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Raising the DIIV Bar



    A good indie band from Brooklyn has become about as cliché as any of the music/city clichés, but that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. The latest case in point: Zachary Cole Smith’s DIIV.

    The Beach Fossils touring guitarist (who goes by Cole) has taken his bedroom recordings and turned them into quite an impressive debut for the Captured Tracks label. And Smith has recruited three friends, including former Smith Westerns drummer Colby Hewitt, to help him put the one-time solo project on the road.

    The impossibly catchy songs on the just-released Oshin aren’t exactly lo-fi. They sometimes feature indecipherable vocals and occasionally run over one another, but they never lose their infectious, dream-gazy vibe, remaining sonically engaging throughout the album’s 40-minute run time. It’s a potent and genuine combination that has caught the ears of many who have heard it, including the tastemakers at Pitchfork and NME.

    But Smith doesn’t care about any of that. He’s too busy making sure the band not only withstands the sudden surge of interest, but also builds upon it for years to come.

    Getty Images

    We talked about how he plans to do that, along with many of the other to-do’s when your band is buzzing, last week.

    DIIV’s show with L.A. sister-duo Bleached is at the Casbah on Tuesday night.
    Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
    Zachary Cole Smith: Good. I’m staying up at my dad’s in Palo Alto for a few days while I get things sorted out. I just bought a van for these next few big tours we have coming up. It’s kind of a big step.

    SM: Yeah, I took a look at the routing. It’s a bit crazy.
    ZCS: It’s weird. And San Diego’s the weirdest date on it. When I saw it, I was kinda like “Come On!” We end the tour in L.A. and we could have easily just gone down from there. But instead we’re playing it first, so I flew into San Francisco last night and now I’m trying to get a California driver's license sorted out -- that is, if I can do it. I flew the band to L.A. and then I’m going to be driving there, getting everyone down to San Diego, and then driving back so we can fly back to San Francisco. It’s crazy.

    SM: With DIIV taking off, are you able to reconcile touring with Beach Fossils?
    ZCS: Yes. And really, it’s not all that hard. Beach Fossils just did some dates in Europe and then did Seattle to San Diego and it was awesome. But they’re not really touring right now, so it’s super easy. There is a thing coming up where Beach Fossils will be going to Japan and China and Australia and Singapore, and I’ll have to sit that one out. My friend Tommy is going to play guitar and I’ll be in Europe with DIIV. But we have a really good support system of friends that can fill in when someone can’t make it. And the band is morphing a bit anyway. It’s really Dustin’s project, so the live band is somewhat less important.

    SM: Will the bands ever play together in the future?
    ZCS: Probably not. But it has happened. When DIIV was first starting out and we needed some good shows to play in front of people, we did one, and it was really fun. But it was also super intense and completely crazy. I don’t think I want to put myself through that again. In Beach Fossils, I don’t sing on every song or anything, but it’s still very physical.

    SM: And then there’s DIIV.
    ZCS: And that’s an emotional thing for me. It’s an intense experience to stand in front of a bunch of people and sing songs that you wrote. You know? At least for me it is. Emotionally, it’s just not a simple thing for me to do.

    SM: When did you know it was going past just bedroom recordings?
    ZCS: Really, I have to say, I never expected it to take off in quite the way that it has. I thought it was music for a niche market. But it’s kind of caught on in a number of different capacities, and that’s made it really exciting for me. It’s also forced me to do a lot of things I never expected -- like changing the name. [The band was initially named “DIVE,” but Smith changed it after learning of a '90s Belgian industrial act with the same moniker.] I never thought the band would be an international thing. At first, it didn’t matter that there was another band in Belgium with the same name. And once we knew, we never thought it would be an issue. And I’ve had to deal with things like buying real equipment. When I recorded the album, I didn’t own a guitar amp or pedals. I just plugged my guitar into my computer and did everything virtually. There’s just a number of ways that you have to grow up, and one of them is keeping up with the success of the band. I always want to stay a bit ahead of the curve. And that applies to everything I’m doing. All of the decisions I’m making now are made to shape the band in the future.

    SM: Seems like a smart thing to do.
    ZCS: Well, once you record an album, it’s just out there. It just exists for whoever wants to hear it. You can’t really curate your own audience.

    SM: What’s next?
    ZCS: These upcoming tours and new music. This record had a few sonic outliers on it. So now I’m seeing what happens and working on an album made up of all outliers. I’m trying to take things a little further, making songs that are a little more aggressive, a little more driving, and experimenting with all kinds of different sounds. I have no idea what will actually make the record, but I’m definitely approaching the whole writing process differently.

    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com.