Angel Deradoorian is no one’s protégé. Though she’s known for her participation in high-profile experimental indie rock projects helmed by critically lauded masterminds — first as one of the driving vocal forces on Dirty Projectors’ breakout album, Bitte Orca, and most recently playing bass alongside Animal Collective’s Dave Portner in side project Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks — Deradoorian’s solo debut, The Expanding Flower Planet, is an assertion that she’s a prodigy in her own right.
“Even if you collaborate with a man, it can easily get misconstrued, like they did the work. It’s really weird,” Deradoorian says. “I’m gonna get compared, for a while at least, to [Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth and Portner] ’cause it’s my musical lineage. But they’re the writers of that music. I’ve learned a lot from both of them on many levels. But I’m not trying to make their music.” To wit, Deradoorian played almost every instrument on the record (and there are many) and produced it herself, save for tracks recorded at the Topaz Chamber with Kenny Gilmore, who sometimes performs with Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.
“Someone might comment, ‘Why didn’t she get Avey to produce this?’ or some shit like that,” Deradoorian muses. “I don’t want to have to do that, or prove myself or something. I’ve been a musician my entire life. I’ve studied a lot and I’ve gone on my own path. I know what I’m doing. Sometimes people want you to work with men or producers that are guys ’cause they don’t think you can do it yourself or something.”
Her parents are visual artists who raised her tight-knit family to love music; her dad played experimental saxophone in r&b and blues bands. Her siblings Aram and Arlene also have musical tendencies, and at one time or another have made up part of her touring band. Arlene contributed a good deal of vocal countermelodies to The Expanding Flower Planet, and is touring with her sister in support of the record, so it makes sense that Deradoorian’s solo efforts are tied together under the family name.
A few weeks ago at Todd P’s all-ages avant-garde music space Trans-Pecos, Deradoorian and her sister stood facing each other like witches hovering over a cauldron of musical instruments. She looped samples of her own voice, synth patches from a vintage Roland, and her sister’s drumming to hypnotic effect, rarifying the air in the crowded venue with an intense, almost mystic energy. The mesmerizing outro of “Violent Minded,” with its repeated line “looking out across the sea” floating over a slow-boiling synth swell, felt particularly rapturous. It blended almost seamlessly into the next song she played — the record’s uplifting title track, which reminded those in the crowd of their own innate power with the line “We all know much more than we really think we know.”
These kinds of spiritual platitudes might feel hippie-dippy on another record, but Deradoorian’s playful incorporation of non-Western elements, be it through the use of unusual instruments or the multicultural sonic traditions she invokes, gives them a certain levity. “I really like Middle Eastern scale modes and major-minor key signatures,” Deradoorian says, noting that she felt drawn to them very naturally, without deliberately seeking out that sound. “There are one or two songs on the record that are written in a major key and the rest are in different modes, which I didn’t even realize until somebody pointed it out to me. It feels so natural at this point to sing that way and to write that way.” Despite each song’s varied approaches, the record never feels jumbled. “The strongest cohesive element is my singing,” Deradoorian says. “But all the songs sound really different to me, and I don’t know if that’s a product of wanting to explore all these different kind of sonic palettes. I didn’t have any pressure to deliver it at any time, so I just got to experiment a lot and it all gelled together in the end.”
On September 11, she’ll return to Baby’s All Right as supporting act for Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, who’s touring the States for the first time in four years. Deradoorian was thrilled to be a part of that tour. “I just thought it would be the right vibe, right now, and she seems excited, too. We’ve been emailing a bit and she seems really awesome. My sister and I are gonna sing on some of her songs on the tour,” she says. Collaborations have been an important aspect of Deradoorian’s career; she contributed vocals to “Siren Song” by Flying Lotus, worked with Killers frontman Brandon Flowers on his latest solo record, and has made appearances on albums by artists ranging from pop princess Charli XCX to experimental sound collagists Matmos, just to name a few. “I like playing with other people and doing their thing, too,” she says. “It’s cool to experience music in different ways; everybody’s music is so different, it’s just more enriching.”
Deradoorian was also inspired by legendary jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby, minimalist pioneer Terry Riley, and Kraut-rock luminaries Can. Still, there’s a powerful sense of individuality at work on the LP. “Your Creator” unfolds like a kind of mantra for supporting one’s own creative vision, with Deradoorian crooning in a low, measured register, “In your inner gaze you will find a stage and build a circle of creation.” Like the infinitely unfolding mandala that inspired the title of her solo record, her songs double back over themselves, both rhythmically and thematically. “It’s personal but universal at the same time conceptually,” she says. “It’s showing a process of understanding and questioning of life and the world and the time we live in and where we’re going, some of those broader questions that arise.”
In turning the questioning gaze on herself and the way she relates to the rest of the world, Deradoorian has automatically created a work that introduces her authentically, standing well apart from the bands (and musical partners) that would otherwise be inseparable from her musical history. It’s a more ambitious project than her 2010 EP Mind Raft, which is also reflective of her personal growth. As much as her past has shaped her, The Expanding Flower Planet showcases Deradoorian exactly where she is today, in this moment, a moment that she knows she deserves to enjoy. “On tours, there’s always a person somewhere that will treat me in this way where they expect me to not know what I’m talking about. It’s more motivation to learn and be even more knowledgeable. This is my job,” she says. “Women [are sometimes] expected to not really know what they’re doing or that they can do things on their own. That is so embedded in society and it’s hard to free ourselves out of that. The amount of effort it takes to realize that you have that power just like anyone else is one of the hardest feats in the process.”
Deradoorian plays Baby’s All Right September 11. For ticket information, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 10, 2015