Geographer Exposes the Idiosyncracies of an Indie Pop Artist


Mike Deni, who plays music under the moniker, Geographer, is back on tour for his latest album, New Jersey. The 36 year-old musician has been making music for over 12 years now and stands on a wide catalogue of music, spanning 7 releases, that have crossed a spectrum of genres and influences as Deni has progressed in his career. We sat down with Deni before his show at the Parish, to hear him dish about his onstage personas, his love of touring, and his favorite spots to hang while in Austin.  



Let’s catch up on the tour. You're getting towards the latter end of your dates. How has everything been so far on the New Jersey Garden State Tour?

Really good. It's been even more exciting than I anticipated. A lot of people are coming up to me and saying they're seeing me for the first time, like they used to listen to me in high school but they could never get into the shows so I'm seeing a lot of 21 year-olds who are seeing me for the first time which is pretty cool. I didn't know that was a thing so that's cool.


Your live performances definitely have a rawer quality. Have you gotten that feedback in the past before?

Yeah, that's always something I hear. I feel like certain bands are always trying to capture the energy of the live performance on record and it's just not really possible. The Grateful Dead is a band that's known for live performances. If you listen to their studio albums they're pretty, sort of, staid and sterile. Or Bruce Springsteen who's known for his live performances, his albums sound great. But it's kind of a completely different experience.

And I think my music might be like that too. Where the goals that I have in the studio are completely different than the goals that I have on stage. Onstage I'm a very different person than I am generally.

I certainly am garrulous and outgoing but not as much as I am onstage. And in the studio I'm extremely introspective and almost somber. So, yeah, maybe that has something to do with it. Just the two different Mikes that are making the music.


Is it therapeutic when you become that extroverted person onstage?

Well it's pretty fun if it's natural to do. If you have to sort of contrive it, it can feel really horrible. I don't want to say horrible, but it just feels extremely disingenuous if you're having a really off day but these people deserve as good a show as the last place when you were feeling fantastic. It's like you kind of still have to pull it out of yourself. And generally, like, halfway through the show or a couple songs in it just happens organically as a result of making the music which is exciting to me. It's exciting to strap on a guitar and sing through some speakers. But sometimes it takes a little while for me to get going. But yeah when, but to be able to do that and sort of exaggerate that side of myself is a very pleasing experience.


So with the new album ,New Jersey, the lyrics are a little Springsteen-esque. There's a little blue collar streak isn't there?

Oh really, interesting. I'm not a blue collar man.

Well not 100% blue collar. But maybe just a little bit of the worn-down romanticism?

Yeah I mean, I think that's what it's about. It's about, like I was just, I don't know. I was just trying to make songs that were nostalgic without being contrived. So it was like a depth to the, and really I was really just drawing from my personal experiences in a way that I don't always do. I do a lot, there's always personal aspects to all the songs. But a lot of them are concepts that then I apply to myself.

But these, particularly “Summer of my Discontentment” and “Love is Wasted in the Dark” were just straight up about my life and I was just in that mood just sitting in my new apartment in L.A. and just thinking about how I used to feel. Because I've always felt like a different person at every stage in my life. It doesn't, it doesn’t feel like there was a through line. I was a child and that's a different guy and then I went to college and he's a totally different guy. And then I've sort of been the same person for a decade or more now. But the truth is, is that I am the same person. So it's like, where does that disconnect occur? Where is the rift between phases? And I was just trying to connect those dots.


Are you comfortable on the road? 

Yes, in many ways it's my best self because I get pretty depressed when I'm not doing something all the time.

And the charge of songwriting is very challenging because it's like, when you write a song and it's a good one, it's a great high and nothing feels better. But sometimes you wake up the next day and nothing comes or there's long weeks of frustration and recording is really intense too. But on tour life is so simple, it's just be nice to the people around you and play good shows, try to get a lot of sleep and eat well and exercise. And it's just like, I can do that. 

The goals are very small and I'm good at them all. So it's really relaxing and I'm around people all the time which I think is good for my mental health which I'm not, when I'm at home. I spend so much time alone. Sometimes I don't even leave the house for a few days. Which is not healthy. So it, all the challenges that come with tour, which they're real and I feel them and I get grumpy but then at the end of the day I'm just like, well I'm happy.

I'm around my friends and I get to do my favorite thing every night and meet a lot of excited people and it's pretty great.


You have history in Austin, I mean, you've been coming here for a long time.

Yeah, it's the home away from home for sure. Because we had a friend here too who we used to stay with all throughout SXSW.

When we would come here we wouldn't just spend time in a hotel. So it was pretty great, got to know the city really well and yeah, Austin is one of those highlights of every tour. I think is a result of playing it so many times, it's like, your hometown crowd is always going to be your best. And that's San Francisco but then there's other places that I've played so many times that it's almost a hometown crowd vibe and I think Austin is chief among those. It's kind of like the second city to really pop off after San Francisco.

I remember I played the Mohawk and sold it out on my first headline tour and it was such a shock.

It was just like, what? Yeah, that was the best feeling in the world, to expect if 50 people showed up at the show I would've been so excited and then 900 came. It was pretty wild. Yeah they had us in the small room and then they bumped us to the bigger room. It was like rock and roll dreams coming true. So I'll always associate Austin with that experience. Of being young and really stupid and just so excited.


Do you have the Austin routine, you got to hit the tacos or BBQ or what do you get into here?

Well I had an Austin routine where we would go to Freedmen's. But it closed?

Oh yeah, it shut down.

Yeah, and the reason I went there was because it was pretty much just as good as all the other barbecue places because once you reach a certain level of barbecue it's like, it's hard to tell when you're having the absolute best and when you're having like, 98%-

And maybe Freedmen's was 98% but that's just fine for a guy who lives in California where the barbecue is terrible. But so, we would go there because there were never lines but I guess then that meant that the business wasn't booming.

So, what was good for Geographer was not good for Freedmen's. So we need a new Austin routine honestly. I love the tacos here, they are amazing. But so far I feel like our routine is go to Koriente for lunch because it's really healthy and really cheap and maybe go to Easy Tiger for like a tea or something. And then we got to find our new barbecue joint.


 When you're putting together this tour, you've got over a decade body of work, how do you pick your setlist?

Well okay so I try to balance what I think the fans will want to hear with what I want to play. I never want to be one or the other artist.

Where I'm just “Screw you, I do what I want” that's just not my personality. I definitely want people to be pleased. But I also, I do admire artists when they do just do something for themselves and I think everybody does. So I have, I've thrown in one song that's really just for me. I'm playing every single song from the new EP just because it's what I'm most excited about.

But it's short too, so it's not too much of an imposition. And then I try to just play all the quote-on-quote hits. And, I'll never play a tour without playing “Kites”, obviously. For the rest of my life which is a blessing. Yeah, and then I try to throw in one deep cut. Like that I've never played before on tour.

So it's like, maybe one person in the crowd will be crazy excited but I just remember how I felt watching Radiohead for the first time. Just begging a god that I don't believe in that they would play “Let Down” or something that they, just one of the songs that is not a big song for them.

And I think they did play one of the ones I wanted to hear and I was just so unbelievably excited and it's like, for people who that's not their favorite song, they're not going to hate it. And it's over soon, and I just think it's a nice flow. Because I've done tours before where I'm just like, all the hits, nothing but the hits, and it's not that much fun.

There's not a lot of meat inside that sandwich, you know what I mean? So it's, I feel like this set is one of the best I've crafted. It's very thought out, the progression of the show. And there are moments where I let the energy wane on purpose and then just slam it with a big one so I've been really pleased with it.


Is it a blessing or curse, when you feel obligated to play a song for the rest of your career?

Well I think, I feel very, aside from the just feeling lucky to have a song that people like, I feel lucky because the song on mine that everybody likes is one that means so much to me.

It's actually really deeply personal and it was the first song that I wrote, like I almost lost my mind when I recorded, like I recorded it mostly at home, like the demo. And I was just like, what did you just do? I was like, this is a volcano.

So it reminds me of that moment. And then it reminds me of making something of myself? You know, like, achieving my dreams, so I have all these positive associations with the song. It's so fun to sing, I get to just hit like, my highest note over and over again.

And just the fact that people want to hear it so much, it's so cool. I mean I could see it getting, okay so, last night for instance I was, Houston is a really rowdy crowd which is really fun because they just live out loud. 

And I was sort of like, obviously I'm going to play “Kites.” Just let me play these other songs for you too. But then I was reflecting on it and I was like, but dude you wouldn't know that you wanted it, like the fact that they want to hear it so bad that they're screaming it at you is so cool and then you wouldn't know that they wanted to hear it if they weren't screaming it. So I'm just like, yeah. I'm just trying to be grateful.

Yeah, I guess I just, it's a funny mentality of like, well okay, when I saw Bruce Springsteen it was like, I know he's going to play “Dancing in the Dark.” I know he's going to play “Born to Run.”

Right? He's never not going to play, he'd be an idiot not to play those. But it's like, there's a lot of other songs that are just as good that he might not play. So you might want to scream them at him.

So it's like, yeah. The people, just so you know, I'm always going to play “Kites” forever.


Photo by Austin Hansen

Interview by Lee Ackerley