Published Aug 12, 2012"You know how band bios often have a hook in them? There's always one thing in a bio that's a hook. Even in ours, unintentionally," laments Dan Boeckner. "The word 'supergroup' is in the first paragraph. I think a lot of bands, especially now because there are so many, they need a hook."
His new band, Divine Fits, don't. Or rather, the members are the "hook." For years, Boeckner was the co-songwriter for beloved Montreal indie rock quartet Wolf Parade and the recently-defunct synth rock duo Handsome Furs; Britt Daniel is the driving force behind the sinuous post-punk quartet Spoon; and Sam Brown drummed for gritty punks the New Bomb Turks and as the live drummer for producer/DJ RJD2's touring band.
Sonically, A Thing Called Divine Fits falls somewhere between Boeckner's raw, live-off-the-floor aesthetic and Daniel's refined studio minimalism. If that sounds difficult to pull off, that's probably because it is, but Boeckner and Daniel have a partnership based on equal parts friendship and mutual respect.
The band, according to Boeckner, has been brewing for years. "Every time I'd cruise through town, he'd come and see us play, and every time he'd come to Montreal, I'd see him. The Furs opened up for Spoon at Terminal 5, and in 2010 I played Radio City Music Hall with them as a guest."
In February of 2011, when Boecker mentioned to Daniel that Wolf Parade was ending, Daniel replied: "'So we have to start a band, then.' I was just throwing it out there, but to my surprise, he was like 'Yup, we absolutely should.'"
Things moved quickly. By October, the two had met up in Daniel's house in Los Angeles, half a year before demise of Handsome Furs in May, but Boeckner asserts that there was no relationship between the formation of the one band and the break-up of the other. In fact, the band was a done deal before the Furs had even embarked on their Sound Kapital tour in May 2011.
"We'd been planning on it all year," says Daniel. "I wrote some music and he wrote the vocals on top of it, that ended up being the song 'What Gets You Alone.' So we already had that one, and then I brought in a couple of songs, and kind of made up a few. So yeah, it was just kind of to see what would happen, but when we started playing, everything felt really good."
"Everything just kind of gelled really quickly," confirms Boeckner. "It was like, 'Okay, it's a band!'"
The songwriting process in Divine Fits was different than any of the bands Boeckner and Daniel had worked in before. Daniel, for one, had to adapt to a new role as co-songwriter. "The biggest, most obvious difference is I'm not writing all the songs," he says. "That's something I like ― coming in at 2 a.m. to a half-finished painting, and finishing it up, or steering it in a direction that it wasn't going to go before. I really like that role. It's not something that I get in Spoon, because I'm coming up with all the ideas. Spoon does the kind of thing where I'll have a song, I'll have chords and a melody and words and then we'll get together to decide, 'Okay, how is the band going to play this?'"
For Boeckner, the difference was working with someone as painstakingly attentive to detail as Daniel. "Working with Britt was the opposite to working with Wolf Parade. Wolf Parade was more of this Marxist collective where everyone's ideas had equal weight to the point where there was barely any editing. With the Furs, it was such a personal project that there was never any real debate about where to put stuff or how to structure songs. It just came really quickly."
With Divine Fits, he continues, "everything was subjected to a meticulous editing process. The songs had energy, and came together really fast, but then Sam would be like, 'What if I take every sixth hi-hat beat out?' and I'd be like 'What if I just play less and less?' It was all about playing less, until the songs were just these really lean, stripped-down things. There are hardly any guitar chords on the record, no big open chords except in certain spots.
"It's weird," he continues. "I haven't been part of a writing project that's been that open, where everybody was comfortable, right off the bat, being like 'This doesn't work' or 'This is great.' We figured out a way to mesh Britt's editing process and my first-take thing. We managed to find a balance."
So A Thing Called Divine Fits, is the product of two strong songwriters meeting each other halfway: the up-and-down piano riff on "What Gets You Alone" is pure Spoon, but Boeckner's wail is a perfect vocal fit; the incessant synths of "The Salton Sea" could easily be a Wolf Parade song, were Daniel's raspy croon not spread over it; the songwriting on Fits highlight "For Your Heart" is indistinguishable as either Boeckner's or Daniel's. It's a synth record and a guitar one, a raw record and a refined one, with one foot in classic rock's past and the other in indie rock's future. In its perfect blend of both songwriter's aesthetics, it's quintessentially Divine Fits.
Given their busy schedules in other bands, and with other musical projects ― Daniel's in Spoon, Boeckner's working on a soundtrack and planning on "putting together a new band, probably at the end of the year," and Brown's got touring duties elsewhere ― it's easy to assume that A Thing Call Divine Fits is a one-off, side-project record, but that would be a mistake.
Asked what's next for him this year, Boeckner asserts himself plainly. After they tour, he says "I think we're going to make another record as Divine Fits. It's a band band. This year it's my main thing."
Daniel is similarly adamant about the band's staying power. "What is a side-project?" he asks. "When Jack White was making Raconteurs records and also making White Stripes records, was Raconteurs his side project? Basically, I'm in two bands, is what the deal is. I'm in two bands, that's just what it is. Divine Fits is the real deal."