By Brian F. Johnson
The re-birth of Death From Above 1979 started almost as a bro-date.
The Toronto-based punk-metal, dance pop duo of Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler that had formed in 2001, famously broke up in 2006. During their time apart their 2004 album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine went from being well liked to being absolutely adored and the legacy and the lore of the group — which had played their entire last tour while keeping silent the fact that they wouldn’t continue as a band — grew to epic proportions.
When the tenth anniversary of You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine hit, an email by drummer/lyricist Sebastien Grainger to bassist Jesse Keeler gave way to a meeting at a small 24-hour old-school corner diner awash with stainless steel, where the two used to shake off hangovers together, and from there, step-by-step, Death From Above 1979 began to re-emerge.
“The first time we hung out we went to this diner that we used to go to after drinking in Toronto called the Vesta Lunch. We met up there and talked and basically just caught up a bit and that was about it,” Grainger said during a recent phone interview with The Marquee. “We were just doing it one step at a time, and we’re still doing it that way, but basically we wanted to book one show — that’s it. We weren’t like ‘Let’s fucking do this again!’ We thought we’d do this one thing and then it became a few more and then we thought well maybe we’ll do 10 shows in a year and as we were doing it, we started to enjoy it more.”
That enjoyment lead to more shows, including a 2011 appearance on Coachella’s main stage. Eventually, new material was written and in September of this year the band released The Physical World — their first LP since You’re A Woman. While the two had gone their separate ways for half of a decade — Keeler with his electronic duo MSTRKRFT and Grainger focusing on solo material — the release of The Physical World signifies to many the true return of the band, even if Grainger and Keeler are way beyond the newness of the reunion at this point. “It doesn’t even feel like we broke up,” Grainger said. “It doesn’t feel new to us now because we’ve been back at it for a few years.”
While The Physical World may be recently released, the album bridges the gap of their five years apart flawlessly, starting with a track that literally picks up where the band left off, and lays the ground work for where they are now. The song’s first track “Cheap Talk,” in fact, is based on a riff that Grainger wrote in 2006 and it serves as the segue between the first and second incarnation of the group. “I didn’t really remember the riff, specifically. We had that riff but when we didn’t make a new record, Jesse tried to fit it into other places and it never fit. He sent that to me in 2012 with a bunch of other demos and I didn’t even recognize it. But when we sat in a room and wrote a beat to it and did all of this stuff it came alive. That was the first song that we worked on and even though the lyrics and melody are completely different than what we wrote back in 2012 it still became the flagship song for the record. And it works as a transition because it harkens back to the old record in a way and that’s a good starting point,” Grainger said.
The rest of the new album takes that core foundation and builds massively on it, Grainger’s machine-gun beats and Keeler’s fuzzy-buzz saw bass melodies meld into a sexy mix of fury and fun. As NME put it: “It’s a dance record for punks and a punk record for dancers.”
Grainger said that part of the impetus to reach out to Keeler was the direction his solo work was beginning to take, and a realization that if he continued on that path, he’d be loosely re-creating some of Death From Above’s sound without Death From Above itself. “I was really not interested in making heavy music, and I made a guitar record for my first solo album. But at a certain point as I was songwriting I started writing heavier songs and it reminded me of Death From Above. And that’s what got me thinking, why would I do this when I’ve already done that and then the questions inevitably came up, ‘Is my old band still good?’ ‘Is this a valid pursuit?’”
The band, which toured Europe for most of October and will, this month, start their first major tour of the U.S. since they reunited, has certainly proven it’s validity, relevance and ability to still capture an entire audience with only two people and some relatively basic instrumentation, but Grainger said that Death From Above 1979 is still a challenge.
“It’s hard. It didn’t get any easier. The band is still a huge challenge for us, but it’s exciting. It’s physically demanding, it’s mentally and emotionally demanding, but somehow it’s still worth it,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for someone who is not in this position to relate to — that maybe it’s not fun sometimes. Of course, it’s fun. You’re in a rock band and it’s the best thing, but sometimes it’s not,” he said with a subdued chuckle. “What we realized about the difference between then and now is that the band is a third entity, separate from us. Before we had to respect and observe it and now it’s more like a child that we have to take care of, because we’re out there playing and we have to do it every night.”
| DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 |
| Fox Theatre | November 22 |
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