'This is a purer version of the band'
After surprising fans with another surprise return with comeback single ‘Freeze Me’, Death From Above are back with what they call ‘the purest version of the band’.
Another volatile rush of bass, drums and piano, singer and drummer Sebastien Grainger tells us that the track takes “the DNA of the band to its natural progression”. Having dropped the ‘1979’ suffix, it looks like the band are stripping everything back to the bare essentials to take on the future. It was ten years between their acclaimed 2004 debut ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ and their follow-up ‘The Physical World’, so what in store next for your favourite Canadian two-piece? Grainger talks to us about the future, their influence, their fans, Royal Blood and the state of rock.
Lyrically, what would you say it’s dealing with?
“It’s pretty much a love song I think. It’s kind of using the vernacular of today and using the language of today to kind of subvert a love song. It’s always difficult for me to describe a straight up love song. Not that I was trying to do that in any way, the song kind of just spilled out. It was written pretty quickly. Jesse sent a voice note over of himself playing the piano part and then I sort of started writing on that and it turned around pretty quickly, which was cool. They’re always the most fun songs.”
So how’s progress going on the new record?
“No comment! Can’t you just be happy and satisfied with the song? [Laughs] There’s a lot going on in the songs. I will say that this version of the band, our memo on this song and the songs we’re working on, is that it’s a a purer form of the band I think. When I listened to the last record, even though I liked the last record, I can’t believe how much stuff is going on in the background. I’m like, ‘why did we add that?’ What you see is what you get.”
Obviously you can’t say much, but do you think it’s representative of the direction you’re heading?
“I can say that we’re the best band in the world.”
So there was a huge gap between the first and second record, was it a really simple process to come off the last record and start writing again?
“Even the idea of continuing the band after we started playing new shows wasn’t obvious. We didn’t know if we were going to keep doing it or not. But we don’t even think about that any more, the band just exists. We enjoy playing and writing. We didn’t start writing this song, or any new songs, right after the last record but we were still mixing and we were talking about what we were going to do on the next record. So that conversation pretty much happened right away. It didn’t feel like we had taken a break or anything. We started conceptualising the second we stopped recording the last record.”
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With ‘The Physical World’, were you surprised that after so much time away that there was still such a massive hunger for you guys to come back? The fans were still, not only there, but multiplying and growing and still interested.
“I appreciate it. I mean it’s amazing that a band can still exist. The climate of the music industry, I mean it’s boring to talk about, but it’s so wild and unknown still. Everyone tries to pretend that they know what they are doing but nobody know what they are doing in the music industry. Maybe they never knew what they were doing, but certainly everyone is trying to figure it out all the time now and for us to exist and have people come to shows and get excited when we put out music, we feel very lucky.”
Do you think your fans expect anything of you?
“I don’t know if they expect anything specific. I like to think we make exciting music and i don’t think it’s ‘normal’ sounding rock music and the shows aren’t normal rock shows. I think the standard strokes of what a rock band is and can be, we kind of smash those and I think the people appreciate that in a way. Neither one of us are interested in making the average rock song. Not that there is anything wrong with rock music, but it’s been awhile. Not like we’re trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re not thinking about the modes and we’re trying to create something interesting and primarily interesting for us. Hopefully that sends out to the listener.”
That’s why you guys made such an impact, when you first came out it was all angular post-punks dressed in blazers like it was 1977 New York. You guys were fresh and interesting and inspired waves of bands that came after you. More two pieces came and tried to do a similar thing. Have you heard the bands that have come since and often hear your influence?
“To be honest, I don’t listen to much new rock music and my mind isn’t tuned to that. So I don’t really see it but people are always like ‘have you heard this? this sounds a lot like you’. If i listen to it, then I’ll kind of observe it objectively. But it’s kind of difficult for me to perceive it. My self-image isn’t so inflated that I assume that someone is ripping us off all the time.
“When we started as a two piece, there weren’t a lot of examples of contemporary bands doing this. The only bands that knew about were The White Stripes and I knew them through going to art school for a few years around that time. I had a friend from Detroit and they were like the local band, so that’s kind of how I heard about them. Then there was Lightening Bolt, who were this hardcore prog two-piece band. So there wasn’t a lot of stuff going and it’s not like we were inspired by those bands, they just so happened to be the bands that were around. Like when we started, Jesse said ‘people might talk about Lightening Bolt or The White Stripes in regards to our band’ but there wasn’t a template for it.”
So as it gets passed on to the other end of the timeline, is it a head-fuck when you hear bands like Royal Blood going on to become huge and saying that you guys were a direct influence?
“When I listen to Royal Blood, it’s bass and drums, but I don’t hear the link really musically. To me they sound more Queens of the Stone Age or something. Our approach to rock music is to subvert it in a way. Anytime something approximates the blues or Zeppelin or anything like that, that’s when I want to turn right. I don’t want to head straight towards those things. That’s kind of how we approach it. Maybe we’d be fucking selling out the O2 if we ripped off Led Zeppelin.”
I don’t know if it’s the same over there in Canada and the US, but over here rock music is on the back burner to hip hop and grime in terms of popularity. Do think that’s because bands riding a trend or scene don’t tend to subvert anything and tend stick to one genre and travel within it? Do you think maybe that’s why guitar music is on the back burner?
“I think it’s multiple factors and dynamic situations, but the biggest factor is that with computer music, when you get to produce on computers, you don’t need a guitar or drums. That’s kinda punk rock these days. Everyone has a computer. And if they don’t have one at their house, then there’s one at school. Everyone has access to software, people can even make music on their phones. The barrier to creating something is a lot smaller in the computer world. If you have to buy a guitar, then you have to buy an amp. It’s very prohibited, even financially.
“Even playing the drums is a bourgeois pursuit. You need a lot of money to buy them, you need a lot of space to play them so people won’t fucking knock your door down. It’s a prohibited medium. You also have to learn how to play the fucking thing. So if people can just can just plug away at Ableton or use whatever programmes they’re in to, it’s a more direct medium that speaks to the times. I think it starts from there, that’s the nucleus of it. A producer sitting in their bedrooms or on the bus with their phones or whatever, they can just make whatever they want wherever they want. Plus it sounds good, you have to go out of your way to make something sound fucked up.”
It’s hard to sound lo-fi, which kind of is against the point of being lo-fi isn’t it?
“Yeah, I mixed a record last summer for this project I’m working on and I mixed it on my laptop and a cassette deck because that’s all I had. So it was lo-fi but because that’s the only equipment I had. I didn’t limit myself to that on purpose, it was just I moved back to LA from Toronto writing music and stuff for six months, so I didn’t have a bunch of shit with me. It was actually really liberating to have a limited palette. That’s what this band is. You can throw a bunch of shit at it and we’ve done that before, but it’s best when it’s limited to the palette. That was the whole point of the thing. What do we need to start a band that we’d like to hear, what are the two best sounds in a band. Fucking drums and bass, those are the best.”
Can you tell us if we can expect tour dates this year?
“I don’t have any specific information I can tell you but we are a band so we are going to play shows. It’s not headline news. Band makes record, band plays shows, band exists.”
Do you ever think about the kind of venues you want to play? Do you ever have ambitions to ever become an arena band or do think you guys work in small rooms?
“To be honest, I like taking the band in like a spectrum because it is fun the play small shows and it is fun to play big shows. As an audience member, I’ve had transcending experiences in small venues and I’ve had the same transcending experience or different ones in bigger venues. It’s a totally different medium. I’d like to think about playing those venues at the same time. I’m not comparing us to them, but The Stones notoriously play these kind of small bars on the same tour they play these huge shows because you can really get off musically. But I like big rock shows and I’ll go to them. The sound’s great and the visuals are good and amazing, it’s fun to watch. The thing with our band is that our rock is pretty up-tempo. Very fast music generally doesn’t translate very well to big big rooms just because the music kind of gets lost in the swirl of reverb. So the slower our tempo’s get, the bigger the rooms get.”
Final question, what are you listening to at the moment?
“The Cello Suites, Bach. It’s pure fucking, straight up, just one instrument. It’s basically just bass music.”
‘Freeze Me’ by Death From Above is out now