For those that don’t already know, DIIV is a Brooklyn-based band that’s been around for around a decade, making music that is equal parts ornery, brooding and psychedelic. The band was heralded on 2012’s Oshin and 2016’s Is The Is Are; in 2017 they took time away following the announcement that lead singer and founder Zachary Cole Smith entered long-haul inpatient treatment. After a three-year break, the group has recuperated and regrouped, releasing an album in Deceiver that simultaneously offers the listener a sense of comfort and discomfort. It’s an impressive batch of songs that showcases the yin and yang of DIIV’s sound, a loud/soft dynamic that at one moment finds them tiptoeing quietly through a meadow and another firing explosive cannons of sound. Three of the band’s current lineup, including Smith along with guitarist Andrew Bailey and bassist Colin Caulfield spoke with mxdwn about Deceiver and playing the new songs live, how they’ve reconvened following Smith’s health issues and a pontificate on the band’s unique name.
mxdwn: My first impression of Deceiver is that it feels like a genuine record, really natural and really organic. What was the impetus for making this type of record following the release of Is the Is Are?
Zachary Cole Smith: We took some time away from the band after a bad year and had to spend a lot of time together, kind of rebuilding our friendship and working on the band loosely. And then [we] just started talking a lot about music and kind of pretty organically just started writing the record together. So it kind of started with just the process and listening and talking about what we wanted to do and once we were on the same page, we just got started, but it really felt like a new beginning for the band.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: This was one of the first records where the band wrote music together as a group. What was the process around that like?
Colin Caulfield: I think yeah, we took a long break. When we came back, we were just real honest and open with each other on a personal level, that was really working and we were getting along really well. So it just makes sense that that kind of the same dynamic would lend itself to the writing process. So it was just like everyone could suggest an idea and it was just a question of which ideas were best for the song and best for the album. There wasn’t a lot of judgment or ego about who wrote what or whose idea was final or anything like that. It’s just a really open back-and-forth dialogue the whole time about what was working and what wasn’t working.
mxdwn: There are multiple songs that really stand out on the record — there are some that are brooding and heavy and some that are more pop-oriented and upbeat. Is it a conscious effort to have that yin and yang to your sound?
ZCS: Definitely. I think just kind of somatically it goes with a lot of the stuff on the record that for all the darkness and all the tough problems the record describes, there’s always some kind of solution built into that — with maybe one exception there. There is a kind of hope built into it because it was a very positive process for us to move past our history and have a fresh, healthy start together in working on this. That was the end result of a lot of work on all our parts just to be able to do that at all.
CC: One of the most conscious things is we wanted the sound to be super dynamic and have these huge swings of loud to quiet and different types of emotion and then because of that, we approached all the songs that same way. So we’d have a really heavy song like ‘Acheron,’ but it’s also important to have a lighter one so that the album as a whole had a similar dynamic range.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: The song ‘Taker’ is really beautiful. What is that song about?
CC: It’s about taking responsibility for your own character flaws and that song specifically is about lying and kind of owning up to that and changing your behavior so that it’s not something that you do in the future. Yeah, just kind of owning up, I guess.
mxdwn: The band worked with Sonny Diperri on Deceiver. What did Sonny bring to the table that he enhanced while working with you?
Andrew Bailey: He has a remarkable ability to…He knew the references to begin with, but his ability to just be like ‘Hey, we want a guitar that sounds like this, the Smashing Pumpkins song,’ and he can just dial it in in under a minute, and I’ve never met anybody that can do it so effortlessly. It was really just felt like we had every guitar tone imaginable at our fingertips.
ZCS: Sonny also had a really good way of being able to fit into our group dynamic and communicate with us because we spent so much time together working on these same songs. Sonny just jumped into the fire and was totally cool with just speaking his mind if there’s something that he had an opinion about and listening to us and working with us really well and just hanging out with us and having fun with us and laughing. He really did an amazing job of just being exactly what we needed for this particular record. I think he could kind of sense it from the beginning and just fit right in.
CC: It’s very difficult to think about what the record would sound like without Sonny. He’s super, super integral on a personal level, technical level, as a supporter of the band. We were learning a ton from him but it also felt like he was learning a lot from us. It just felt like this kind of dream dynamic between us as a band and then the producer. Yet, it’s hard to imagine what it would’ve been like without him. We asked him to join the band 50 times and he said he’s too busy.
mxdwn: How does it feel to play the newer songs in a live setting?
AB: For me, it’s always, whenever we’re playing a new song for the first time, I don’t know how to move my body, you know? I feel like I just come into little choreograph movements for every song and so the first time we play any song, that’s all I’m thinking about is ‘I wonder what my routine is going to be for this one?’
ZCS: I think a big part of this record, too, is really reinventing the way that we approach songs live because for so long we had a very specific way of interpreting songs live. They just were really fast and it was kind of more about creating a chaotic room full of people and high energy. I think that kind of approach, it doesn’t work for these songs. They’re much more slow and brooding or whatever like you said. So we’re really focusing on trying to make them true to the way they are on the record, which is something we’d never really done before.
mxdwn: The band will be playing the Desert Daze Festival. Does the live setting translate to a festival experience versus theater experience? Is it a different energy?
ZCS: Definitely. Festivals are interesting because I don’t…I’m not sure if I heard somebody say this or if I said it to someone. I think what’s true is that when you play a concert in a room, you’re bringing the audience into your world. You’re creating a world and you’re bringing them in. But when it’s a festival, you are kind of entering the audience’s world and it’s really hard to convey a lot of things that you kind of take for granted in your live show, that people have any idea who you are or that it’s going to be a dark room. We’re playing in the middle of the day at Desert Daze. I think there’s a lot of things going on tour you take for granted that at festivals you don’t have. So you have to just focus on making the music be the best you can and the other elements of the show aren’t really crutches that you have so much.
CC: I think the only thing that we really change is a setlist. There’s certain slower, more patient songs that we might not play at a festival, even though this time I think we’re planning on just playing the whole record at Desert Daze to debut it. But yeah, I mean you can’t change all that much because you don’t…We like what we do live and so we don’t want to augment it too much and lose something, but there’s definitely certain songs we might avoid playing because you want to hold people’s interest at a festival for as long as you can.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat
mxdwn: There is a three year period from Is The Is Are and Deceiver with the former landing on a bunch of top 10 lists that year. Did the band feel a lot of pressure when recording a follow-up?
ZCS: I don’t think that the last records are really so much in our minds. I mean, maybe you guys feel differently, but I feel like we had a lot of experiences in between those records, and we did a lot of growing up and changing, and I think a big part of what we wanted to do is kind of move away from the past of the band. So it wasn’t like we should make a record like this, but better. It was more just let’s just take stock of where we’re at right now and then just make a record without really thinking about too much other stuff and hopefully it’s good
mxdwn: Cole once said something like the band has outgrown the name DIIV and that the name of the band is really nothing. It’s a very interesting quote. Would you elaborate on what that means?
ZCS: I don’t know. I mean, I think about this sometimes with…I guess a good example I have for this, not to say anything about the band or whatever, but think about the two words Arcade Fire, you know? I feel it’s just out of context; it doesn’t really mean anything. But if I say Arcade Fire, you have a very vivid picture of what I’m talking about because the band has defined that sequence of words. I don’t know. I think the D-I-V-E thing was really into Nirvana or something, and I feel like, at a certain point, it was important to just try to move away from that whole phase. I don’t know. I don’t really remember what was going through my mind at that particular point but we had to change the band name back then [from Dive to DIIV] and I’m not upset about it.
mxdwn: Deceiver is out now. The band is going on tour all through the end of the year. Are there plans to tour or put out new music in 2020?
CC: I mean the plan from the get-go was to make a more live-sounding record partially because we really wanted to play a lot of live shows and that’s been the intention the whole time. So we’re hoping 2020 is mostly shows. But then also if we can carve out some time to work on new music, that’s definitely the plan, too, because we came up with this new approach and as a band, it felt like we were still learning a lot by the end of it. It still felt really fresh and because of that it feels like making a record, which would be pretty …not easy because it’s a lot of work, but I think it would be real fun to start sooner rather than later.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Owen Ela