Analogue Music | FAN


By Matt Conner

Try as he might, Meric Long couldn't break free of The Dodos as long as he was making music as part of The Dodos. Reinvention, it seems, isn't quite so simple.

This is not to say that The Dodos are extinct (pun intended) or even endangered. For this season, however, Long has indulged his creative whims long enough to form FAN and release a new solo album, Barton's Den. Using synths inherited from his father, Long says he needed time to explore music outside of The Dodos' boundaries and expectations. He also needed time to connect with his father.

Barton's Den is the end result, a compelling and inventive album that affirms life despite being rooted in a season of grief. We recently sat with Meric to ask him about his newest venture and what he's learned about himself in the process.

Analogue: Was the desire to dive into solo waters something you've been carrying for a while?

Meric Long: The desire to do something solo was never there, but the desire to make music in a different way had definitely been burning for a long while. Every Dodos record has been an attempt to make music in a different way. I think that's pretty standard for a lot of musicians, but there's only so much you can do within that band or iteration. I think things ended up the same more than I wanted. There was always this unsatisfied part of me that was like, "I'm still making the same kind of stuff. I really need to come at it from a different direction or change it up."

Giving in to the idea of working with keyboards, or finding the angle to work with those sounds that was inspiring and interesting for me, that was the first exit point. That was the other door opening up. I started doing that by collecting sounds, but I also didn't want to say to anyone else, including myself, that I was working on something. I can sit in front of a keyboard for three hours and just twiddle knobs and have a really fun time. But I wouldn't call it working on something. I'd just say, "Oh, that's me messing around." [Laughs]

The glitch point came after a year-and-a-half of doing that, just collecting different pieces of sounds and intentionally not making songs. The way my brain works was that there's always an end game. I have a guitar riff, so how do I make this into a song? Where's the hook? Where's the bridge? I was trying to break away from all of that and stop that cycle. I was also learning how to record during that time, so it was a good way to learn.

But then there was a moment in my little recording space where I'd created this sample from a recording I'd made of a broken fan at a taqueria. I was able to process it in a way that it sounded really cool to me. It became a challenge. The sample has no repeatable rhythm. It doesn't really make sense. It also doesn't carry any harmonic information, so how can I make this into a song? It made me excited to see what I could make.

Analogue: By the way, is that were FAN as a name came from?

Meric: That's totally where it comes from.

I have a guitar riff, so how do I make this into a song? Where's the hook? Where's the bridge? I was trying to break away from all of that and stop that cycle.

Analogue: Reading about your own relationship with your father and your connection with him on this record after he passed was really striking and resonated with my own personal story. Was that the plan to root the album in this connection? And is that okay to even ask?

Meric: I should really rethink presenting it that way. As somebody who has put out a few records, you think about what you want to put out there. "Do I really want to talk about this?" I don't. I don't want to talk about it, but at the same time, I can't make up a bullshit story why I did this. I'm sure people can and it could be a very useful talent, but I never developed that. [Laughs]

Analogue: I certainly don't need to ask about anything you're not wanting to discuss. It was in the notes about the album, so...

Meric: No, it's really fine. Honestly, my relationship with my father has informed every single piece of music I've ever made. It's funny how much that informs everything. I find myself conflicted because every time I write a song, it's a place I can always go to. I can always draw from that well of anger or hurt. It's like, "Why do I keep doing this? Can't I write other songs? Why can't I stop writing about my vacant relationship with my father?"

That's just something that occurs as part of my songwriting. It's part of the reason I make music and it informs a lot. With this project, it was a specific thing because my father was musical. He was denied the opportunity to follow his creative impulses, and that's something I can identify with a lot. It's a specific strand between me and my father. He played keyboards and would stow away in his room and you'd hear this funny funk/jazz coming out of his room.

When he passed away, I inherited a couple of his keyboards. Those were my first keyboards and I used them all over the record. There's a lot of musicians, especially guitar players, who are discovering analog synths. It's like, "Of course, why wouldn't you make that transition because they're awesome." However, for me, I've always stayed away from synths until now because I'd never had that entry point. My father gave that to me.

Working on the same synths he was working with was one thing. It was like, "Well, I have this instrument, so I need to learn how to use it." There are a few specific chords that he was also into, some specific voicings, which are really funny. There's this particular jazz voicing he was always going to, so I thought, "Maybe I can start there and see where it goes." It was cool because he kept all of the manuals, and he's charted out all of his sounds. For a person I didn't know very well, to see how his brain worked and his system of documenting stuff, it all made total sense to me. It was like, "Of course, he was my father. We have the same brain."

I don't want to say that I was speaking with him. I'm reluctant to say that. But there is something that happens when a parent passes away and you go through all their stuff. You find out what you didn't know. Your relationship in your brain is developing even after they pass. And he would be stoked if he knew that I was making music with his keyboards. I know that.

Analogue: Is there a song on the album that's most rooted in that connection?

Meric: There were 20 songs. When I first presented the record to Polyvinyl, I was like, "Hey, I've got this 20-song record." I was totally about it. They were like, "No, you've gotta knock some of these off." So there's a lot of stuff that was more rooted in that which didn't make the record. But of the songs that made it onto the record, there are two that come to mind. "Since I Found You" is thematically and instrumentally very connected. That's actually not a very synth heavy song, so the other one that's deferential is the last one, "OMD," which is a band we both shared an appreciation for.

Analogue: Beyond the paternal relationship that we've discussed, did this solo journey allow you to flesh out or explore more personal things than The Dodos have allowed? Or is that not the case?

Meric: Yeah, definitely. If I'm working on something that I don't think is ever going to see the light of day, I'm free to explore wherever it takes me. If I'm working on a Dodos record, I know it will come out to an audience that has a certain idea of what that is supposed to sound like. I was really just trying to get away from that expectation, because I really can't escape that in my head. I totally take that into account when I'm working on something. So, yeah, the purpose isn't to explore more personal stuff. That's not the brand of exploration that it has to be more personal, but there's a hesitancy to really put my secrets on the table on a Dodos song. Which is silly, but that's the nature of where it's gone.

Analogue: How much support will this get? Will this be treated like any other record?

Meric: There will definitely be a smaller support system. I don't know how much touring, but there will be some shows. It started out as a recording project and I was happy to put it out, but I wasn't planning on putting a massive tour together. I do have a pretty stellar group of people who have performed it live. They're also tied up in other bands, so there's not going to be a three-month tour or anything like that. It's also difficult to perform live. We've figured it out but it's so sample based that the live show is very regimented at this point. There will be more music. I know that much. It's lodged in my brain as this outlet to do weirder stuff. After finishing this record, I knew I wanted to do another one.