Torontonian drums and bass duo Death From Above are feeling great. They’re feeling great because, for the first time in their unusual career, they’ve released a nominally ‘normal’ record that isn’t either a debut or long-awaited comeback album. ‘Outrage! Is Now’ comes just three years after its predecessor ‘The Physical World’, a far shorter gap than the ten years between that record and their seminal first full-length ‘You’re A Woman I’m A Machine’.
“We tried to do it even faster!” swears bassist Jesse F. Keeler, festooned with reams of tattoos and his enviable signature beard as always. “We tried to make this record ourselves for six months and… didn’t”, explains drummer/vocalist Sebastian Grainger, whose ever-changing image seems to have paused at peroxide blonde moptop with a neat moustache for today.
“I don’t wanna say we failed at it, we had a lot of creative moments. But later we took those songs and brought them to Eric (Valentine, producer of two heavyweight acts that effectively form the Venn diagram DFA exist in the centre of: Queens Of The Stone Age and Smash Mouth).”
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We tried to make this record ourselves for six months...
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On ‘Outrage!’ Valentine helps the band capture some of the meatiest drums of the decade using an approach inspired by the most unlikely of sources: themselves. “We were at Jesse’s house doing the vinyl test for ‘The Physical World and were’ like ‘Oh yeah, that sounds pretty good’,” Seb recalls, “Then we put on ‘You’re a Woman I’m A Machine’ and were like ‘Err, that’s good I guess?’ And then we put on our first EP ‘Heads Up!’, which we made that in our friend’s parents’ basement for thirty dollars, and it sounded like a billion bucks! The drums for that were recorded in a tiny room, so that’s what we did on this record”.
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Musically the record sees the band shrugging off a lot of the unspoken rules they used to work around (which Seb says came from “a mixture of the records we listened to and the kind of scenes that we played in”), even granting themselves full solos. This license to allow each instrument space to show off was inspired by listening to Queen, on whose records things, in Jesse’s words, “really take their turn. You’ll never have Brian May doing some massive riff and Freddie Mercury singing and piano at the same time. We wanted to try and have songs where it would be this, then this, then this - each movement having its place.”
As its title suggests, ‘Outrage! Is Now’ finds the pair increasingly exasperated by society’s heightened addiction to moral disgust, especially online. “When everyone is outraged in equal measure to everything, it reduces the emotion to basically nothing,” Seb explains, “I do think that outrage is a fashion right now, like a cool jacket that people wear.”
“Someone gave us a bag of coffee beans with the word ‘Resist’ on it the other day,” Jesse adds, “It’s a fucking bag of coffee guys, holy shit! This commodification stems from the social capital you get from joining in online. You can feel like ‘I read three paragraphs of half an article about something, this is the fucking end of the world!’ because all the rest of your friends think it’s the end of the world, and there’s a personal value and benefit you get from being outraged as well. If everyone is upset and you’re not, then what’s wrong with you?”
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In eight or nine years maybe these records won’t resonate, but who cares?
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The band’s willingness to write about the effect of technology in our daily lives puts them at odds with many other modern rock acts, who often prefer to keep their lyrics divorced from the time they happen to be writing in. “(Avoiding writing about) contemporary life in order to appear timeless is kind of an arrogant thing to do,” Seb snorts, “I don’t think anyone should assume that their music is going to last that long! Also a record is a record of time. In eight or nine years maybe these records won’t resonate, but who cares? You can listen to stuff from the 60s and 70s and there are references you don’t even have a context for, you just like the way it sounds.”
“’Strange Fruit’ by Billie Holliday,” Jesse chips in, “That’s a song about the times! In a sense it’s one of the best documents of that time, when I think about that time I think about that song. I think that would be a pretty big waste of the platform if you were to just avoid it entirely. Imagine if someone said ‘Billie Holliday, don’t you know that one day this is all going to be over?’”
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‘Outrage! Is Now’ is out now. Catch Death From Above (alongside At The Drive In, no less) at the following shows:
9 London Brixton Academy
10 Newcastle O2 Academy
12 Birmingham UK Academy 2
13 Manchester O2 Apollo
15 Glasgow O2 Academy
For tickets to the latest Death From Above shows click HERE.
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