INTERVIEW: Sebastien Grainger of Death From Above 1979 Gets Rowdy About Music, the Road, and Bowling!

Pictured above: Two rascals playing on pretend instruments just horsing around.

Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler are the indie rock duo Death From Above 1979. The pair have been a band on and off for the last fourteen years or so, and have toured the world with their blistering style of table-flipping rock and roll along the way. To my mind, the band play like a Bacon Industry era Karp as filtered through a sheen of arena rock; just enormous riffs and vocals that demand you sing along, all of the sort that make you headbang involuntarily. Fortunately for us, they’re playing here this upcoming Friday at The Mercury Ballroom with The Bots in support of their new album The Physical World, which I inadvertently mistook for a different thing. Zoinks! We caught up to them to ask about their start as musicians, their break up, and Ty Segall!

Never Nervous: What brought you all to music? Did you grow up around music, or did you gravitate towards it? What was the first instrument you played and why did you start there?

Sebastien Grainger: For me, there was always music in the house. The stereo was the center piece of the living room. Lots of records and tapes and eventually CDs around. Playing wise, my father always kept guitars around and my mom had a piano. When I was around 10 or 11 I started dropping hints about playing the drums. I grew up in a semi-detached house, not wanting for much, but not living it up. Pretty much straight down the middle class. The idea of a drum kit was so far off what I thought was realistic, so I just started to play the acoustic guitar that was laying around. Then, when I was 12, my folks bought me some drums for Christmas. Jesse’s dad was a guitar prodigy in the 60s. He played in a bunch of awesome bands around Toronto and somehow ended up in an early version of Steppenwolf! That’s just the tip of the iceberg for that tale! Jesse’s first instrument was drums, and the first time I saw him he was playing drums. I’d never seen anyone play like him. He looked like a skin-colored blur with sharp black hair.

“There was always music in the house. The stereo was the center piece of the living room. Lots of records and tapes and eventually CDs around.”

NN: What was your first band(s) like? How did they inform your playing in Death From Above 1979?

SG: My first band was me and my buddies playing around in grade 7 or 8, and some version of that band lasted through most of high school. It occurred to me recently that that band never broke up. Technically we’re still together. I would safely say, that I had a musical metamorphosis that began the last year of high school through me moving out of my parents place that began to reveal its form with meeting Jesse when I was around 21. I was already inclined to play heavier and weirder at that point, but meeting Jesse gave me someone to really do it with.


NN: How did Death From Above 1979 start and why? How has it evolved over the years?

SG: We started by getting in a room together and making noise, then driving into the city and drinking beer and talking about the noise we’d made. It’s still the exact same.


NN: Was the decision to remain a duo an aesthetic or logistical decision? What are the advantages and disadvantages to a smaller group?

SG: We moved in together not long after meeting and playing in a 7 piece hardcore band called Femme Fatale together. The duo was a logistical thing. We’d originally planned to be two parts of new project. That thing never happened, and since we were the only two home, we left it at that. We figured, “I think we can just do this together.” Sounded done. There are mostly advantages. The main disadvantage is that it’s the work of a whole band, and there’s only two guys to do it. So if one guy isn’t around, the band doesn’t exist.


NN: How did your environment impact your music?

SG: We started this band on the opposite side of the city to where everyone else was starting bands. Music in exile. We related to nothing.


NN: What are the stresses inherent in collaborative performance? How do you attend to those stresses?

SG: If one of us fucks up, that one person looks bad cause it’s obvious who fucked up. There’s no hiding. The way we deal with it is by laughing and saying: “Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling.”

“If one of us fucks up, that one person looks bad cause it’s obvious who fucked up. There’s no hiding. The way we deal with it is by laughing and saying: ‘Fuck it dude, let’s go bowling.'”

NN: How is touring? How do you prepare for a tour mentally and how is it to be out on the road?

SG: The road.


NN: What makes for a good show and why?

SG: And excited audience and playing in time and singing in key, I should think that the reasons are obvious.


NN: What prompted the initial break up in 2006? How was it reconciled and why?

SG: We actually broke up in 2005, but didn’t announce in for a few months. We broke up, cause we were sick of the band, which is each other. It was reconciled, cause we thought that maybe it could be fun again, and maybe we didn’t actually dislike each other. We were right.


NN: How has it gone since reforming? What was it like writing, recording, and performing “Life After Death From Above 1979,” and how, if at all, has this experience differed from previous releases?

SG: Our album is called “The Physical World.” “Life After Death From Above 1979” is a documentary about us. Do you have “Google” where you’re from?

“Do you have “Google” where you’re from?”

NN: Last but never least, what have you been listening to and why?

SG: Ty Segall – Manipulator. Fuck everything else.