“The first one was cool, but it was almost a fluke,” DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith confessed to me when I asked him about the band’s 2012 debut album, “Oshin.”
“When I made that record, I didn’t know more than 15 people were going to hear it,” the frontman went on. “My only goal for the band originally was to only play one show that 10 people would go to. And then my goals started to crystalize as it grew, and it became bigger -- but it was really a fluke that the first one came together. Now, I see its flaws.”
While artists (or anyone, really) are typically their own harshest critics, you’d be hard-pressed to find any DIIV fan that didn’t instantly fall in love with the record’s effervescent shimmer that mixed chillwave, lo-fi garage rock and soaring shoegaze for an altogether hypnotic effect. So the million dollar question is: Will Smith and Co. switch it up for their upcoming followup effort, “Is the Is Are”?
“I’m definitely aware of what makes the first record special to people,” the frontman told me. “So I didn’t want to remove anything from the overall blueprint. And I really do think it’ll connect with people. There’s just more to connect with. I think a lot of people listen to ‘Oshin’ and wish they could hear the lyrics. This one, you can.”
That sound you hear right now is the collective sigh of relief from DIIV fans worldwide. But he’s not joking about the lyrics thing. In some reviews, critics lamented the lack of clear, upfront vocals on “Oshin” and its indistinguishable words. Even Smith’s own girlfriend, indie-pop artist/model Sky Ferreira, couldn’t deal with it.
“Sky listens to music and her ear goes straight to the lyrics,” he explained. “And if she can’t hear the lyrics, she can’t connect to the song. And it changed the way I heard my own music. It made me almost sad that our first record wasn’t able to connect with her, in a way.”
It sounds like “Is the Is Are” surely will, if Smith has anything to say about it. And, well, he does. Once saying in a Pitchfork interview, “I’m the only person who I can trust to produce” his records, the frontman has once again taken the producer/mixing reins for the new record (he did the same on their debut), working at home on a laptop with Pro Tools instead of some fancy, high-priced studio. Over the last three years, his sense of independent self-reliance hasn’t changed in the least.
“Studios are so much pressure. For every minute you’re in there, you know you’re paying X amount of dollars. It gets under your skin. The engineer wants another cigarette break, and it’s like, ‘F--- you, man, this is my time.’ For ‘Oshin,’ I really had no idea what the f--- I was doing, but I went for it. And gradually, I learned how to EQ snare drums, compress vocal tracks, blend different takes together. It was a long story to get to that point -- but having it come together was a f---ing miracle.”
Hey, sometimes all you need is a miracle. It seems to have worked out well -- DIIV’s just-released new single “Dopamine” picks up right where the debut left off with its cavernous guitars, dreamy vocals, and a song-long ear-candy hook. When the band -- who headline the Casbah on Tuesday, Oct. 27 -- opened four shows in September for legendary UK shoegazers Ride, even Andy Bell (read my interview with Bell here) was taking note.
“[Opening for Ride] was such a cool experience,” Smith gushed. “They’re such a big influence. Andy watched us every night, took video every night. He’d be taking pictures of our pedalboards and asking us about our guitar tones and stuff, and we’d be like ‘Why are you asking us?’” he laughed.
Makes sense -- Bell’s a renowned student of excellent music (check out his mixtapes for proof), and he knows greatness when he hears it. With DIIV’s sophomore full-length due out any day (Smith tells me it’s currently getting mastered), what exactly can we expect to hear? Apparently, according to the singer, it runs the gamut.
“It’s got everything: It’s got heavy, dark, grungy s---; upbeat, poppy s---; festival jammer tracks; long Kraut-y jams; songs that barely have any guitars in them; it’s all over the map. I mean, there are 18 tracks on this new one. There’s nothing the new record does that the first record doesn’t do. It’s just more diversified. But anyone who loved the first record is not going to feel slighted in the least.”