Dean Cercone is one of the sweetest guys you’ll find in the scene. He’s lived at the D.I.Y. space Bohemian Grove for several years now. He helps run it, plays shows there, and lives his life there.
His music is like nothing you’ve ever heard–chaotically dreamy, sometimes with dark undertones and other times with hopeful vibes. He describes it as a different take on pop music. His live shows are a whirlwind of liveliness and madness, with touches of sweetness. The one man-show includes Cercone singing into a “rugged” P.A. and playing all his own instruments—and everything is in danger of becoming an instrument for Dean Cercone.
The melodies, combined with the energy and passion that Cercone creates, is something that’s inexplicable, almost animalistic. It definitely transcends anything you’ve ever heard.
Not only is he a musician, he’s also an artist! His paintings perfectly coincide with his music—in fact, you could say that his art is a visual interpretation of his music and vice versa.
Earlier in the year he shared his music with us and we chatted about D.I.Y. venues, You=Love, Bohemian Grove, and, of course, about his art and music. Check it out below!
BTRtoday (BTR): What’chu up to today?
Dean Cercone (DC): Woke up late and now I’m making canned cabbage and potato soup.
BTR: I’m totally jealous. That sounds amazing. Alright! So let’s talk about the music, shall we? How did you get started in music?
DC: Well, my grandfather, my mom’s side of the family is full of musicians and artists, and my grandfather is a musician and still plays music. I got my first guitar when I was 8-years-old and sort of learned from him. Took lessons for a couple years, was sort of mentored by him. So I started playing and making recordings and stuff when I was 12.
BTR: Did you always have this kind of dreamy/experimental sound, or did you have a different kind of vibe when you first started playing?
DC: No, absolutely not! I was like exceptionally abrupt and chaotic, playing really angst-y acoustic guitar songs—thinking that my music wasn’t weird, but it was really weird. Making really lo-fi recordings on my parents computer, just like really angst-y, sort of stuff.
BTR: Cool. What about your art, when did you start getting serious in that community?
DC: I also at a pretty early age started making drawings and paintings, and they were also pretty weird and not really put together. But then around the age of 14 I started making paintings that were a little bit more, like, you know finding pieces of wood and painting on them. I had my first art show when I was 14-years-old in Pittsburgh.
BTR: When you were 14? That’s so young! At what gallery?
DC: At Garfield Artworks—the infamous Manny set it up.
BTR: Oh yes, everyone knows about Manny. Why don’t you tell me what you think of the comparison of the art and music scene between Pittsburgh and New York City. I mean, in my opinion I think it’s got to be crazy different!
DC: Yeah, it is. It’s inevitably different. Pittsburgh is a smaller place, there’s a lot of brilliant artists there, but there’s also a lot of, you know… I would say it’s pretty easy to become rather stagnant there and I think that some people unfortunately get stuck there. Either way, New York is so more energetic. There’s just so much more money and so many more people, there’s a lot of different cultures and a lot more chaotic vibes going on here; it’s like, to make art here is a really intense thing. There’s also a lot more of it here, a lot more art here. It sort of makes it easier to sit through and find art you like. Instead of being forced to be in one tiny art district in a pretty small city.
BTR: Do you think New York City has changed the way you do your art and has influenced you in any way?
DC: Yeah, I mean…. You’re just barraged with different influences here in such a different way, but also like storage wise. A lot of time I paint on paper because I can roll it up, I used to paint on giant pieces of wood, but that’s another aspect of between the two cities that’s different. The amount of storage you have and space, yeah it’s definitely changed my outlook on art and my inspiration, for sure.
BTR: Do you have any specific life stories you refer back to a lot when you’re trying to channel inspiration for your art or music?
DC: Well, I think that a lot of my music and my art definitely reflect a lot of what’s happening to me now, in sort of an abstract poetic way, but definitely there are references back to maternal struggles and different things. I lot of times, my paintings and whatnot are abstractly figurative, and there’s these figures of sorts referencing some sort of abstract emotion. It’s kind of difficult to articulate in a way. I think that I try with my music to talk about what’s happening now within me, but I don’t want it to be some average love song or anything like that—I try to make it a little less human in a way.
BTR: So what is your creative process like for making your art and writing your music and lyrics?
DC: Well, It’s funny because they all sort of shake hands with each other, but they’re very different still. With my recordings I interact with them a lot like I would a painting—I have, in a way, a sort of rudimentary set up for how I do it. I create a skeleton for it and then I fill it in. So, sometimes lyrically that fits into that process. Other times, however, I’ll be writing poems and then I’ll have to figure how that poem fits into the structure of the song. But yeah, it’s interesting if you were ever in a room full of my paintings and my music is playing—it really makes sense even more how similar they can be. So, it’s interesting, I don’t know… that’s the best I can describe it.
BTR: No, I think I get it. Like your music and your art compliment each other. It’s funny you say that, because when I was listening to your music earlier, I kind of pictured the melodies of your songs flowing like the strokes of paint in your artworks. So would you say your art represents the genre of your music?
DC: Absolutely! It’s interesting that you say that too, because the most similarity that my music has to my paintings would be the live performance of my music, because a lot of times my live performances are a lot more intense. That’s actually why I wrote the song “Lost My Head”—it sort of is maybe the closest thing that I have right now to what I sound like live and how I play live. When I play live it’s definitely very similar to the way I apply lines, just very chaotic and energetic.
BTR: Tell us a little bit about how your live shows are.
DC: Well, when I play live I consider myself to be a lo-fi musician all around. I’ve been playing the same set up for a long time. I play self-contained through a P.A. that’s pretty rugged and it’s pretty intense, like the life that I live. I play guitar and there’s a drum pad and I sing into my looping device that I try my hardest to sort of have the loop not feel like a loop at all. For a lot of the time it’s almost like I want people to not know what I’m doing. It’s pretty intrinsic, because I do it all live, I don’t use any samples or anything. In the songs, the drum pad is probably the only thing sampled, but they’re not like pre-recorded drumbeats, I make the beats right there and it’s a really intense experience—I think for me and for the live viewer, because I get pretty possessed almost.
BTR: You’re pretty big in the D.I.Y. venue scene; do you prefer those kinds of venues to the more established ones?
DC: I think often times I might have more fun at a D.I.Y. venues, because they’re like people. I think I like dealing with sound engineers more at D.I.Y. venues—larger venues, often times, like in Manhattan and stuff it’s a little weird. It’s like stuffy and you pay a lot of money to get a cab there and generally you’re not making the money back. It’s kind of funny, like, a bunch of younger people running a D.I.Y. venue generally they’ll pay for your cab more than a legitimate venue.
Though, I’ve had some fun at legitimate venues! I had fun playing at Rough Trade, they were relaxed, and they paid me pretty well. It just really depends on the experience. I obviously love the D.I.Y. scene, because it makes it easier to just have a great time and chill with finer people. A lot of times you’ll never know who’s going to be at the larger venue, but at the D.I.Y. venues it’s generally guaranteed that there’s going to be some cool people, like all the psychedelic dreamers.
BTR: You play a lot at Bohemian Grove, in Bushwick, right?
DC: Yeah, Bohemian Grove—I’ve been here for a long time now, it’s almost three years. I’ve played a lot here too, but I’m not really sure what’s going on now. Hopefully we’ll keep having shows. It’s a residential space, so, you know.
BTR: Yeah, I hope so! I keep meaning to come out and see you at Bohemian Grove, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
DC: It’s a pretty rad spot, but you know Bushwick is changing and everything is changing within it.
BTR: You do a lot of stuff with the non-profit, You=Love too. Tell me a little about that.
DC: Well, I’ve been working with T. Klinkhamer, the founder of You=Love since the beginning of 2009. We started working together and over the years I’ve illustrated four different children’s books, one of which is a little bit more for adults. Basically now what’s happening is we converted them all into coloring books and we donate them to underprivileged children throughout the country and all over the world. We just sent out donations to a hospital in Algeria, we made a really large donation in Bangladesh and we sent a large package to a bunch of children who had never even colored a picture before, so it’s a pretty cool experience. I’ve been working with her for a long time. It’s just genuinely kind.
BTR: How did you get hooked up with that?
DC: Well, I was starving and I didn’t have a job and lived in a squat in Pittsburgh and basically I was friends with these people in this country band in Pittsburgh and they referred me to her. She kind of saved me and then we’ve just been working together ever since. I desperately needed someone to help me out at that time—I was pretty young.
BTR: That’s awesome! So let’s talk a little bit more about your songs, I was listening to “Sex,” are those real recorded sex sounds in that song?
DC: Those were dubbed in, for sure. [Laughs]. I basically kind of sent a list chronologically from my last three albums so it goes through the album, “Juggling Hot Coals” and then goes into “Deep Rest Calypso,” which was released on 1998 Records—that’s my friend Travis. Then my last one is “Dream Monument; Know To Self” and that one was just released in the middle of January.
BTR: What was the creative process for the last one you released, “Dream Monument; Know To Self?”
DC: Well, I’d been recording in my bedroom and I wanted to capture a little bit more of what I do live, but I also basically wanted half of the album to be more chaotic and sort of strange, like a couple of the songs to hit home with people who just want to listen to a nice spin on a pop song, you know? A lot of the lyrics in “Dream Monument” are pretty uplifting and just sort of hopeful for finding out more about yourself, or myself.