Pitchfork: There’s a lot of delicate lyrics about relationships with harsh noises engulfing them on this album. There are also lyrics about wanting to crush a lover’s thorax.
DF: Art should raise questions and not provide answers. In that sense, there has to be enough there for you to even care to ask a question. But I'm not bothered if people don't understand what I'm talking about, as long as they understand that I'm trying to talk about something. It's so uncool to try to tackle sexuality, but it's amazing to me that there isn't more to discuss because it's such an integral part of everyone's life. If you're trying to battle something where you have no choice in the matter, it's a futile experience.
I remember watching some shrieking and screaming "extreme" bands in the '90s in Providence and saying to my friend, "God, it's so amazing that, at some point, the scream goes past the point of aggression and into hysteria." And he was like, "Yeah, a scream is a call for help." And that forever changed the way I thought about metal or hardcore or noise or anything. Every time I heard a scream I thought, "This is somebody who needs help" rather than as an act of aggression or power. For me, making those kind of inversions are essential if you're going to try to engage anyone.
Pitchfork: One thing I find interesting about Prurient is that it can be more approachable than a lot of noise because it's so personalized. With this record, especially, your girlfriend took the cover photo, you edited some of the lyrics with your mother—it feels like a family affair. There's a vulnerability there.
DF: It feels more honest to me. Whether people will like it or not, these are real topics that affect people, and that's what makes the background of the sound have any sort potential value. Within music, there’s been so much said about the idea of "persona," and how it’s somehow connected to identity—how music is a projection of the someone you want to be. But in this case, it's kind of the opposite. It’s the deflation of the idea of worshipping anything. It's the inversion of a power figure—worshipping somebody who’s weak. In a sense, it’s coming from a Christian idea; taking that religious context and reformatting it into the spectrum of sexuality and love. There is a line on the album—"I promise I’ll only fuck prostitutes"—and a friend of mine was like, "I’ve definitely had that conversation."
Let me put it this way: I think fantasy is a more powerful way of talking about real life. If you try to say something like it’s your fucking diary, who's gonna read that? You need exaggeration and fantasy in order for other people to feel comfortable in talking about your life, that's the way you try to connect with people. At least in terms of performing, the idea is not to drive people away. I want to share something. A lot of people kind of fall back on this defense like, "I don't care, I don't give a fuck." But I do care, I do give a fuck, that's why I'm here trying to share it with you. Given the context of Prurient, that is ultimately the motivation. The idea is to try to connect—even though it’s within a self-centered, masturbatory kind of world.
The whole thing is flawed, even the performance itself. From the time you go onstage, there's an expectation and a hierarchy between you and the audience. You're on the stage, but they still have the power to determine what they want to give you back. You can't choose. You’re like, "I have to fulfill this idea that something's going to happen," so the whole thing is fake and staged at its core. One of the challenges is trying to overcome all of the artificiality of presenting something in the public, whether it’s putting out a record or doing a show or even writing—any act of making something public. The challenge is to try to somehow make that feel real even though the entire mechanism is fake. But if you get too real you push people away. You need the fantasy element.
We've lost the ability to appreciate this form of drama where it’s somewhere in-between fiction and documentary, these exaggerations of something that's real. When you can get into that and read between the lines, it’s like poetry. It’s also about how it looks on the page. So rather than going all one direction or another, this grey area has the possibility to actually be more communicative, even though it’s full of lies.
Pitchfork: As far as treading the line between diary and fiction: There are some elaborate song titles on the record, then there’s one that’s just called "Greenpoint", after the Brooklyn neighborhood, and the lyrics seem specific. It has details of someone wanting a friend to scatter his mother’s ashes, and lines like: "The East River isn’t romantic anymore, you know/ That’s where the suicides go." What is that song about?
DF: It’s funny how people talk about the last couple of New York winters as being particularly harsh; but my first winter in the city seemed like the worst one ever. I can't exactly remember what year it was, but I remember it being intensely cold and windy in a way that I've never felt before.
The story [in the song] is true, and the lyrics are about events that took place over a 15-year period. When I first came to New York, before I had an apartment, I was staying with a friend who lived [in Greenpoint], so that was my introduction to actually sleeping in New York City. Greenpoint was like an industrial area at that point. No one ever went there, and it always felt separated from the city, even in the physical sense that it’s more hilly and the streets are not laid out in a grid. It made me feel claustrophobic.
I lost so many friends in New York during those times to different circumstances: overdoses or just legitimate old-school, hard-boiled suicide. With this story, something clicked in my mind where this guy I lived with was one of the first friends I knew who had lost their parents, and it became this ghost story. He represented civility to me—he took me in and had a job. Then, over the years, he got really involved in drugs and would reappear and disappear. I would hear stories. It’s too much: Basically, the dude said he was going to kill himself for a long time.
Then I was contacted later on by a mutual friend, who revealed to me that he was trying to find this guy because he had left the remains of his mother's ashes in his apartment and the mutual friend was so desperate to be free of them but he didn't know what to do. The guy said he always wanted to scatter his mother’s ashes in the East River, and it made sense in my mind all of the sudden that this fantasy of jumping off the bridge was actually an attempt to reunite and reconnect with his mother. I felt very haunted by that.
If we're talking about romance, there’s the romanticization of suicide versus the reality of it. If you've ever lost anyone to suicide you know it's a very ugly thing to go through for a survivor. And with this idea of New York and being an artist here and the self destruction that it can represent—it’s such a dysfunctional place. It’s always said that New York is a work in progress, that it’s incomplete. But it’s a place of loss, when you think about it. There's so much change, and that's connected to loss rather than development. That's what this song is about. The idea of this guy and romanticizing the city and coming there, even though I was in fucking Greenpoint.