Skin Game: DIIV's Cathartic Redemption
For a while there DIIV looked lost to us.
Frontman Zachary Cole Smith's issues with addiction and mental health at times over-powered him, with the touring period following second album 'Is The Is Are' marked by cancelled shows and his eerie pallor.
Seeking specialist help, his battle was followed by wider changes within the band, both in their base and personnel.
Devin Ruben Perez departed, with DIIV moving from the Brooklyn area so potent in their rise to a new hub in Los Angeles.
New album 'Deceiver' is out now on Captured Tracks, and it's a bold, dark, and undoubtedly heavy return, but it's also one shot through with light, and an intense sense of purpose.
Moving beyond the dream pop halo that surrounded effervescent debut album 'Oshin' it's a record that found DIIV digging further than ever before, creating music that challenged them in every sense.
Cole Smith and Colin Caulfield spoke to Clash for our new print issue - here's a preview of that piece.
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Where does the heaviness on 'Deceiver' come from? Has that aspect always – perhaps deep down – been there?
Colin: A lot of us grew up on heavier music. But I think it just fit the direction that we wanted to go with it. There’s all these descriptions of catharsis – and all that stuff – that we were talking about it in order to make it really feel that way. There’s all these textures that we could get away with, that we weren’t making use of. I felt like we were limiting the band a little. Just increase the dynamics of the general thing.
Sometimes… especially the first record, it’s just a flat experience, like a mood-thing, but we wanted to make a song based record, a lyric based record. Vocals. Whatever. And that was all part of it.
You can’t avoid using words like ‘cathartic’ with this record. Was that sense of catharsis a conscious aim?
Cole: A little bit. It’s more like: this is what we do. A lot of the cathartic part had already happened. It wasn’t like we were all going through it together, purging ourselves into this record… it was more like, finding a musical language to fit the stuff that we were describing that had already happened.
The way you use space on this record is markedly different. Was that again about those live performances, or does that link to the lyrical subject matter?
Colin: I think those are both true. Or perhaps not so much live – as playing slow is not our instinct live. It’s not what we really did as a band. We sped everything up. So we had to learn how to do that. It’s something we wanted to do – perhaps as we get older we want a more patient experience. There’s stuff that wouldn’t fit if it was all this stuff getting talked about at a really fast tempo.
There’s definitely a meditative nature. Where the songs have these journeys, and these breaks. A lot of dynamic stuff that we learned from listening to music, and from watching Deafheaven when we toured with them. Most of their songs are between six and 10 or 15 minutes.
How do you keep somebody interested for that long? I think the answer to that is having a lot of ideas, and a lot of ups and downs in dynamics and a journey or story arc within the song itself, musically.
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The longest track on this record is seven minutes.
Colin: Close to eight! We spent a lot of time cutting it down. We spent a good amount of time on the record just deleting stuff, shortening stuff. That song is fun to play, we don’t want to stop! Just kidding…
The record is meditative, but it’s also quite confrontational. There’s a contradiction there.
Cole: I think while this might sound cheesy it feels like a depiction of our lives in a general sense. Our meditative qualities, slow moments in our lives. There are hectic, chaotic moments. I think we were really drawn to huge extremes. There are moments when it feels soft and pensive, but then there are moments when it feels really intense. It feels true to the way we’ve experienced things.
It’s a terrific fusion of dark and light. Is it an LA record, in that sense?
Cole: I mean, definitely not the things you would think about as an LA record. People think of that as being sunny… even Elliott Smith’s LA record has a little bit of what you think of as an LA record.
It gave us more time and space, and not the struggle of New York and the constant… hustle of living in New York. But yeah, I think more the thing that affected us than the immediate surroundings was our community of friends, the people around us that we met out there. So I guess, in a way, it is.
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How do you find the balance through all that? There must be a tendency towards endless introversion.
Colin: Every musician at a certain point needs their music taken away. Nothing is ever done. Even when we were printing the final mixes it was like, no, one more!
The deadline really helped. In terms of what each song’s function was, that came from listening to the song, and listening to songs we love. Listening to songs we love, and really breaking down what’s actually happening here. 'Why does this work?' And having a lot of discussions about music. It was exciting because I don’t think a lot of us really listened to music like that before. Or at least discussed it at length.
Do you think you have achieved that sense of catharsis?
Colin: Yeah, for sure. We’re really proud of the record. All the things we had talked about wanting to do, in my opinion I feel like we did. A lot of what we wanted to convey is pretty plain without even having to explain it, which is something which we’ve never been able to do. There would always have to be some kind of context to what we happening. But I feel like it’s pretty understandable.
Cole: I feel like the absolute core tenet of what we were doing is honesty. To be true to ourselves and real with each other. Being honest and dealing with the importance of honesty in my own life. Thematically it’s a part of the record, but it’s the only we could have made it in the first place.
Has this experience reconfigured DIIV, do you think?
Cole: We would do it again tomorrow. And it has been very fulfilling. I don’t think any of us have ever worked this hard on anything in our lives. And there’s something really special about that feeling – of making something and being very proud of it. I don’t think we’ve ever felt like that about anything we’ve ever made.
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'Deceiver' is out now.
Catch DIIV at the following shows:
20 Bristol SWX Bristol
21 Leeds University Stylus
22 Liverpool The Invisible Wind Factory
23 Glasgow Queen Margaret Union
24 Newcastle Upon Tyne Riverside
26 Manchester Academy 2
27 London The O2 Forum Kentish Town
28 Birmingham The Crossing
29 Brighton Chalk (formerly The Haunt)
Photo Credit: Coley Brown
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