After about a year of procrastination, I finally sat down to watch Exit Through The Gift Shop -- a documentary detailing the life of an overnight street art celebrity by the name of "Mr. Brainwash." The story is told by the originator of urban art terrorism, Banksy, who grew to become a fully developed conceptualist, building a style and a name through his own evolution, the way most art icons naturally evolve.
Watching the subject of the film go from zero to artist after a bit of hype and an expensive, talent-less gallery show, was not the least bit shocking. A crazed French man with a few good connections and a pocket full of cash could easily pass off commercial prints and splattered paint as art. I've seen it happen in other mediums, particularly in music, where corny knock-offs of original artists and degenerate offspring with no better way to spend their inheritance sadly often reign.
It's a treasure to see musicians earn their rank by living, changing and ripening into their talent organically, even sometimes painfully. To see someone like Darwin Deez -- a simply profound indie-pop talent, unmanufactured and at times hitting obstacles -- is a truly refreshing phenomenon. It's reassuring even more so to see the public recognize artists like Deez when they've struck gold, although the road it's taken them to get there wasn't necessarily paved with it.
Beginning at the age of 11, Deez -- the offspring of two musical parents (his dad plays acoustic guitar and his mom played marimba and the bass drum in high school) -- was strumming chords on his guitar. "I immediately started writing songs like 'U,' 'Missing,' 'Hangin' Out' and 'Junior' on the cream strat my parents bought be for my 11th," he told me. "I wish I had recordings of these bad, bad songs."
By the age of 13, Deez had progressed in his talents and expanded his style (he had now moved on to producing electronic music). He spent his adolescent afternoons fantasizing about interviews, constructing responses to questions from the made-up media while walking his dog. "I mostly gushed about the Chemical Brothers and my transition to making electronic music," he said. "I dreamed of doing interviews, but I never dreamed of traveling."
At 16, Deez bought his first sampler and began to put it to use in his own MIDI production studio. "I made a lot of prog-y jungle/drum 'n bass music. I was big into the Metalheadz at that time," he said. Quite the divergence from the music Darwin Deez plays today -- easy-to-sing-along-to, melodic indie-pop songs, with flawless, warm vocals and lyrics that are relatable to everyone.
With a career path in music seeming to pave itself away nicely, the typical musical path was not the plan for Deez. Whereas college is the turning point for many musicians -- entering conservatories or watching their friends shuttle off to school while they wait tables and book gigs until they build a following -- Darwin Deez took a different route. The artist decided to direct his interest away from music and towards Philosophy, his major at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
"I tried to start a band, but it was too complicated to get everyone together," explained Deez of his college experience outside of music. "I was dying without writing music."
When Deez did sit down at his Casio keyboard, towards the end of his freshman year, the depression -- caused in part by early Autumn sunsets and in part by the separation from music -- became apparent. "I am alone/I am all alone now," he sang. "With my Casiotone now I'm all alone."
Although isolated and troubled during his time at Wesleyan, Deez was able to emerge from his less-than-ideal college experience with nourishment for his growing songwriting talent. Philosophy, whether the subject of his music (like in his song, "Constellations") or the driving force behind it, has given Deez's music a deeper edge. Although simple in their nature, there is something more to each of his songs -- ideas, morals and thoughts about life and living that give each of his songs a shrewd edge. "I'm always hoping to write smart philosophical songs," explains Deez. "Maybe because music can be so purely emotional, which I fear may fail to reach more intellectually intelligent listeners, whose feelings may coincidentally be more blocked off than normal. [They] could therefore use a good emotional bowel movement, like the kind best provided by a beautiful song."
To coincide with the emotional force behind his music, as well as the artistic being that is Darwin Deez, are a series of creative music videos, for which Deez has become notorious. Although Deez claims to contribute "up to 30 percent of the music video stuff," he has a hand in picking the directors and understands that when collaborating with other artists, letting them do their own thing will often yield the best results (see the videos for "Constellations" and "DNA" below).
But no matter whether Darwin Deez is standing off to the sidelines, letting the video directors take the lead, or choreographing dances with the band which are performed between songs at their live show (which can be seen this Friday night at Bowery Ballroom in New York City), there is no doubt that Deez has exhaled a breath of fresh air into the so-often-jaded music industry of today. Like a true respected artist, Deez keeps a modest air amidst successful albums and sold-out shows, and most importantly, he continues to let himself grow and evolve and explore different routes of expression. "Emotionally, I want a break from music right now," he explains. "I worship good stand-ups like Mitch Hedberg. I don't know. I think improv comedy would be fun."
Catch Darwin Deez performing live this Friday night (July 15) at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City.