"I Had a Fear That We Were Going to be Too Late" - Death From Above 1979 on Their Decade Long Hiatus
We meet the band at a plush hotel in London to talk about their new record.
I met Death From Above 1979 in a suburban kitchen in West Norwood, South London. It was 2004 and a 15-year-old fan had won a contest to have the band play in their family home and I was covering it for NME. “Children have a smell,” pipes up Sebastien Grainger of his memories from that afternoon, a decade later in the somewhat more professional surroundings of London’s ACE Hotel. “Like jam and excrement”. Jesse Keeler nods in agreement: “You can kind of smell their puberty happening”.
The duo were like nothing else around at the time – and not just because they were right in front of me loading their gear into a three bed semi with neatly trimmed privet hedge in the front garden. In a sea of eyeliner indie and tight-trousered ladrock which saw The Libertines, Kaiser Chiefs, The Killers and Kings Of Leon inspire a generation of wanky Camden barmen with feathercuts, Death From Above provided a fierce alternative; straddling indie, metal and hardcore, supporting Anthrax one week and Yeah Yeah Yeahs the next. They made me want to wear more leather, get into more circle pits and take a sledgehammer to Brandon Flowers' balls. They were that fucking good.
After the kid’s parents served the band milky tea and Rich Tea biscuits, the duo launched into a brutal living room set: a bizarre pastiche of the house shows they’d played in Toronto as part of the Canadian punk scene. As well as tracks from their recently released debut You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, they chucked in a cover of Danzig’s "Mother", which saw their dozen strong pubescent fanbase gleefully flinging themselves off the sofa and onto a crash-matt made of floral cushions. “We used to do that when we thought we didn’t have enough music,” says Jesse of their bonecrunching take on the 1988 metal classic. “Now we have too many songs!” says Sebastien.
This is something of an overestimation. The duo – Sebastien on snarling vox and clattering drums, Jesse on ferocious bass - released their first album in 2004, split in 2006, came back for a tentative run of live shows in 2011, and then fucked off again. It's only now, ten years later, that they're finally ready to release new material - with their second album The Physical World out September 8.
Even so, we should be thankful that there’s a second album at all. It’s hard to draw out the precise reason for the pair’s split – the closest we get today is a cursory “we didn’t like each other for a long time” from Sebastien – but it was he who broke the five-year silence. “It would never be me!” says the rather more laid-back Jesse with a boyish cackle, ordering himself a croissant and beaming when offered jam and butter on the side. “I was looking at my own career, going ‘what do I want to do next?’,” explains Sebastian while tucking into what Jesse has branded a “cop’s breakfast” - coffee and a doughnut - a thickly inked 1979 tattoo visible on his arm.
“I had these solo songs and they were synth-y sounding, poppy music and then I started writing rock songs and I thought, ‘fuck, rock music is fun!’” Sebastian, who had previously released solo music with his band The Mountains, decided to head fully towards the rock and roll side of his songwriting. “I looked through my wallet and found a coupon - ‘one free rock band – Death From Above’. There was no expiration date on it. I was like fuck, I got this coupon, I already have a rock band, I think it’s still good!” Buoyed by the realisation that making a bollock-shredding punk album was totally possible, he started planning everything. Well, almost everything. “I was going through the process – then I was like, ‘who’ve I got to talk to? Fuck, the guy in the band!’” Remembering the crucial part of the puzzle, he emailed Jesse, who wrote back the next day, saying he was willing to give it a shot.
- Death From Above 1979