Death From Above 1979 is Sebastien Grainger (vocals/drums) and Jesse F. Keeler (bass/synths). They are from Toronto. There have been two-piece bands before, but that none have managed to make such as a big sound as Death from Above 1979. It has been said the DFA 1979 met in prison. Apparently when they got back on the outside they saw a world without guitars. Their music is loud and uncompromising.
They have been one of the most interesting international bands. Death from Above 1979 recently completed a visit to the UK that included three headlining shows in one night, and gig in a 15-year-old fan's living room. After two EPs, Death from Above 1979 recorded their debut album "You're a Woman, I'm a Machine" for VICE Records. Look for their first video "Romantic Rights." They have been touring nonstop this year and should be back in America in Summer 2005.
AL: How long have you been playing together?
Sebastien: We started this band in about 2001. We have both been playing in bands since we were kids. We were playing in a band together called Femme Fatale before we started this band. It was a more traditional format with drums and keyboards and bass and guitars.
AL: When did things become stripped down?
Sebastien: That was in 2001. We started writing the first songs then. We were playing around with the idea of a two-man band. It was more economical to tour as a two-man band. It was logistically difficult to bring five people on the road. One tour we were supposed to do as Femme Fatale we did as Death From Above because it was cheaper. We were able to get some free flights with one of our parents' points. We could only get two flights at a time. It was easy for us to go to different places. That is why we became focused just on this band.
AL: What was the initial reaction to the first shows?
Sebastien: I don't know. I don't really remember. Nobody knew who we were. Nobody knew our songs. Many of those early shows we played to very few people. That still happens. We played to less than ten people last year in New Jersey. They were mostly our friends. The first shows we did were poorly attended so there was no craziness. It was just a show at some kid's living room or some weird hall.
AL: Was the original interest in your band from other bands? Maybe they thought you would be a good band to open up for them?
Sebastien: Yeah. We headlined a bunch of small shows at the beginning. That was weird. We wanted to make a living playing music so we got a booking agent. He would get us on opening slots for bigger bands in our hometown. It was consistent. It was different bands with different audiences. We could play four times a month. We didn't burn out playing once a week in the same city because we were playing in front of different crowds. It is a result of us not sounding like many other bands out there right now. We are able to play with Anthrax and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the same week.
AL: You like that sort of diversity?
Sebastien: Definitely. That is something to be achieved in music and in your audience. You don't want one sort of person or one demographic to like your music, or you will drown very quickly.
AL: Who writes the songs in your band?
Sebastien: It's collaboration. Generally there is a discussion. We talk about songs and ideas about how we want a song to turn. We talk about how we want it to sound. Jesse will write a riff on the bass. We will get together and play it together. If this were two years ago we would have written a song in rehearsal. We haven't had any time to do that since. We tend to write songs in the studio. We write the music together. Then I will write the lyrics and the melody afterwards.
AL: Are all your songs about sex?
Sebastien: You are not paying attention. "Sexy Results" and "Pull Out" are about sex. "Going Steady" is about a family. "Romantic Rights" is about relationships and also about nothing. Only two songs are about sex.
AL: When you write lyrics are you just choosing words for their sounds or are you writing about your personal life?
Sebastien: I don't over-complicate lyrics. I try to write about simple ideas. I try to sing words that I won't regret singing a year down the line. I write for myself. Usually the melody comes first and the words become a vehicle for the melody. I will have a general idea what I want the words to be, so I will go back to things that I have written in the past. I go back to good ideas I have had for lyrics and sculpt those words into the cadences that I have set up with the melody.
AL: Is it difficult to drums and sing at the same time? Sometimes when you see a drummer singing the beats are not so complex.
Sebastien: It's just a matter of practice. It's all I know right now because we do it every day. I don't think about it anymore. I don't about being just a singer or just a drummer. I am so involved in it that I don't think about it any more. People ask us "Why we don't have any guitars?" I don't know. We just don't have any guitars. This is how we do it every day.
AL: When I first heard the album I didn't realize that it was only two guys and there were no guitars. It had this big sound.
Sebastien: That is a testament to the bass sound that Jesse created for himself. That may be an argument against using guitars in our band. His bass sound has such a tonal range. When I hear that bass sound I don't miss the guitars.
AL: I went to one of your shows recently and when you started the first song, there was a rush towards the stage and people were getting smashed. You had to stop the song and tell people to back up. Does that happen a lot?
Sebastien: That was an anomaly. Things are not usually that extreme. We stopped during the first song there because things were just too crazy. I am all for people having fun. But there are a few things that don't need to happen. People don't need to get hurt. People don't need to crowd surf. It's very selfish and shitty behavior.
AL: I think from the Los Angeles perspective: your record has been very popular since it has come out here. I think some people were excited to see you play.
Sebastien: I am not condemning what happened. I was trying to look out for the people right in the front of the stage. I think it is great that people are excited and I hope that they stay that excited. There was no security. There was no separation between the front of the stage and people's kneecaps. You need to pay attention to people around you. Some people at these shows are really young and don't know how to behave. I have been going to shows for years and at first I did some stupid things myself. It was not long after that I realized what was acceptable behavior. You can dance around and bump into people because that is going to happen. You have to be civil. I have seen people going around in an audience and punching people in the face. That is wrong. If people are offended that I stop a song, I don't want those people at our shows anyway. They can leave.
AL: How did you get involved with Vice Records?
Sebastien: They heard our first record a few years ago. They had been listening to us for a while. We had released the record in Canada already. When it came time to license the record in America, Vice Records were the best option for us. We had a lot of labels interested in us. But the philosophy and ethics of Vice Records was where our band was at the time.
AL: Some person that I know said your band was "Trendy and Emo." What do you think of that reaction?
Sebastien: That's fine. That's expected. People are going to react that way. I don't expect everyone to like us or to even know who we are. If you don't know who we are, and you have never heard our music, or have never seen our show, then it's easy to pass us off as a trend. And maybe we are a trend. As far as I am concerned, I am just playing music. I am going to play music regardless of show attendance or record sales. It doesn't bother me. If people stop coming to hear us, I build cabinets and drawers, and play guitar on the weekends.
AL: What is "Emo" exactly?
Sebastien: Emo is what happened to punk rock when it became personal and started talking about feelings. That is all it is. It's not a style of music. It's a similar idea. People try to attribute Emo to certain types of bands. Emo just means music that is about feelings instead of political ideas or social issues. It's not how a band sounds.
AL: It seemed to me like your band maybe had more to do with Heavy Metal music and dance music?
Sebastien: That's entirely possible. But what I was talking about was we have to do more with ideas than a style of music. I think we have more to do with Johnny Cash than Motorhead or any heavy metal band. I think we have more to do with Nina Simone than with any other rock band.
AL: So people who listen to Black Sabbath or Slayer are wrong to like your music?
Sebastien: Anyone can like our band. I don't want to alienate anybody. I think it's great. I didn't even listen to metal until six months ago. I didn't know what it was and I wasn't interested in it. Through playing in this band I have become interested in it. Not because I am trying to play metal, but because people were comparing us to those band