There’s a sweet sadness to music, regardless of how positive it may seem. Music is a beautiful piece of art, but artists such as Michael Deni of San Francisco’s indie band Geographer believe that even within the most uplifting piece of music lies a sliver of despair. As the band brings its tour to a close in San Francisco this Saturday at Bimbo’s 365 Club, Deni shed some light on what goes into making a Geographer song and why melancholic meanings seem to be popular among music listeners.
The band has already written a couple of new songs for its next LP despite having just come out with an album last year. “With the new songs we’re currently working on, they’re more centered on the song and less about trying to make cool and bizarre sounds,” Deni said. “We worked really hard on the songs themselves before we start finding the ways that we’re going to lay out the songs.” According to Deni, all of the songs on the album Myth were born out of experimentation. Regarding newer songs, however, Deni said those songs started out on guitar and piano, with the experimentation saved until the track had been crafted.
Though the creative process for these new songs has changed, Deni feels that the goals for these songs were the same as they’ve always been. “We try to make exciting moments in the songs, just like we make exciting moments for the album,” he said. “We’re very meticulous in making sure that every moment of the song is exciting, whether it’s exciting for the sake of a quiet emotion or for the sake of a really momentous, bombastic thing.”
If the goal of a song is to be the common denominator of a band’s discography, then the meaning is the shred of individuality each song holds close to it. While some artists are happy to expose these unique shards, others, such as Deni, feel that discussing the meaning through words can hamper or otherwise subdue it. “Performing a song is one thing, since you have it in this package that’s really studied and can be presented,” he said. “You play it for people and they react to it; it has movement. But when you just talk about a song like ‘Kites,’ that’s a really deadening, dark tunnel into more darkness waiting to convene with that feeling. The whole reason I wrote the song in the first place was so you had somewhere to go besides that tunnel.”
Although not every song has a subject matter as bleak as that of “Kites,” Deni believes giving away the meaning of any song, no matter its subject, has the potential to ruin it for listeners. Deni expressed a fear that if he were to explain what a song means to him, it would ruin someone else’s appreciation for it. It would be surprising to him if the meaning that he put into the song resonated 100 percent with everyone. Deni believes that everyone brings a different meaning to the song and that meanings can be sacred to people; so, he reasons, why should he mess that up for them?
Even if everyone did see the same meaning in a song that Deni does, he firmly believes that words alone are not nearly powerful enough to convey the significance of any musician’s work. “Words are bullshit,” he said. “They’re the closest you can get to meaning, but they’re not the meaning. Everything is at least one step removed, and usually there’s more steps than that. The point of a song is to get at that elusive truth. You want to pull back the blinds so that truth shines into the room. When you can sit down, craft something, pull things out of the ether and combine the words and the music in a way such that the music holds up the words and the words give the music an emotional push, you get something that goes beyond just speaking.”
Some bands often have difficulty describing their songs concisely to people. What Deni spoke of could be one of the reasons the question of describing a song is often dreaded by bands. It’s not that they don’t know how to describe something they wrote but that sometimes, words alone can’t convey the emotions that go into the lyrics and rhythms of a song. This seems to be especially true when the song involves darker subject matter — which, unfortunately, is what people usually have the most questions about. Though these feelings may be difficult to explain, artists such as Deni hope that the music will help the words and that the words will help the music in order to achieve something greater and more beautiful than what either can accomplish on its own.
“We were just talking about this in the band: Why do people like sad-bastard music? Why do people like sadness?” Deni said. ” And I think people like it because they find comfort in the fact that you feel down and so does someone else. But I think always inside of it is that the artist has turned this sadness into something beautiful, and that can be uplifting to all sorts of people.”
Ian Birnam covers music. Contact him at [email protected].