Angel Deradoorian is homeless. Granted, she’s not living on the streets, but she is homeless in the sense that she doesn’t have a set location to lay her head each night. Last December, shortly after returning home from the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo, she left Los Angeles, where she’d been living since 2012. Since then, the 29-year-old artist has been bouncing around the globe, largely alternating between abbreviated tours and stints crashing with various friends and family.
At the time of our interview, Deradoorian is staying at a friend’s place in Big Sur. “I’m just working on music,” she says. “Writing stuff for fun. I’ve been homeless a long time and don’t have a studio.” It seems a bit odd for her to be working on music when her long-awaited debut full-length, The Expanding Flower Planet, hasn’t even been released yet, but in her mind, inspiration only comes along so often. “I just wanted to keep doing stuff right now, keep writing, because I feel lucky when I have ideas,” she says. “There’s no particular goal yet. It’s fun to experiment. It’s fun to go into these different worlds to see what happens.”
This sense of creative wanderlust isn’t exactly new. Though she’s been releasing music as a solo artist since the late ’00s—her first official release being 2009’s Mind Raft EP—Deradoorian has an extensive musical history that most prominently includes time spent in bands like Dirty Projectors and Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. She’s also become something of a hired gun in recent years, making appearances on records by Flying Lotus, U2, Vampire Weekend, Charlie XCX, Matmos, The Roots, Prefuse 73, and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers. It’s an impressive resume, yet Deradoorian takes it all in stride.
“Sometimes I am given those opportunities,” she says. “It might be to write for somebody or work with somebody in more of a mainstream realm. I’ve just learned to treat it like [working with] any other artist…. I never thought I would do so much singing for other people. I didn’t even consider myself a singer until I was 22, 23.”
She did, however, consider herself a musician much earlier. Deradoorian was raised in Orangevale, California, a town 20 minutes outside of Sacramento, in an artistic home where she was encouraged to take up music as a child. After starting with violin, she switched to piano, and gradually picked up a slew of other instruments along the way. At the age of 15, with her parents’ blessing, she took an exam in order to leave high school early and pursue music. “They were very supportive,” she says. “They’re artist types, so I think they can relate to someone taking their own path. I was really serious about it and it was very clear that was what I wanted. I did very well in school, so they weren’t really worried about my trajectory. I wasn’t a rebellious teen. I wasn’t doing drugs. I wasn’t fucking off at school. I just didn’t like the system and I wanted to emancipate myself from it.”
After leaving school, Deradoorian did spend a couple of years taking college classes, but she wanted to be a musician. At age 17, she left home and hit the road, jumping from one touring project to the next before she eventually landed in Brooklyn. Once there, she quickly found herself playing in a multitude of different groups and coming into contact with all sorts of musicians, including Dirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth, who recruited her to join his band in 2007.
Deradoorian’s time in Dirty Projectors, including her prominent role in the band’s 2008 breakthrough album, Bitte Orca, has been well documented, as has Longstreth’s demanding nature. Nevertheless, she has nothing bad to say about the experience, and describes working with Longstreth as “inspiring.” Still, when the time came to record the follow-up to Bitte Orca, both of them knew that maybe it was time for a change.
“It was mutual,” says Deradoorian. “We had a conversation about it. We were about to go into the whole process of the album cycle and Dave asked me if it was something that I really felt strongly about contributing to, because I had moved out of New York. I wasn’t around as much. I had always wanted to be focused more on what I was doing, solo style. So if I didn’t make that decision [to leave the band] then, I would have had to wait two-and-a-half more years, maybe. It was totally amicable. The decision took me maybe a couple weeks to figure out if that was what I wanted to do, but it felt like the right time.”
At that point, Deradoorian was living in Baltimore, where then-boyfriend Dave Portner (a.k.a. Avey Tare) was working on a new Animal Collective record. The move was always meant to be temporary, and Deradoorian only recalls playing a single show—oddly enough, at an ice rink with Matmos—but she does look back fondly on her time there. “I really like what Baltimore people bring to music and art,” she says. “It’s really unique and really special.”
In 2012, Deradoorian and Portner relocated to Los Angeles, a move she wasn’t completely sure about. “California is my home,” she says. “I understand it very well, almost to the point where it’s like a tumultuous relationship or something. I love the nature. I love the beauty of the state, but there’s a whole other aspect of it that I struggle with…. I think the geographical layout and how much land and space there is in California can reflect in the mentality of creativity or community. The musical communities here feel more disjointed, a little farther apart from each other…. It takes a lot more effort to motivate when living in California.
“I was playing in bands more when I lived in New York, she continues. “I wasn’t creating as much and that kind of energy, feeding off each other, was really important for shows and inspiring other bands to get out there and do their thing. I moved [to California] to write.”
Deradoorian’s main focus in LA may have been her solo record, but she didn’t cut collaboration completely out of her life. She and Portner linked up with ex-Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman and formed a band, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. The group issued its debut LP, Enter the Slasher House, in 2014 and toured both before and after the album’s release, but according to Deradoorian, the project doesn’t have much of a future. “Slasher Flicks was always intended to be a one-time thing,” she says. “It was only supposed to be a couple shows, but we ended up making the record and continuing on longer than actually anticipated.”
Despite this extracurricular activity, Deradoorian did finally manage to complete her own album last year. And though the LP is being released via Anticon, it was actually conceptualized and recorded without any sort of label support. “No one was interested for a long time in what I was doing,” she says. “It was surprising. I thought I might have a little more support behind me, but it started to become clear that this was just how it was going to be…. Ultimately, I think it was a good thing, because I have made all the creative decisions and didn’t have any kind of interference in the creative process. So I think it worked out the right way.”
Nevertheless, the album’s appearance on Anticon may strike some as strange, especially for those who are only familiar with the label’s avant-rap history. “It is a bit of an unusual choice,” says Deradoorian, “but I like the idea of it growing with a more eclectic label musically. I ended up linking up with them for this through Yoni Wolf from Why? I did a podcast interview with him and I was on his record and he recommended I send it to [Anticon label head] Shaun Koplow. I’ve known Shaun for like 10 years…. We met up a few times and talked about it. It took a little while for us to come to a decision, but I’m glad I went with them.”
Irrespective of what label is releasing the record, The Expanding Flower Planet is an immersive, almost otherworldly effort. Its title may conjure images of vintage sci-fi, but it was actually inspired by a tapestry in Deradoorian’s workstation. “It’s like a Chinese woven silk mandala,” she explains. “It was really beautiful and I would look at it all the time while I was working. The first song that I made, I ended up calling it ‘Expanding Flower Planet’ and it was from looking at that tapestry every day. Then that became the scene or one of the undercurrents for the entire record.”
It’s telling that the first sound on the album is a pitch-shifted snippet of Deradoorian’s voice. The goblin-like clip intermittently recurs throughout the seasick Kraut-pop of LP opener “A Beautiful Woman,” and is just one of a litany of vocal acrobatics that appears on The Expanding Flower Planet. Whether she’s belting out a high-register melody, purring a bassy, hypnotic drone, or offering up something in between, her presence is simply mesmerizing. Deradoorian may be an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but her voice—and, more importantly, her absolute command of it—is at the center of the album’s appeal.
Given the prominence of the vocals, it would be easy to assume that the lyrics are also an essential piece of the puzzle, but Deradoorian doesn’t consider them one of her strong points. “I just don’t think I’m that good at [writing lyrics],” she says. “I have to fit everything into melodic lines, so I write melodies first. So the melody dictates the content almost and I actually just work within my vocabulary and the syllables to create these kind of fragmented lyrics.”
As for the music—which was written entirely by Deradoorian, who also played what she estimates to be “80 to 90-percent” of the sounds on the record—there are elements of pop, jazz, New Age, avant garde, Middle Eastern, Japanese, and East Indian music at work. However, aside from an occasional passing resemblance to the similarly genre-melding sounds of groups like Stereolab, The Expanding Flower Planet doesn’t really sound like anything, or anyone, else.
A significant part of the album’s singular vision can be credited to Deradoorian’s use of Middle Eastern and Eastern sounds, a creative choice that carries greater weight given her own Armenian heritage. However, the connection between her ethnicity and its musical tradition wasn’t exactly a direct one. “I don’t have any Armenian family,” she says. “We’re direct results of the genocide. My grandfather was the only survivor of the genocide and he escaped and emigrated here and then only had my dad…. I was so removed from the culture, and it was something I really wanted to be a part of. So I learned about it my own way as a kid and into my adulthood, but I would say what’s stuck for me was the music, which I also had to do a lot of discovering on my own with. It became oddly my own thing, even though it’s a part of my DNA. I don’t have the same experience as a lot of Armenians in California.”
“Would I call myself an optimist? No. I just want to be honest and as real as I can.”
Over time, she’s managed to piece together a healthy understanding of traditional Armenian music, and has also delved into various Persian, Tunisian, Arabic, and East Indian sounds. “The Eastern scale is not pronounced,” she explains. “There are always microtones in between sounds that I think evoke different emotions that we don’t really get to have in Western scale…. I’ve always found those sounds in between to be so otherworldly or spiritual. I like exploring that in my own music, it feels natural at this point.”
Spiritual is a word that Deradoorian doesn’t shy away from when describing herself. While that notion does manifest itself in things like her dedication to yoga and exercise, it’s not limited to the physical realm. “I feel like I understand the importance of belief,” she says. “You can’t control everything as a person and it’s kind of ridiculous to think that you could…. I need to have spirituality, like a belief or a faith in something very beyond myself, to carry me through life. Music does that and then I have my own kind of system I created.
“I’m still just figuring out what it is,” she continues. “It’s a feeling…. I do things that stick me in different planes of consciousness. The more I make music, the more I realize it’s a spiritual thing for me and I want to be able to convey that to other people.”
Any talk of spirituality carries a certain level of risk, especially in the context of a culture dominated by cynicism, yet Deradoorian remains steadfast: “I think people would have definitely described me as cynical at a different age in my life, but I realized that cynicism is fear. Sarcasm is fear. They are two things that I had a lot more of and I didn’t really want to be that way anymore. I don’t think it took the humor out of life. I actually feel much better having extracted those, that energy. Would I call myself an optimist? No. I just want to be honest and as real as I can with other people.”
Her honesty also extends to her willingness to speak about the reality of being a female artist, including the fact that her physical appearance sometimes gets as much as attention as her music. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” she says. “You’ll be on lists. I’ve been on lists like ‘Cute Chicks in Indie Music,’ and I’m like, ‘Okay… I don’t care.’ It’s so weird to me, but women are looked at that way. They’re these beautiful beings on Earth and that’s part of what they’re associated with, and I can’t help but be a woman and have that association.
“That’s the entire culture for women in this country,” she adds. “Everything is based around beauty and looks. I do think about that and I struggle with it, but also, this is what I look like. This is my face. I don’t really want to feel pressured by it, but I do. I always have…. I would like to be able to be free of those thoughts, but it would take so much, because it’s so embedded in the culture, it’s just part of me as a person.”
Being a touring musician is also a big part of who Deradoorian is, and in the months ahead, she’ll be spending a lot of time on the road. (In an interesting twist of fate, she’ll be touring next month with Stereolab singer Laetitia Sadier.) The current iteration of the live show features finds Deradoorian playing alongside her big sister Arlene, who also contributed vocals a few tracks on The Expanding Flower Planet. She jokes that the set-up is “like having my childhood revenge,” before clarifying that “we get into arguments from time to time, but I’m also forcing her to do a lot of new things musically—and like four of them at a time—and she is doing it so well. We shared a room for 13 years. We’re super close. It’s nice to be with somebody like that in a musical dynamic, because there’s not a whole lot of verbal communication that has to go on to understand each other.”
Obviously, Deradoorian will be performing a lot of material from The Expanding Flower Planet, but a few selections from Mind Raft will also be woven into the set. While some artists loathe looking backwards, Deradoorian thinks it’s “cool to continue to play some of those [songs] live because I can change them. I can change the music, I can change the feeling… Live is an entirely different context and it’s like a playground for experimentation.”
That being said, she won’t be revisiting any Dirty Projectors or Slasher Flicks material. “That would be so insane,” she says. “I never would have thought about that. It would not have even crossed my mind…. When somebody [else] is the main writer/creator of the music, then it’s theirs and I’m lending my energy to it. So it’s not something I particularly want to own anyway.”
Of course, there is one thing that Deradoorian wants, at least eventually: a place to live. “I really need to [settle somewhere],” she says. “I don’t know where it will be right now. I would think most likely it will end up being Los Angeles, but I have always had a kind of love/hate relationship with it. That’s another reason I haven’t gotten a place there yet. I’m just not totally sold.”