After Mike Deni broke up with someone he thought he would spend the rest of his life with, he was left shattered. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. Then, he coaxed the pain with antidepressants, which gave him excruciating side effects for weeks. In this devastation, his friend and collaborator Walk the Moons’ Kevin Ray sauntered in baring the gift of a succulent plant and the bare bones of a new single.
“He had the whole thing—the lead line, the drums, and the bass line—all right where they stayed,” says Deni of “Love is Madness.”
“It was an even better gift than the succulent.”
Co-written and produced by Ray and mixed by Chris Zane (Passion Pit, St. Lucia)—who also worked on Geographer’s second release, 2012’s Myth, the lush synth infusions of “Love is Madness” somehow disseminate the heartache of losing a love ever after. Geographer’s focal point is on life ever after and music as therapy, and “Love is Madness” is one exposed fragment of Deni’s life on fourth album Down And Out In The Garden Of Earthly Delights, out Dec. 4.
“I’ve always used music as a way to lift me out of pain,” Deni tells American Songwriter. “The ethos of my songwriting has remained the same. I want to discuss real and pressing emotional issues through the lens of the majesty and exultant joy that can be brought with the right combination of notes.”
Deni first switched to the mocker Geographer in 2008 while dealing with the trauma and grief of losing his father and sister one year apart from one another, which he documented on debut Innocent Ghosts. “I didn’t think I would ever recover,” says Deni. “They both had encouraged my music so much, and it strengthened my resolve to make that dream a reality. I wasn’t really the kind of person who talked about his problems, or even confronted them head on, so I put them all into my music. I think it was a subconscious way to not let those feelings get pushed under the rug.”
Deni adds, “If I was forced to enter that space every time I performed them, it would remain a part of me. That was what got me through that impossible time where I rearranged my life around the holes of the two most important people in it.”
Through 15 tracks, Down And Out In The Garden Of Earthly Delights is also Deni’s most collaborative album to date. “On all my other records, when I couldn’t get a song right, I would just have to shelve it, but with this one, there were three songs that I loved so much, but I just couldn’t finish, I just didn’t have that last ingredient inside me,” says Deni, who connected with a songwriter named Evalyn, who helped him work through some of the tracks that left him stuck. She came in and immediately sang out those missing pieces.
“One of the songs was just an instrumental, and we just wrote the entire thing right there, a song I had been trying to finish for years,” says Deni. “Sometimes you just need something outside of your brain to give you that leg up, like you can see the ledge just out of your reach, and once you get there, it’s just a nice hike, but until then the song just stays dangling precariously off the side of the cliff.”
In the end, Deni’s songwriting savior, helped him salvage three songs that otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut. Geographer’s next single, was co-written with Taylor Locke, who would later produce a number of the songs on the album. “We wrote it in an attempt to do a modern James Taylor song, but we ended up with a vaguely Elvis Costello-Tom Petty-type song that I never in a million years would have written consciously.”
“Love is Madness” is a glimpse into Deni’s world on Down And Out In The Garden Of Earthly Delights, and where listeners can find their own light… in the madness.
“I just hope when they’re done they feel like they’ve had a bird’s eye view of a small patch of life, that they have stepped just outside the membrane of the human realm and were able to look at it for a fleeting moment when they could see it shuddering and buzzing with a glowing light,” he says. “That’s how I feel when I listen to a truly great album. I think that’s why we feel it connects us to something important, because if it’s done right, and not too much and not too little, we can put our hand on that third rail without getting electrocuted.”