Angel Deradoorian channels cosmic energy (and Ozzy Osbourne)
By Jenn Pelly
Angel Deradoorian needed my birth information. Speaking over FaceTime from her plant-filled home in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles, the amiable 34-year-old musician was giving me an abbreviated version of the Vedic astrology readings she has offered since studying this form of astronomical inquiry in 2018. Occasional glimpses of her forearm revealed a tattoo depicting the phases of the moon.
“You’ve got a pretty good-looking chart. Not too much hell being raised,” she said dryly, parsing the celestial facts on her computer screen indicating that since 2016 I have been undergoing a period of deep transformation. “You can make a lot of change when you let go for a little while.”
Having once quit a high-profile band — art-pop ensemble Dirty Projectors, in which she was a bassist and vocalist from 2006 until late 2011 — to embark on her own musical journey, Deradoorian seems well suited to advise on matters of risk and growth. She has since become a compelling presence in independent music: capable of channeling mystical knowledge into her neo-psychedelic solo records, released under her last name, as well as transforming into Ozzy Osbourne for her role in Black Sabbath Cover Band Rehearsal, an indie-rock tribute act that also features Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
“It’s a different form of meditative music,” she said of singing as a metal god.
To talk about self-actualization is one thing, but Deradoorian’s work embodies it, especially in the earthy tones, churning drones and motorik grooves that comprise her second solo record, “Find the Sun,” due Friday. The result sounds like Can with an acid-folk singer probing deep spiritual themes.
“I’ve always been a big questioner of life,” she said. “What I’m interested in is becoming self-aware.”
In the years since her first solo album, “The Expanding Flower Planet,” in 2015, Deradoorian had been largely nomadic and often alone. While the constant movement helped her embrace a more “loose and undefined” approach to songwriting, she has been open about her struggles with finances and self-worth — the realities of life for a working musician.
“I didn’t have a band, I didn’t have a partner, I didn’t have a label for part of that time, and I didn’t have any money,” she said. “I did move into solitude, away from people, very far away.”
Deradoorian was at a Vipassana retreat last summer — in complete silence for 10 days — when she was gripped by realizations about her then-in-process record. One was that its aesthetic should be raw and spontaneous, akin to real life. Another was that she should ask her friend Samer Ghadry, a sound healer and jazz drummer, to play on it. Ghadry’s longtime collaborator Dave Harrington, whom he met while studying at Brown, joined them.
“I wanted to go into the studio with musicians who know how to improvise,” Deradoorian said. “There’s an element of error or sloppiness, but it was reflective of this desire to not control things too much, and to let the environment be intertwined in the recording.” She hoped for her singing, too, to be “less flashy” and more vulnerable. The nine-minute jam “The Illuminator” features congas, bells and Deradoorian playing the flute and intoning “The power of intensity/The power of radiance/The power of delight!”
“I can write a pop song,” she said, “but I like music that can flow and change, with a root to return to.”
Deradoorian grew up in Sacramento, California, the daughter of artists; her father is a painter and saxophonist, and her mother is a visual artist and wire sculptor. After leaving high school early, at 16, to tour with a handful of indie bands, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, where, in her earliest months, she was a member of no less than six projects. At one point, she played alongside Jack Antonoff as a multi-instrumentalist in his band Steel Train.
She joined Dirty Projectors when she was 20. She had met its singer and guitarist, Amber Coffman, in Sacramento, and after they crossed paths in Brooklyn, Coffman invited her into the band — led by Dave Longstreth — as they prepared to introduce the virtuosic art-rock harmonies of “Bitte Orca” to the world in 2009. Coffman and Deradoorian’s voices were crucial components of its sound; they’re pictured on the cover.
In an interview, Longstreth called Deradoorian “a hugely defining part” of her era of Dirty Projectors. “She’s an epic personality,” he said. “You get her sense of humor, but also her sense of concentration and her seriousness.”
Dirty Projectors’ marathon practices could last 12 hours, and Deradoorian said she has held on to the discipline of those years.
“I had to learn to sing with more conviction,” she said. “I started to understand how versatile the voice can be.”
After Deradoorian left the band, she moved to Baltimore, worked odd jobs and played in Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, a side project started by Animal Collective member Dave Portner. She slowly wrote her own songs, throwing many of them away.
“Coming out of bands where I was in a position of support, and also being a woman, I did not feel like I deserved to focus on myself and my own desires,” she said of this challenging creative period. “I was so used to being there for other people. It took me a long time to really be OK with doing that.”
But Deradoorian says she is doing her most meaningful work now. Amid the lyrical images of singing bowls and infinite skies on “Find the Sun,” she narrates her breakthrough on “Corsican Shores”: “Wanted bad just to be somebody/Didn’t see that I was somebody/Now I know that I am.”
And for all of the existential questing at the heart of her songs, the pure joy of Black Sabbath Cover Band Rehearsal has offered her spiritual sustenance, too. There are even echoes of its heavy, blown-out guitars in the self-possessed sound of “Find the Sun.”
“That is a perfect band,” Deradoorian said. “It has been a great lesson that I didn’t know I needed.”
She also attributed her perseverance to an ongoing dialogue around art within her strong community of musicians — like drummer Greg Fox and guitarist Ben Greenberg, whom she collaborated with last year performing Terry Riley’s minimalist classic, “A Rainbow in Curved Air” — and friends like drone metal musician Stephen O’Malley.
“I feel like I finally found my closest musical family,” she said. “That is the reason I can keep doing this.”