Dodos Singer Meric Long Tells the Story Behind Every Song on His Grief-Inspired New Solo Album, 'Barton's Den'

Meric Long
Meric Long is best known as a founding members of the indie-rock band The Dodos. Gael Herrera

For 13 years (and counting), Meric Long has been known as the lead singer for Dodos, a beloved San Francisco indie-rock duo that emphasizes furious percussion and acoustic guitar interplay. But in 2015, when his father died following an illness, Long put the band on hold. He had inherited several vintage synthesizers from his dad: an Akai AX60 and a Realistic Concertmate MG-1. 

"I felt some sense of obligation," says Long. "When you acquire things belonging to someone who passes on, you go, 'Do I get rid of this? Do I start a new hobby?'"

During periods of isolation and reflection—as well as the birth of his first child—Long began using the instruments to compose songs addressing his grief and his regret over his difficult relationship with his father. The synths felt like a portal of communication with his dad, who had worked for a pharmaceutical company and pursued music as a "secretive" hobby.

These tracks resulted in Long's new solo album, Barton's Den, released under the name FAN. The record is a curious and eerie meditation on grief and noncommunication, with influences as varied as Devo, the metal band Gorgoroth and a sputtering bathroom fan. Long told us the story behind every song on the new album.

1. "BOB1"

The title has several meanings: It's a reference to Long's father, whose name was Bob, as well as a reference to Devo. That band's lead guitarist, Bob Mothersbaugh, was nicknamed "Bob 1" to differentiate him from bandmate Bob Casale, "Bob 2." The bright, siren-like synths—another Devo reference—were combined with guitar samples that had been recorded during an isolated stint in Galicia, Spain. "It's a total Frankenstein of a song," says Long, with lyrics addressing his troubled relationship with his dad. "I used to look for someone never around," he sings.

2. "FIRE"

A tense, up-tempo track with an explosion of guitar aggression around the two-minute mark. Speaking of Devo, "the opening beat is inspired by a song Mothersbaugh did for The Life Aquatic," Long says. It emerged from several samples Long made on a Korg MS-20 synthesizer. Initially, he couldn't imagine turning his musical experiments into a completed album. But when Long played those samples for his wife, "I was like, 'This sounds like a song. Maybe I should make a record.'"

3. "INTRO OF LIGHT"

The bright energy on this track was inspired by the joy of new fatherhood. "My daughter was born two years ago. I went and recorded all the vocals for this record in Portland, when she was 8 months old. When I was writing ["Intro of Light"], I got this surge of positivity that was weird for me. It came from that feeling coming out of being a new parent and being sleep-deprived and getting my feet back on the ground." Long says he wrote the lyrics "as if I was talking to my family, [saying], 'I got you, guys. It's gonna be OK.'"

Devo Gerald Casale of Devo performs in concert at Los Angeles's Greek Theater on October 31, 2006. Devo was a major influence on Meric Long's new solo album. Karl Walter/Getty Images

4. "WHAT A MISTAKE"

Here, Long directly addresses his father's decline and the desire to finally connect with him before he dies ("The chances slipped between us/Now I talk to a computer"). "He was around, but we didn't have a relationship, really," he says. Using his father's synthesizers after his death, however, felt like "some sort of continuation of our non-relationship." Long also inherited his father's handwritten notes containing technical instructions: which patches correspond with which instruments, etc. "Here was this weird illegible writing, and I could totally understand how his brain was working. It felt like I was able to continue a conversation with him. It's bittersweet—cool, but also sad."

The synth voicings on the track were inspired by his father's music. "It was kind of funny to me. He had this synth boogie-woogie that he would do—a lot of walking bass lines."

5. "GORGOROTH"

The song opens with quick, retro synth sounds that resemble a video game soundtrack. "It's inspired by the MiniKorg," says Long, adding that it's a "complicated sound I've been trying to put in a Dodos song. I finally figured out how to do it." The title refers to the Norwegian black metal band of the same name because the music reminded Long of that band. It was the session file title, which he intended to change but never did. (Many of Barton's Den's tracks are working titles that became final.)

6. "SINCE I FOUND YOU"

The slowest and most meditative track on the album finds Long repeating the same eight words like a mantra, addressed to his father's ghost: "It's since you've gone/That I've found you." Like much of the material on Barton's Den, it was recorded in the middle of the night. "I had a baby. I wasn't sleeping very much, and finding time to be creative was difficult." Long initially believed the eerie refrain was too bare to turn into a song, but a friend encouraged him to use it. "That was a very liberating thing for me," he says—the realization that a song doesn't have to have a typical structure or even chord changes.

Meric Long Meric Long, left, and Logan Kroeber of the Dodos perform during Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival on July 20, 2008. Roger Kisby/Getty Images

7. "ISN'T LOVE"

"That could be a Dodos song if you took the synths out," Long says. "Isn't Love" features the propulsive rhythms and fast melodic cues typical of his band's music, with the word preoccupation! repeated throughout the chorus. Like MGMT's smartphone addiction anthem "TSLAMP," the lyrics were inspired by a creeping sense of his own addictive relationship with technology. "It shocked me, after having a child, how much every [moment] of free time was spent on the internet. I was very conscious of using my phone around my child. It highlighted how strong the need to numb my brain was. Like, I would put her out for a nap and go straight to my phone."

8. "BOB2"

Long's new stage name, FAN, was inspired by a sputtering audio sample of a broken fan, which emerges about two and a half minutes into this song. "I was in the bathroom of a taqueria, and there was a fan right above the toilet that was just sputtering," says Long, who recorded it on his iPhone. "I was like, That is a rhythm I could never write. I don't think a human could write it. It's inconsistent, it doesn't repeat, but it also has enough of a pulse that it makes sense in a weird way. Everyone who listened to [the fan] was like, 'That's really cool, but how do you make a song out of that?' It became a songwriting challenge: How do I put that into a song and make it work?" 

Will he tell the taqueria about the unlikely inspiration he found in its bathroom? "I don't think they would care," he says. But "I've been there a couple times since, and the fan is still there. It's still sputtering."

9. "VELOUR"

The penultimate song takes its title from an unexpected source: Sasha Velour, a drag queen who won the ninth season of RuPaul's Drag Raceone of Long's favorite shows. He was "floored" by Velour's lip-sync performance of Whitney Houston's "So Emotional" and wanted "to take the feeling I got from seeing the performance and channel it into a song."

"Velour" is the most aggressive, beat-driven track on the album, and Polyvinyl label director Seth Hubbard encouraged him to include it on the album. "It's definitely an electronic record, but I didn't want it to be electronic music per se, in the club sense,'" says Long. "But I was finally like, OK, let's just throw one dance song on there."

10. "OMD"

As its title suggests, the final track was inspired by the 1980s synth-pop outfit Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). "When I was in my 20s, I rediscovered them and found out they were pioneers of electronic music," Long says. "They've always been a near-to-my-heart band."

The pulse-like synths that run through the track were inspired by one OMD song in particular: "Of All the Things We've Made," from 1983's Dazzle Ships. Virtually the entire song was made on the Akai AX60 synthesizer, the first synth Long got from his dad. "It's not a very popular synth, I've come to find. Which makes it all the more special."

Lyrically, "OMD" is a bittersweet rumination on finding resolution with his father's death and shortcomings. "I cover your hand with my heart/You couldn't be father to all," sings Long, who unexpectedly arrived at some peace and resolution after making the album. "My daddy issues are what informed my entire music career and my songwriting," he says. "I don't need to write those songs anymore. There's still hurt—but I do feel a sense of relief."

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