DIIV | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Take Your Time

May 11, 2016 DIIV Bookmark and Share

After the release of Oshin, their acclaimed 2012-released debut album, no new music was heard from DIIV for three and a half years. With the release of their sophomore album, Is the Is Are, out now on Captured Tracks, DIIV prove that they were no mere flash in the pan. We sat down to chat with bandleader Zachary Cole Smith on the late morning before that evening’s homecoming show with La Sera in his new hometown of Los Angeles. They had just gotten back from a tour of Australia, a not unusual scenario for these now seasoned road warriors. The chat takes us from New York to Los Angeles to Sacramento and back again, but mainly focuses on the multitude of factors that inspired the new album.

Matt Berlyant (Under the Radar): So what happened at the end of the touring cycle after the Oshin tour in 2013?

Zachary Cole Smith: We toured non-stop. I canceled one European tour that was booked really badly and weirdly, but we ended up changing booking agents. None of that is really relevant, but we played a lot of shows and tried to get out live as much as possible. For me, the live element of the band is just as important as the recorded element as a fan. I want to make sure that shows are part of what everybody experiences with our band and I spent all of the time touring, playing a lot and writing.

Are you adamant in making sure that the live show is a different experience from the records?

I don’t want to put anything on record that can’t be replicated by five people on a stage. I don’t want to have a string section that’s super important to the song because then I’ll find myself never being able to play it properly. On both records, I wanted to make it that way. Now we have a keyboard player and some of the songs on the first record have three guitar parts so it helps with stuff like that. I don’t think it necessarily has to be different from the record, but for us…if you go to an Arcade Fire show, you probably want them to replicate the album and if it’s a slow song, you hold up the lighter or whatever. We’re like a punk band at heart, so we play a show and we want you to jump around and go crazy because we’re jumping around and going crazy.

Why did the follow-up take so long to complete and get released?

The date never really got pushed back, though it was supposed to come out in the fall. Basically, albums can’t come out as fast as they used to because bands just have to tour like crazy. It’s really hard to write and record a double record when you’re playing all over the world and you’re getting on flights and driving around or whatever. It’s a lot of work. They work you hard nowadays. You have to tour. That’s what you have to do.

It’s because record sales have dwindled.

Record sales are how bands used to make money, but we just toured around a lot, constantly playing. But also, taking three and a half years to make a record was because we wanted it to be the best record possible. There was a lot of pressure on me to deliver something really great, so that was huge. So many bands flash in your periphery and flash out just as quickly. It would’ve been easy to make another copy of Oshin with different songs and I think that some people would like it, but for so long there’s been so much talk around our band and so much sensationalism and it’s weird since we only have one album. It’s mellow and kind of watery. It’s not an outspoken punk record. It has an almost anonymous quality to it. It’s weird to have all this talk around it, but not really making a huge statement musically, so I wanted to make something that would live up to all of the talk and everything. I wanted to be honest and forthright and to tell people the real story of what happened with me. Everyone knows the stories, but I wanted to make kind of a big statement and that’s not the easiest thing to do. The record was finished, recorded and tracked last March, which is why it was originally set to come out in the fall, but I kept remixing it over and over myself so that kind of pushed it back. Furthermore, getting all the art done was another factor as well along with compiling the entire two LP package. I’m a nerd and I think that every great record creates a world around it and I wanted to do that with this record and the art is a huge part of that. Doing that art was a long process as well, but obviously there are a lot of things that made the record take three-and-a-half years to do.

When I first heard “Blue Boredom,” my first thought was that it reminded me of something that Kim Gordon would’ve come up with in Sonic Youth. Was that intentional or did it just kind of work out that way?

Sonic Youth is a big influence on the record. Bad Moon Rising is the big touchstone sonically for where I wanted to go. There are two songs on the record where I think I channel Kim Gordon. On “Grant’s Song,” I feel like my vocal has kind of a Kim Gordon thing and it’s only in listening to it afterwards. For “Blue Boredom,” I was reading a short poem thing I’d written and I had an idea for our guitar player to read a short story that he wrote and it just wasn’t sounding right. I took all of these lyrics and combined them into this stream of consciousness thing and I thought it would be better if Sky [Ferreira, Smith’s girlfriend] recorded it so we did it one night after a movie.

You mentioned “Grant’s Song” before, so I’m curious who Grant and Roi are.

Roi is one of my best friends. We went through some addiction drama together. Grant is Grant Singer, who did the “How Long Have You Known” video and he’s a really good friend of mine. He was there the first time we played the song, so we called it “Grant’s Song.”

I know that you moved back to New York from upstate New York last year.

I was half living upstate.

What made you come back down to the city?

I’m actually living in L.A. now. Half and half. I’m really living on tour. I’ve been here since I got back from tour. I love New York City and being in a major city is kind of where you have to be if you’re serious about making music.

How have you always been attracted to New York?

I was born there and spent some time growing up there and went to high school there.

I saw an image of you online last year where you were photographed with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein [of Blondie]. What were they like?

They were awesome. We played a festival in Sacramento with them. Sky had been in touch with Chris Stein a bunch because he had a gallery show in New York that we went to.

Is he a visual artist as well?

Yeah, he’s a photographer. Every picture you’ve ever seen of Debbie Harry was taken by Chris Stein or Andy Warhol. He’s an insane photographer, has taken a million photos of her. He did a huge art show of all of his photos, did this huge fat book which is awesome, he gave us copies of the book and we were trying to buy this print of a photo of Debbie that he’d taken and he ended up just gifting to us, which is really cool. We went to Sacramento to play and someone knocks on our door and it’s Chris Stein. He’s like, “Hey man, I checked out ‘Doubt.’ Good work.” They played and as soon as they finished playing, Sky’s phone was ringing and it was Debbie and she said, “Come backstage and hang out with us.” They didn’t know anyone there in Sacramento. Debbie and Sky became friends, which is pretty cool. One of my best friends, Dustin [Payseur] from Beach Fossils, is in the background of the photo looking awkwardly at the camera. He put it on his Instagram and took his face and blew it up really big for that picture.




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