another chick doing something. Not Grimes but something along those lines. Somebody else doing something similar to what I'm doing but it's a chick to balance out the gender inequality.
Is it something you're concerned about? I mean, DP is not necessarily a homosexual thing, but...
DP's a female thing only. Not only, but usually.
Yeah.
Guys don't have a pussy.
You can get two dicks in...
That's not really DP.
I don't know. What was my question?
Do I want to be Frank Ocean?!?
Yeah, do you want to be Frank Ocean? He turned his sexual orientation to a marketing feature. With you it seems to be built into the music. It's not something that needs to be revealed. You're never going to come out of the closet like that.
No, exactly. I'm not Le Tigre. I have axes to grind, but my sexuality isn't one of them. If I can be of help to somebody, it's hopefully by just leading through example and not talking about it. Because it's a really boring topic. For me, it's a really boring topic.

Promotional Graphic, 2012

How involved are you with the gay community?
I think my fans are primarily heterosexual males or chicks. Since that video for Aaron came out where I'm wearing the snapback hat looking cute, there's been some fan boy action on my Twitter. But I think actually it's a lot of straight dudes who dig it. The same guys who like Arthur Russell, unfortunately. I hate the frailty that's become associated with Arthur Russell-type branding, i find it pretty offensive actually.
You're just sensitive.
I'm emotional. I'm not sensitive.
There's definitely a lot of raw emotion in your music. This is something that I wonder about the aesthetics that you're adopting with the new video and the brand image that you're crafting... It’s  contradictory.
Contra intuitive.
It's an interesting mix.
The male singer/songwriter has just become so uncool. Boys singing songs on their keyboards or guitars. The singular male songwriter. Even females, too, to a degree. Fiona Apple was cool, Leonard Cohen too.
Are you still reading a lot of William Gibson?
I've finished the first two trilogies. When I tell people that I’m really inspired by his writing, it's more that I approach my music, so that could be an element. Somehow, the music could be a character. Same with the marketing strategy that I have now. I would want to be somebody on a billboard in one of his novels. It's more being connected with the organism of the city than being disconnected from it. Which is why all my music's about the city and not about the mountain range in Canada.

From Sex Magazine #1 Fall 2012
Labelled Fashion