Death From Above are back. Or at least as back as you can be when everything remains so clandestine. Returning out of nowhere in June with new single, ‘Freeze Me’, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler have always consistently found the right distinction between being the Death From Above we love, and the one we didn’t know we want.
In classic Death From Above fashion, there’s of course been a new album hidden away. ‘Outrage! Is Now’ is an amalgamation of life, culture, and a classic bit of DFA angst. Keeping things so closely under wraps – so much, so that very few people even knew of its existence – Jesse opens with their reasoning: “You don’t want to give everything away, and we have experience with our band being a scarce commodity because we were not producing music for ten years. That has some excitement inherently built into to it – just being kind of slightly unattainable. It’s exciting to tease a few things out.”
The duo are over in the UK to stir the waters around them and set the world to rights, remaining tight-lipped about the new record at first, but eventually opening up. Sebastien notes they’d be unable to simply “do a Beyonce”, to which Jesse responds, “Is that your way of saying when we have nine million Twitter followers we’ll just stop doing press and just start doing ‘link in the bio’?” The dynamic between the pair is extremely close. They complete each other’s sentences, bounce back and forth and make each other laugh a hell of a lot.
Death From Above has certainly taken a winding road to get where they are now. After a decade apart, they returned in 2014 with ‘The Physical World’ – an album which blew any preconceptions out of the water. Getting to that point involved the pair doing what they do best – reinventing themselves and diving further into their own minds. Sebastien recalls the time leading up to that moment: “The first record [2004’s ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’] has a unique sound. When we went to follow that up, we had to kind of respect that uniqueness. This whole thing is ‘let’s do something that people haven’t done before’.” Jesse adds on “I’d say, at this distance, that includes ourselves. We don’t want to just give people ‘Here’s more Death From Above!’ That would probably make it easier to sell, but much more boring for us.”
Sebastien admits, “I kind of didn’t listen to ‘The Physical World’ after we finished it. [Once] we finished I was like ‘Oh god, I’m glad that’s over!’ Then we put it out, and it is a cool record.” Jesse concurs “I can never listen to it uncritically. There were a lot of different ways of dealing with it.” Not to discount it entirely, Sebastien carries on. “Eventually I will be able to listen to that and be like ‘oh that’s awesome’, but it’s too close right now.”
“We worked really hard on that record. We enjoyed making it and love the songs, but it’s like we had to get that one out of the way. [Now] we’re back together, we’re playing, we want to make music together, we want to make records, so let’s just start doing them!”
They aren’t ones to dwell on the immediate past too much, but they do enjoy delving into their beginnings – and the conversation is as Death From Above as you can imagine. Sebastien jokingly starts, “I also have some regrets about my role in this band…”, to which Jesse interrupts, while adopting a mocking voice through a chuckle, “‘I could’ve been the singer… why didn’t we spend ten more minutes finding a drummer?!’”
Dropping the voice he explains further, “we tried one drummer, very early on”, as Sebastien adds on, “and it’s not even that it wasn’t good, or it didn’t work out, it’s just that the next day he wasn’t there, so I just played drums.” The missing, mysterious drummer – a mere hour streetcar ride away, while Sebastien was simply upstairs – is what gave birth to the behemoth that became Death From Above.
You may have noticed they’re now sans their post-fixed 1979; a decision that quite literally just happened. No planning, just a natural swap back to their original name, the core of the band tighter than ever. “We’ve always had the roles, like the responsibilities that we take on [for] whatever reason on tour” Sebastien starts, “I was always carrying all the cash, counting it and bringing it to the bank at the end, or talking to the cotton guy to get the right t-shirts.” Showing their reliance upon each other is a mutual factor that keeps them as close as they are. “I know that I don’t need to go line for line on our budget because that’s what Jesse is going to do, and he knows he can trust me to edit a video or something. Even though there’s a certain ascendancy to the band we’re still doing a lot of the important stuff ourselves, whether creatively or behind the scenes.”
“When we started we were in the last wave of bands before the industry went ‘what the fuck is going on?!’. Like people still bought CDs!” Sebastien continues, “that was still a format that wasn’t just vintage and cool, which is strange because when we were teenagers tapes were an absolute joke, but that’s how the industry operated. They just kept reinventing to make it sell the same things to you again and again.” Jesse marks this point by remembering the band didn’t have a MySpace until they’d broken up and they used paper maps on tour (“that should really hammer it home for everybody”). Perhaps unsurprisingly, he finishes through laughter, “I don’t know where things are going to go but apparently no matter how much things are changing we keep doing the same shit!”
While they joke and laugh throughout, it’s clear that the pair are older and wiser. Sebastien nods toward this with a reflection, “We’ve realised increasingly that we’re in a very special position because this is what we do. We don’t need to go into a job for eight to ten hours a day, and so the way we spend our time is pursuing our interests – sometimes philosophies, sometimes politics.”
He also comments upon the immediacy of the modern world – a strong contributor to ‘Outrage! Is Now’. It’s a factor that comes across in every Death From Above track. “The economy is of attention now. Everything on your phone is designed to get your attention; it wants you to spend as much time in that world as possible. Twitter, Facebook, all those things. The way the refresh works like a slot machine – you pull it down, and it twirls, you wait and then ping! Three new messages. It’s the same psychology.”
Death From Above know they’re from a different time. They’ve created their own legacy that managed to bridge the gap between their debut full-length and the follow-up a decade later. Who knows what the future for Death From Above holds, but right now they’re unique, they’re unstoppable, and most of all – as Sebastien laughingly notes – they’re “happy over here in our fiefdom!”
Taken from the September issue of Upset. Order a copy below. Death From Above’s new album ‘Outrage! Is Now’ is out 8th September.
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