Deerhunter's Bradford Cox Sets the Record Gay
It's really no surprise that leader of Atlanta-based ambient punk band Deerhunter, Bradford Cox isn't a fan of blogs or much of the media in general, when they're always dwelling on the fact that a) he has Marfan syndrome (a connective tissue disorder, most identifiable in those who are tall with exceptionally long limbs that can lead to heart trouble) and b) that he's a 27-year-old gay virgin that sometimes cross-dresses on stage.
As Deerhunter prepares to release their new five-song "Rainwater Cassette Exchange" EP (digitally on May 18 and in stores on June 8) and gears up for summer festivals, Gay.com's Josh Rotter spoke to Cox about among other things being pigeonholed by the media, Deerhunter shows, and his plans to rule the music world.
You've said: "Blogs to me are really dated already. In 15 years, they'll be like Crystal Pepsi." Now what's that all about? Blogging minds wanna know.
Remember Crystal Pepsi? It was actually pretty good. But here's what I was referring to. Blogs are dated and Twitter has taken over. Like what was that thing before MySpace? Friendster. It's as if we're jumping from blog to blog on a white water rafting trip and trying to stay afloat in an age of Crystal Pepsi. Now, corporate websites are even trying to have blogs, which is when you really know they're dated. But the reason why I think blogs suck is because the more accessible we make people, who they are becomes less valuable. I mean, who cares about the train wreck people when they tell every detail of their lives? We want our celebrities to be in outer space not knowing what they're doing.
You must feel that way about your own celebrity when the media often seems so consumed by your Marfan Syndrome, for example.
I wish it wasn't always mentioned. Every Deerhunter article talks about Marfan Syndrome. It's like, 'Shut the fuck up.' At first it was helpful, 'cause it made the people shut the fuck up, who kept saying, 'He looks strange,' or 'Is he dying?' Now it's like, 'Leave him alone 'cause he has Marfan Syndrome.' I am probably more responsible for clicks on the Marfan Syndrome Wikipedia page than anyone else in history. So now people can act like they have sympathy. But there's no need. I've weighed the same amount since high school, I look the same and I'm not in a declining state of health. I have always looked odd. I do have a heightened risk of getting heart failure, but if I practice safe living, like if I don't strain myself by lifting hundred-pound amplifiers overhead, then I'm OK. I don't want people thinking that I'm going to drop dead every moment. I do not want to see it as this is my destiny. The media doesn't say [Marfan Syndrome] about Joey Ramone.
I know people have mistook you to be anorexic. You must feel a certain level of kinship with Michael Jackson, who everyone called a skin whitener, when he claimed he was actually suffering from Vitiligo.
I wish people would just leave him alone. He's interesting to me. But I hate how people are always accusing him of pedophilia or acting as if it's their business what he looks like. Is anyone criticizing Genesis P-Orridge? No, everyone thinks he's cool. I think he's cool. I love his transgender concept. Some people might be thinking that he's destroying his body or becoming a freak. I think he looks awesome; I think he looks cool.
Another issue that the media seems obsessed with is that you're a 27-year-old virgin.
I have a lot of good friends. I'm not some sort of strange isolated person. I'm not a sociopath or anything, but just like I don't do drugs and have no taste for alcohol -- which to me tastes rotten and fermented and makes me have a gag reflex -- I have no taste for promiscuity or for casual sex. To me it seems like a waste of time and kind of dangerous, but to each their own. I would also say to some people that if they spent more time on their music or whatever they want to succeed at, then trying to get fucked or wasted, they would probably be better at it and more successful. I wouldn't think that I would have by any means gotten anywhere if I wasn't totally dedicated to what I'm doing. I'm sure some people are involved in a serious relationship and care about their music. But I don't know how that's possible for me. I don't have time to, 'cause I'm too busy playing drums.
Have you ever been interested in anyone?
I don't know. Yeah, sure, definitely. I have had romantic interests, but not to the extent that most people have. But just like any high schooler, I'd gone through my fair share of rejections and rejecting. But in high school I always had crushes on girls, but then realized I was more into becoming friends. I was never sexually interested in them. It was more friendships and asexual types of relationships.
But as a rock star, I'd imagine that you have guys throwing themselves at you all the time.
I don't really get hit on, because to get hit on, you have to make yourself available. I make it pretty obvious to everyone that I'm not interested. But I'm also not assuming that anyone would want to, because more often they care more about what guitar pedals I use, whether they're gay or not. It's a total misconception that just because a fan is gay they obviously wanna suck my dick. Our fans are just like anybody else.
OK, so let's talk about the music. What can you tell me about the new EP?
You'll just have to listen to it to find out.
How would you describe a Deerhunter show to someone who's never been?
I wouldn't at this point in my life. If anyone ever has an interest to come, feel free. As I get older, I get less and less interested in describing my own music or selling myself. If you've never heard of Deerhunter or me, then you probably aren't interested. Like Patti Smith, people who get it for what it really is, don't need it explained. Imagine if someone said, 'You'll like this chick, because she covers Bruce Springsteen songs.'
Do you still wear sundresses on stage?
I wouldn't rule it out, but I've never been interested in using sexuality or anything about myself like that to try to get attention. I'm most likely to be wearing a t-shirt and jeans, whatever I wear on the airplane. At this point, I'm more interested in playing guitar and singing properly. Starting out, I had self-confidence issues about my music not being good enough and about myself as a performer. I thought that if everyone's looking at me, I may as well make it a funny show, 'cause they're all gonna laugh at me anyway. It was my 'Fuck you,' my one-upping of the audience that's gonna make fun of me. If you're going to say that I'm really creepy or ugly, then let me show you how weird I can be. I also thought that some of it looked cool and campy.
I love transvestism and drag culture, and if I identified with anyone I'd most with transgendered or with people that are the real outsiders, the real strange creatures. So with me, I stopped doing it out of respect for people who really live their lives that way. I didn't want to make a joke of it. And since I was less confident about what I was doing in the beginning, it was more of a multi-faceted experiment in distraction. But now I know that we kick ass and that everyone works together so well as a group, so although I might like cool visuals, it's not necessary.
Speaking of the early days, I've read that Deerhunter's first album, "Turn It Up Faggot" was named after one audience member's shout out at an early show.
It's true. This guy always yelled that at us at the shows, and I was so eager to one-up him. I think it's funny, like turning words around on people who are trying to use them in hateful ways, the way that Patti Smith had with 'Rock N Roll Nig###.' I find it very empowering, because if you declassify a word and disengage it from its usual meaning, from those that hurl or project it at you, it becomes flaccid in their hands.
You have a solo side project called "Atlas Sound" and I'm curious about what you can do under that moniker that you can't do in Deerhunter?
It's more what can't I do. In Deerhunter everyone is playing on every song. Atlas Sound is maybe not all of the instruments all at once. I can be experimental. With Deerhunter, more innovative songs happen with a more boring, typical rock band lineup. My favorite thing is to be surprised by the result. That's the goal in Deerhunter. But with Atlas Sound I can explore my interest in even stranger music. It's so easy when you limit yourself to guitars, bass and drums or in a universe of possible sounds, computers, and electronics, or have strange instruments, more interesting results happen. It's like making a movie, but only using black and white. It might be limiting, but it's also establishing a mood.
Tell me some things about you that might surprise people.
I'm Kim Basinger's third cousin. My mom has a photograph of me shaking hands with Newt Gingrich, who lived a mile away from me when I was growing up. [Former Republican Georgia Rep.] Bob Barr is also from here. The right wing revolution came from my backyard. I'm the devil's spawn of that culture. I'm the response.
OK, let's play a little game called, "Fuck, Mary, Kill." I will name three people and you tell me which of these people you'd do what to.
I would fuck Susan Boyle, because we're both virgins. It would be magical, because I want to lose my virginity to another virgin. I would marry RuPaul, because I'm a huge RuPaul fan. He was one of the first Atlanta punks, an Atlanta legend. Then Newt Gingrich, I wouldn't kill him, because I wouldn't kill anybody. I would shake his hand, which I already have the photograph of me shaking his hand. I am smiling this big beaming smile. I was pre-pubescent.
So looking forward, what's coming up next for the band?
We're still considered a second or third-tier band. I read that everywhere. We're going to be playing Lollapalooza, where we're second or third tier on the bill. How long does a band have to be around to be more of a higher tier? I would like to move from third to second-tier and eventually get an internship with a first-tier band, 'cause then maybe we'll be a first-tier band. We'll see how it plays out. I'm definitely hoping to gain some tier levels in the next few years. My goal is to beat other people. I just wanna win, to be the last one standing. Then I'm gonna destroy music. I wanna be the final musician, and then at the end, just take it out.
Upcoming Deerhunter Shows
July, 24 2009: Capitol Hill Block Party, Seattle, WA
w/ The Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth, The Gossip, The Thermals, Black Lips, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Earth
August, 7 2009 Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago, Ill.
August, 28 2009 Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
September, 12 2009 All Tomorrows Parties NY, Monticello, NY
Photo 1: Getty Images
Photos 2: Motormouth Media