Music Interview: Death to Snobby

By Garth Paulson

Deciding to play sexy dance-rock tunes in a two piece band might not be the best way to ensure people take you seriously. The possibilities of being described as the White Stripes on crack only increase when insisting on only using bass, drums and the occasional synthesizer. In a two piece band, not only must you face the challenge of trying to make do with two people when most have four or five, you also deal with being written off as a novelty act.

“What is more important is the output, not what vessel it’s coming out of,” explains Jesse Keeler bassist and synth player from Canadian noisemakers Death From Above 1979. “If people want to dwell on the fact that we’re a two piece, that’s fine. I don’t want to be good for a two piece I want to be good.”

Judging by the reaction to DFA 1979’s debut album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, Keeler got his wish. The vicious aural assault of Machine has left fans and critics alike breathless and sputtering for new ways to heap praise upon the band. In addition to their strong recorded material DFA 1979 has developed quite a reputation throughout the world as one of the most energetic, chaotic and downright violent live acts indie rock has to offer.

“I guess it’s just like being in the circus, how the performers keep doing those flips everyday,” says Keeler. “If it is what you do it’s not forced or difficult to replicate. Although, I think playing live is such a weird thing. If you’re a painter and made a painting everyone liked that’s great. But people don’t say they want you to go out everyday to different places and recreate it for an audience. We make our records over the course of months spending like 15 hours a day in the studio and then to go out and have to try to replicate that? Very early on we decided that was not something our band wanted to do or was even going to attempt. When you come and see a live show it’s like one band and the recording project is another. The live show is how we would like you to see our band. The record is how we would like you to hear us.”

This apprehension for touring certainly hasn’t stopped the band from doing a lot of it. Currently on the North American leg of a world wide tour (which has taken them to the UK, Japan and on Late Night with Conan O’Brien), DFA 1979 constantly expose their bizarre brand of rock’ n’roll to new and often unexpecting audiences. Though many are instantly converted by their raw power and sexy beats, some remain baffled by a two-piece band with a singing drummer and a noticeable lack of guitars.

“That’s because they don’t know enough music history to know. What they should be concerned about is the piano,” Keeler remarks. “Keyboards are way more important to music than guitars are. I find it funny how people always dwell on guitars when to me they’re more of a supplemental instrument. They aren’t the centre of the music. The core of music is not guitars, maybe it is in the white world rooted in folk and country, but for everybody else they’re not a big deal.”

The absence of guitars may turn off a few and give some critics an added impetus to slap the novelty tag on the band, but Keeler remains unconcerned. Central to the band is an ideology of artistic integrity and self-fulfilment. It doesn’t matter if certain people can’t wrap their heads around the music Death From Above 1979 make, the band feel they’re on the right track.

“I want to make music that alienates people to some extent,” Keeler admits.” I want people to love or hate our band and not be able to have a halfway opinion about what we’re doing. I feel like that’s something everyone should be striving towards. You wouldn’t want to date a girl who thought you were alright, so why would you want to make music people think is okay? I’d rather them love it or be offended.”