“Geographer” is defined as, “A geographer is a physical scientist, social scientist, or humanist whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth’s natural environment and human society, including how society and nature interacts.”
Or, as another source cites, “An expert in the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these.”
It’s no wonder that when New Noise Magazine’s Rose Eden sat down with LA-based artist Geographer at Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco recently, they explained how the concepts of fluidity, timing, and maturity has influenced their work, as well as the ties to the origin of their cryptically ambiguous name.
Releasing their first new music since 2021 back in March of this year, the enigmatic electronic dance whiz who once described their sound as “space disco,” has released a steady stream of singles since. Geographer’s new album, A Mirror Brightly is due in late February 2024, with single “You Never Know” dropping September 15th, 2023.
Relaxing post-set on day 2 of the festival, wearing an all Levi’s outfit they happened to pick up in the women’s section, Geographer spoke candidly about being a self proclaimed “Softboy,” queerness, and why the concept of letting go is equally as important as daring to create art in the first place.
NNM: Okay, I’m here with Mike, aka Geographer. Welcome back to San Francisco! How’s your day been so far?
This has been a very good day. Yeah.
I have to say that I’ve seen you at least half a dozen times before, but more around the times when you used to play Popscene.
Oh wow, yeah.
So, what I witnessed this afternoon was quite remarkable. I don’t think I was prepared for what you had in store. Can you tell me about your stage setup and what inspired the visual aesthetics that you showed us?
Oh yeah. So that is like a set from a music video that we just shot, which is inspired by this shot in The Man Who Fell to Earth, the movie with David Bowie – and he’s like sitting in front of all these TV screens.
And I was just like, because the album that I was writing back then is coming out next year, it deals with a lot of identity issues. Like, you know, If our society is in an identity crisis because our mirror is like, destroying us. And so I used the TVs to be like the different pieces of us. I filmed my fiancee’s eyeball and her ear. I filled my lips and it’s like going around. So then I just pulled that and made a pic. It was a really cool visual experience along with the light.
It wasn’t a question that I had planned to ask, but I had to inquire about it because it was very… it’s like something that I would see in an art gallery?
Oh, well that is high praise. Thank You.That was my goal.
Really? Are you a fan of any fine artists or contemporary artists? Are you an art gallery person, or do you look up to fine artists?
I look up to fine artists. I’m not an art gallery person. I’m not like a connoisseur, but I love that aesthetic. Like, just like a blank room with one simple weird, beautiful piece in it. And then that’s like, I love museums so much, but most of what I get my inspiration from is like the internet.
Would you say that you’re okay with the work that you put out being left up to interpretation in a way?
Yeah, I love that. I mean, “Kites” is still my biggest song, I think, and people think it’s about me coming out as gay. And I’m just like, yeah, it’s about something very different for me because I’m not gay. But I just like, I like that people thought that I was gay. I thought that I was singing about that and it meant something to them, you know? So it’s like, who am I to take that away, you know?
Well, where do you think that queerness fits into the music that you make?
I mean, I’m like a very gentle boy.
Yeah, I’m Softboy. Big time. So I think that’s where it fits in and like, I like wearing, you know, women’s pants.
You look great today, by the way. I mean, the effect on stage, I also write a fashion column.
And so I immediately, even just the little detail of the trim on your shirt, I think translated very well onstage.
Thank you. Yeah, and I just like, I don’t know, it’s like I’ve fought that a lot in my life, you know? Like softness, but then music, I was able to just embrace it. People love guys who wear women’s pants onstage. And you know, it’s like, it’s nice to be able to like, I don’t know, it’s like, I feel like it’s easier for musicians to dip into like a feminine side if you’re a man or vice versa.
But like, yeah, I’m not super knowledgeable about gender identity or anything like that. But yeah, I don’t know, I just love how inclusive San Francisco is. And I think that that really helped me with my music. And I think that was a big part of my music too.
It’s like the gay scene here, and like inclusivity. And then I think it was just all and like, yeah, the bright colors on Animal Shapes and like PRIDE was like my favorite event. And yeah, I don’t know, I kind of had no right to be like proud of that, but because you know, I didn’t do it on purpose. But I felt really happy that I was like, you know… because I imagine it’s really hard to come out.
And I’ve had a lot of friends do it too. Sometimes it’s amazing how long it takes people until they feel comfortable, you know? And it’s like, I feel things so deeply. But like, that’s a real thing to feel. It’s just like the world rejects me. So just to have any part of that made me feel really special, I guess.
You are very appreciated by the queer community.
Yeah, it’s incredible.
There’s a lot of that representation in your…
And that’s why I didn’t, I never wanted to be like, I’m straight.
I definitely think of the word versatility when I think of you and not in the naughty way, but I’m just like how you said, you don’t really mind experimenting. The clothes, where they come from, as long as you like it. Watching you onstage, you very easily go from your synth to your saxophone, and then you go over and you play with the drum kit, and it’s very fluid for you.
It doesn’t seem like much of it is planned, but of course you have your setlist, but where do you think the word fluidity comes in for you as a musician?
Oh, I mean that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me because I’m very like, I’m like a very frightened person by nature. I’m an Aries.
Oh, I’m an Aries too.
So that surprises me too.
Yeah. But so it’s something I’ve worked against my whole life and to try to, because my inclination is to like to have everything structured, but then my favorite thing about music is unexpected things. Like what you’re talking about. So then I build those moments into the set.
I like how you said that. Build it. It’s such a pleasure to sit down with you. I’ve just been a fan for many years.
Of course. Many years. Now, speaking of, do you mind if I ask, going back to those Popscene things, what do you think is the biggest difference between you back then and the Geographer now?
Wow. Two different people. I think I was just really deeply self-conscious back then. And like this is personal. Like people probably wouldn’t notice because you’re onstage, you’re playing a role. But I was just so worried that I wasn’t doing things right, you know, and that I was going to screw up. And now I’m finally at a point where I’m like, well, I really just enjoy this. You know, like I have a gift that I’m sharing with people.
I made this thing that I worked really hard on and I prepared it and I’m sharing it with people and it’s beautiful. And I never would have thought that way back when. However, I was also just like one track mind back then too. I was just like, whatever it takes, whatever it takes, I’m going to be huge.
The industry was sort of like that though back in those days.
I guess so.
But that competitive energy. Yeah.
Yeah. I’m grateful for that aspect of my personality. Because I don’t think I could do it if I started now.
What you just said is so funny and it reminds me of something that Rick Rubin said, about how if you can be okay with it to the point where you can just let it go and release it because what other people think you don’t have any control of. It’s like an offering to God almost or offering to a higher power.
As long as you’re okay with it, then it’s good enough.
Yeah, it’s true. That really reminds me of that.
Where does the name Geographer come from?
Well, that was the third name. The first one was Parasol, but that was actually the last name of another artist here, so I had to change that.
Exactly, yeah. And then I changed it to The Rooftop Vigil. Okay. Just a terrible name. And then my cellist was like, that name sucks, you need to change it. And I was like, oh, okay. So I just thought about a good metaphor, and I wanted it to be Cartographer, but that was taken.
But for me, it’s like a map is an imperfect abstraction of a place. And a song is an imperfect abstraction of a feeling. So it’s like, it’s never the same as feeling. But you could learn a little more almost, from the map or from the song.
I think your name choice was prophetic because if you go back to those competitive days, I think you were pioneering a sound in a community that didn’t really exist before.
And I remember in those days, I used to think you were sort of like FisherSpooner. You were a little bit of LCD Soundsystem. And there was a lot of me thinking, oh, they kind of remind me of this. Or this kind of sounds like that. Today, you have come of age. You are you now. That’s amazing. Congratulations on all you’ve achieved. I’m so glad you’re still here.
And your press has been teasing about an album release, now you’ve said that it’s next year. Would you like to say anything else about your next release?
Well, I’ll say that it’s about… it deals a lot with identity and how our society is going through a massive identity crisis. And just like our world and the effect of technology on our souls has a lot to do with that. And then, yeah.
Well, in closing, anything with a saxophone tends to slap.
So I’m looking forward to hearing more. And congratulations again. What a pleasure to meet you, what a special soul. So all the best wishes and best of luck to you guys.
Thanks a lot.