Cecil Decker, the frontman and guiding light of Autocorrect, one of Columbia’s most fascinating and confounding musical acts, often has a lot to talk about.
While the band is arguably his most singular creative pursuit, Decker is also a sound engineer, filmmaker, adjunct professor, media arts coordinator at Richland Library and co-director of the ambitious Indie Bits video games display that happens each year as part of the Indie Grits festival. He’s got a lot on his mind.
And on previous Autocorrect projects, Decker served as the group’s emcee, deploying a dexterous nerd-rap flow that combined brainy introspection with angsty millennial social commentary and depressive self-loathing, all with a meta, mediated awareness of living and creating in a digital age.
Which is why it’s surprising that Decker’s voice is mostly absent from the band’s new EP, Well That Was Different.
“This one started out not even with the idea that it would be Autocorrect music,” Decker admits. “I was just kind of hanging out with my friends who happen to be my bandmates, one-on-one. But a lot of it came from wanting to make music without my voice.”
Instead of the familiar nerd-rap strains of past Autocorrect music, which was mostly ungirded by avant-garde beats that borrowed from experimental electronics and alternative hip-hop, Decker led from behind. The group added singer-songwriter Alex Davis to the mix on a trio of tunes and featured bandmates Sean Burns and Chris Johnson on lead vocals on two others. Drenched in pretty synth melodies and driven by funky pop grooves that blossom into moments of pure alt-rock release or electronic bliss, it’s often a far cry from the abrasiveness of many of the group’s earlier efforts.
“This is the most jammy of anything we’ve ever written,” Decker offers, noting that the band’s previous approach often involved he and Johnson creating esoteric electronic beds to start the songwriting process. “[Some of these songs] were written with four people in a room, each playing an instrument. Then we would track everything. I did some light sequencing and editing, but those were [mostly] written in the moment.”
That organic collaboration, combined with the chopping and tinkering that is Decker’s forte, is how the group arrived at what is easily its most polished effort to date.
“We didn’t want to do exclusively noise-rap. We were feeling a different way,” says bassist Moses Andrews of the writing process. “You never know what [Decker] is going to record or use,” he adds, speaking to his bandmate’s fondness for integrating mistakes and discrepancies into the body of a song.
“The idea was to put together a group of really accessible songs,” Decker insists. “We kind of slaved over getting the details right.”
As for the future of Autocorrect, the path is a little unclear. Davis is a big part of the record as a singer and keyboardist, but he lives in Greenville, North Carolina. And while the EP’s big pop pivot was successful, Decker says the group will likely continue down their own esoteric path.
Indeed, as much as the singing-oriented, melody-driven version of Autocorrect dominates Something Different, it’s worth noting that both the opener and closer tellingly feature Decker in his more traditional role.
“Salvo,” the lead-off track, is a jarring bit of distortion and found sound that harkens back to the group’s earlier, more noise-driven efforts and features a Decker verse processed and distorted under the surface, a figurative burial given his absence from much of the rest record.
He returns only on the single verse of the closing “Pastel,” the band’s most gorgeous effort to date and the most forthright and vulnerable Decker has ever been as an emcee.
“I don’t sleep to dream, I don’t f#!k to breathe/ I wear alacrity sweetly on the TV screen/ Like it’s Halloween and my costume’s me/ Like I didn’t try to swallow a bottle of pills last week,” he raps over a wafting pop beat. “At least I can give myself death if I want it.”
Johnson takes over with a sung chorus after that final, haunting line, and the band slowly builds to a cathartic release.
“There’s a thread in all of the music, and maybe even in the process by which we make the music, that really just comes out of mental illness and not dealing with it,” Decker explains. “And in art spaces, there’s this sort of social acceptance of mental illness as if it’s part of the ‘process’ or part of being an artist, and I think that’s bullshit.
“I think it’s important to start a conversation and do that in spaces where illness is normalized or marginalized. A big part of writing a record that didn’t have my voice was doing the therapeutic part of music without cycling through the four emotions l have in all of my other songs.”
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