After becoming absolutely addicted to the latest single “Topanga,” from Los Angeles based rocker Derek Jordan, Greg tracked him down and picked his brain on everything from The Wonder Years to his friendship with his producer to how his love life plays into his music and of course “Boy Meets World.”
Nanobot Rock Reviews: Second Albums usually show great strides in establishing the personality of a band, but from The/Split to Topanga decoded has changed drastically, to a much more thick and defined sound. How has the new lineup effected decoded’s sound and style?
Derek Jordan: Well, Heather [Miller] helps a lot. With The/Split the drums are all programed. She definitely helps with Topanga; from rehearsing the songs and the groove to bouncing chemistry off each other.
With The/Split, I didn’t know what sound I wanted. It was also the first time I worked with producer Davey Rieley. We wrote it together. I came in with 40 song ideas. We cut it down and refined it. He helped me write lyrics to three of the four tracks and he helped set up foundation.
The/Split was very important. It helped me develop writing lyric structure; made me more listenable. It was kind of a Journey.
With Topanga, I went in knowing the sound I wanted. I first met with Davey in June/July – showed him demos of about twenty songs – and we chose six. I really wanted an organic sound; kind of like The Black Keys or Alabama Shakes – sonically, with the realness and organic feel. A feel from where vocals were shunned upon; Lots of distorts, not completely crisp, but with more feeling. And where guitar and drum had more reverb; I wanted to go for that; something so beefy. We recorded on a Silvertone Amp and Harmony 1952. We used Vintage stuff and had nothing direct-line into Pro Tools or a computer. We layered harmonies live. I even tuned really low on my E String. I wanted to get that real beefy sound. I was going for an In Utero feel on guitars.
Nanobot: Davey Rieley, producer extraordinaire, has had a big impact on you personally and on your music. What is your relationship with him like?
DJ: I love him. He’s the best. He’s not only understands, I will come up to him with song ideas on my computer with generic drum loops, and it sounds horrible to the normal person but I can hear the finished product. He knows how to get it there. He knows what to do. He might not immediately hear what I’m hearing, but he knows what I’m communicating. He understands me better than anyone else I’ve worked with. I understand him; his process, it works well. We’re great friends. I was so fortunate to come across him a few years ago. And it has been amazing working with him. Everything Decoded has done has been with him. I hope it continues.
Nanobot: Was the short-lived four girls/one guy Robert Palmer-like lineup for looks?
DJ: Yeah, I wanted to try it.
I hate both songs we did with that lineup. I will never play them again. “Hello Hipster” and “Want to Be Sexier” have good lyrics and they did their purpose, but that’s not the kind of sound I want to play or write. There’s just no reason to listen to it more once or twice.
I want to write something where you find something new every time you listen to it. Where there’s an emotional attachment to the song, you can feel part of the song.
And I hate trying to look for members, but, it ended up being friends. We had this all girl lineup but, they left in June; one left when started recording. Then we had this dude on rhythm guitar, he quit within a week of joining. I liked a White Stripes practice lineup (me and Heather), then asked my friend Ian [Thomas McCulloch].
But friendships come first. Maybe that’s what keeps it together. Bonding is more important than the music.
Nanobot: These new songs put distance between you and those singles, why such a drive to get away from them?
DJ: Honestly, I was dissatisfied with what we did. Not while recording the songs, but I was not proud enough to promote it. I want to make music I’m proud of doing, I want to feel it. This all brought me back. I was parting so far from who I am as an artist inside – I have an identity – I had to bring it back.
Actually, I wrote “Judgement Day” before The/Split. I probably changed a couple of things, simplified it a bit. It was a little crazy. I also wrote the riffs on “Last Night” before The/Split.
I always wanted to write a song about Topanga. It is a little kitschy. But it is also a transition from “Hipster” to the new stuff. It is quirky, raw and has grooves going on.
Nanobot: What about the “Dogs & Me” Webseries theme?
DJ: That was just a quick recording. It is really the simplest thing, no auto-tune, no plugins, just simple Guitar. I used a little accordion thing on the computer, a midi-thing, and me singing. No mastering. It is completely raw. I was singing the melody around apartment; Matt [Rocklin] and I are roommates.
Nanobot: As you mentioned, you have a lot of songs written, why did this EP end up being six?
DJ: I wanted to write a new EP; my way; a sound I’m looking for. It was going to be a five song EP. But we added one more song; it is really catchy, kitschy. “Topanga” is the same style we did before. We wanted to release a single and then the other five. But we just decided after sessions together, it was all the same equipment. So we just put it all together.
Nanobot: Why Topanga instead of Laura Winslow or Winnie Cooper?
DJ: (Laughs) Topanga has been my girlfriend forever. I’m a nostalgic kind of person and I loved that show. And it’s not Topanga herself, but Danielle Fishel. But it wouldn’t make sense screaming “Danielle Fishel”. I guess she was kind of odd in the early years, but all the girls that get hot, start out a little weird.
The Wonder Years – Winnie is the backup girlfriend. Topanga is #1 always; Girl next door things.
Nanobot: Have you reached out to Danielle Fishel? Will we hear this on “Girl Meets World”?
DJ: I did a couple tweets, but nothing yet. Love to have her in a video or something. I would hate for her to be offended by it though. We’ll find out.
Nanobot: “Last Night” is pretty direct, is it about anyone in particular?
DJ: Yeah. That was the last one written. I wrote the guitar way long ago, I think I had the lyrics the day after I hung out with someone new. And it was good, a good night. Lyrics explain it all. There’s a lot of lust in that song. Never really wrote much about that. I didn’t want to be looked upon as sexually driven, but that song and “I Can’t Control It” are about the same thing lust, sex drive and basic instincts. That song is to the point; no made up lyrics.
There was a follow up evening months later.
Nanobot: There is a proportionate rock passion-to-love song style with Decoded, but “Not Easy Being Alone” carries a different weight, it seems more honest to your personality – lyrically- than most, what is different about the song for you?
DJ: It is a real personable song. I liked it a lot. The Lyrics are heavy. I relate to it the most. Kind of two styles I wrote. “Last Night” and “Topanga” have blues rock progression, I never wrote something so blues-rock. “Red Handed” is basically the same notes with different layers on top. I wanted something more modern sounding – kind like Of Monsters and Men – that atmospheric feeling, not as much rock, something softer, more lyrically heavy. We just decided on including that song. We grouped the songs we chose so they could fit together. It just worked out being the last track. It is like as long as I love myself I’ll be ok. I felt it really has a Chili Pepper feel to it as well.
“Red Handed” is about relationships; specifically, a girl seeing through me.
“Judgement Day” is the only song that isn’t about personal relationship or feelings. It is about society judging. It brought variation into the EP.
Nanobot: So you selected the songs to Topanga while in the studio. Was there purpose to the layout or did they just happen to land in this order?
DJ: Sonically, it made sense. Chronologically, it makes sense. Our generation, that innocent love we all felt part of, I don’t know if it disappears as you get older or what but there are more factors, more changes when you’re meeting new people. And when you’re dating it’s not as innocent.
I don’t know how it is with kids nowadays with Facebook and things. With us it was simple; you didn’t need to text and wait for them to get back to ya. You called and they were there or not. There was less analyzing; she was into you or not. This is a call back to those times. Remember those? We still want those girl next door things. She’s not there anymore.
Nanobot: You have fans, not only in California, but all over the world. Anything you’d like to say to them?
DJ: Thank you for continuing to be my fan. I’ve put you through all the style and lineup changes. I know I alienated a lot of people with the style changes, and then I changed things on them so many times. I’m very thankful for the ones that have stuck around. Maybe not only because they like the music, but because they watch me grow as an artist.
This is completely me now. I will evolve, like any band. But if you make the same movie every time, people will get bored. I’m no longer taking direction on what style should be; I’m going to be exactly who I am; decoded.
Nanobot: And Topanga is definitely something to be proud of.
DJ: I’ve never been so proud of anything I’ve done before. It was an excruciating process. We recorded in August on Saturday s and Sundays only; twelve hour days. I tracked the bass. With guitars, it took a twelve hour day to do three songs, the next day, another twelve hour day for three songs. To make the EP feel organic, we didn’t fly the music. Nothing is copy/printed, it is all straight to reel. We didn’t digitally match things up. I had to play each strum and chord with exact consistency. It had to ring out exactly the same, force and strength. I felt like the worst guitar player ever. The vocals were back-to-back twelve hour days. We use no auto-tune. I practiced hard to get vocals right; it was so much work. It was stressful, it wasn’t easy, but it is very rewarding. I was completely drained by the end. I even changed my diet so I could perform the best I could.
There is a bar next to studio and for the last two songs we recorded, “Red Handed” and “Topanga,” we went over and got shots of whiskey before we recorded; and I sang better.
I think it was a girl thing I was going through, picking up bad habits, focusing on the record and working a forty hour week. I’m really proud of it; it was a stressful time I was going through.
Nanobot: Well it paid off. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.