An Interview With Death From Above 1979: Reappearing Act

I’m watching a night football game, and thinking about how Sebastien Grainger (drummer of Death From Above 1975) commented on our tribal sports culture, to me. Then this commercial comes on, and it’s like… a group of guys chugging beer cans, spraying it all over each other, and spitting on the screen. I’m wondering if this guy from Canada thinks this is the tribal behavior he referred to. Then I’m thinking about how Death From Above 1979 will be playing at Terminal 5, on Election Day night. Those guys are in for a real treat. He, along with Jesse Keeler, have already been on this insane journey—we all know the (pretty much a) decade hiatus story. But does everyone know the side projects they’ve worked on, and what has been brewing/released since being reunited? Sebastien weighs in on these issues (and way more), in an interview with The Aquarian.

I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time, I know you’re busy getting ready for the long string of shows coming up. You guys have a wide range of fans that have been with you since You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine years, I just wanted to know has the dynamic at shows been the same?

I mean if I look all the way back…. Since the reunion, it was definitely a change in the audience, [it] was bigger and they sang along a lot more. I think that since we were first a band, we were kind of growing and we didn’t really get to the places we were headed towards, you know? And when we got back together we found that we clicked, like the audiences knew the songs—it wasn’t something I was expecting, but they knew the songs and they were singing the words back to us. Even at shows now… people like, they sing along to the riffs. I hear them singing Jesse’s part. So, that reaction is different, because people just didn’t really have a chance to get that familiar with the material, you know? Of course there were fans in the first go-around, but it really kind of stuck out this time. When we put out the new record, I mean… it was like right away people knew the songs. The material blended into just into the show, into the band. In a way, that felt really good, it felt really communal, you know?

Very live and actually real.

Yeah, that’s the whole point of playing in a band. I don’t want to say the whole point of playing music, but the whole point of playing in a band is to have that communion with an audience, ya know… live interaction that can’t be replicated. It’s not like listening to a record, it’s not like watching YouTube. It’s a thing where you’re communicating to one another, and communing, and kind of filling in the blanks. Like when someone comes to a show they have an expectation and they have their own experience and what we’re doing on stage is just a fraction of what they’re experiencing, you know? And on the flip side they are participating in what we’re doing and we’re, we come to a show with a certain expectation, sometimes you get surprised by the audiences and really the thing we do on stage wouldn’t be possible without an audience. The rehearsals are so dry and then when it happens, it really happens. And that’s just being in a room together and sharing the same molecules, yanno?

Mhm, awesome. So, being as like you were saying, with the dynamic of the shows changing, I don’t know how much time you spend really in the States. I mean is most of your time in Toronto, in your hometown, or?

Actually I live in Los Angeles now. Jesse lives in Toronto. I spend most of my time stateside.

Oh okay, okay. I was going to ask you how the dynamic in Toronto is to New York, because I used to go to Mississauga twice a year. I’ve been to Canada many times, but I don’t really know what the music scene is.

Why were you going to Mississauga? That’s my hometown.

My cousin lives there.

Oh that’s cool!

Yeah, it’s near Mandarin!

Mandarin was like our birthday meal for me when I was a kid! The audiences seemingly blend into each other, in my mind. You know I could say the Toronto audiences had to be more multicultural because it has this very specific and functional multiculturalism. But then again, we experienced that at shows in the U.S. as well, so it’s not that different. I think that when you whittle your life down where you’re engaging the kind of music we make, whether it’s from our side making it and performing it or going to shows, that’s kind of your people in a sense. You know, that’s your community. I mean the States is like absurdly tribal, I mean in a way that Americans behave like either socially, or politically, or like with your obsession with sports—it’s like a tribalist society. If that is true, that’s just like an observation, but if that’s true, rock, punk rock, whatever it is… is the tribe we’re a part of. So, [it’s] somewhere where we can go and all be together and agree on something. And we all agree that we’re going to have a good time or whatever. Transcend. The point is we are going to a big loud rock show. Escapism or complete connection of, I don’t know. Everyone has a different experience.

I mean that’s definitely what I go for. It’s to feel a part of the community. It’s funny you’re saying that Americans like, you know… the way we act sometimes, because I find it ironic that you guys are actually playing in Philly for Election Day eve. So, I’m thinking that there’ll be people in Philly that will remember this Election as the day they voted, hungover from a show the night before at the Fillmore. Probably like a really funny experience.

Yeah, for sure it’s such an insane time, right now, like it’s crazy. And no matter what way you’re going it’s like, the stakes are so high. And yeah, we found out we were playing on the East Coast at that exact moment it was like, on one hand kind of terrifying, and on the other hand so exciting, you know? To be a part of that energy is crazy.

How was it working under Third Man Records, under Jack White? How was it opposed to recording a studio album, for example?

It was completely different. It wasn’t something we ever—you know, we’ve turned down so many similar, I wouldn’t say anything like what we did with Third Man, but definitely live recordings. We’ve always been very weary of it because I don’t think they really ever represent the actual show… the communion of the show. And with the rowdy, kind of heavier, punkier music—it’s like when you watch a Bad Brains show on VHS, or something. There’s like—you get what is going on but you’re like, ‘Fuck, I wish I was there.’ And you don’t really—there’s no possible way for you to get that feeling of being there by watching it. So we’ve always been very careful of what we’ve put out so that when we are performing, people are having that experience. You tend to become a little less precious with that, and guarded in an age where anyone can make a live recording on their phone… and put it anywhere online. There’s such fractured representations of bands online through, just these super crummy YouTube videos. You know that no one really wants to watch. So, it’s weird to be judged by those moments. And so, we became less guarded about live recordings, but still very critical about that process when we were approached by Third Man to do this. [And] who better to do, curate a live thing than Jack White and Third Man? And their facility is so incredible. Third Man Records International is such an amazing place that is like, to a fold, like a museum of music. Jack actually said that is something he, it kind of bugs him, that people treat it like a museum because he wants it to be this place of exaltation and abandonment. He felt like at our show, that has happened. People are just wallowed out and had this kind of ruckus time in a mosh pit, at Third Man Records. And the process of it being captured live to have to tape, where there are no second chances, it’s terrifying. It was terrifying to me, but I just got involved, completely absorbed in the moment. All that being said, I have not listened to it because it’s not for me… it’s for other people.

Oh you haven’t listened to it!

I’m far too critical of myself and I’d listen to it and—I wouldn’t get the thing you’re supposed to get out of it if you listed to it so I let other people listen to it and it came out and I’m gonna wait 15 years to listen to it.

Wow that’s incredible that you haven’t even listened to it! I mean considering that…

I mean, I didn’t have a choice. It was like—just doing it is the contract to release it. Even if it went catastrophically wrong we would still have to put it out. So it was like beyond my control already. And the experience of doing it and that night, and fucking Mick Jagger was there. Like it was so absurd to do that. The experience is my own, and I’ll remember it in my own way. I don’t necessarily need to go back and listen to the actual recording because like the memory of it is so special to me.

I guess if you do listen to it, you’ll be so critical. You’d be like, ‘Aw this part, when this happened,’ it’ll probably just ruin the whole experience for you.

Yeah, it’s not for me, it’s for other people.

I wonder… do you listen to other live albums? Like, of other bands, I mean.

I’ll listen to live jazz records. But I generally won’t listen to live rock records. I’m a huge Marvin Gaye fan… and there’s this classic, live Marvin Gaye record. And he sounds like shit on it. So like why don’t I just listen to “What’s Going On?” I don’t want to listen to him kind of, cocaine squawking his way through the tune. You can tell he is writhing on the ground. Yeah, it’s also not for me.

Yeah, I got you. Cool, alright. So I actually wanted to ask you about Ancient Fashion. If this is something that you wanted to do. Because I know you and Jesse have side projects and things going on… but this in particular, I was curious. Were you waiting for the right time? Was it something you wanted to do, but couldn’t get to… until now? How did you hook up with American Lip, how did this whole thing start rolling down the hill?

Yeah, it was something that I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time. And it mostly has a way to—you know it’s a lot of the music I’ve been recording for years that I’ve wanted to put out in a certain way and I didn’t just want to put it online and throw it into a vacuum. I wanted to give it a platform and so that is where the original concept for the label came up. It was quote un-quote conceived as a vanity label. Something where I’d be able to put out my own stuff and stuff that I’m involved in. That was the nucleus of it and it kind of grew into this other idea that which I started getting involved with Adrian Popovich, who is my partner in the label. And we’ve been working together in a different capacity. He is a great musician, and played in this band Tricky Woo, which were a huge influence on me… kind of in the late ’90s, early 2000s. [They are] just this fantastic, amazing live rock band. They have some great records. He has a studio in Montreal. I recorded parts of my first and second solo records there. So, we’d have this relationship together that was purely based in music… like we’d only talk about music. I was at a point, about a year or two ago, where I was thinking about what I really wanted to do with Ancient Fashion. He called me, or maybe texted me, out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, want to start a record label?’ I replied with this giant text about exactly what I wanted it to be. And gave him the first four releases, and what the logo is going to look like. Like I have the whole thing ready to go and he is just like, ‘Okay, amazing, are you joking?’ So, we spoke on the phone and just started planning it.

So, you just needed to execute it?

Yeah, I just needed someone else to reflect it back to me. And then we’d been passing, he and I had been passing demos around. He was sending me amazing demos of his music, and I don’t think he’s put out a record in like 10 years so I was so excited by the music, like the actual songs. The whole thing was so exciting to me. And we were kind of self-motivating each other, it was a loop of creativity. At one point, he just asked me to play drums on the record. So, that is kind of when we had our first like, ‘OK, this is our first release, it’s going to be American Lips.” We recorded in April, I finished mixing it like this summer and we’re planning on putting it out early next year. Just because vinyl presses, it takes a long time. And we kind of want to set it up in a cool way. But it’s really just a way for us to be like totally 100% involved in the process of making records and not leaving it up to someone else and a lot of the times I’m pretty easily disappointed by the quote un-quote music industry and people generally, I feel like they’ll put enough energy into like the thing I’m working on. I mean that’s just a total narcissistic view. But I wanted to be the one behind the whole thing so that I knew that the energy I was putting into it was appropriate, you know?

Yeah, that’s awesome. Damn you really are a musician. You really just do it… beginning to end. But I mean you’re right the music industry is so different now… than what I imagined when I was younger. I can’t wait for it to come out early next year. I really wanted to know how—because you guys are co-headlining with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and you have Deap Vally on the list as well…


How did you guys hook up to have this little tour, little fall tour coming up?

Well, we were kind of planning the clears after our last record after our last touring cycle thing and it’s kind of like a bit of a standard to do these co-headlined tours. The, I don’t know what the term is, I don’t know if the term is market, but the scene of touring is very fractured. There are probably more bands now then there have ever been. Everyone is having the go and yanno I talked to a promoter friend of mine and it’s hard to get people to come out to shows, like there’s so much happening. That’s not to mention that there’s just so much happening everywhere else, not just music. People’s attention is really fractured. You kind of have to seize any opportunity. Yeah, so the idea of touring with them came up and it seems like it was actually something that should have happened a long time ago in a sense. It seemed like an exciting and appropriate bill and I think that their audience and our audience will really have a good time. We just did a tour with Eagles Of Death Metal and it was probably one of my favorite tours because they’re so different than us—musically and their vibe is so different. And yet it was so, the audience was so perfectly split. I feel like it is going to be the same with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Deap Vally who are so great and their live shows are so fantastic. They’re so cool. I’m excited.

I’m excited for you. It’s gonna be great. I’m planning to see you at Terminal 5 so that better be the best show you ever play!

Yeah it will be. On Election Night, by the way.

I’m so excited, it’s going to be wild. Alright man. Well, thank you so much… this interview was awesome. You know, as far as updates go, you guys love Snapchat. Is that the number one source for your band updates? Should we be following you on Snapchat?

I mean, it’s mostly just me taking videos of my dog. If you’re into that kind of thing, then by all means [follow us]. I mean, it’s so difficult to keep up with everything. All of a sudden, Instagram basically has Snapchat on it. And now we’re kind of expected to use that as well. I don’t know it’s weird to have to keep up. But some of them are fun, Snapchat is fun. Just because it’s the filters, it’s so absurd.

I know, some of them I don’t understand. Like the bee that changes your voice, weird stuff.

Yeah, it’s just a way for the government to track your face and catch you when you commit a crime.


Or before you commit a crime. Yeah.

Well I mean… they are listening to us now so this interview is already on file. But anyway, thank you.



Death From Above 1979 will be playing Nov. 7 at The Fillmore Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 8 at Terminal 5 in New York, NY, and Nov. 9 at The Paramount in Huntington, NY. For tickets and more information, visit