Ditner, the experimental indie project led by Joshua Deitner from Cincinnati, Ohio, has been on a musical journey, from exploring parallel universes in the debut "Future is Fine" (October 2022) to collaborative experiments like "Negative Space" with Chris Bump (June 2023). Now, the spotlight is on their latest release, "Figures" (October 27, 2023), promising traditional instrumentation, layered guitars, and a fusion of influences, including NYC post-punk, shoegaze, gospel, R&B, jazz, British electronic, and desert rock, showcasing their most daring lyrical and vocal work yet, with "I’m Still" and “Swallowed Whole”, the previously released singles, offering a glimpse of what's to come.
How did the band form and what does the band name mean?
Ditner came into existence to satisfy my need to create my own work, unhindered by a band of competing voices. The first album was mastered before I even settled on the name. It’s a misspelling of my own last name – in part to reflect an older pronunciation (that some of my family still use), partially to have a moniker that’s less prone to spelling and pronunciation confusion, but to use an original pseudonym that really reflects who I am.
Previous musical projects? How'd you first get into music?
I’ve always been into music. I took lessons and played a lot of church music as a kid, then played in original bands starting when I was around 13. I went to school for music, starting with classical piano performance, but eventually got burned out and/or realized that I didn’t have the constitution for real excellence in the classical life. I ended up getting degrees in music performance, recording technology and music business.
In college (St. Louis/Southwestern IL) I played guitar and synth for an indie-folk outfit called Auk. Later, I got back together with an old friend (Chris Bump, now aka Iffer) to form The Parallels. Chris has the greatest, most distinctive writing, vocal and guitar styles that I’ve ever been around. I played drums with him in The Parallels in the STL area around 2005-2006, and later in Shanghai, around 2014-2016. These days he and I collaborate a bit (as Ditner and Iffer), though we are slowly working on restoring some of the Shanghai-era Parallels recordings. My label (Meager Morsels Music) is currently working on releasing/re-releasing the old Auk and Parallels albums.
First concert that you ever went to?
I don’t remember the earliest concert. I grew up with a lot of church music, and I know I saw some touring Christian rock groups as a youngster. I went to a bunch of local punk rock shows as a teenager too. The first great show that I recall, as I was coming into my own, was Interpol playing a small club in Boston around 2003, back when they were touring their first album. That was such a good show, and later I came to appreciate how great it was to see them in that small setting – I could see and hear everything they were doing.
What's your writing process like?
The main process I’ve been using for the past couple of years is writing lyrics and music separately. Sometimes I might sit down to play a few chords to get the juices flowing, but then I’ll close the piano and just write lyrics for a while. When I’m not writing lyrics I’ll poke around with musical ideas but won’t try to match them up until there are mostly complete ideas on both sides. I like to try different lyrical forms – I often think of A, B, C (etc.) sections instead of Verse, Chorus, Bridge. This way, for better or worse, I rarely have a repeating refrain. I feel like this fits well with the way I like to compose the music.
I’ve been relying heavily on piano – most of the guitar-based songs I’ve done started with piano. It gives me the most freedom to create the harmonies that interest me. I used to write on guitar, but playing in a “guitaristic” or guitar-friendly way ultimately narrowed my flow and limited the harmonic possibilities. I appreciate how some instruments can limit your writing in a positive way, and I’m a big believer in imposing limits in order to stimulate creativity. So in the future I plan to start writing music away from the piano.
While the songs are basically written ahead of recording, I do find myself completing the arrangements and textural concepts during the recording process.
What other artists or songs inspire your music?
I’m inspired for different reasons these days. When I was younger, I’d respond to music gutturally and emotionally. Now what’s exciting are those artists that preach freedom – those that demonstrate how I can be free to create genre-defying recordings, and with my own voice. I don’t have to sound like a pop vocalist; I don’t have to use what some Youtuber says is the best guitar tone; I can use a single mic to record an entire album just to see what happens.
I’m a huge fan of Radiohead, and of everything that Thom and Jonny have done. Kid A, The Smile, Bodysong, Anima, Atoms For Peace and Jarak Qaribak all rank the highest for me in terms of concept, composition, textures and overall production.
Sigur Ros is an early example, for me, of musical freedom. However, I still listen to them emotionally. They’re a big influence on my definition of beauty.
The Flaming Lips and The National are groups I love for mostly very different reasons, however, Wayne and Matt’s vocals are so important to me. They showed me that I don’t have to be perfect, or sound like anyone else, and fans love them for that. When I first heard these bands, I disliked their vocals – I think because they were shockingly different, and didn’t fit my idea of what vocals should sound like, at least within their genres. Now I find these voices to be beautiful and empowering because of the same qualities.
Interpol is another example of a distinctive vocal style, but their main impact on me is their rhythm section. I never played bass or drums the same after I heard Turn On The Bright Lights.
Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of The Japanese House. Clean is an earlier track that I still play on repeat – the melody is distinctive and I really dig the production on that song. Saw You In A Dream boasts a chord progression both gorgeous and sophisticated.
Iffer is really great, and a recent inspiration. I’ve always known him as a very distinctive guitarist and vocalist, but recently I’ve been blown away by his electronic production. It sounds like nothing else – kind of 80’s, kind of dark 2000’s sleaze, kind of psychedelic desert rock.
What's the live experience like and your philosophy on playing live? Do you think the music live should be identical to the recorded version or should it be its own thing?
These songs haven’t been played live yet. Ditner emerged from Covid19 as a recording project. That’s not a conscious decision, but I haven’t yet found the right group of local multi-instrumentalists I’d need to make it happen live.
I agree with those artists that talk about the obligation to play the “greatest hits” for the fans that come out to shows. It’s a good thing I don’t have to think about that – I’ve got no hits and no fans. However, I’m a bit different from a folky guitarist/singer in that I know it would require substantial resources to make a live show identical to the recording, in most cases. So I have to think about myself. Who am I? What’s important? At this point, I feel wildly free with my current creative process and I’d be reluctant to give any of that up in order to consider creating an accurate live reproduction. So out of necessity, I have to be OK with a live performance taking on a different personality.
What's up next for the band?
I’m working now with a few other artists on a collaboration-focused album that I’d like to release early next year. I’m really excited about this – these artists possess some amazing voices, and writing with them is opening up my mind.
I’m also writing a bit for a subsequent collection of songs – I’m not sure if I should commit much to words yet, but it’s sounding very different from everything I’ve done up to this point.
Lastly, my goal for 2024 is to get out and play some shows, even if it’s a limited set with a small group.