Death From Above talk hmv.com through the making of their new album Outrage! Is Now
For a long time, it looked like all we’d get out of Canadian punk duo Death From Above was one searing album and a series of riotous live shows.
Formed in 2001, they released their debut album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, a riotous collision of disco drums, punk rock fire and raw power, and set off on a long, exhausting tour. Sadly that tour ultimately sent the band into a death spiral and at the end of it they disbanded.
Five years went by, both members, drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger and bassist Jesse Keeler, pursued other projects. Keeler had a lot of success as part of MSTRKRFT while Grainger worked with his solo band The Mountains, they both dismissed the chance of a reunion in interviews, but fans and promoters kept asking, so much so that in 2011 they finally said yes and reunited.
Now six years on that reunion has held firm and today they release Outrage! Is Now, their third full-length effort and their second since the reunion. We sat down with the pair to discuss the process, the album’s playful title and the impact their fans’ tattoos had on them...
When did you start putting songs together for this record?
Sebastien (Grainger, drums/vocals): “About a year ago I guess. We’re always writing. As soon as we were done with The Physical World we were bouncing ideas around and talking about what we want to do next. It’s never very formal, you come up with things and store them away. Then once you are committed to the record you bring all that stuff out. We’re always texting ideas to each other, that’s how we build material.”
You live in different cities now, does that mean you have to book in working time?
Sebastien: “I came back to Canada for a few months to work. Jesse has a farm outside of Toronto and we bunked down there for a while and worked on ideas. We experimented a lot and figured things out. I don’t think we knew we were making a record, but it quickly became that way.”
The last album was the end product of your successful reunion tour, did you always know that you wanted to keep going? Or did this album happen more organically?
Sebastien: “I think we knew. When we got back together in 2011, we didn’t have any expectations, we just wanted to start playing again. Then once we got going and got in a groove, we made The Physical World, then it felt like we were a band again and bands tour and they make records.”
Jesse (Keeler, bass): “We knew we’d do this one while we were making The Physical World. We had a big mess of ideas from that time, so lots to mine. We made that record under pretty unique circumstances, it’s a record made after you’ve spent the last half decade having people come up to you and tell you how important that record is to you. Having people come up to you and show you your band’s logo tattooed on their body, while your band is broken up and then you become a band again, you don’t want to fill those people with regret.”
“So that’s not the time when you go from Diamond Dogs to Young Americans. That record was for the fans. I can’t pretend that all that time being told how important the band was didn’t affect me, it did. You’d have to have a hole in your soul for that not to affect you. You never get used to that. And it’s a weird lead-up to a record. The band didn’t feel like ours, it felt like it belonged to a lot of people. This is our band again now. You can join in or not.”
Sebastien: “We also had to get used to being a big band. When we finished we were still in pretty small places and when we came back it was all a lot bigger. We had to get used to that space. Now we’re more familiar with that space. We trusted a lot of outsiders to try and help us deal with the situation. Now we know the room a bit better, we know how to operate.”
You did the record with Eric Valentine, who's probably best known for working with Queens Of The Stone Age…
Jesse: “No, no, let’s be fair to him. Queens Of The Stone Age yes, and Smash Mouth, and Third Eye Blind, and Good Charlotte. The man has a lot of gold records on his walls.”
Sebastien: “We had a bunch of suggestions from various people and Eric was one of them. I didn’t know him, I went and checked out all his credits and it’s quite intimidating and quite eclectic. I can’t see myself next to Third Eye Blind, but next to Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf, yeah that’s more like it. For The Physical World, we tried to figure out how he got those drum sounds, I spent a lot of time reading blogs to try and get the sound. So we went and got him. We sat with him and discussed the process and he was excited about the band. He was a total joy to work and he’s made us sound incredible. I can’t believe it.”
You two are both accomplished musicians, what do you need from a producer? Geeing along? Or just technical know-how?
Jesse: “Someone in the room who we respect. Someone we could trust. We always need a third vote on things, and, more importantly, someone who can convince us of the value of something neither of us can see the value in. We’re both very creative, we have a lot of ideas and to have someone who can say ‘This is an idea for your band, this is an idea for something else’ is very, very helpful. I look at the record now and he saw so much in us that we didn’t see. He’d persuade us to try something, we wouldn’t want to do it, but we’d try and he’d win us round every single time. I can’t imagine working with anybody else now.”
What kind of album do you think it is lyrically? Does it have a theme?
Sebastien: “There probably is. I’m probably too close to it to know what it is. I was very careful this time, I wanted this record to be very accurate and clear and to be stripped of specifics. I want to interpret it any way you like, even the personal songs, they’re left open for everyone’s imprint. I don’t like imposing ideas.”
When did you settle on Outrage! Is Now for the title?
Jesse: “As soon as that song was named.”
Sebastien: “We had a working title for the whole process. But as soon as we had that song, it became the title. I was worried, I know it’s provocative and charged with feeling, but it’s fitting.”
Jesse: “It’s so odd. We were concerned that outraged people would be outraged by us pointing out that they were outraged. The perpetually upset would be upset that we’d pointed out they were upset and now we’re upset, all over nothing.”
Sebastien: “Jesse has developed this quality over the years we’ve known each other, he can find humour and a very sophisticated perspective on terrible situations. It’s very handy and very fun.”
Finally, congratulations, you’ve got your name back for this album too…
Jesse: “About two years ago, we stopped using 1979 on the tour posters and no one noticed, so we’ve gone with it. That 1979 was always a means to an end, it was inconvenient, our band is called Death From Above, it always has been.”
Sebastien: “When I look back at it, we basically let our lawyer name our band, which is the s***test thing to do. James Murphy didn’t care. He told us he was glad we were using the name.”
Jesse: “I’m mostly glad because we had perfect symmetry. Five letters, four letters, five letters. Then we had to bolt on those numbers and it didn’t sit well at all. I’m happy we can go back to that, it just looks right.”