Published Jun 27, 2012Inevitably, 2012 was bound to see the rise of at least one hotly tipped buzz band from Brooklyn, NY, and here they are. DIIV are led by Beach Fossils guitarist Z. Cole Smith, whose early singles won over tastemakers with their jangling guitars and sun-kissed haze of reverb and echo. And although Smith now has a full band backing him, he never strays too far from the dreamy style of those first releases. Oshin is remarkably consistent, both in terms of style and quality, and there isn't a dud amongst these 13 tracks, which sound a great deal like what you'd expect from a guitarist's side-project: the vocals are largely used as a background instrument, with the emphasis placed on layered guitar lines and hypnotic fret board grooves.
Did the songs change shape when the full band joined?
There would be moments where I'd be in the studio by myself and I'd be recording somebody else's part ― I'd be playing the bass part that I had written originally ― and it wouldn't sound right. And then I brought Devin [Ruben Perez] into the studio to record his bass part and I realized that, after months and months and months of playing the songs hundreds of times, playing shows all the time, the bass line had evolved. He would strip it down in some parts and make it simpler; it definitely wasn't just a replication of my home recordings. I remember being in the studio talking to Daniel [James Schlet], who is the engineer, and I'd be like, "Man, no, make the guitar sound more like this." And I'd plug in my iPod and play the demo through the speakers and it would sound really weird. He'd be like, "Dude, I'm not going to sit here and recreate your demos. That's not what either of us really want to do." The demo is just a rough sketch of what I wanted to get in the studio. We didn't have much time, so we recorded in the studio really fast, but I think that we were able to balance those two sounds perfectly. We negotiated it really well and I'm happy with the way it turned out.
Are you a prolific writer?
Yeah. I wanted the band to be prolific; I have so much respect for artists who are prolific. Blank Dogs were a huge inspiration for the project and I just love how prolific Mike [Sniper] is. Even a lot of those garage artists ― Thee Oh Sees or Ty Segall or whatever ― will just pump out songs. I have so much respect for that. I definitely have the ability to write a lot of songs, but I also have a pretty strict quality control filter. I want to be prolific, but I want to have as much stuff to choose from as possible, and have as much new material available to use that I'm still really happy with. I did write a lot of songs for the record, but I ended up combining a lot of them and a lot of them got scrapped and some will probably never materialize. I wanted to have the band coming out with stuff at a pretty quick pace, but now with touring, I don't really get a chance to write. If I sit down and write, I'll be able to write three songs in a day that I'm happy with, or that are at least an element of what could become a good song. But the days, where I get to sit down and record is very limited. That's basically what I'm going to spend the summer doing: writing and recording. But the past two of three months, I haven't been able to do anything.
How do you manage to juggle being in two busy touring bands?
Balancing the two is definitely a challenge, not just for me but also for [Beach Fossils frontman] Dustin [Payseur]. I feel kind of bad that, all of a sudden, there's something for me that takes priority over his band. He obviously understands it, because he wouldn't want to discourage me from having my own project, but it's cool. We [Beach Fossils] just did a European tour, which was fun, and we did a West coast tour. I'm always learning. Playing in Beach Fossils is kind of the equivalent of going to college and now I get to use all of the knowledge that I've gotten from touring to make sure that I do everything right.
Is this your first band where you're the primary songwriter?
Yeah, totally. I've always worked on music, I've always written music, my whole life since I was a kid. Since my family got their first computer, I've always been using a computer to record. I was never into electronic music at all; it's more plugging my guitar straight into the microphone jack and using Sound Recorder in Windows. I used this bootlegged old program called n-Track and I'd do multi-track recording. But I'd never really considered taking it out into the world because there was never really any focus. It seemed like a big world out there, but playing with Beach Fossils gave me the encouragement that I could definitely do this. So I continued recording songs at the same rate I always had, but I picked a sound and stuck with it, because before everything sounded different. I'd do one song that sounded one way, another song that sounded another way. But I went, "Okay, this is the sonic palette I'm going to stick with." That's how DIIV were originally formed ― just as this sonic palette and I would filter songs through there. This is definitely my first project where I got out in the world. I played in my first band two years ago or something like that. I was never a kid that grew up playing in bands. All of my friends were in bands and I wished I was in a band, but I was more reclusive and antisocial when it came to music.
Was DIIV's sound inspired by Beach Fossils?
Yeah, totally. I wanted to stick to the same rock band paradigm; I wanted it to be two guitars, bass and drums. There are not many chords in Beach Fossils songs. If there are, they're really sparse or they're arpeggiated or whatever. That's how DIIV are: there are no chords; it's all interplay between the two guitars and the bass. It's all one-note melodies that work off each other and intertwine. That was the biggest influence from Beach Fossils, just because the way Dustin and would I play guitar together, I love that, but the sonic palette ― the sonic texture ― that wasn't influenced by Beach Fossils at all. That was something I came up with through experimentation. The sonic touchstones are pretty apparent. I think a lot of press has picked up on my influence from C86 bands, the Cure and the Chameleons. That's the textural sound. The actual music itself, I try to filter a bunch of different styles through this one filter. There's a song on the record that's just one repeating bass line; it's straight out of psych music or off a Neu! record or something like that. It's just one bass line that repeats over and over again with these Television-y guitar parts. But the whole thing is through this filter of shoegaze music. So it has this unique character that didn't come from Beach Fossils at all; it came from itself.
Which song is that?
The song I'm talking about is "Air Conditioning"; it's the third or fourth track on the record. That song was meant to be an assault or something. I put it right on the first side of the record, the third track or whatever, where you normally put the single. I was like, "Fuck that, I'm not going to put the single here." All of the singles are at the end of the record. I feel like the record is divided into two halves. The first half is the poppier side; it's like my commentary on pop music. And the second side is much darker and much more brooding and ominous; it's much darker.
Who or what is Oshin?
When I named the record Oshin [pronounced "ocean"], the band were still called Dive: D-I-V-E. Now it's funny that both the name of the band and the name of the album are these misspelled words. Oshin came from this poem that was written by a child that I stumbled upon. I think I had a girlfriend who worked at a summer camp or something and sent me this poem that this little girl wrote. It was just so beautiful; I don't know why. She just showed me the poem and I completely fell in love with it. It's called "Oshin." The poem is included in the album art on the record. I scanned it; I just love it. It was a huge inspiration for the concept behind the album, so I thought it would be appropriate to name it after that. But the album is definitely influenced by water and the totality of the ocean. The band, we're all water signs. There's inspiration from the ocean and from water, so it's a pretty appropriate title. But also found out that it's a Japanese soap opera, spelled that same way.
Did the spelling come from the soap opera?
No, the original poem by the kid, that's how she wrote it. That's how she spelled it. There are all these really profound misspellings in the original poem that really speak to the spirit of the poem.
Most of your lyrics aren't decipherable. Did you intentionally disguise what you're signing about?
Kind of. I'm not trying to hide what I'm singing about, and I include the lyrics in the record, because they are important. But the real point is that I really wasn't trying to showcase the vocals, my singing or lyrics. The vocals are really just used as a texture. They're equally important as the bass or the guitars. I wanted a band that were completely democratic, where each instrument was weighted equally and nothing was more important than any of the other instruments. I think that creates the strongest band, because if everyone's supporting one thing, then everything hinges on the strength of that one thing. If you're a singer-songwriter, then the whole band are working to bolster the voice of the singer. But I wanted it totally democratic so it doesn't hinge on anything except the quality of the song as a whole.
What have you got planned for DIIV next?
I'm going to spend the summer [writing]. I think I'm going to do an EP or something like that. Where I want to go next with the band is see where I can take the sound. When I started the band, the song "Douse" ― that faster, more punk-y song ― that was kind of an outlier. That was one song that didn't sound as much like the band as I'd originally envisioned it. I was like, "I wonder if I can push it to this place?" And so I put the song on the record and used it as a single, and people kind of connected with it. So I feel like now I can include that as part of the band's sonic palette and then I want to see where else I can push it. I'm going to do an EP that's going to be pretty experimental, I think. That's kind of the point of an EP: to try to push it. Because I don't want to be a RIYL band, like "recommended if you like." I don't want to be, "If you like My Bloody Valentine and Kraftwerk then you'll love this band." I want the band to be its own thing and have a large umbrella of material that I'm able to put out. I want the next record to be a big step ― the second record, a year from now or whatever. I want to put out a mature second record, because our first record really is a debut album. It sounds like a first record and I'm really happy with that. I think having a semi-mature but also kind of experimental and playful first record is important.
Read a review of Oshin here.