DIIV on “Deceiver” | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 17th, 2019  

DIIV on “Deceiver”

Serving the Song

Oct 04, 2019 Photography by Coley Brown Web Exclusive
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Zachary Cole Smith never said Deceiver was a personal moniker, but it fits the narrative around DIIV's new album. After the band's acclaimed second album, Is The Is Are, released in 2016, Smith checked himself into rehab for substance abuse. With that decision, nothing was a given anymore. Music wasn't a concern. DIIV was no longer a band.

These days, Smith and the rest of his bandmates—Colin Caufield, Andrew Bailey, and Ben Newman—believe the process was essential for the health of the persons involved and the joy of the music. Smith says DIIV is "serving the song" for the first time, an interesting claim for a band whose small catalog has already generated such impressive buzz.

We recently sat down with Smith (who often goes by his middle name Cole), Caufield, and Bailey to hear more about the ramifications of forced distance from the music and how they reaped the rewards on Deceiver

Matt Conner (Under the Radar): So much of the press around the album is about getting space away from things to work out personal issues and sort of band drama or questions. What kind of a time frame are we talking?

Zachary Cole Smith: It took us about a year to work out stuff. I think a lot of that time changed the way I approached life in general. I think we all did. So coming back to the band, we were extremely grateful to have the band still be something we could do. We took a completely new approach and tried to communicate that in the music itself.

Can you give us something tangible there? What was involved in this new approach?

Zachary: I guess there are a bunch of parts to it, but it was being able to communicate and working together collaboratively. It's opening ourselves up to criticism and to each other about our ideas. It's being able to say to somebody, "Hey that idea is bad." Or it's having that said to you and being able to work together through it in order to serve the song rather than our own specific needs or ego or anything like that. It's what's best for the song, so let's do that.

So the idea of serving the song wasn't a true aim on albums past?

Zachary: I don't think as directly, no. At least it wasn't true collaboratively to really get to the heart of what's best for each song. Before we were just throwing stuff down and hoping it would work. This time there was a lot more back and forth in the collaboration to get there.

Were you thankful to come back to the band when you did?

Zachary: Of course, yes.

How scary was that to think of the band's end?

Colin Caulfield: I think the situation required an actual end of the band, so to speak, where we said, "Okay, I can't do this anymore." It required us being committed to that, for the sake of Cole and all of our personal lives. We all took time off. It's hard to remember that time now, because it's not like we were all texting each other wondering if the band's gonna get back together. It was just this period of an actual break. When we ended up coming back together, it was really natural. A show offer came in and we were all like, "Sure, let's try." It was all really easy and totally different.

Andrew Bailey: I remember a lot because the band moved to L.A. During the break, we all kind of went off and did our own thing. Colin was doing his solo project. Cole was playing in another band. I was playing in a couple other bands. One of those bands brought me out to L.A., while I was here with them, I met up with DIIV and started writing songs. That's the first time where I was like, "Oh shit, we're doing this?"

Zachary: I don't think we realized it all at once. We all got to it on our own. We all had our own moments with it clearly.

Is it safe to say you're all better for the experience?

Zachary: I know for myself, trying to learn to love and appreciate music again was big. I think we'd taken the band for granted. It had been a difficult thing, a difficult presence in my life. Spending a year listening to music and then coming back into it slowly and learning to collaborate with friends and doing projects that felt like low stakes at the time—it was all just about learning the craft and appreciating music. That was my experience taking steps back to the music after not doing it. I was doing acoustic covers and stuff that I'd recorded at rehab because I was just so interested in how these songs worked. I stayed loving music the whole time, but I think just appreciating it was what reenergized us as a band. It was more than a job again. It was this profound thing and let's try to approach it from that angle rather than, "Okay, we must make our third record now."

Colin: Even now looking back, I personally really like writing for DIIV. I really like this band. The music is very specific but also very mysterious and open-ended and allows for a lot of experimentation to the extent that we can make a record like this. It sounds really different, but it still sounds like DIIV. Because of that, it's very freeing. I think all of us enjoy that with the band, musically. It's special to us. So everything we're doing now is informed by stuff from that interim time, but it still feels like a thing, if that makes sense.

This was your first time with an outside producer. What made this the right time to bring in Sonny [Diperri]?

Colin: We'd talked about wanting to make a much louder, heavier [album] and we'd wanted to also track stuff live—specifically some live drums. Initially it was a practical thing because we didn't have the technical ability to do what we wanted to do. Beyond that, Sonny ended up being super integral to the recording process as a producer but also as part of the crew, so to speak. The more time went on, the more he became part of the actual process.

Zachary: I was really impressed with how well Sonny was able to fit into our band dynamic. We'd been working together every single day for many, many hours a day for many months. You create a language and a shorthand for how to speak about music when you do that, but Sonny was able to get on board with everything. It was amazing he was able to do that. The palette of references we had for him was stuff that we took for granted being able to talk to each other about, but he had that vocabulary built in. Then we could also learn from him. It was a really cool experience.

What excites you most about the songs on Deceiver?

Colin: I think we experimented a lot and they all paid off. I really enjoy every aspect of the record. I feel really good about it. We as a band, I think, were a little bit pigeonholed previously in terms of making jangly indie pop or whatever you want to call it. So I'm proud of us for trying to make a big jump into a new sound that's heavier and more diverse, and I think we did it really, really well.

Zachary: Yeah I feel like the time and the care that we put into the way the songs work, into the lyrics, into the details of each song or the song as a whole, it all shows. I'm really proud of it. The thing I loved the most about the record is that the time we put into it shows.

Andrew: I'm excited for these songs because I listen to them for fun. With the early DIIV records, I could appreciate them and be like, "Oh, this is good music." All the songs had emotional attachments for me just from playing them live all over the world, but with the new record, I just walk around and listen to it. It's genuinely something that I like. [Laughs] I've never had that before in any band.

Zachary: Yes!

Colin: Can I change my answer? That's what I am most excited about. [Laughs]

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