By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Scott Deadelus.
Scott Deadelus has the fever. He’s one of those guys who will be creating new music in some capacity or another until the end of his days. In a little under a decade since his quiet beginnings in Dayton, OH, he has managed to drop an album almost every year, with 2013 seeing the release of two full length albums. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this artist is the range that he manages to express between outputs. Tiny Screens, released December of last year, sees the songwriter working with a stripped down sound that juxtaposes organic and synthetic elements, while bearing an uncompromising honesty throughout. This year’s Milly Citrus, on the other hand, is a seemingly lighthearted and wacky commentary on the horrendous state of contemporary pop music. While honesty remains a thread uniting all of his work, so too does his great sense of humor. No matter how personal he gets, Scott Deadelus can still make you smile. BTR sits down with the artist to talk about what inspires him, and what he has in store for the future.
So Milly Citrus is your most recent release. It seems in some ways to be a response to modern pop music. What inspired the premise for the album?
Well, it actually started with the title and the artwork (not usually the way I start an album). I thought more people might listen to one of my records if they confused it for a Miley Cyrus record. My two previous albums were extremely personal and I wanted to get out of my own head. The song “Oh Miley” sort of came to me from the album cover and it’s the first time I’ve consciously written a song not in my own perspective. It’s about a kid who is pretty dumb and masturbates to Miley Cyrus music videos and then he emulates a sort of celebrity lifestyle even though he’s just a nobody kid. He parties a bunch, gets a girl pregnant, and then his parents try to blame pop music for his demise. The other songs have similar narratives. They’re all kind of takes on how a shitty pop song or shitty pop in general could affect the life of a dumb teenager.
I imagine Milly Citrus as this sort of fruit juice created by pop stars for these young kids to drink. The instrumental songs are the citrus fruits that make up this smoothie. These songs are my attempt at conveying what I hear when I hear a really popular song on the radio. The reaction I usually have to modern pop is what I think the reaction of a person who enjoys modern pop would be to hearing any one of the instrumentals on Milly Citrus. If that makes any sense at all.
Every time I look at the album art I can’t help but laughing.
(Laughs). Yeah, it’s pretty silly looking. My favorite part is the self imposed parental advisory. I wanted it to look like an album I would’ve been excited about when I was 12 and parental advisories were a big deal to me when I was that age.
Album art for Milly Citrus.
Songs like “Amanatsu” and “Buddha Hand” stand out as longer instrumental numbers. Is this a sound you see yourself moving towards more in the future?
I’m never really sure where I want to head until I do it. At any given time I usually have three or four album ideas floating around in my head and I usually only end up doing one of those, if that. Experimenting around with synths and stuff is always something I’ve liked doing, but I usually just use the instrumental songs as kind of segues in my albums. The electronic songs on Milly Citrus seem to take more of a focus. At some point I might do a completely instrumental album, but my pop muse hasn’t run dry or anything. I think I will keep making both types of music for now.
A lot of your lyrics, especially those on Tiny Screens, seem to come from a very raw and honest personal space. What’s your process like for writing? How do you go about drawing inspiration for these songs?
Usually I start with a guitar part. Most of the time the lyrics just kind of flow out. At least the melody and a couple lines that get me started. And then depending if I’m closer to pen and paper or a computer I try to flesh out the lyrics and go back and forth between that and the guitar parts. It usually doesn’t take very long.
But yeah, I’ve always tried to write pretty honest stuff. The older I get the better I know myself and I’m able to kind of see through myself if I’m writing something cheesy or that I know I would hate if someone else wrote it. I try to get to a place that is as honest as I can get without making myself want to throw up.
What influenced you to use synths and electronic drums on the album?
To date I’ve never recorded an album without any electronic instruments. Aside from my first two albums in 2006, I recorded solely with drum machine until Tiny Screens. I’m not sure exactly what made me decide to use real drums other than I wanted Tiny Screens to have a different sound than Flarsh. I continued the trend of using some real drums on Milly Citrus as well. Certain musical ideas seem to work better with drum machine or real drums. I just do whatever feels right.
The song “sing along with mE” addresses the craft of making music – how futile it can feel at times when people are ignoring that very process. “How do I expect anyone to like my songs/I don’t but want them to just the same.” Is this something that you’ve had to come to terms with over the years as an artist?
Yeah definitely. I’m not the best person at promoting myself. So most of the time I feel like I’m just making music for myself. It’s something I’ve done for more than half my life. I’ve never really done it for any sort of reward. If I was, I would be failing miserably. But at the same time, in the back of my head, it’s always like wouldn’t it be nice if more people dug this? The worst bit about it is the older I get, I feel like I improve more, but the older a musician is the less marketable he is in the music business. I try to ignore the business aspect of making music.
On BTR’s Music Digest DJ Pat (whom I hear is a good friend and former bandmate of yours) refers to you as a home-taper, or someone who utilizes whatever is around them to creatively get the most out of it. Is this true for you and if so how does this process shape your songwriting?
Yeah, Pat was pretty spot on in all of his assessments on that program. I essentially use the same instruments on all my recordings. The ones that are in my room. Sometimes I’ll get a new piece of equipment and I’ll try to incorporate it as much as possible. When I get a new instrument or drum machine sometimes it allows me to write songs faster; or opens up a new idea. There is something exciting about using something new.
One huge aspect of home recording for me is that I can never really get it to sound good from like a traditional production standpoint. It’s obvious I’m not paying thousands of dollars for studio time. My drumset is a total piece of shit. A trick I learned a long time ago is to put the microphone through a distortion pedal and it gets to a sound that I quite enjoy. So sometimes the limitations of bad equipment can kind of work in your favor.
You spell out the album title Tiny Screens using isolated capital letters in each of the track listings. Do you enjoy slipping hidden messages and layers into your work?
Yeah, I do enjoy that kind of stuff. Back on my second album Dr. Clank And The Alternating Track List tracks 1,3,5,7, and 9 created a sentence. “1. Hey 3. Kids 5. I’ve Got A 7. Crazy 9. Idea” I don’t think anyone ever picked up on that. But I definitely like to have layers to my lyrics as well. Even if the lyrics are pretty straightforward I like them to have a sort of connectedness to the other lyrics on the album. I’ve done some albums that are obviously concept albums, but even the ones that aren’t as obvious tend to be pretty thematically linked.
Why cassette releases? A lot of bands seem to lean towards vinyl as a superior vintage/high-fidelity audio format.
Vinyl is definitely the way to go as far as audio quality. I would really like to put out some vinyl but it’s pretty expensive. Maybe if I sell enough tapes it will convince me to put a record out on vinyl. I used to be a huge record collector. When I was in high school, there was something about holding a CD or a vinyl record. It made the thing feel important or something. I guess since the CD is kind of a dead format these days, there has been a resurgence of tape releases the last several years. It’s a good alternative to a digital release without breaking your bank account.
You’ve released quite a few records, I believe its eight so far counting Milly Citrus. How do you think you’ve evolved as a songwriter, and where are you headed?
I think I’ve definitely gotten better at recording. Over the years I feel like songwriting has become easier. Sometimes it feels like I didn’t even write the song, like it just came out of me. I think I may have lost some of the experimentation and innocence I had early on, but I think I’ve had enough variety on each subsequent album to not feel like my output is completely stagnant. I would probably like to evolve faster or more, but I always force myself to stay within certain realms of songwriting. With Milly Citrus I kind of broke the mold of how my albums usually unfold, but it isn’t too different from stuff I’ve done before.