After the burst of energy that was the two-piece Death from Above 1979 broke up in 2005, it's been a while since anything was heard from lead singer and drummer Sebastien Grainger. While ex-bandmate Jesse Keeler went on to form the electronic group MSTRKRFT, Grainger laid low, opening for Bloc Party and re-establishing himself away from the heavy dance-rock of DFA1979, and into a 70's influenced rock singer. After having already rocked his way through two London dates, Sebastian tonight plays Hoxton Bar & Grill and tomorrow The Lexington. We caught up with him for a chat before he hit the UK shores.
How's it going Sebastien?
I'm at my home in pajamas. Actually it's kind of a lie. I put clothes on as soon as I got up, which was about six minutes ago. But I'm in the spirit of pajamas. I'm well bundled.
We saw you a couple years ago opening for Bloc Party, it seems like
you've tried to take your time to establish your identity first instead of jumping into anything.
In part it's an intentional move. I'm trying to build myself as a performer and my band as a band up in a natural way. I had no intention of jumping right back into a band life or music. A big part of me was turned off the idea of being a guy in a band for a long time. It took me a while to come around to the notion that it was actually the most fun time in my life, which was true. It happened naturally through working hard with my band to where we are totally comfortable with ourselves onstage. Before I finished the record, I felt like I was testing ways that I could prove or validate what I was doing. Now that the record is done, the music speaks for itself, and the performance is an extension of the music. It's entertainment, and it's entertainment for us to do. There a performance aspect for us now that the music is set. So it's been a lot of fun.
You recorded a lot of the album by yourself...
I started off recording with a lot of help and I wanted this to be a band record and I recorded with my band. The longer it too and the more work I put into it, I couldn't demand certain things from the band, like the hours I kept in the studio, and I didn't want to explain why I wanted to redo something if I didn't like the way something sounded. I started unintentionally cutting people out of the equation until it was just me. I would call my bassist to come over and play something and monitor the progress. It is essentially a solo record, but the band is an important part of how the record was born.
Is this the sound that you've always wanted since you've had so much
of an imprint on it yourself?
I'll say it is the record that I've been wanting to make for 15 years since I started fucking around with a 4-track recorded in my basement and staying late after school and screwing around in the music room. We'll see where it goes from there. It serves as a template for my creative and recording processes. I'm not saying I'm not going to develop and grow and become a different songwriter, but I did learn a lot.
You look at this solo album, and you look at Jesse Keeler's work with
MSTRKRFT, and it's completely different. Is that a telltale way to see why things didn't necessarily work out with you guys?
I don't think that's true. It's probably why a reason why it did work actually. The reason why Death from Above was special and was what it
was is that it had this conflict built in from the beginning of what he brought to the table and I brought to the table as solo artists. If you look at them, it could have been a conflict, but that conflict made that band special. To really be informed about what that was, you have to listen to Jesse's first solo effort with Femme Fatal which I was involved with and it's a really hard record. He brought the heaviness to that band.
I also have to ask you about 'fuck-rock' that you describe your sound
on MySpace as.
It's a new genre I'm pushing. I can't fully explain what it is, but
it's what we are trying to achieve in our live show. Even though I was distinctly told in a review that my music is no longer sexy, I'm still pushing for the fuck-rock.
In "(Are There) Ways to Come Home?" you talk about skipping class for a week. Did you ever do that?
Of course I did. I would skip class and shop and drink coffee and talk about stupid shit or I would go to my old high school and do stupid things. I wasn't a bad kid, I didn't do drugs or drink, I was just a little jerk-off. I didn't like doing my homework or listening to my teachers.
That's pretty universal. There's a certain nostalgia about skipping class.
That's exactly what the lyric is about. You do it and you feel like it's the worst thing, you don't want to face your teacher, but when you do, they don't fucking care. [In a teacher's voice] 'Mr. Grainger, nice to see you, open your book to page two.' Like that's what I was worried about? That little scorn?
Sebastien Grainger plays Hoxton Bar & Grill tonight and The Lexington tomorrow
Words and photos by Scott Bolohan.