Volume 74, Number 44 | March 09 - 15, 2005

Music


“Death From Above 1979”
The Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St., New York, NY 10002
March 10, 8:00 p.m.
212-533-2111

Living up to their name

Canadian punk band admits they’re “machines”

By Aileen Torres

Sebastien Grainger, (left) and Jesse Keeler of Death From Above, 1979 performing Thursday at the Bowery Ballroom.
“Death From Above 1979,” a two-piece drum-and-bass post-punk band from Toronto, will play at the Bowery Ballroom on Thurs., Mar. 10. They have just released their debut full-length album, “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.”

Sebastien Grainger, 25, and Jesse F. Keeler, 28, formed the band four years ago naming themselves “Death From Above” adopting the motto of U.S. paratroopers. Keeler stumbled upon it on a tee shirt at an Army surplus store and that was it for him. Grainger took more convincing. He thought it was too tough-sounding. (1979, the year of Grainger’s birth was added to avoid copyright conficts.)

It turns out to be a fitting name, considering the band’s music is a sonic onslaught of speedy bass riffs, courtesy of Keeler, and pounding drums, Grainger’s terrain. The occasional synthesizer is thrown in when Keeler deems it necessary. The duo divide their songwriting duties, with Grainger writing lyrics (he also does the vocals) and Keeler contributing the bass lines. They play loud, fast and hard—very punk rock in sound and attitude, but the dance grooves underlying the music are undeniable.

Keeler has done time as a house/hip-hop DJ, and Grainger himself is enamored with dance music. House and hip-hop are based primarily on bass and drums, and Keeler and Grainger took a cue from these genres and decided to limit the band’s instrumentation to their two basics. “The idea was designed as a challenge: To set boundaries, and be creative [as much as possible] inside those boundaries,” said Grainger.

“When we started the band, we wanted to be a rock band like Deep Purple. But we wanted to be like Joy Division in the sense that the bass would be driving the melody—but I don’t think we sound anything like Joy Division.”

Grainger and Keeler met initially through a mutual friend in their hometown, Toronto. They ended up frequenting the same bars and playing in the same venues with their separate bands. “We were friends before we were in a band,” said Grainger.

In 2000, the two became part of Femme Fatale, a seven-member outfit that was “more faster, hard core and way more violent [lyrically]. The lyrics were so rap,” said Grainger, whose own lyrics for Death From Above 1979 tend towards the romantic.

In 2001, Keeler, a former stockbroker and son of the guitarist from an early incarnation of the classic rock band Steppenwolf, bought a house with the profits he had made from his investments. He and Grainger then renovated the building, which had previously been a funeral parlor. From that point, the formation of Death From Above was organic: “The band formed out of living in the same house together,” explains Grainger.

Keeler continues to reside in that house, while Grainger moved out two years ago to live with his girlfriend, with whom he has since parted ways. Why? “She was a woman. I’m a machine,” said Grainger, his words echoing the title of the band’s latest album.

The name of the record “has to do with Jesse, myself and the engineer of the record being so focused on work that we became oblivious to the lives of those around us. They became casualties of our band.” The realization of this process was a sad moment, Grainger admits, but things worked out for the best, he believes. Music is music, and work is work. And if making music happens to be one’s work, then it makes sense for this passion to override all else, he said.

The band has released two EPs prior to their full-length debut, and they have stayed true to their original intention of exploring the confines of drum-and-bass—and a bit of synth—instrumentation as creatively as they can.

“What we’re doing now is closer to what we’ve been wanting to do all along,” said Grainger. “We still haven’t achieved what we set up to do. Every record so far has been a snap shot of our learning process. Not only of writing songs but also how to record our band. There’s no protocol for recording bass and drums. It’s still a learning experience.”

And no matter what convention dictates, they’re not about to cave and allow guitars to infiltrate their sound. The drum-and-bass set up is “still challenging us and invigorates us,” said Grainger. “There’s no point in stopping now.”

Death From Above 1979 will kick off a 10-week North American tour on Mar. 10. They will return to the studio soon after to work on their next album.”

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