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Q&A with Michael Deni of Geographer

Animal Shapes

Geographer gained national media attention with its last album, Innocent Ghosts, dance-infectious pop that deceivingly masked painful and deeply personal lyrics by lead singer Michael Deni. Now, after a recent trip to Austin to conquer South by Southwest, Geographer is back in SF to celebrate its new EP, Animal Shapes, at Café Du Nord on April 23rd. Deni spoke with SF Station during an interview at SXSW.

SF Station (SFS): Where did you meet the rest of the band?

Michael Deni (MD): We met through a friend of a friend at an open-mic in San Francisco, shortly after we all moved to San Francisco.

SFS: Where was the open-mic?

MD: Hotel Utah.

SFS: Have you been there recently?

MD: No. I feel like it was like a right of passage. It was really awesome when we to San Francisco, but now I really don’t want to go back there. I’m happy to put it behind me.

SFS: I know you wrote some of the songs while you were living in New Jersey. Was it helpful to move away to San Francisco?

MD: It was helpful to move from Jersey to finish the songs. It was also helpful to meet these guys [the band]. I was living with my mom in Jersey. I didn’t have a lot of friends besides my roommates, and I didn’t have a job, so I was just playing all day long after moving to San Francisco. I feel like that really was when I found myself as a songwriter.

SFS: The experience you left in New Jersey was obviously very emotional and was reflected in Innocent Ghost. What was the writing process like for you on Animal Shapes?

MD: That was something that I was really worried about because I had so much fodder for inspiration, and I was thinking, “Well, what am I going to write about now?” I mean Innocent Ghost was way more close to the bone. When I finally finished “Can’t You Wait,” in my bedroom and I hit that synth line when the beat drops, I just burst into tears. This happened as I was writing, and I was like okay, this is probably going to be a good song.

I never had any moments like that with Animal Shapes because it was more about the sounds and ideas than it was about just pure feelings, I guess. In some ways I think that’s what makes it better.

SFS: Would you say the writing process was easier or more difficult?

MD: It was way more difficult for all of us to do Animal Shapes. There were times when I was just yelling, pounding on the desk to write lyrics. The lyrics were the hardest part for me because they used to just pour out for Innocent Ghosts. Now I really had to craft them, and make them good.

SFS: You're lyrics are very personal and vivid. Do you feel you’re as communicative in a conversation?

MD: A lot of things that I talk about in the songs I do not talk about with my closet friends or my family. We were being interviewed once, and someone asked me what “Kites” was about and it made me upset for the rest of the day.

What it’s about for me I think is really different than what it is about for other people, and I kind of don’t want to mess with that. The whole reason that I wrote the song was because I couldn’t express it verbally in conversation.

It’s almost as though expressing it without the music, is expressing it incompletely, and something about that is very jarring for me.

SFS: When listening to your music, the average listener might be caught up in the upbeat melodies and harmonies, completely missing the lyrics. Does that bother you?

MD: The lyrics are for me; that’s the more selfish part of it and the cathartic part of it. The way I listen to music, the music always comes first for me, but I need to have something meaningful to say as well.

I love to see people dancing. At first it was a little weird. I would be playing “Rushing In, Rushing Out,” and everyone would be dancing going “Yeah!” and I was like, “Okay great! I was a little worried how you would react to such a sad song with such an upbeat vibe to it.”

That’s also sort of the best and most important part. I’ve turned these very sad things into beautiful creations where I can experience other people and turn it into something positive. That’s what I can’t do in my actual life.

Geographer plays at Café Du Nord on April 23rd. Tickets are $12. Doors open at 8:30pm. The show starts at 9:30pm.