In our Track by Track feature, artists give insider details on each track on their latest release. Today, Dirty Projectors dig into their newly completed 5EPs cycle.
Dirty Projectors have today completed their year-long 5EPs series with the release of the final installment, Ring Road. Not only is the full collection available to stream below via Apple Music and Spotify, but the band has broken down the entire project Track by Track.
The 20 songs on the 5EPs anthology were, as the name implies, originally spread across five separate releases arriving throughout the year. Each of the first four presented a different member of the band taking lead and showcasing a different musical style, while the last is a joint effort. Whoever sung on the individual EPs co-wrote the songs alongside bandleader Dave Longstreth, who also produced, mixed, and recorded the whole project.
March’s Windows Open centered on guitarist Maia Friedman singing existential folk, Felicia Douglass stepped up for the future soul of June’s Flight Tower, Longstreth took a bossa nova turn on September’s Super João, and October’s Earth Crisis featured glitchy orchestral arrangements under Kristin Slipp’s vocals. The final spin in the cycle, Ring Road, finds the entirety of Dirty Projectors coming together as one, each member taking their own verses and layering in for multi-part harmonies.
This is what the whole project has been building towards, with the various talents highlighted over the last nine months reuniting like the Avengers. Below, listen to the full sonic journey of 5EPs, followed by the band’s complete Track by Track breakdown.
The 5EPs limited edition box set is sold out, but vinyl and CDs are available via the band’s webstore, while independent retailers have a clear LP.
“On the Breeze”:
I wrote this melody last time I was in Australia. I got to the hotel after the long flight from LA and, even though I was dead tired, I felt like there was a melody in the room. I love how this recording came out — there’s so little going on! — Dave Longstreth
“On the Breeze” is one of my favorites on Windows Open. It reminds me that some songs are best without so many bells and whistles. I get lost in the calming lyrics and Maia sings it so beautifully. — Felicia Douglass
In terms of the sculptor and the slab, I guess a melody is the slab and the song is the form that needs to be freed? That seems backwards, but for me that’s often how it is. — DL
When we were talking about how the drums should sound we listened to some old Dolly Parton and George Jones tunes. The drums are EQ’d so beautifully on some of them. They’re so thin and silky but still have a little punch. Sometimes they won’t even hit the snare drum but will just hit the hi-hat on two and four. We also talked about Kenny Buttrey and his loose sort of improvisatory style. — Mike Johnson
“Search for Life”:
I noticed that I talk about searching in so many of my songs, going back fifteen years now. So I had this phrase printed on a hat and I wear the hat all the time. I like it: Searching as a way of life. — DL
Oliver Hill arranged the strings for this song and he did such a beautiful job. While I was drafting lyrics for “Search For Life” with Dave, I had an image that kept returning to me of a big, lone tree atop a hill. The tree was standing still, watching the world change around it. Although the lyrical content shifted through many drafts, this image stands firm in my mind. — Maia Friedman
“Guarding the Baby”:
When Maia and I were together in the studio I had a stack of seven or eight ideas I played her, and the four songs on Windows Open are the ideas that she dug. I never would have chosen this one — but now it’s one of my favorites. Thanks Maia! — DL
This is my favorite off the Windows Open EP — the lyrics have the most personal resonance for me. I love how the vocal sits so soft and quiet, yet the words and story have a biting harshness to them. If you weren’t listening carefully you might not even notice the darkness there. I love that. I learned so much about crafting lyrics while writing with Dave. And discovered my love of RhymeZone. — MF
Felicia does like two takes and you’re done — I’ve never heard her sing something and have it not be perfect but also… so her. — DL
My eyes are glued to Mike when we perform this song live. The percussion is so beautiful and intricate — somehow Mike manages to play with such ease and precision, fitting the rhythms together perfectly. I also love the way the guitar part I play interlocks with Felicia’s voice; it’s very satisfying and invites a sense of intimacy between us. I’m not sure Felicia knows that about my experience! — MF
“Lose Your Love”:
“Lose Your Love” was a joy to be a part of. I was pulled in on first listen. I have a lot of respect for Dave’s writing so it was exciting to put our heads together on a pop song. It also challenges my range and I think taking that leap in the chorus is fitting for the passionate nature of the song. It’s extremely fun to perform live. I grew up listening to larger than life artists such as Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin and I love the idea of trying to summon that type of energy to performance. I watch lots of old live clips on YouTube: funk, disco, and soul. They made it look easy! — FD
What’s your love but safe design? I love that. what’s your but self design? I love that. In this song, the word ‘self’ and ‘safe’ are the same. — DL
When I was a teenager, I found this book called Tombs of Sipán about a great pre-Colombian necropolis in Northern Peru. The trove of artifacts, ceramics, textiles, and jewelry they found held insights into the Moche civilization that flourished in the region before the Inca. A secondary site was uncovered more recently, with people buried upright in large ceramic urns. I might be making this up, but I think I read they were all facing east.
The image of being buried upright, facing east toward sunrise for all eternity stuck with me and inspired the lyric to this song: “We are just another empty vessel, filled by warmth, forged in crucible of hope.” — DL
The chorus lyric was written by my wife Teresa — according to family lore, these were her very first words. She saw a hippopotamus emerge from the water at the zoo when she was ten months old and cried, “Ho macko!”
I wrote this melody, along with “I Get Carried Away” and “Moon If Ever”, in an old hotel in Kauai. I think we were watching Blue Hawaii on TV. — DL
I think this is my favorite off Dave’s EP, Super João. I love the lyrics — a great reflection of Dave’s humor and sensitivity. At one point Dave was talking about re-recording the vocals and I begged him not to. There’s something so sweet, vulnerable and sincere about the original performance that ended up on the track. It’s perfect. — MF
“I Get Carried Away”:
A year or two ago, when we could still go to live music, I saw Jonathan Richman at The Kitchen in NYC. Incredible show, much of it just him on a nylon acoustic, no amplification. He was João Gilberto in reverse: If João is the calm belying deep passion, Jonathan felt like the rhapsodic mania sheathing inner calm.
One thing is that I wish I hadn’t put delay on the entire mix of this song. It will be better live! — DL
“You Create Yourself”:
I played an early version of this one at a show at a VFW hall in Portland, OR in 2013 where I got shocked by a live microphone so many times that I forgot how to play the song for six years! — DL
“Moon If Ever”:
My friend Kyle Field, Little Wings, is an amazing songwriter, poet, watercolorist. He lives in a canyon above the city, and going to see him is like visiting the Oracle at Delphi. Apparently there was a stone inscription above the entry to Delphi that said, “KNOW YOURSELF.” Which is a Drake song. Sharing lyrics with Kyle is the same: You see things reflected back differently than you knew. I love to share stuff I’m working on with Kyle, and sometimes he takes it and runs with it, creating something better, both deeper and lighter, than I could imagine. “Moon If Ever” is one of those times. — DL
“Eyes on the Road”:
When I went into the booth to record this, I imagined I was floating down a Venetian canal in a gondola. It helped to capture the very flowing melodic phrasing over the string loop. — Kristin Slipp
OMG! I remember Kristin sent me a gif of a Venetian gondolier from the booth and we were cracking up about this melody. This song is on a serious Bel Canto vibe, the parallel thirds and the big yawning leap. The lyric “I serenade the losers” hits me different every time. The image in my head was the Mother Earth, almost like a Gaia statue of liberty, calling out to the downtrodden, singing to all creatures under heaven, because we’re all losers. — DL
“There I Said It”:
The sparse combination of elements on “There I Said It” on the Earth Crisis EP is infectious and I wish it were longer. Kristin is a powerful vocalist and she has an incredible amount of control over vocal runs which is evident here. Though it’s the shortest it’s one I keep coming back to. — FD
To me, “There I Said It” is the “single” of the EP. After I recorded this song, it was suck in my head for weeks. Specifically, Dave’s demo version was stuck in my head. He’d pitched up his vocals (and possibly also sped them up?). That informed my performance when I went to record it, and I think that’s audible in the final version. — KS
This one is made out of an arrangement I wrote for “Spray paint (The Walls)” from Rise Above. This EP started to take on an ecological theme when I began hearing that string quartet part like a damaged version of the springtime theme from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. To me, of all the EPs, Earth Crisis is the one that points the way forward. Now I’m writing an opera or orchestral tone poem that takes it further, kind of like a rewrite of Mahler’s “Das Lied on der Erde” — a song of the Earth in crisis. — DL
“Now I Know”:
This has some of my favorite lyrics on the Earth Crisis EP: “Realize baby is a healer, she grasped wisdom and yielded, she has a long road.” I’ve spent some time recently thinking about the deep wisdom babies hold in their tiny bodies. It’s like they know nothing, and everything, in the best way. — KS
Kristin sings this song so beautifully, with such tenderness and vulnerability. I want to wrap her up in my arms with love and comfort. — MF
Another searching song! This is one that’s been around from the Swing Lo Magellan era. I loved the guitar part, but couldn’t finish the song, because I didn’t know how the lyrics went, and I didn’t know what key it should be in. The drums on this recording are Brian McOmber, and he sounds incredible! — DL
To me this is a total Muppets song, so fun to play. I feel like a cartoon in a cartoon rock band! — DL
That was a fun opportunity to blast a little. I guess the song is about indulgence. Also an homage to some of the drum feels of ’50s rock. Dave shouts out the show Billions in the lyrics and fun fact: Asia-Kate Dillon was once my manager at a coffee shop. — MJ
Probably the fastest shaker part I’ve ever played. It’s a sort of motoric floor tom beat which is fun to play. A feel that I guess people haven’t messed with too much for a little while. Generally just a pretty fun jammer. — MJ
I love the sounds in this song, I love the composition itself, and its message. “It’s time to throw it away” feels like an important line. I also love the tom-my snare sound. Dave used a similar sound in his song “Keep Your Name”… It was the first thing about that song I noticed. — KS
This is the most recent song of the entire anthology. The possession in question is ego. I possess a sense of self — a husk of opinions and facts, memories and experiences — that I confuse for my actual being. My projection! The irony of the song is how my ego actually possesses me: defining, limiting, controlling how I experience life on Earth. It’s a thumbnail I mistake for the actual document, a blowup that only diminishes. The coda lyrics is all imagery from The Exorcist, but the way Felicia sings it you’d never really know!! — DL
5EPs Panorama (all paintings by Jake Longstreth):