Bradford Cox is a natural when it comes to making a spectacle of himself. He provokes the most perverse reactions from audiences without even trying. Blame it on his body. The 6-foot-4 lead singer for Deerhunter is almost too skinny for words. But that doesn't stop people from spewing them in his direction.
Ugly words like these pop up in the band's MySpace inbox and on various music blogs all the time. But in the context of this conversation, Cox flips the insults, using them in kind to describe his taunters. That does little, however, to resolve his own conflicted feelings regarding his self-image.
"I hate my body just as much as everybody else comments on it or hates it, you know," admits Cox. "I mean, I think most people [hate their bodies]."
But most people are not the frontman for Atlanta's current "it" band. While Deerhunter has garnered plenty of positive ink from this publication and many others over the past year for breaking boundaries with its experimental blend of electronic psych rock (featured on the full-length Cryptograms and the Fluorescent Grey EP), Cox has garnered the band nearly as much attention by simply showing up for gigs and showing out.
Some might call it a blessing in disguise; Cox prefers to call it by name. Marfan syndrome, the genetic disorder he was diagnosed with as a child, is characterized by abnormally long limbs and makes carriers susceptible to cardiovascular disease. Besides the obvious physical effects, "it affects your personality," says Cox, "because a lot of your personality is a product of your self-image."
Similarly, much of Deerhunter's image – and even appeal – revolves around Cox's shock-worthy stage show aesthetics. Lately, he's traded in his signature muscle shirts for old maid's dresses, which he performs in while seemingly attempting to deep-throat the microphone as he creates his droning vocal effects. Needless to say, it makes for a dramatic display. And as Deerhunter's Atlanta counterparts the Black Lips can readily attest, there's much to be gained from creating a scene onstage. Just look at what it has done for the careers of punk legends such as Iggy Pop. After all, rock is a spectator sport. Cox gets it, too: "That's why I get onstage in dresses, and I do all that stuff. I'm having fun with it," says the 24-year-old who "felt like shit" growing up in Marietta amid the steady stream of taunts and teases.
To his credit, Cox has turned his inherent weakness into a strength. And the result is as vivid as Deerhunter's sound, which is way too hypnotic and eerily transcendant to be overshadowed, even by Cox. On the contrary, the lead singer's physical appearance is the perfect complement to the wonderfully weird music the band makes. Whereas one without the other would only be plain old weird at best.
Still, Cox struggles to make sure his exhibitionism on stage is not misinterpreted as self-exploitation. "I'm not trying to exploit myself to provoke people or shock people," he says. "But I'm not shy at the same time. So I guess I started realizing what effect it has on people. ... I say 'fuck it' and try to hit the ceiling with everything you do. And if you have something that one person would consider a handicap, I would say, like, just try to make it explode, you know?"
Music Issue 2007
Georgia Music Directory 2007