Angel Deradoorian: Ex-Dirty Projectors Vocalist on Her 'Cathartic' Solo Debut

The vocalist breaks out after years of lending her tones to U2, Björk and more

Angel Deradoorian performs in Minehead, UK on May 15th, 2011 Credit: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns/Getty

Former Dirty Projectors vocalist and bassist Angel Deradoorian has become one of out-rock's most valued utility players, collaborating with some of the brightest, most bizarre artists of our generation, including Björk, Flying Lotus and Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks — not to mention lending her dulcet pipes to songs by Brandon Flowers and U2, among others. Now, recording under the shortened sobriquet Deradoorian, she is breaking out on her own.

Over the course of four years, she recorded in spaces from Baltimore to Los Angeles in between tours, building what would become her debut album, The Expanding Flower Planet. It's a labyrinthine feat with complexities that unfold with each listen, recalling the freewheeling sensibilities of Can and Alice Coltrane, drawing on Hindu cosmology, East Indian spatial sensibilities, Native American rhythms and Japanese mysticism. Rolling Stone caught up with Deradoorian before she kicks off more than two dozen tour dates to talk about the benefits of solitude and recording as healing.

You play everything on The Expanding Flower Planet. What was the first instrument you picked up?
I played violin from, like, [ages] five to seven. But that's because I went to a school with a teacher that thought all the kids should learn violin. I didn't really connect with that instrument. My parents then asked me if I wanted to learn an instrument and to pick it, and I chose piano. So I started playing on this great, old upright piano in our house. The sound is so crazy and unlike any other piano I've heard, and still haven't heard a piano that sounds like it. I was probably a little too young to think about playing something like the drums. Piano, I connected with it because it was such a distinct challenge as a kid. Beyond listening to music, it's also about coordination, training your mind in a different way to use your hands and separate your mind from your hands and separate parts.

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you set out to work with specific sounds on your new album. Which sounds were conscious and which ones did you find by surprise?
I wanted to get more deeply touring with synthesizers I had, and getting some more specific tones out of those. . . . I was probably talking a little bit about the spatial aspects of the music and wanting to, even in the demos, mess with the mixing or the placement of sounds, the distance they have to each other. A lot of the surprise sounds came from my pedals, twisting knobs and fading the settings. I mean . . . I kind of know what I'm doing. But at the same time it's all an experiment getting into all those pedals.


A fair amount of improvisation helped informed this record, too?
I think that's also why this record might sound kind of . . . crazy to some people. I didn't want to keep mining certain sounds when I found things I liked. I wanted to roll with it.

The title of your new record was inspired by a tapestry, right?
Yeah. It's from my grandmother; she gave it to me a long time ago. She traveled a lot in her older age, in her second marriage. We weren't super close growing up, so when she gave that to me I hung onto it. It's really beautiful, a silk Chinese tapestry. It has a really nice feel to it, so I put it up in my studio to have some nice visual elements going on there. It was kind of representing the idea that I wanted to explore on this record, just being cyclical. The mandala looks repetitive yet moves a lot at the same time.

You recorded this album over several years while you moved through many musical projects. Was it cathartic to write these songs?
It really spanned the spectrum of emotion. Singing sometimes is a cathartic experience for me. It's about moving the sound throughout your body, these tones and feeling how they resonate and what that does when you let yourself experience this feeling. There were all these hurdles to get over in my mind. Comparing myself to other people's music or like, "Is this good enough?" The other part was dealing with huge change, like leaving my band after five years and just kind of feeling alone. Not that that was a bad thing, feeling alone. But I knew it was going to be a journey for me.

Being solitary is often coded as this terrible thing. But there's power in finding peace in solitude.
Absolutely. I just spent some time before I came out to the East Coast [recently], in Big Sur. I just wanted to write some music and spend some time alone. And I was very alone up there. I didn't see people for days. And I'm a type where I'm like, "That sounds awesome." But it was so alone sometimes that I thought, "There's a lot of other things I'm going to learn in this time." Then I got pretty into it. It takes some time to change how you view that thing alone. I posted a picture on Instagram of the ocean and thought, why does this seem so hard or negative for some people? Why is this associated with sadness and negativity? Because I love it, but at the same time it was very emotional.

People are increasingly afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.
I'm quite the opposite in that way. I'll get on an airplane, put on earplugs and I'll just sit there for like, the entire flight. I'll maybe watch a movie but I won't listen to the audio. Or I'll just close my eyes and be quiet. But there's already so much interaction with people in the world or anything, really. That energy exchange – I'm super sensitive to all of that. So part of me needs to just be quiet for a little bit and reboot, recharge..

There seems to be a Can influence on the new record. What's your favorite Can album?
I usually go with Ege Bamyasi. But I love them so much. . . . I feel like as you get older and your work can become a business or job or thing, you can lose sight of the freedom part of it that brought you the first place. I never felt like they lost that. And that gives me hope for myself.