You’ve heard of them before, these members of this new band called Divine Fits. And while Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniel and Sam Brown will always have those other monikers follow their names in parentheses―(Wolf Parade, Spoon, Handsome Furs, New Bomb Turks)―don’t brush Divine Fits off as some minor side project just yet, because one live set will immediately convince you that this is real. This one is about getting back to the roots of the matter, to playing pure unadulterated rock, and in the small clubs that foster that energy best. And these guys (plus newcomer Alex Fischel) are putting on performances that are undeniably bursting with something of a rediscovered and excited passion.
Just after their first live shows in Los Angeles (and, in fact, the world), I gave co-frontman Dan a ring to gauge his feelings on the new venture.
So thank you so much for taking time out to do this today. I know it’s a Saturday.
No problem. I’m actually working today on a soundtrack for a film out in Sun Valley, which is pretty nice.
Oh wow. Is this a big film?
It’s like an indie movie with John Cusack and Emma Roberts in it. So yeah, I’m out in the Valley, recording.
Have you ever done soundtrack work before?
No, never. It’s all news to me.
How did you get involved?
This friend of mine, Scott Coffey, who’s directing the film, he did a bunch of video work for Handsome Furs, and he commissioned me to do it.
I’ll definitely keep my eye out for that. So I saw you play with Divine Fits earlier this week, and you guys were great. How do you feel like the shows have been going? I mean, that was what, show number eight?
Yeah, that was show number eight. I’ve been having a blast. I feel like I couldn’t have asked for anything more from the shows. Everyone plays really well with each other. The audiences have just been amazing considering the record’s not even out yet. And people actually know the songs, either from YouTube or the NPR stream. It’s been amazing. We went from doing these small, hometown shows to playing in Salt Lake City to like 25,000 people. It’s been really, really good.
How different is it for you to be playing smaller shows again?
I think…I don’t know. I think it was easier for me to ease into that, it was easier for me to get into that maybe than for Britt just because with the Handsome Furs, I got used to playing punked out, smaller venues since we were doing that. But I haven’t really done that for years with a rock band, so it’s been really exciting. I mean, those are my favorite shows to play.
You’ve got to be a real asshole not to like playing a small club packed with people that are excited to see you, you know?
Did you feel nervous? Or were you feeling pretty confident with this band?
I felt nervous before our first show in Aspen. I always get nervous before I go on stage, though. It doesn’t really matter how many people are there. And I guess weirdly, playing in Montreal when we did that show a few weeks back, just a small venue, like 300 people there―I was more nervous playing that show than I was getting on stage in Salt Lake City in front of 25,000 people.
Because it was your hometown?
Yeah, because you know, you play some guitar and maybe you’re changing your pedals or something and you look up and then you see somebody whose couch you passed out on. Like that’s humbling, right? You know you’re playing for friends, so you can’t really put on any airs when you’re doing those shows. And I like that. It has to be real.
Britt wrote on your website that he was really excited about playing with Divine Fits, finally getting the opportunity to play live shows because he feels that’s a huge part of wanting to be in a band. Does the same go for you―do you like playing live, or are you more about recording?
I am more about performing live. I love recording, but I think―and this is just my personal taste―I think recording and actually playing shows are two really separate things. And I think now with the way that the landscape of the music industry is, I think you need to be able to play songs well live because everything is being documented. Bands don’t make their bread and butter off of record sales, you know? I think you need to bring something to the table entertainment-wise, and people will record it and it’ll go up on YouTube. So if you can’t pull it off live, then it gets out pretty quickly.
And I just love playing music for people at shows. Even though people are recording it, even though clips go up on YouTube and people are taking photos and putting them on Instagram, there is something about a live show that’s this temporary moment that unless you were there, you never really get to experience it. You can’t download it, the full experience of that. And that’s my favorite thing about playing music―an actual, emotional connection with living humans in the real world. Right in your face and sweaty. And if they don’t like it, they’ll tell you. If they do like it, they will tell you. It’s very immediate.
I did notice that you guys are reaching out on social media, doing the whole Instagram thing, being on Twitter. Did you guys ever discuss doing that, trying to reach out fans more?
I kind of put my toe in the water with Instagram and social media with the Handsome Furs, at the behest of our tour manager. I’m really weary of social media on a personal level. Like I don’t have Facebook and I don’t have a personal Twitter and I don’t have an Instagram account outside of the band, because I feel like―I know it’s a major form of communication, but I feel like it’s just almost like short-circuiting of true human interaction where you just hashtag something like #killingit, #realtalk, you know? Like what is that?
And also, I don’t really believe that anybody gives a fuck what I’m doing, outside of Divine Fits. I know that people are fans of Divine Fits and I have fun posting stuff that we’re doing on tour, just to give a little more transparency and share a little bit more with people that are actually interested in what we’re doing. But as for what Dan Boeckner’s been doing in his spare time―nobody gives a fuck. And why should they?
So when the band started playing with each other, was there any sort of mission statement you think you were going after? Or what do you think you guys were aiming to do with Divine Fits in terms of sound?
I think it just came down to the fact that Britt and I have been friends for four or five years now, and I know there’s a lot of mutual respect for what we do. I have a bottomless amount of respect for Britt as a man, as a professional musician and aesthetically, and I think it goes both ways. And we just wanted to be in a rock band together, you know?
And then aesthetically, we never sat down and had a conversation where either of us said, ‘The band should sound like this.’ And I kind of think when you do start a band, and you have a blueprint for it, that’s generally a bad idea. I mean, people can smell that a mile away. You know what I mean? It’s like ‘We’re going to be like 25 percent LCD Soundsystem meets Ariel Pink―but ‘60s style.’ Like that sucks. People can see through that pretty quickly.
Do you have a favorite track of Divine Fits’ so far?
I go back and forth on my favorite songs. Right now, just from playing live, I really love playing “The Salton Sea,” because Britt and I sing all the vocals together. But when you listen to it on record, it sounds like a strange combination of our voices; it could be either one of us. I just feel like a freeform guitar freak when I’m playing, that’s the kind of thing that I really enjoy.
I mean, I think it really shows on stage how much you’re enjoying playing these songs.
Well I mean, why not, right? A lot of songs’ emotional content is pretty heavy. I was going through a really incredibly difficult time when we made this record. It was one of the worst times in my entire life emotionally. When I sing those songs, I can tap into that into that again, I can still feel it now. But at the same time, I’m having a really good time playing music on stage with my friends, and I don’t want to be a big sulk up there with my feelings, right? So I can tap into the feelings in the moment while I’m playing the songs, but when the song’s over and I look up and I see my friends on stage with me and the audience happy, it makes me happy.
How did the “Shivers” cover get on the record?
I had never heard that song before. Britt brought it to the band and our version’s pretty different than the original Boys Next Door version. He brought it in and it hit all the sweet spots for me, which was that it’s two chords and it sounds great. And you don’t really need more than two chords to write a great rock song.
And you’ve been playing the Wipers’ “Doom Town” and Tom Petty’ s “You Got Lucky” live as well.
Well the Wipers, that was one of the first things me and Britt bonded over musically, which was a mutual love and respect for this really criminally underrated punk rock band, punk rock new wave band. It’s interesting, ever since we started playing that song, I’ve been reading about other bands―not that we had anything to do with this, it’s all just happening simultaneously―but I think there’s a general rediscovery of the Wipers going on in indie rock.
And the Tom Petty song, I’ve always just really loved that song. I love playing that tune, you know? And those mean-spirited lyrics, too. They’re just the darkest, nastiest, most mean-spirited lyrics, and it still boggles my mind that the song became a huge pop hit. Some of it is just so brutal and dark, and the song itself is so cold and minimal. Yeah, I just love that tune.
So you mentioned at the show that you just moved to Los Angeles.
Yeah, I live in Los Angeles in a really bizarre, non-descript neighborhood just south of Koreatown. It’s great, I get up in the morning and I walk outside and there’s older Korean men walking their dogs and it looks like a David Lynchian suburb. I never run into anyone I know. I love it.
And all the shitty things that people say about L.A. are true, you know? There’s definitely a sort of dark and disgusting element of bottom-feeding vampires in the entertainment industry. But you know, everything people said that’s shitty about New York is true as well. I got into an argument with someone about this. I think some of the things that make L.A. a potentially bad place to live also have a positive impact on the people here. Like the DIY scene here, because of that environment that they live in, I think the art that comes out of it is even better because of that. Like you get bands like No Age and the whole scene at The Smell. There’s a great noise scene here. It’s like that environment breeds more resistance and better music. I love living here.
So do you check out a lot of shows and venues around here?
Yeah, totally. Not a ton of local bands because I’ve been rehearsing a lot, but I saw the Damned at House of Blues not too long ago. I went to this street fair in Silver Lake where Abe Vigoda played and this band Tearist played. I’ve gotten to hang out with some people that I met on the road, like the guys from HEALTH, who are one of the best bands in America right now. It’s been good.
So the future for Divine Fits―you guys are just playing shows indefinitely?
Yeah, we’re touring. We’ve got a North American tour in October. We’re playing on television in September, which is really exciting. Uh, I am really excited to play on TV.
Is this your personal debut on TV?
Wolf Parade played on the Craig Ferguson show once. Which you know, Craig Ferguson. But Wolf Parade never really wanted to do television. When I was a kid, I grew up in a really small town. I graduated high school in ’96, so you know, that’s pre-Internet. And I remember seeing Sonic Youth on “David Letterman” when I was 14 and into metal, and that’s kind of what got me out of playing in metal bands. I saw Sonic Youth on “Letterman” and I was just like ‘This is incredible.’ It just blew my brain out the back of my head. So ever since then, I’ve always wanted to play on television. I’m excited.
Well congrats on that.
Thank you. I’m probably the most excited out of anybody in the band, except for maybe young Alex.
Aw. So one last thing―can you tell me anything about Wolf Parade and its status?
Wolf Parade’s not doing anything. I mean, maybe sometime we’ll make another record, but you know, I don’t know. The drummer has two children. Spencer’s in this band called Moonface, which seems to be going good for him right now. You know, we made three good records. The last thing we need to do right now is go back on tour and play like everybody’s favorite tunes from those records. That would just be, I think, pretty crass at this point. And nobody’s in a position where they want to get together and make another album, so we’re just letting it sit for now.
And now you have Divine Fits.
And I’ve got this thing, and I’m really happy with it. This is a good place for me.