Dan Bodan"I'm emotional. I'm not sensitive."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.