On Stage: Geographer brings a bit of Jersey to Philly tonight

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Mike Deni

Geographer is the name of Mike Deni’s American synth pop/indie rock band. Based on Deni’s globetrotting in recent times, it could also describe his avocation.

Formed in San Francisco in 2007, Geographer is a vehicle for Deni’s music that is helped along by his band — Joyce Lee, cello, synth; Duncan Nielsen, guitar, bass, synth, vocals; and Cody Rhodes, drums. In addition to songwriting, Deni’s contributions are vocals, guitar, keys, synth, and saxophone. On June 4, they will be in Philly for a show at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com).

In the summer of 2005, after a series of deaths in the family, Deni left his hometown in New Jersey for San Francisco. He spent the next several months with a synthesizer he found on the street, turning that tragedy into the songs that would become the foundation for Geographer. Deni played his first shows by lying to promoters about how many people he could bring, handing out fliers by hand, and doing anything he could to get on stage. Within six years, he had sold out the legendary Filmore in San Francisco, headlined the 2300 seat Fox Theater in Oakland, and sold out shows all across the country on tour. 

Deni’s life in music began as a child when he sang in a church choir.  He wrote his first song when he was four years old. He began writing and recording his own music in earnest at age 12 when his father gave him a four-track cassette tape recorder. Deni spent hours in his basement layering track upon track of guitar, saxophone, vocals, and a homemade ceramic drum his sister made him as a birthday present.

Geographer’s music is characterized by the use of vintage analog and FM synthesizers coupled with modern software synthesizers, as well as an electric cello often featured on songs in place of a lead guitar. In his live shows, Deni performs with a band of revolving musicians, almost always with an electric cellist, drummer, and multi-instrumentalist to aid him in filling out his lush arrangements, and the band has become famous for its energetic and emotional live performances.  

“A little while ago, I moved from San Francisco to L.A. and took some time to be without a home,” said Deni, during a phone interview last week from Los Angeles. “Then, I spent time on the East Coast.

“I made some comic shorts with my friend from high school, Dave Barbaree. It’s a side of myself I don’t display. It’s all a way to react to the absurdity of life. We filmed some segments and plan to release them in a few weeks on YouTube.”

Deni, who grew up in northern New Jersey, then made a return trip to Italy.

“I went to Italy – to Sardinia – for a few weeks,” said Deni. “I studied in Italy for five months when I was in college – in a town called Ferrara. I learned to speak Italian and got interested in the culture then.”

Deni returned to the states and worked on his new EP, “New Jersey.” Many of the songs began in New Jersey in his childhood home and were finished in Los Angeles at his friend’s house while he was looking for an apartment.

“Summer of My Discontentment” is the first piece of music written during that time to be released by Deni, and explores the notions of origin, nostalgia, and the metamorphosis of the dreams of the young. The forthcoming EP reflects this time of his youth in New Jersey and explores the themes of the hopes and aspirations of the young and how they become refracted as we move towards them.

“I wrote songs while I was traveling,” said Deni. “I did some demos in L.A. when I was housesitting. I did demos on the piano. I had a cutoff for finishing the EP set for last November. I picked the best songs, began recording in November and finished in February. I brought down Beau Sorenson, a producer from San Francisco and we recorded the EP at Lucy’s Meat Market, which is a great studio in L.A. I also did some recording with engineer Jay Pellicci at New Improved Recording in Oakland.”

Geographer’s is propelled by Deni’s distinct melodic vocals, dazed synth melodies and alluring guitar riffs. Deni has described his sound as being “soulful music from outer space” using analog, electronic, and acoustic elements to craft dense layers and unique sound textures.

“My songwriting is about transitioning into the next phase of life,” said Deni. “We are vessels for dreams and aspirations. Mine are to be a great musician that people want to listen to.

“I moved to L.A. to be more involved in music. I still had the dream, but it was different. The sky wasn’t the limit anymore. I used to dream about being the most popular musician in the world.”

The new EP has a more direct focus.

“It’s all about New Jersey – just me running around with my friends,” said Deni. “‘Summer of My Discontentment’ is about our core group of friends in high school.”

Running around with a group of friends during high school and spending time in New Jersey is the kind of stuff a lot of people in this area can relate to – and Deni has brought that vibe to life in song.

Video link for Geographer – https://youtu.be/YetkyvRFIFQ.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Manatee Commune as the opening act, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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