Death From Above 1979
The brash young Canadian duo may be the only rockers to
cite Puff Daddy as a role model
|Photos courtesy of Kyodo
This is the first time that Ive walked
into a room to do an interview and been accused of twisting
someones words even before pen has been put to paper.
But give Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastian Grainger a breakits
the end of a long day of interviews at their labels
offices in Omotesando, and the pair are weary and cynical.
Its also February, and the rock duo are riding a wave
of publicity in Japan following the release of their debut
album, Youre a Woman, Im a Machine. Theyve
just concluded a packed date at Club Quattro, and will be
back to a receptive Japan again in May as part of promoter
Bongo/Kyodos Canada Wet event.
Japan has been more on point, much faster, ventures
vocalist/drummer Grainger. Theyve already sold
Our video got played first here, even
before North America. This is the second-to-last territory
we signed to, but it turned out to be the second place we
Its hard to know if Japanese audiences are hipper, or
if theyve just been influenced indirectly by the UK
pop rag NME, which has been giving DFA 1979 the breathless
treatment these last few months. Grainger isnt sure,
but hes willing to guess. If the band that played
before us, DMBQ, is any indicator of what people here like,
then I can see why they like us. It was a very reckless, very
|Photos courtesy of Kyodo
DFA 1979 (1979 is the year Grainger was born)
are not only intense live and on record, where they dish out
exhilarating, shattering slabs of noise, theyre also
loud of opinion in person. In addition to slagging journalists
like this one, theyve got plenty of bile reserved for
the music industry and their peers in the rock world. But
more on that later.
Debuting in 2002, the duo brought a novel format to rock.
While the White Stripes-pioneered two-person approach has
spread like a virus, Grainger and Keeler were the first to
pare their band down to the bare-bones rhythm section of drum
and bass. Says Grainger: I forget what its like
to be in a regular band, because this has become regular for
us, and I think if I played in another band I would play with
the same ferocity. But the dynamic with this band is, since
theres only two of us, were desperate on stage.
If I drop a stick, its almost game over. If he breaks
a string, Jimmy Page is not going to come on stage and play
|Sebastian Grainger and
Jesse F. Keeler
Photos courtesy of Kyodo
DFA 1979 was birthed from Keelers previous
band, Femme Fatal, which had been active in the pairs
native Toronto, a city whose music scene they express ambivalence
Initially, Toronto acted like we didnt exist,
spits Keeler. It didnt matter that we were selling
records. The only music magazine in Canada didnt review
our first record even though our label sent them four copies.
But we were selling more records than other bands in Toronto,
and when our first record had been re-pressed five or six
times, then people had to start paying attention.
The other bands just played the city over and over,
but we always had an international mindset and took advantage
of the fact that theres only two of us and you can recoup
the money on plane tickets pretty fast. So wed be doing
tours that involved flying within the first 4-5 shows we did.
Now the Toronto scene embraces us because we have unintentionally
become spokesmen for the city.
While theyre basking in their newfound fame, Grainger
and Keeler are circumspect about how long their time in the
limelight will last. Were trying to create a situation
where we can be free to make the art we want to make, so we
also dont have to be on the cover of a magazine to make
a living, says Keeler.
So that when NME is sick of writing about us, which
is any day now, chips in Grainger, well
have a fan base, a foundation. Thats the point of touring,
so that people will love our band, so that we can do whatever
we want. DFA 1979, it seems, is not so much an end in
and of itself as a stepping-stone. If we were satisfied,
then wed stay home and collect royalties from licensing
deals, says Grainger. The only reason were
out doing this is so we can go back and make something new.
We want to do more things, says Keeler. Like
Puff Daddy, for instance. He was A&R, and then he started
his own record label, and then he signed artists, and then
he became an artist, and then hes a producer, and then
he has a clothing line and a TV show. You accomplish what
you can, and then you continue moving. Weve already
started producing, opening a recording studio, doing soundtracks
and music for different purposes: TV things and movie things.
Grainger again: Weve been able to license our
music to TV shows and commercials. I personally am using those
credentials as a foundation for what were doing when
were not doing Death From Above. And that, personally,
is what I want to be doing, making music for film and television.
We use this band as a tool for what we want to achieve in
Adds Keeler: A big difference between our band and a
lot of bands that we know is that we dont see [it] as
an end, but as the means to an end. We end up playing with
bands who are like, This is it, Im on tour, Im
drinking, meeting groupies, going round the world.
Well thats cool, but you can only do it so many times.
Weve been able to do more as a result of this, and were
trying to keep moving. It all sounds very ambitious and un-rocknroll.
We are musicians, but that encompasses so many possibilities.
DFA 1979 will return to Tokyo for the upcoming Canada Wet
event. Another omnibus concert produced by the new, youth-oriented
Bongo division at veteran promoter Kyodo, the show also features
Broken Social Scene (winners of a 2003 Juno award, Canadas
version of the Grammys) and the Dears and Stars.
Liquid Room Ebisu, May 14. See concert listings for details.
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