Mike Deni, lead singer and brainchild of San Francisco-based synth-pop/indie rock band Geographer, and his crew of musicians have an upcoming show on February 22 at the Independent as part of this year’s Noise Pop Music Festival.
Since the band’s fifth and most recent album, Ghost Modern, was released in 2015, Deni has spent the last two years in the studio, tirelessly toiling away over 100 songs. From this list, he has identified five tracks that truly embody his musical vision. Now recorded, mixed, and mastered, Geographer’s newest EP, Alone Time is expected to be released this March.
Deni moved from his hometown in New Jersey to San Francisco in the summer of 2005 after a series of deaths in the family. He spent the next several months with his guitar and a synthesizer. The tragedy became the impetus for foundational Geographer songs.
Geographer officially got started when Deni partnered with cellist Nathan Blaz and drummer Brian Ostreicher (both who are no longer with the band), and the trio spent the next year playing live shows in the Bay Area. Their debut record, Innocent Ghosts, consists of heart-pounding epics with dark themes and undertones. More recently released material features haunting melodies, textural sounds, and lots of polyrhythmic energy.
Identified as one of three ‘Undiscovered Bands You Need To Hear Now’ by SPIN Magazine, Geographer has found (and held) its place on the music map. The current Geographer lineup now consists of cellist Joyce Lee, guitarist and bass player Duncan Nielsen, and drummer Cody Rhodes.
Given Geographer’s extensive experience playing local shows and participating in the Noise Pop Festival, we interviewed Deni to hear about some of his favorite spots in San Francisco, get his perspective on the local music scene, and learn more about the festival.
Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming album? And what was the background that led to the album’s name, Alone Time?
I put out two singles recently and the EP is coming out next month. I launched a pledge music campaign for it that’s pretty much ongoing…I think it’s going until the end of January. It’s a pre-sale of the album and then also cool experiences and stuff for fans.
It’s definitely a return to the electronic, epic side of things. I feel Ghost Modern was very lush, beautiful, kind of delicate arrangements. This one is a bit more bombastic, a bit more emotional. Not so thoughtful in the songwriting, more just emotive in the lyrics. As far as a theme focus of the EP, it’s basically about being alone versus being with someone else or around tons of people. Like my life, I pretty much spend my time completely alone when I’m writing and recording music and then I’ll go out on tour and just be surrounded by people all the time.
I was also having a long-distance relationship during most of the writing of the EP. I was experiencing love alone and falling in love while I was alone for most of the time. If you add up the time we were together, it was probably a total of two months out of the year. To have your mind focused on something that isn’t even there, that’s basically what music is. When you’re writing a song, you’re thinking about a future that doesn’t exactly exist yet. You’re picturing what it will be like to play it for people on stage…I don’t know. It just struck me.
‘Alone time’ is a really interesting phrase in itself. I also think that, even when we are surrounded by people, we are still experiencing things in a unique and solitary way. The EP explores that state of being a human who is alone, just by the nature of consciousness, and then trying to feel a part of the world. I think a lot of people crave alone time and I just can’t relate.
This isn’t your first appearance at Noise Pop Festival. What makes the festival important?
Not at all. I think I’ve done it maybe three other times. Maybe more. Two years ago was my [sold out] Fox [Theater] show in Oakland. That was a really big one. I remember opening for Atlas Sound at Great American Music Hall many years ago. That was a big deal for me. I must have played it another time before that as well. At the Noise Pop Festival, people are so cool. The people are one of the greatest things about San Francisco.
Everyone says the scene is dead and that’s absolutely not true. I think the thing keeping it alive is Another Planet, who puts on Outside Lands, Treasure Island Festival, and lots of other stuff. And then also the Noise Pop people. They just work together and keep San Francisco on the world’s stage. They’re really dedicated to not just attracting big acts, which I think is really important to maintaining that public consciousness and getting people from outside the city to come to the festival, but also supporting local acts throughout their careers. They’re dedicated to the San Francisco music scene from all angles. I think they’ve found a really good balance of providing that platform.
It’s not like Coachella has a local bands stage. [Another Planet and Noise Pop] are really focused on giving those bands once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I don’t think I would be what I am today if I hadn’t played Outside Lands, you know? And I wouldn’t have played Outside Lands if I hadn’t played Treasure Island Festival, and Noise Pop, and those other shows. I just feel a lot of love for those people, and it’s still all the same people, which is really cool.
You recently played a DJ set at Aaron Axelsen’s holiday party at the Rickshaw Stop back in December. Do you have more DJ sets planned?
I love doing DJ sets but I’m not a DJ by trade. I think I approach music from a different standpoint where I want to have all the transitions be very focused in a way, I don’t want to just go from one song to the next. I either want to mash the song up for 30 seconds or bring in a kick from another song that augments and pumps up the chorus of the song I’m playing. I really like doing all that stuff and getting focused on it but, so far, I basically only DJ at the Rickshaw. That’s my home away from home and Aaron Axelsen is a buddy from way back. It’s just a lot of fun to get out there with him and DJ Omar.
How do you discover new and local music these days?
My new music is mostly not tied to the Bay Area. I hear about Bay Area people from people that I work with. I just wrote a song with Madi Sipes and the Painted Blue. I think she is going to be a really big voice in the Bay Area music scene this year. She’s one of the coolest local artists I’ve come across in a long time. Let’s see…obviously, I like Tune-Yards but that’s not new. I feel like the local scene is thinning out and has been for many years as it becomes more and more difficult to support an artist’s life there. Most of the new music I discover is just from all over.
Are you a Spotify or SoundCloud person?
I’m most chiefly Spotify. I discover some stuff through YouTube just searching around, but mostly Spotify. I listen to the radio a lot. Whenever I travel, I listen to the local radio station and I discover a lot of music that way. KCRW in LA is just the best for discovering new music. I don’t think there’s another radio station I can think of that showcases more really intriguing new artists. A lot of times when I do writing sessions with people, we’ll start the session off by what are we listening to and what are we excited about. I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff that way because a lot of times it’s not stuff I’ve ever heard of before. Local radio stations take a lot more liberties with what they play. I also listen to mainstream pop radio to keep up on the tricks of the trade.
You mentioned the difficulties for musicians here. Could you ever see yourself moving?
I’m pretty certain I’m going to move to Los Angeles as soon as possible. For better or worse, I’ve been in San Francisco for a decade. It’s been really great to me. It’s changed very, very much since I moved there. The things I loved about it aren’t really there anymore. I’m also at a different point in my life and my career. I just need to be around where other songwriters are. That’s basically what it is for me.
I know people when they think of Los Angeles, they think of the darker sides of the entertainment industry. You still feel that stuff as an indie artist even if you’re not around it, but that doesn’t bother me. I don’t plan to be in that world anyway. There’s a lot of people like me that really love making music all the time. They don’t want to just write their album and go on tour. They just want to be creative—all year long.
What particular part of Los Angeles attracts you?
I gravitate toward Silverlake and Echo Park. I’m going to try to live in Beachwood Canyon because I think it’s really pretty. It reminds me of my favorite music from the seventies—Laurel Canyon, Silver Lake, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell…that type of stuff.