Interview: Death Bells do it themselves

death bells

Adrian Pedić chatted to Sydney-based Death Bells before their excellent performance supporting Gang of Youths in Sydney last week. Maurice, Remy, John and Will discussed some of their upcoming plans, their attitude towards their music, and whether “pop” is a dirty word:

You guys have just released a single, which came out about a month ago, “You, Me And Everyone In-between”. What can you tell us about how that’s been going so far?
Will: So it’s been going pretty well. We’ve had a few shows since the release, I guess we sat on it for a little bit. There were a lot of responses to it though, like it was really intense. It’s been going well, we’ve continued to record and write new songs, and just try and scope out something we’ve got.

Tonight you’re opening for Gang of Youths, so what do you see in the band’s future from this point onwards?
Maurice: Just smash it up the east coast of Australia, play for like six months, then hopefully get on the festival circuit, and potentially go over to America or the UK around this time next year. Obviously with the release of an album at the end of the year, we can just ride off that for the whole of next year and just play shows. We released the single, with no songs out, the second week it came out we got asked to play a show, we got the Gang [of Youths] show without ever playing. It just happened so quick, so I would like to be in a position to be able to predict what’s coming, but I really don’t know. It’s exciting.

With moving forward so quickly, is it hard to keep track of the band itself, and putting out material and keeping on top of it?
Remy: It can be a bit difficult, because I live in Byron Bay, practice wise. But the boys have been writing these songs for about a year now, so we have material. We have an album, with all the songs ready to go, so hopefully that will be released around summer time. Then, once I graduate uni at the end of this year, I’ll move to Sydney, so logistically everything will be a bit easier, but right now I’m just flying down every weekend, every two weekends, and we have shows and practice.

So with the decision to move overseas, in around a year’s time, what do you see as the benefits, or the reasoning, behind that?
Maurice: Just for a wider audience. I don’t wanna just stick to one audience demographic, you know what I mean? Like a lot of Australian bands don’t make it overseas, not because they’re not talented, but just because they don’t have the motivation. We’re all young, and motivated, we’re willing to make this work, and to juggle it with other things – so I feel going over to Europe and America is the next logical move, because there’s so much opportunity to work with record labels and management.

John: It’s also so much cheaper and practical to tour the US and the UK and Europe. Here, you have no backing, everything costs an arm and a leg, like simple things like hiring vans and shit like that.

Remy: Of course, we want to be established in Australia, and lock down Australia.

Maurice: We don’t want to rush in.

death bells profileYeah there’s actually a really significant history of Australian bands being successful overseas, going back all the way to the 80’s. Even now, a band like DMA’s are still really low key in Sydney, where they’re from, while they’re selling out the Brixton Academy in the UK. Remy, you lived in the UK, how do you think that’ll help if you guys decide to re-locate over there?
Remy: I moved to Leeds around this time last year for university, I was there for a semester and ended up staying nine months. I met lots of great people, and got inspired, musically, by people around me, by friends I made who were doing all different types of music; notably, hardcore bands and everyday practising, you know, working on their musical ability. That was really inspiring. Hopefully by the time we get back over there, I’ve networked with a few booking agents, and hopefully a few bands to tour with, who have a similar sound to us in Europe. Yeah, hopefully when we get this record out, and we’re established over here, then we can get over there and smash it out.

From what I can see, it seems like while your musical sensibilities might not be hardcore, there seems to be a strong DIY, hardcore ethic in the band. What does that mean to you?
John: We’ve done everything ourselves – put out the record, getting out there, making all the posters, putting them up, booking the shows, setting up.

Remy: Literally the first money we invested into this was hiring a van to go to Melbourne, before that we hadn’t paid money for photos, for recording, for press. We literally have done it all ourselves, and yeah those roots are all with us three, and Will as well, being into music; it’s been a bit more underground that the stuff we’re doing now, where we’ve had to do everything ourselves – if we don’t, nothing happens. You wanna get it done, you do it yourself.

Maurice: Even like this gig. We haven’t even loaded in yet, we dropped all out shit in the main room, and they go ‘You guys can go, we’ll set it all up’. Having played shows, you always set up your own gear. I’ve played in hardcore bands for three, four, five years of my life, and I can tell you that even US, international touring bands always set their own gear up. It’s just a huge cultural shift.

Remy: It’s a new world for us. We’re excited to get stuck in, for sure.

Along with that, do you think approaching music – or any creative art – with a DIY attitude, with that mentality, do you think that affects your ambition and your approach to the music itself?
Maurice: I think it keeps you more humble, man. I think it keeps you grounded, you won’t get such a big head, like get lost in the whole personality of the band, and thinking you’re better than everyone else. It keeps your roots in where you started, how hard you worked for music to try get where you are now, from the bottom end of a scene that’s catering towards you. You still want to make the effort to do things by yourself to show initiative.

Remy: Don’t forget the ethos of why you started the band, we started this band because this is the type of music we wanted to play, and we wanted to do something a bit different, and this is a new creative outlet. Because we’ve started out DIY, it’s always been us. The music is what really matters to us, not fucking selling 300 t-shirts at a show or whatever.

Yeah, well given that you’re keeping the music at heart, what can you tell us about the upcoming record?
Will: A lot of contrast. Really slow, simple songs, but also really upbeat, energetic songs that we personally feel would go down well at a show. We have that really happy, energetic sound, but at the same time a lot of the lyrics are kind of sombre. Even as far as the aesthetic, with the DIY approach, the music is really polished, and there’s a contrast in that as well. So I feel like that’s an element that’s really driving the project.

Remy: Yeah, there’s also a bunch of different influences, we all listen so so many different types of music, and being over in England, like the songs we’re writing, the leads I’m playing. I’m listening to the Stone Roses and the Smiths, all those Manchester bands from the 80’s are kind of where I’m taking my guitar hooks. Maurice has got a bunch of different influences, and Will as well.

Maurice: I think the way a good album is structured is like, it starts off slow, sort of energetic to keep people listening, it gets to it’s own peak as an album. We can get slower, then pick it back up again. You don’t want songs that all sound the same, the same energy; we want that layered energy that picks up and drops, and keeps you wanting to listen to the album.

Remy: Yeah, the album sounds good.

So obviously you guys have a lot of different influences. How prominent would you say the Australian influence is?
Maurice: Oh, so much dude. So much.

In what ways?
Maurice: What did Johnny Marr say? “If you’re not playing music that sounds like where you’re from, you’re doing something wrong”.

Remy: To not play music from where you’re from, you’re faking it.

Maurice: People can compare us to bands from Northern England, and say we sound like that, and while I like those bands, 100% this band is based on bands like The Go-Betweens, You Am I, even Screamfeeder, Jebediah, Custard. Even songwriting sensibilities like Crowded House and stuff. Even Paul Kelly. We want to use so many instruments on this record now, like we could have stripped it back to just guitars and drums and just had a punk record, but because we had acoustics, synths, pads and different shit, it gives it that sensibility of like The Go-Betweens, which is really what I want it to sound like.

So from just a few of the bands you’ve cited, would you describe yourselves as a pop group, or a group with pop sensibilities?
Will: We play music with a lot of different influences, but at the same time we don’t want to overstate it. We don’t wear it on our sleeves, like yes, we write to different preconceptions of genre, of what we want the band to sound like, but at the same time I feel like it’s hugely original, especially as a step away from all the other bands that we’ve played in.

It seems like when people talk about independent music, or underground music, that it’s exclusive from anything that’s pop-oriented. So how do you feel that you guys are tackling that as a band? Does pop music and indie credibility have to be mutually exclusive?
Will: I think there’s a massive difference between pop music and catchy songs. We play catchy songs.

John: I was gonna say, define pop. Like what’s pop?

You can’t really.
John: Exactly.

Maurice: Like with tonight, I’ve been saying it to so many people, don’t just judge us based on the single, it’s the most held-back song on the record. On the songs that Will sings on, there’s full on screaming and stuff. I feel it’s like – dude, the Dandy Warhols [they are playing over the PA of the pub]. It’s a pop song, but it’s still got that heavier aesthetic.

Remy: At the end of the day it’s electric guitar music, but we think it’s pretty catchy, and we hope that other people do too.

Maurice: I think it’s the way you carry yourself as a band as well. I think it goes back to how we’ve done everything ourselves, up until this point. And we’re gonna do it for as long as we possibly can, until, if, we get to that point where people say “We’ll do it for you”. We always wanna do it ourselves, because no-one can do it better than ourselves.

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Interview by Adrian Pedić