If you’ve ever seen Dan Deacon perform live, you know that it is a singular, kaleidoscopic experience. Deacon, 34, takes control of the space, and encourages his audience to interact with his music by becoming part of the performance.
Now he’s on tour with Miley Cyrus, who’s promoting her new album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, along with a few members of The Flaming Lips. The whole crew is performing at Terminal 5 in New York City this weekend, then continuing on throughout the U.S. into December.
PEOPLE recently caught up with Deacon about touring with Miley, why he covered his stage with plants in Portugal and what to do when a live performance goes wrong.
Is there something that surprised you about working with Miley?
I think the most surprising thing is how down-to-earth she is. I mean, you never know what to expect with someone who you only ingest through the media. I keep thinking about how something she says can be taken out of context so many different times, to paint this image or picture within a public persona.
And it’s so much easier to see a human being as a human being, holding a cup of coffee and their phone under their arm, and trying to eat some chicken I’m not sure if she was eating chicken. I don’t want to put that out there. Maybe she’s vegan and people are gonna be like, “Miley ate chicken?!” [laughs]
But the one thing I do think about is how information works, and how crazy it is for someone to say something, and it can mean a million different things to a million different people. She’s doing such a radically different show, and people are going to say it’s for shock value, but I think it’s much easier for someone to say that someone’s doing something for shock value than for someone to believe someone’s doing something they want to do.
Watch Deacon’s ‘When I Was Done Dying’ Video
Have there been any funny or especially weird moments while on tour so far?
The first day was like walking into the set of The Muppets. There were all these people that looked like cartoon characters, and some of them are astronomically famous, and it felt really surreal walking into the theater – me and my small crew were just these dopey dorks. We’re just sitting in our room, eating snacks and all of a sudden someone walks by in a 7-ft. wig, or a stick of butter will walk by. Stuff like that.
Would you say that your sound and Miley’s sound are complementary?
I don’t know. I don’t know if sounds need to complement each other, though. I really like at botanical gardens, how the cactus room is right next to the chrysanthemums. It’s all right to have two very different things, but I think the one thing that the Venn diagram of our music would be is to make people feel like they can be themselves, and to have fun doing so to not be afraid of your individuality and your exploration to find it.
Watch Deacon’s ‘Feel the Lightning’ Video
Do you have a favorite show you’ve ever played?
Recently, a show in Portugal was super fun. I didn’t have any special expectations, but it was really great. For some reason, all these people in the audience had plants and they kept passing plants up onto the stage, and then the stage was full of plants by the end of the show.
How did you first come up with the idea to have the audience become part of the performance?
I was doing a show in the small basement of a bar in New York, and the power died, but the lights stayed on, and I knew if everyone had gone upstairs until the power got turned on, I’d lose the audience. So I just tried to keep the energy going and made up crazy ideas for a dance contest, and had everyone make a circle in the center of the room.
I picked two people, and started rambling off insane rules, until I could hear that the PA was back on. And then not only did it save the energy that we had, but it brought it to a whole new level. Because people like when something goes wrong. And in live performance, when something goes wrong and it gets fixed, that’s almost better than if nothing happened at all.
Then I realized that audience members were looking at themselves. They weren’t looking at me. And they weren’t just looking in one direction, they were looking all around the room. So now who the show was about was completely different, and since then I’ve been trying to think of all new practices to incorporate the audience and the venue and have people realize that they are the show. They are part of the performance. They are going there to see someone on stage, but what the show is about is the people in the room.