"At the moment there isn't a lot of good new music out there": DiS meets Diiv
This time last year, Brooklyn four-piece Diiv were something of an unknown quantity outside of their New York homebase. Initially christened Dive as the solo project of occasional Beach Fossils guitarist Z. Cole Smith, it wasn't until last summer after recruiting Andrew Bailey (guitar), Devin Ruben Perez (bass) and Colby Hewitt (drums) that Diiv became a fully fledged band, changing the spelling of the band's name earlier this year out of respect for Dirk Ivens and the original Dive, a Belgian industrial band from the early 1990s.
Having put out two singles on Captured Tracks as Dive in 2011, the slight alteration to the band's name coincided with another single this year followed by a full-length album, Oshin in June. Having amassed a wealth of critical acclaim largely off the back of that record, Diiv found themselves recently asked by The Vaccines to support them on their long sold out UK tour.
It's before one of those shows - at Doncaster's spacious Dome venue - where DiS caught up with frontman and songwriter Cole. Here's how the conversation went...
DiS: You're currently touring with The Vaccines. How has it been so far?
Z. Cole Smith: We did a couple of headline shows before The Vaccines dates. They've all been really cool, if a little bizarre. We're normally used to playing super-small clubs so when we went out on to the Alexandra Palace stage in London we were like, "Wow!" You know, it's just completely different to anything we've experienced before.
DiS: What kind of reception have you been getting from The Vaccines fanbase?
Z. Cole Smith: It's been quite mixed. Some people have been screaming for us whereas others clearly only want to see The Vaccines and no one else. Some people are confused. I dunno. I tend to always read Twitter afterwards. Some people are on there saying our band were completely shit, others say we were amazing, which is nice if we pick up a few new fans along the way. Critics tend to be the ones who respond more quickly. They've already sat through two bands when all they really want to see is The Vaccines and now they've got to listen to us.
DiS: How did you end up being on tour with The Vaccines?
Z. Cole Smith: I think they're just fans of ours, which is really cool. They have really good tastes in music and they seem to have given a lot of cool young bands support slots at their shows. Recently I know they've had Savages play with them, who I think are a really cool new band. And then Fucked Up played with them the other night. Before that, our drummer Colby's (Hewitt) old band Smithwesterns supported them last year. I think they just enjoy playing with bands whose music they genuinely like.
DiS: Are you a fan of their music?
Z. Cole Smith: Honestly? I'd never heard of them before they offered us this tour and I haven't really listened to their records since but their live show is incredible. Justin (Young) is a complete rock star. All of them are in fact. I get on really well with Freddie (Cowan) too. They just project so much energy on stage. The songs work in that kind of environment so well, and the response they generate from their audience is pretty special too. People singing and cheering along to all of the songs. In a way it's kind of intense.
DiS: Your debut album Oshin came out earlier this year to almost universal critical acclaim, including an 8/10 review here on DrownedinSound. Were you expecting such a fantastic response when you released the record back in the summer?
Z. Cole Smith: No, not at all. I'm overwhelmed that people have been so supportive. It seems as if we're the kind of band that people want to like. There's nothing pretentious about us. I didn't expect the record to get as much attention as it has. I put it out on Captured Tracks and everything just went from there. I was just psyched to get a record deal.
DiS: Would it be fair to say that when you first started Diiv it was little more than just a side project?
Z. Cole Smith: No it wasn't meant to be a side project. I just wanted to make a record and then put it out. There wasn't any kind of masterplan or anything. I never thought we'd be going on an arena tour of the UK with The Vaccines. It was more a case of let's see what happens, and I guess we were kind of in the right place at the right time. I was managing a band and I knew a bunch of people and had connections to the label so it just seemed an ideal time to do it. I wrote the record over a couple of months. It just came pretty naturally from the start.
DiS: For what is essentially a new band you've amassed quite a wealth of recognition so far.
Z. Cole Smith: It's been great so far. I don't think I'd have it any other way. I'm not very patient so we kind of just came at it, you know, wanting things to move quickly. I've been in other bands and gone through the same thing before so for me to start over from scratch on my own was a pretty humbling experience. I was used to going out on tour and selling out shows in the UK or wherever because I'd been in bands before that were at a similar level for a number of years. The first band I ever played with we did a full two months touring the States playing to about four people every night. We'd sleep in the van every night and then the van broke down in the middle of the desert. Eventually the band broke up at the end of the tour, all moved to different parts of the country and never talked to each other again. That's not what I want for Diiv. I didn't want these guys to have to go through that. Andrew (Bailey, guitar), Colby and I had all been in bands that did really well so none of us have the patience to experience that. When you're in New York you're under a microscope so you can grow really fast. There's shows every night and a built-in crowd. Things can amplify really quickly so we grew ourselves in New York until we got to a certain point where touring became the next logical progression for the band.
DiS: Is there quite an inclusive underground music scene in New York? There seems to be a lot of excellent labels like Captured Tracks and Slumberland as well as numerous bands springing up all the time.
Z. Cole Smith: There's not really an inclusive scene as such. It's more like an incubator because there's such a built-i audience, and everybody comes through there so it gets a lot of attention. It's definitely not comparable to say, Seattle in 1989 where there's this hotbed of amazing new bands. Everybody goes to New York. There's not a scene that's conducive in any way. A lot of bands just come there and play shows together that don't make any sense. It's not like everybody sounds similar or anything like that. It's more a case of bands feeling they have to come to New York and play. And none of those bands are actually from New York.
DiS: Would you involve any of the other members of Diiv in the writing process in future?
Z. Cole Smith: I do want to involve the other guys more. I had already written most of that first record before the band even got together. It was a solitary writing process at the beginning. I don't know how I'm going to do it in the future.
DiS: Was it always your intention to release an album from the moment you put 'Sometime' out as your first single last year?
Z. Cole Smith: Yeah, although I didn't have an album's worth of songs at that point. I only had a few songs back then but I was pretty impatient. So I thought, "What can I do first? I know, put out a couple of seven-inches..." It was just a case of putting some songs out there, because people were already starting to get to know us. We'd been playing shows for a while. We were a live band first. I had these demos recorded and rather than go into the studio with the band and re-record those songs, I decided to put them out as they were instead. So basically those first two seven-inches are a collection of demos. I think that's where the idea came from that Diiv was just a bedroom project.
DiS: Although both 'Sometime' and 'Human' were re-recorded for the album?
Z. Cole Smith: Yeah the versions on Oshin are re-recordings, although the two b-sides I've since scrapped. I guess they were always meant to be recorded in a studio with the band but I didn't have the money at the time to do it.
DiS: Interestingly, your third single release 'Geist' didn't make it onto Oshin. What was the reasoning behind that? Are there any other songs which didn't make it onto the album?
Z. Cole Smith: I wanted 'Geist' to be its own thing. We recorded it in the studio at the same time as we recorded Oshin. I didn't want to put a cover version on the album (Kurt Cobain's 'Bambi Slaughter') so that ended up as the b-side. 'Geist' is quite a cool weirdo song. It doesn't really fit on the record. And there's literally dozens of songs that I had which didn't make the record as well. I wrote about seventy songs in total for Oshin, and even for the next record there's about thirty songs already written. They're in the same kind of demo form as the original versions of 'Sometime' and 'Human', but it's a similar kind of idea. I'm also hoping to release a special edition of Oshin that has 'Geist' and some of the early b-sides included as bonus tracks. I didn't want people to buy the album and have everything I'd released on there for the sake of it.
DiS: Will some of those older songs eventually be released or made available?
Z. Cole Smith: Maybe. Sometimes it happens where a part of an old song will wind up as a chorus or melody for a new one. Some of the songs on Oshin started off as two separate pieces that ended up being bound together. Sometimes I'll take one idea and try and write a song but then other times I might sit down with a guitar at the computer and try and mix things up a little bit. I won't attempt to contextualize it. I'll just sketch it down on a piece of paper and come back to it later, maybe merge it with or take some ideas from another song.
DiS: Are there any songs in the current live set that have yet to released?
Z. Cole Smith: No. We don't play any of the new stuff live because I figured the record only just came out and people won't want to hear songs they can't hear anywhere else. I'm still introducing people to Oshin so if we're up there playing all new material when the old songs haven't sunk in yet people are going to be like, "Wait, what the fuck is happening?" We're gonna finish this tour which has about another two weeks to run and then when we get home we have another week-and-a-half long tour. After that there'll be a break where I'm gonna go off and write the next record. When we come back as a band then we'll start thinking about playing new material because then it will be almost a year since the first record came out. Next March or sometime after that we'll come back and play over here with a completely new set.
DiS: There seems to be an aquatic theme running through parts of this record. The likes of 'Oshin (Subsume)', 'Druun' and 'Druun pt ii' for example. Was that your intention?
Z. Cole Smith: Yeah definitely. Starting from the name and the sound, you know, the sonic pallet I was working on which is kind of washy. And then when Devin (Ruben Perez, bass) drew attention to the fact we're all water signs of the zodiac it kind of reaffirmed that intention to make this first record an ocean record. So that's what it became and it's a uniting, thematic element.
DiS: There also seems to be quite a UK influence in the band's sound. I'm thinking along the lines of The Cure, The Chameleons and a lot of the C86 and Sarah Records artists of the late 1980s and early 1990s for example.
Z. Cole Smith: There is a lot of influence from the UK, but more so from the 1980s. We don't take much influence from new bands. At the moment there isn't a lot of good new music out there. I do like a lot of the C86, jangly shoegaze stuff from the UK. I love the texture of some of those early My Bloody Valentine records for example. But there's also influence from American punk and garage rock bands, German psychedelic bands, American psychedelic bands too. Then there's bits of electronic music in there as well. I guess the shoegaze influence is the most apparent one because it's just there in the structure and pace of the songs. Live there's a lot more punk rock energy, so I guess it's not all just exclusively about British music. I like so much music from all over the world, Flying Nun bands from New Zealand as well as those on Creation Records for example.
DiS: In hindsight, is there anything about Oshin you'd change given the opportunity?
Z. Cole Smith: Definitely. We just recorded it so quickly within four days then mixed it in five days, and I was putting a lot of pressure on our engineer at the time because I was producing it. I'd be like, "Put more compression on this," or whatever. I think looking back, I'd definitely have put the vocals more upfront because that's something listeners always seem to talk about. It was a deliberate move at the time for the vocals to be equal with everything else. I didn't want it to be just vocal music, but I do think the next record will focus more heavily on the vocals. It's going to be a lot more pop in places, and then way less in others, if that makes sense?
DiS: You've also recently been playing with Beach Fossils. Is it difficult combining the two?
Z. Cole Smith: I don't play in Beach Fossils any more. They're on tour now as well so it would have been impossible for me to continue with them and do this. I guess I'll always be considered as a member of the band simply because Dustin (Payseur) is one of my best friends. Creatively we have a lot in common and work well together. I never wrote any of the songs for Beach Fossils. I always wanted to do my own thing and write songs and I probably could have contributed more to Beach Fossils but then I would have been at the mercy of Dustin. It's his project so it would have meant me submitting ideas to him, and also I didn't want this to be just another Beach Fossils side project either. I mean, it's easy enough to compare us as it is. We both make guitar rock and listen to the same music. But then the new Beach Fossils record doesn't sound anything like Diiv's. Beach Fossils live show was a big influence on Diiv in that we take pretty songs and play them as fast and raucous in a punk rock way as possible. I think that's something I helped bring to Beach Fossils as well.
DiS: You've already mentioned about working on the new record. Is there a projected release date?
Z. Cole Smith: I don't really know when it will come out because there's this huge bureaucracy when it comes to releasing records. If you want to put an album out you have to find a time for the label to release it and then they need four months worth of press before they can put it out and then there's certain months when they won't allow you to release it. August for example is just a complete no-go. We're either gonna put it out around the same time as this record only next year, or maybe as late as next fall. I'm hoping to record it in February and March, and then there may be an EP beforehand depending on when I get it finished. If I still need time to finish it then I'll use the summer for that and put it out in the fall.
DiS: We've already mentioned that Oshin is one of DrownedinSound's favourite albums of 2012. What's yours?
Z. Cole Smith: Somebody asked me this yesterday and I didn't have an answer! I haven't really listened to any records this year. There's this band called Regal Degal from LA. They're super-small but they've just made a record I really love. The new Fiona Apple record is really good too. Actually, the Mac DeMarco record is probably my favourite album this year...
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists you think we should be checking out that perhaps aren't getting the recognition they deserve at this moment in time?
Z. Cole Smith: Regal Degal who I've already mentioned. Also Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and our friends Weekend too.
For more information on Diiv visit their page on the Captured Tracks website.