Projecting her own voice

16:00, Jan 23 2013
Dirty Projectors
VISION OF LOVE: ‘‘My hero for most of my childhood was Mariah Carey. She was a huge part of my psyche for the first half of my life,’’ says Dirty Projector’s Amber Coffman, top left. Band leader Dave Longstreth is pictured centre.

When Dirty Projectors released Stillness is the Move in 2009, it served as a breakout single, setting the stage for their hugely acclaimed sixth album, Bitte Orca, and their subsequent ascent into the world of summer festivals and late-night television performances. 

At the centre of it was a star-making turn from vocalist Amber Coffman, who, after serving as almost a contrapuntal instrument in so much of her singing, was let loose.

Coffman's impassioned, octave-straddling performance earned constant comparisons with Mariah Carey, and presaged an eventual Stillness is the Move cover by Solange, but few knew how apt those were.

''All of those people who compared us to Mariah Carey had no idea how much it made sense,'' Coffman says. ''My hero for most of my childhood was Mariah Carey. She was a huge part of my psyche for the first half of my life.''

The fact Coffman was given a lead vocal marked a huge change for Dirty Projectors who, for their first four albums, were the solo project of leader Dave Longstreth.

He had a revolving-door policy, with countless musicians - including future members of Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot - coming on board for a tour, then moving on.As a fan, Coffman knew this and, on meeting Longstreth at the South by Southwest festival in 2006, suggested a collaboration.

''I knew that that's how it went, and so I just suggested doing a tour together. Obviously, I never expected to end up moving to New York and being in the band fulltime, but almost as soon as we started working together, it became clear that that was what was going to happen.''

Of course, they're a band still directed by their leader.

''Dave writes all the parts, so there's definitely the sense that the band is his,'' Coffman says.

Longstreth's vision for his band is regularly conceptual, as played out on albums such as the 2005 ''glitch opera'' The Getty Address, 2007's ''Black Flag re-created from memory'' experiment Rise Above, and 2010's collaboration with Bjork, Mount Wittenberg Orca.

Even though Dirty Projectors' latest LP, the excellent Swing Lo Magellan, is probably the band's least thematic record, it is also accompanied by the 20-minute short film Hi Custodian.

''It ended up being this whole other project, almost as big as making the album itself,'' Coffman says. ''We had a budget for a music video, and Dave wanted to take that and try to make something much more crazy, and way more ambitious. 

''With Dave, everything we do has to be super-ambitious.''


Dirty Projectors play at Wellington's San Francisco Bath House tonight.


The Dominion Post