A driving force within a unit, Dave Depper is no stranger to casting his talents for a host of Northwestern bands. From Fruit Bats, Ray LaMontagne, Robyn Hitchcock and currently Death Cab for Cutie, his multifaceted music career has landed him both in recording studios and being on the road for long stretches of time. After a night with friends to see who could craft 20 songs in 12 hours, Depper’s creativity resulted in a vast array of genres and sounds, gradually narrowed down to infectious and intimate synth-pop tracks. Maintaining a clear vision of his first solo record, Emotional Freedom Technique is an open door to the inner workings of the heart – one that grapples with the perplexities and longing for intimacy despite the complications and distance that come alongside his touring lifestyle. Juxtaposing pop music with darker undertones of isolation, Depper provides his listeners with layered messages worthy of consideration and more than enough reason to play Emotional Freedom Technique on repeat. We leaped at the opportunity to chat with Depper about the makings of his solo record (released today off Tender Loving Empire), his thoughts when it comes to technology’s effects on relationships and his plans for the remainder of 2017.
ANON Magazine: Where did the inspiration for your debut solo album Emotional Freedom Technique‘s name come from?
Dave Depper: I get random bouts of extreme stage fright, which is pretty unfortunate for somebody in the line of work I happen to be in. About a year and a half ago I was about to play a rare solo show in Portland, and was freaking out beforehand in a pretty major way. I was on the phone with my girlfriend at the time, a therapist who lived in Seattle. She was doing her best to talk me down from the ledge and asked, “have you ever heard of something called ‘Emotional Freedom Technique'”?
Well, I hadn’t, but I was pretty certain that “Emotional Freedom Technique” was the best name I’d ever heard for anything. It turns out that it’s a technique for calming yourself down by rhythmically tapping pressure points – but I wasn’t even concerned with that at the time. I just liked the name, and it fit the record perfectly.
I know it’s cliche to describe songwriting as therapeutic, but in this case it truly was – creating these songs really was freedom from a period of emotional stasis I’d found myself in, and the recording of the album was the technique, as it were. So, it was the perfect name to sum up the entire project.
ANON: The second track off your album, “Communication”, came completed shortly after Prince’s passing in 2016. How has Prince affected your musical influences or early memories?
D.D.: Prince has always been something of a guiding light for me. As a multi-instrumentalist, like I am, there really is no higher artist to aspire to. He just created these fascinating, weird little worlds, that work on every possible level – the lyrics are masterfully detailed yet minimalist stories, the playing is virtuosic but rarely show-offy, the arrangements are downright strange but they work. I can’t say I ever felt compelled to specifically go for his particular sound, but ever since I was a very young kid I was powerfully drawn to his mystique and clarity of vision.
ANON: How did the collaboration come together with singer-songwriter Laura Gibson for “Your Voice on the Radio”?
D.D.: “Your Voice on the Radio” is the lone holdover from another album that I had halfway conceived of during the early stages of writing EFT. Or maybe the album was an earlier incarnation of EFT. At any rate, I’d envisioned an album made up of these hyper-specific genre exercises – almost like mini-tributes to a myriad of pop styles that I enjoyed. With “Your Voice,” I set out to write a classic boy/girl duet in the vein of “Don’t You Want Me” or “Islands in the Stream” – stuff like that.
Laura is one of my nearest and dearest and we’ve collaborated on many projects together. She’s primarily known as a folk artist, and I felt that it would be really fun to pull her out of that world and set her amazing voice in the scenario of a disco queen, with synthesizers dancing all around her. I have to admit that I think the experiment worked; I just love hearing her sing on this song.
ANON: What obstacles and what freedoms have you experienced creating your first solo album?
D.D.: I had several obstacles to making this album. One was discovering my own voice – not literally, though that was a component – but more in a general sense. What kind of music did I make on my own? What did I want to say, musically and lyrically? These questions took a very long time to answer.
Another obstacle was time and distance – during the roughly four years I was working on this record, I was traveling on tour for about three years total. I had months go by where I simply wasn’t home and able to work on it. As a result, I’d often come back to it after having abandoned it for a great deal of time and find that I didn’t even remember recording a lot of what was there. It was very tough to get any sort of rhythm going in terms of progress.
The freedoms that came were immense, though. I felt like the creation of this album definitively revealed who I am as an artist – to myself, at least – and also proved that I was capable of finishing something I’d started. And as previously mentioned, I entered this phase of recording in a very emotionally dysfunctional state. I was having an extremely hard time forming meaningful relationships, both romantic and platonic, and feeling painfully disconnected from normal life. Making this record worked me through these things slowly, painfully, and effectively.
ANON: Technology renders itself as a strong theme throughout your work – in what ways do you find that it becomes a hindrance or advantage to (long distance) relationships?
D.D.: The song “Communication” definitely sums up my feelings on the matter here. It seems that so many of these things that we count to keep our relationships alive – Facebook, text messages, Instagram, Snapchat – are just a facsimile of real interaction. They are a pale, plastic substitute for quality time spent with other humans in person, or even on the phone, when you can hear and interpret the nuances of the human voice.
I was especially vulnerable to this affliction during the time the album was conceived and written. I was traveling constantly, encountering a new cast of characters every single day, meeting and sometimes dating people I’d meet on the road. At first, technology seems like this incredible boon – like, wow, it’s amazing that this supercomputer I’m carrying in my pocket allows me to go without seeing this person for a month at a time, yet we can be in constant touch! But it’s an illusion. It’s relationship life support. I stopped seeing a real person – she would fade away, being slowly replaced by endless blue bubbles of text.
Communication technology is amazing, and I’m dearly glad that we have it – but it’s no substitute for the relationships we as humans have drawn on since long before the advent of the internet – or the printing press, for that matter.
ANON: What plans do you have in store for the latter half of 2017?
D.D.: I’m playing a few shows in support of Emotional Freedom Technique, including the Bumbershoot festival, which I am quite excited about. I am recording a new record with Death Cab for Cutie, which we are in the very early stages of at the moment, and which is sounding quite promising so far. That begins in earnest in the fall. I’ve begun work on what I think is my next record – I’m not quite sure what direction it’s headed in yet, as so far it’s a collection of 50-60 song ideas that have yet to be sewn together and melted into concrete things. But I’m loving what’s been happening up to this point.
You can catch Dave Depper live on June 21st in Seattle, WA at Barboza, June 22nd in Portland, OR at Mississippi Studios and September 1st – 3rd in Seattle at Bumbershoot. You can also order Emotional Freedom Technique in digital, CD, or LP format via Tender Loving Empire here.
Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.