BY M. BRIANNA STALLINGS It’s such an unassuming name for a duo: Dieterich & Barnes. Two last names, nothing more. Few points of reference are revealed to someone who stumbles on their debut album “The Coral Casino” online or in a vinyl bin. Apart from Martin del Litto’s cover art featuring a line drawing of old men in Speedos playing chess, there aren’t any clues as to what the casual listener ought expect. They may need someone who knows the meanings of those surnames to translate—like a secret code. Dieterich & Barnes is an experimental duo made up of two internationally acclaimed musicians who happen to roost in Burque. John Dieterich is best known for his membership in avant noise outfit Deerhoof, while Jeremy Barnes is a member of shambolic folk legend Neutral Milk Hotel, and alongside violinist Heather Trost, is also half of A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Released on May 6, “The Coral Casino” originated as a freeform improvisation during which they tried their damnedest to play together in the same room while not listening to one another. The resulting tracks range from space-age exotica to blippy ditties to Spaghetti Western soundtrack. It’s available on vinyl and CD via Barnes’ label Living Music Duplication. ABQ Free Press sat down with Dieterich & Barnes for an illuminating interview on escaping creative ruts, listenable failures and Albanian television.The Coral Casino is a resort hotel in Santa Barbara, Calif. When I was a kid, my grandma lived in Santa Barbara. She had a neighbor who was a member [there], and we were allowed to go on her membership. It was this classic Californian Art Deco place right alongside the beach. It’s always been one of those childhood memories where everything is great. Then we thought that, in a way, that’s what we’re trying to do with this record: finding that again.
So aside from attempting to ignore each other as you made music together in the same room, what was the songwriting process like for these songs?Barnes: That technique—of improvising and not listening to each other—is how we laid the groundwork for a lot of songs. Then we took that groundwork and worked on it for a long time. So the bases for some songs are improvisations, but we did change things around later. It was a great way to get out of certain patterns that you fall into as a musician. John Dieterich: Everyone has their tropes that they go back to. It’s like we were finding ways of tricking ourselves into playing in a way that we wouldn’t normally. The other thing that’s interesting is that we failed. We were trying to not listen to each other, but it’s almost impossible to be in a room with somebody playing and not interact with them.
I noticed that and thought they flowed seamlessly together; I didn’t think of it as a very positive failure.Dieterich: It’s listenable, so it’s a failure. [laughs] I like that about it.
So “The Coral Casino” provided you both with creative freedom?Barnes: I’ve found that improvisation is either collective insanity or backing up soloists. I’ve been interested in the idea of collective improvisation based on rhythm, rather than melody or freakouts. That’s one of the aesthetics that we got into with this record. Dieterich: As free as improvising is theoretically supposed to be, a lot of the time it actually isn’t. I think we were trying to find a new language, a new way of approaching our instruments. How do you convince your brain that this is actually interesting? [laughs] I think that’s what took us the longest time. It was this very slow process of discovering what the common ground was and where we wanted to go.
So, Jeremy, there’s A Hawk and a Hacksaw release slated for release later this year? What can you tell me about that?Barnes: We’re just finishing up the music for an Albanian TV show that’s premiering in the fall. It’s a 15th century Albanian historical comedy. Dieterich: I love it when you describe it like that. [laughs] Barnes: John has a new record coming out also. Dieterich: Yeah, Deerhoof has a record out in June (“The Magic,” releasing June 24). We went with a kinda mixtape aesthetic. We’re also doing an actual mixtape. People who pre-order the record get a cassette with four cover songs on each side – stuff like Madonna, Public Enemy, Def Leppard, Van Halen, David Bowie.
Stream album cut “What” at bit.ly/DandBWhat and check out LM Duplication at lmduplication.com
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