The first week of my sophomore year coincided with the 2004 Republican National Convention. It was the week of interviewing professors, and I had scheduled meetings with the big guns—Ilja Wachs and Judy Serafini-Sauli. I had also planned to go into the city that Tuesday to demonstrate against George W’s pep rally. I ended up getting arrested that night along with over a thousand others (no joke), including several other SLC students. I remember my first instance of panic having less to do with being in prison, and more to do with the fact that I was going to miss my interviews with Ilja and Judy the next day. The following morning, when I was granted the famous “phone call,” I didn’t call my mom, I didn’t call a lawyer. Instead, I called my Don, Maria Negroni, to sort out my class registration (SLC needs to put this in a brochure, I think). Come Thursday I was still in jail, and now my concern had shifted to the fact that I was going to miss my performance on campus that night. I was a manager at WSLC, and we were hosting the annual orientation week concert, which my then band was headlining. After 44 hours of being detained, the NYPD finally released me with zero charges. I hadn’t slept in two nights, and I was covered in filth, but I was able to race back to Bronxville just in time for the show. I literally came straight from jail to a crowded party where everything was already set up. I just had to show up and play drums. It was the most epic entrance I think I will ever have. Best of all, I got into Ilja and Judy’s classes, which along with Maria’s First Year Studies—“Dark Museum: British Castles to Latin American Gothic Imagination” (talk about an SLC course title)—would be the most formative classes of my life.
What did you do straight after graduation? How did you get started working on music in a more professional capacity?
The summer after graduating I spent a couple of months working on a farm in Italy with W.W.O.O.F. (I highly recommend this for the recently commenced). Then I moved to San Francisco, but not for long. I got lucky with a Fulbright grant to go teach English and literature and write music for eight months in Argentina. I basically had a year in which I was able to live out my fantasy of teaching college students my favorite novels a la Ilja Wachs or Maria Negroni. I had been playing in rock bands and making solo multi-track recordings my whole life, but I was brought up to believe music could never be my career, so I was pursuing the academic life instead. The following summer was loaded with events that convinced me otherwise. I moved to Manhattan, I didn’t get in to the two Comp Lit PhD programs that I had applied to, and my best friend from childhood was suddenly very sick with terminal melanoma. There were the GRE books, and then there was the death bed. The week I saw David Byrne live in Prospect Park, followed by an epic road trip to Bonnaroo in Tennessee led me to the profound revelation that I had a very precious opportunity to truly pursue what in fact I had always wanted to. I resigned my grad school re-application efforts, and for the first time ever, my energy was funneled exclusively into being an entrepreneur of my music. I quickly baptized the name Idgy Dean, made a rough EP of my recent recordings called OK Cadavers!, distributed it on iTunes, distributed it to blogs, got a few write-up’s, started developing a live performance and playing out regularly, got a website, got on Facebook, got on Twitter, made business cards, just made the most of being a Millennial in our current world. In 2010 I raised money on Kickstarter to record a proper EP, Heart & Lung, and this past winter, I raised money on IndieGoGo to take the show on the road. And now I’m about to release this killer music video for the song “Onion’s Milk,” produced by Gravity Sleeps and directed by Samuel Baumel (their credits include videos for Grand Duchy with Frank Black of the Pixies, Savoir Adore, and Ducky). It’s been nothing but baby steps, but I haven’t looked back, and the horizon seems to keep on expanding. It’s almost like Idgy Dean is my graduate education, and making these records and going on tour is simply a series of conference projects in a self-designed curriculum.
You remind me of Imogen Heap and Andrew Bird in that you have an incredible control over the instrumentality of your voice as well as other musical tools. I am always impressed by musical artists that can create arrangements by looping on the spot. Did it take you awhile to develop that skill? Do you think that your ability to multiply your own sounds through electronics makes you a more independent artist?
The truth is I’ve never had any official musical training. My dad was a wannabe drummer, which meant we always had a drum set in our living room, so really, it started there. I played a ton of drums before I turned double digits, got a bass guitar at age 12, electric guitar at 13, and before I even got to high school, I was arranging punk songs on my Fostex four track. Someone showed me how to play a power chord, and that was basically it. Everything else I learned from listening to and playing with other musicians. The loop pedal came more recently, and out of necessity. I couldn’t achieve with a band what I was doing alone at home. I liked that I could create and arrange on the spot, and that the audience could witness the process. Learning to loop is less tricky than learning how to make those loops interesting. You’re very limited in how you can arrange, and if it goes wrong a few loops in, everything is compromised and turns to ruin. It’s a very creative instrument, but it has its drawbacks, like getting too sonically overwhelmed or repetitive, which means I’ll eventually have to evolve and abandon it. But for the time being, it is defining Idgy Dean as an independent artist, and that is the ultimate aim.
What advice would you give to Sarah Lawrence students, or anyone aspiring to make music as a career?
Start early, seek mentors, be brave. Though I would never dream of taking back my four excellent years at SLC or my post-grad experiences and travels—all of which absolutely inform and fortify my current career—I can’t help but wonder sometimes where I would be now if I had honed my energies ten years earlier. I also wish I had the equivalent of a Don in my musical life. I have plenty of idols and role models, but I could really benefit from befriending someone in real life who could show me the ropes. Finally, anyone brave enough to pursue their art as their career needs to read and re-read this list: “How To Feel Miserable as an Artist.” I recall tenet one often: “[Do not] Constantly compare yourself to other artists.”
Idgy Dean will be coming out with the music video for ‘Onion’s Milk’ with a premiere event called Lactic Layers of Onion’s Milk: a Gravity Sleeps Salon with Idgy Dean. The event will be hosted by Vaudeville Park, located at 26 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211, on Thursday, May 10, 2012 from 8-11pm. The debut gallery event features a live performance by Idgy Dean and a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the ‘Onion’s Milk’ world. Admission is a suggested donation of $5-15. More info can be found here.
If you can’t make it to that event, you can always check out Idgy at this year’s end of the term festival Bacchanalia, right here on the SLC campus!