— by Rodrigo Perez
Depending on what day of the week you're asking, Death From Above 1979 either met at a youth concert, in prison or at a gay club.
"We met on a pirate ship," said singer/drummer Sebastien Grainger with a mischievous grin. "I liked the sword in his hand, and he liked the knife in my mouth."
Take two elicits a slightly less exaggerated tale: "We met on the street in Toronto on a summer day," Grainger said. "[Bassist Jesse Keeler] was wearing nice pants and his hair was combed and for the longest time I didn't think that he would grow facial hair because he was clean-shaven."
Whatever the truth may be, clean-shaven the shaggy twosome are not. And perhaps their fabrications stem from the many misconceptions and preconceived notions about the Canadian noise-rock duo. Put it this way: Everything you assume about DFA '79 is wrong.
Superficially, it's easy to peg the Toronto pair as sleazebag rockers: They sport John Holmes porn-star mustaches, have greasy hair and look like dirtbags you wouldn't want to leave your daughters with. Their musical assault — a ferocious combination of groin-pumping sleaze and punishing metal aggression — doesn't do much to alter this impression.
But they're just lovable Canadian boys at heart — Keeler a former stockbroker, Grainger a children's-theater aficionado. "The thing that weirds people out is when they find out that my life goal is to be a family person," Keeler said. "To have kids and teach them how to play drums and bass and watch them run wild with an eight-track."
They might be on the hipster label Vice, but the hedonistic character of the label's accompanying magazine doesn't describe their lives, either. "[Drugs] turn me off immediately," Grainger said. "I think it's a social crutch and definitely a sign of weakness."
The duo didn't set out to rewrite any rules or to position themselves as the
balls-out version of the White Stripes. It just happened that way. "We were
the only two guys who were home, so we started a band," Grainger said.
"Being unemployed is good for music," Keeler added.
Christening themselves with a paratrooper motto, the guys soon found
themselves receiving grief from many different sources — including veterans
working at airports. " 'What's your band called?' " Keeler said, imitating a
irritable war hero. " 'Death From Above, eh? I used to do that. What do two skinny
guys know about jumping out of planes and killing people?' It's like, 'Umm,
not enough, sir.' "
But the larger hassle was the legal one.
Originally named simply Death From Above, the band was forced to change its
name when lawyers for the dance-rock producers the DFA sent a cease-and-desist
letter it couldn't afford to fight.
So Death From Above added the 1979 in disgust and anger. It's still not one of their favorite topics. "I'm not giving press to anybody," Keeler said bitterly. "I refuse to name people's names."
"It's better than Death From Above Metallica," joked Grainger. "But at first we were upset because we spent three years growing into the name, and then we were asked to get rid of it."
Undeterred, the group carried on with Grainger tattooing "1979" onto his arm in a middle-finger show of defiance. "I was born that year, and it's never going to be wrong," he said petulantly.
Sonically, the pair mix metal, punk and cockfight swagger (think Lightning Bolt meets a more feral Queens of the Stone Age). But there's also an element of dancefloor beats to the sound which might seem incongruous, but makes perfect sense to Grainger.
"ZZ Top are the [biggest] dance band — they're practically the Bee Gees," he said. "[They're] straight-ahead four-on-the-floor dance-rock music."
In fact, bands you'd think they'd love — say, Motörhead or Black
Flag — they've barely heard, while most of their influences come from
unexpected sources. "I love Queensbridge rap and French house music," said Keeler
without a trace of irony. "That's where it's at. My goal is to make one track
with either Nas or Mobb Deep, and then I can just retire."
Further misconceptions abound from the title of the group's debut, You're
a Woman, I'm a Machine, which is not, for the record, a degenerate sexual
metaphor. In fact, the title is self-deprecating and reveals how their
steadfast, almost robotic commitment to make music cost them their relationships.
"Music is our life," Grainger said. "We're always doing it, and we're just
like machines that have this one motion. The woman is human and we're inhuman."
Grainger notes that they're more sensitive than you'd imagine. "We had this
kind of men's therapy thing going on in the studio," he said. "We would have
these primal-scream [sessions] in the woods, talking about [our] feelings."
So how does this explain the almost-phallic album cover, which features the
duo with elephant trunks in place of noses? It's the perfect metaphor,
"We want the band to be like an elephant in your living room," Keeler said.
"If there was an elephant here right now, it would totally destroy, and
whatever we wanted to talk about would just wait until the elephant had left. And I
kind of wanted to be that band."
Being perceived as macho rockers, the band has received flak for befriending
one of its biggest fans, Kelly Osbourne. "She's a rad chick, she's fun to hang
around and she's just a really sweet person," Grainger said.
Whatever you might think about Death From Above 1979, it's clear the band
would rather you didn't feel the least ambivalent about its music. "For better or
for worse, I would rather be either really hated or really loved. I don't
want anybody to feel halfway about our band."
Death From Above 1979 North American tour dates, according to Vice Records:
- 3/25 - Los Angeles, CA @ Echo
- 3/26 - Long Beach, CA @ Koos
- 3/28 - San Francisco, CA @ Independent
- 3/30 - Portland, OR @ Berbati's Pan
- 3/31 - Seattle, WA @ Neumo's
- 4/1 - Vancouver, BC @ Red Room
- 4/2 - Vancouver, BC @ Mesa
- 4/3 - Nanaimo, BC @ Cavolotti Lodge
- 4/4 - Victoria, BC @ Sugar
- 4/6 - Edmonton, AB @ Starlite
- 4/7 - Calgary, AB @ Warehouse
- 4/8 - Saskatoon, SK @ Louis
- 4/9 - Regina, SK @ Riddell
- 4/10 - Winnipeg, MB @ West End Cultural Centre
- 4/12 - Minneapolis, MN @ Club 400
- 4/13 - Madison, WI @ Club 770
- 4/14 - Milwaukee, WI @ Mad Planet
- 4/15 - Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
- 4/16 - Detroit, MI @ Lager House
- 4/19 - Kingston, ON @ Elixer
- 4/20 - Hamilton, ON @ Underground
- 4/21 - Hamilton, ON @ Underground
- 4/22 - St. Catherine's, ON @ Red Square
- 4/23 - London, ON @ Call the Office
- 4/26 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
- 4/27 - Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
- 4/29 - Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church (early show)
- 4/29 - Philadelphia, PA @ Transit (late show)
- 4/30 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
- 5/1 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
- 5/2 - Boston, MA @ Middle East
- 5/3 - St. Johns, NB @ Tapps
- 5/4 - Moncton, NB @ Paramount
- 5/5 - Halifax, NS @ Attic
- 5/6 - Halifax, NS @ Pavillion
- 5/8 - Montreal, QC @ El Salon
- 5/9 - Ottawa, ON @ Babylon
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