Dan Deacon first heard the term “stress addiction” a few years ago, and the Baltimore-based experimental-pop artist wondered aloud if it applied to his own life. Nearby, the former Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman looked back in disbelief.
“He was like, 'Are you joking? Of course you do. You're one of the most stressed out people I know, and I think you revel in it,’” Deacon said last week. “It really was an eye-opener for me.”
“Gliss Riffer,” out Tuesday via Domino Recording Company, is Deacon's fourth album and first since the epiphany. After two expansive and highly collaborative records (2009's “Bromst” and 2012's “America”), most of the buzz around “Gliss” has focused on the West Babylon, N.Y., native's return to the songwriting style he used on his breakthrough full-length debut, 2007's “Spiderman of the Rings” — composing, arranging, mixing, producing and engineering nearly every note by himself.
But Deacon said finishing “Gliss” would not have been possible without Bill Murray. Deacon found comfort in a YouTube clip of the actor sharing his life philosophy at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Murray's gist was, no matter what you do, you are at your best when you are most relaxed.
It was what Deacon needed to hear — even via grainy uploaded footage — to truly confront and improve his problem.
“It just changed my life,” he said of the clip. “Up until that point, I, like a lot of people, had been very stress-motivated or deadline-motivated. It's like, 'Oh, I'll wait until the last minute and then magically get it done.' It's such a terrible way to live.”
Something about Murray's soothing advice made something click for the 33-year-old musician.
“I stopped worrying about what its reception was going to be,” Deacon said of the new album. “I just started thinking about how it was fun to do. Then the problem became, I didn't want to stop. But I knew I couldn't keep writing the same chapter of the same book. I needed to end this chapter and move forward.”
The driving, computer-generated pop songs heard on “Gliss” share DNA with “Spiderman,” but this record could not have been made by the same artist. He has grown too much for that to be the case. When Deacon moved to Baltimore from New York in 2004 and founded the influential Wham City arts collective, he made his name as an eccentric warehouse-party-starting maestro. Early on, his approach to songwriting was to try and not blow-out the cheap public address systems he often used at random basements shows.
After “Spiderman” gained notice from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, his following grew enough to allow Deacon to execute much bigger ideas than ever before. Looking back, he pinpoints the “Bromst” era — and its daunting tour featuring a large live ensemble and a van running on vegetable oil — as the time his love of stress amplified.
“I was like, 'I'll go from being one person to having a 20-person band in a bus that runs on garbage!' It was an insane decision to make,” Deacon said. “I wouldn't call it a regret, but I would do it very differently if I were to do it again.”
After “America,” which featured a sweeping, 21-minute four-part suite, Deacon seemingly cleansed himself by creating the opposite: "Wish Book Vol. 1," a free, Girl Talk-style mixtape that layered bits of music from artists like Psy, Beach House, Skrillex and Brian Eno on top of each other with chaotic results. Chopping up song parts and rearranging them until they were barely recognizable reminded Deacon of the way he wrote music early on — by himself on the computer.
“When you work with acoustic instruments, you can't treat them the same way you can electronics,” he said. “You can't ask a flute to play extremely loud in a low register. It just doesn't exist, and it's not going to sound the way you want it to.”
With “Gliss,” Deacon has combined the computer composing of “Spiderman” with the need of balance he learned from “Bromst” and “America.”
“I kept thinking about how fun it would be to make a record of computer music, but treat it like I would treat an acoustic ensemble,” Deacon said. “Giving it space. Allowing for a lushness, but not an overload. I think that might have been because I learned well, anything over the last years.”
Morgan Lebus, who handles artists and repertoire at Domino, hopes longtime fans of Deacon recognize elements from his entire discography throughout the record.
“I hope his fan base appreciates [“Gliss”] for its familiarity, and I also hope they appreciate Dan for taking chances like he did on ‘America,’” Lebus said in an email.
The very few musicians who helped in the completion of “Gliss” noticed a change in Deacon. Patrick McMinn, a Baltimore musician who played trumpet on “America” and contributed guitar work to “Gliss,” has known Deacon for five years, and said the making of this record was “some of the happiest and least stressed-out I’ve ever seen him.”
“I think he rediscovered some of that joy of just creating and making music on one’s own,” McMinn, 28, said.
Aside from his own albums, Deacon's career accomplishments can read like an absurdist lying on a resume. A few examples include scoring the 2011 Francis Ford Coppola film “Twixt,” making his Carnegie Hall debut in 2012 and playing himself, briefly, in the new Anne Hathaway movie “Song One.”
Another milestone came last year: Deacon opened for Arcade Fire on the Grammy winner’s North America arena tour. Deacon had played major festivals for years, but never imagined playing in places that regularly host sporting events.
“We were playing in Chicago and my stage was in the middle of the room. I was like, 'This is where Scottie Pippen once stood! This is insane,’” he said. “I also kept thinking of how insanely popular Arcade Fire was, and I had no idea.”
Unforgettably vivid moments like these inform Deacon lyrically (“Everything you experience changes the way you do something moving forward”), but “Gliss” finds him acting more as a psychedelic narrator, he said. He was inspired by Joanna Newsom's first record, “The Milk-Eyed Mender” and the Bob Dylan song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
“With lyrics, I was too self-conscious,” he said. “I felt like Newsom and Dylan both helped open portals for me in my own mind to dive into that stream of consciousness, and to tap into themes.”
“Gliss” is the most focused Deacon has ever been on lyrics, he said. His favorite song, the hummable “When I Was Done Dying,” which features manipulated voices that sound male and female but are actually all Deacon, deals with a “shifting consciousness” between elements of the earth.
“I was trying to maintain as strong as a narrative as possible while still being completely abstract in concept,” he said.
Even if his songs' meanings are difficult to decipher, they will always be inspired by Deacon's life, which for now is in near constant motion. He is currently touring in Europe, and kicks off his North America tour next week. There is currently no Baltimore date, but he plays Washington's 9:30 Club on April 11.
No need to feel slighted, Charm City — Deacon said he is trying to find the right venue to eventually play. Plus, Deacon said he hopes to call Baltimore home for a long time. (“I'm trying to buy a house,” he said.) Beyond that, there are no concrete long-terms plans other than making music for as long as possible. For him, any other existence simply does not make sense.
“I don't think there I'll ever stop writing music,” Deacon said. “I don't think there's life after music, but I hope there's music after life.”