Published Jan 01, 2006What a difference a name makes. Or does it? In June, Toronto power-duo Death From Above had plans rudely interrupted by New York hipster production team DFA. Just as the band were gaining a name for themselves, DFA had to go and bring lawyers in, forcing Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger to modify their name. Keeler admits, "It's hard to believe, but it's funny. We totally had a legal argument but it's our own damn fault because we should have trademarked the name years ago."
A simple name change should not get in their way. Reaching volumes louder than an auditorium full of buzz saws and air horns, this hairy pair of rockers has found a niche that is making audiences listen more with less. "I was really into Godheadsilo and I like the Carpenters. Hall & Oates, man! No, I don't even know if the minimal stage presence is appealing to us," confesses Keeler. "There's a lot more pressure on both of us. A five-piece band can pretty much mush their way through any of their own songs. It's sort of like if you're singing by yourself, as opposed to singing in a choir. If either of us or both of us mess up, then the whole thing is messed up."
Initially, the twosome hadn't planned on going it alone, but fate stepped in. "The very first time we practiced, I actually had this idea to only have a one guitar and drummer-type band with a singer. When that didn't work out, we started Femme Fatale (Keeler's side project) and came back to this in the end," he says.
So far the venture has worked out for Keeler and Grainger, even though there are some obvious problems, like if a creative difference arises. "We know each other pretty well. If we were stubborn people or prima donnas it could be trouble, but neither of us are rock stars about anything. Usually, if one of us feels really strongly about something, the other agrees with it anyway."
This connection is evident all over their debut album. You're A Woman, I'm A Machine shows their minimal approach has paid off; Death From Above 1979 have created a perfect marriage between noise and melody. Punishing, screeching bass riffs are teamed up with skittering hi-hats and pounding beats, while Keeler and Grainger have snuck in enough pop hooks to make it fit for any kind of dance party, especially the ones that break out at their gigs.
Known for ear bleeding live shows that often ignite fires in the feet and banging heads of spectators, Death From Above 1979 have gained a reputation as true showmen. This status though isn't just restricted to their music. "When you're two people onstage, you can't rely on just one aspect. If we just went up there and played, I think it would be like getting hit with a jackhammer," says Keeler. A typical Death From Above gig brings out the lighter side of the two members, who tell jokes, trade insults and offer colourful answers to audience questions. He confesses, "When we play, we just end up talking, which is how we talk all the time. We've never planned anything with our performances other than we're going to play our songs. Like when Sebastien said the other night at the Horseshoe, I don't know what you guys expected, but this is what our band sounds like.'"