Critical Questions: Diiv
The new star of indie fuzz.
One of the summer's most anticipated debut albums is Diiv's Oshin, out now on Captured Tracks. Diiv, formerly Dive, is the solo project of Beach Fossils guitarist Z. Cole Smith, blending psychedelic expansiveness with lo-fi noise and a subtle knack for pop hocks. This interview took place over the phone several weeks ago, as Smith and his band were on the highway heading to a gig in Chapel Hill, NC.
CM: Could you talk about how you first hooked up with Captured Tracks?
ZCS: I knew (label owners) Mike (Sniper) and Katie (Garcia) through Beach Fossils because obviously, Beach Fossils are on that label. So when I first started the band I knew I wanted to be on Captured Tracks, and I actually even asked Katie to be in the band on keyboards. She said yeah, she was down, and I was like, well, we're a shoo-in for Captured Tracks. Then she was like, actually I'm too busy to play in a band. I was like fuck, but at least I knew she would come to one of the shows. The first show she came with Dustin (Payseur) and she brought flowers. I had this plan in advance: we covered a Blank Dogs song, which is Mike Sniper, who owns Captured Tracks, that's his project, his band. So they covered one of the songs and she videotaped it and brought it to Mike. I was putting out the single myself: I ordered the CDs online and I silkscreened all these covers. I was all set to do that and Katie got a copy of it and played it in the Captured Tracks office. Mike was like, "What is this?" He called John from Beach Fossils who also has a project, called Heavenly Beat. And was like, I want to put out both of your seven inches and John called me and I flipped out. But then I was super pissed because I just spent $250 putting out all these CDs, making the artwork, and silk-screening all this shit. I still have them; I still sell them at shows. I have about three left.
What single was that?
The song is called "Sometime." Captured Tracks ended up putting it out on vinyl, but I made about 100 copies on CD. With this fake label called Olympic Traits that we made up. It was going to be John's label that I paid for everything. I put it out, and it didn't end up mattering because Captured Tracks put it out on vinyl. But it ended up being okay. He never even signed us for so long. I would just e-mail him new songs. I'd e-mail him each new single. He'd be like, word, and he put out two singles before we even signed a contract. Then the band started getting attention, and he was like, shit, I better sign them. I took a cab to his house with a bottle of champagne and signed the contract. He didn't even drink the champagne; he didn't want any. I had to drink the whole bottle by myself.
You're still touring and playing with Beach Fossils, right?
Yeah, Beach Fossils is in the writing stage so we e-mail each other song ideas and stuff like that. Literally the day I get back from this Diiv tour I'm going on tour with Beach Fossils for like, a week, and then we're doing some other stuff coming up. The band is definitely still active and I'm still playing in it.
How was Oshin recorded?
I recorded the record at home. Then I re-recorded it in the studio and it sounds way better. I didn't know when I first started doing it that I was going to have a studio budget, so I just started doing it. I'm really glad I did it in the studio because I don't know what I'm doing; I'm totally clueless when it comes to recording.
What kind of stuff were you listening to that inspired the record?
There's this thing that happens when you're a musician and you're recording music. You spend a lot of time listening to what you just recorded. That's the truth of what I was listening to. But as far as what inspired it, I've talked about it a lot, but I'm definitely inspired by German psychedelic music from the 1970s like krautrock, just the way the songs are structured, how they drive and propel themselves. As far as the actual sound of the record, I feel like I pulled a lot from shoegaze and whatever people call dream pop, stuff like that. Bands like The Chameleons, The Go-Betweens, and My Bloody Valentine. Then of course, a lot of it was influenced by punk and grunge music. Some of the record is inspired by Nirvana, of course, and a lot of music like that.
I read on the Captured Tracks website that you've been reading a lot lately. How did what you were reading at the time influence the record?
Lyrically, it's hard to be influenced by specific things. There are songs that kind of would read like a poem or something simple, and I'd expand upon that general idea. As far as the lyrics are concerned, they're mostly influenced by the syntax and the way they fit the gongs. I basically wrote all the songs with nonsense lyrics and would transform them, based off the syntax, into the lyrics. So there's not really specific literary inspiration, for any particular song or anything. It has to do more with the general aesthetic of the project and how it exists in real life. It's like a book as opposed to a web site, or something. All the artwork, nothing is from the internet. The band is not just something that exists on the internet. It's something live that you can go see. I feel like reading, living in an apartment with no internet and just physical books, that's more of what inspired it. A lot of the books I was reading were N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Native American writers. With them, it's all about connection to the planet and the physical realm.
I heard you guys are really into astrology. How does that influence the band?
It's actually not me so much; it's some other members of the band. There is a connection, though I wish I could speak more about it. I might just issue some written statement that's more eloquent, but basically what I said in the Pitchfork interview was the connection to water, and us all being water signs. But as far as the deeper connections and all that stuff, you'd have to leave that up to (bassist) Devin (Ruben Perez) who's our resident astrologist.
Does the albums being called Oshin have to do with this water connection?
Yeah, it does. The title, I haven't really revealed yet where it came from, but in the record it's from an actual thing I found in real life. It's from a poem- my friend who works in a daycare center brought home a poem that some 5 year-old wrote. It's called "Ocean" (spelled "O-S-H-I-N") and for some reason it really spoke to me. I have high-quality scan of it that's going to be included in the final artwork, so you'll be able to see where it came from. But that's where the title came from. It definitely has to with the songs. A lot of them are very watery, very oceanic. There's a song on the record called "Oshin" as well, the title track. That's kind of the heart of the record in a lot of ways.
We were talking about the album art; were you the one who did the art for the "Sometime" single?
Yeah, I did everything. The illustrations are not.. I didn't hand draw them. A lot of the stuff is just... things I would find and I didn't really know, like completely out of context but I would find something on a book or a poster. It's all found art, as opposed to stuff that's created specifically for the project. But I felt like it fits in with the creation of the whole project. It's alike an image I feel pairs well with the album; it's just a found image.
I like that "bird man" that keeps appearing on the album art.
Yeah, they're are both Inuit stone carvings, from the album and the single art. The bird in both of them represents an omen. Those two... the album art is kind of referencing the art from the single, and it's similar imagery. But it's more of playful rather than ominous. The human and the bird are interacting on the album cover, whereas on the single cover, they're not interacting; the bird's kind of hovering over the man. It's definitely referenced, but it's supposed to be a different interaction between the two symbols.
Were you the one who found the sculpture in the "Human" single art as well?
Yeah, that's a Henry Moore sculpture. I knew I wouldn't get in trouble for using it because the guy who runs Henry Moore's estate is like, a friend of a friend. He's a British sculptor and I found that photo in this big Henry Moore that I took out from the library. I just loved that image so much that I didn't even bring the book back to the library. I related to it in this way- looking like a human and feeling like a human, but also by your nature, you're kind of not human. I just thought it spoke to the song and I definitely related to the sculpture and the way it sits- totally out of place and awkward in the middle of the field. I love that image and I think the sculpture it great, but the best part of it is the way the image is framed in that photograph. I don't know who took the photograph; I think it's just someone who compiled a book of Henry Moore sculptures. But yeah, Henry Moore is a British sculptor and he's great. He has a lot of stuff at the Storm King sculpture garden. If you're ever in upstate New York, you should check it out.
So how did SXSW go? Any memorable stories from this year?
It was crazy. Between my two bands I think I played, like 19 shows. Some really good opportunities and got to play in front of some good crowds. I got a lot of response afterwards, so I think it definitely was successful for us. SXSW is the kind of thing that... Beach Fossils almost sat it out. We're like the perfect profile of a band to go, an up-and-coming band that really hasn't toured. SXSW in a lot of ways is like doing your very first US tour playing shitty shows but the people who want to see you will see you. It's just a condensed tour in four days and everybody gets to come see you. But yeah, it went great.
Did you guys do any really DIY shows?
Yeah, that's kind of the nature of SXSW. We played Fader Fort and some bigger, real venues, but we also played our friend Sebastian's parents' house in the backyard with Friends and Total Slacker. Our friend Scott put together a show. We played stuff like that.
You're currently on tour with Frankie Rose, who we're big fans of at Critical Mob. What do you think of her new record?
I think it's really good. I've been following Frankie for awhile. I was a big fan of Vivian Girls when they came out. And then when she had her band The Outs two years ago at SXSW, I saw them play there and they were amazing. I've kept up with her. I've only met her a couple times, but her music is great. It's weird; literally my first girlfriend ever (when I was 15) wrote me like, "I'm playing in this band called Frankie Rose. I heard you guys might go on tour with us." And I was like, whoa, what the fuck? She gave me a copy of the record a while before it came out, and I thought it was amazing. But it turned out this particular girl didn't wind up being in Frankie's band for this tour. I think Frankie changes lineups a lot. I heard it a few months before it came out and just knew that it was gonna do really well.
So I know you're a big fan of what Captured Tracks does. What Captured Tracks stuff this year (aside from your album) are you excited for?
Oh man, this year's gonna be huge for Captured Tracks! There's like... Widowspeak has their follow-up record, Wild Nothing has their follow-up full length, which I've heard a few tracks from. It's amazing. Beach Fossils follow-up is just gonna be a huge step. Craft Spells have a new EP coming out, which is gonna be wild. It's gonna be a huge year for Captured Tracks. Plus, all these new bands: there's Mac DeMarco, there's this new band called Holograms, there's a lot. Captured Tracks is gonna blow up. And the coolest thing about them (I always say) is that every single record they put out, they put out every band that they have's debut record. They discovered every single band on that label. It's something you really can't say for any other reputable label. They just discovered everything from their Myspace page. They found Wild Nothing on Myspace; Jack friended him on Myspace, and that's how they found them. He found Beach Fossils on Myspace. Different bands would send him demos and things like that. That's the coolest thing about it: it forces bands to grow up really fast and to get their shit together. Now they're all like big contenders for this year.
And I've heard they take unsolicited demos, which is a cool thing to still do.
Yeah, they got through demos all the time, and they give everything a chance.
Are you into that duo Cosmetics? I think they have an album coming out.
Yeah, they're great. We've played a number of shows with them. They are putting out a full length. There's a lot. There's also a band from California called Catwalk that's going to have a full length out this year on Captured Tracks.