Interview: Divine Fits

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Beats Per Minute’s Brendan Frank sat down with Divine Fits at this year’s Sasquatch Festival to discuss band dynamics, band names and that infamous story behind Wolf Parade’s debut album title Apologies To The Queen Mary.

Brendan: So you were all quite accomplished before you formed Divine Fits. What are you hoping to achieve with this band?

Dan: I don’t know if I’m trying to achieve anything different, really. This band is just different by its nature because of the people we have. It’s very collaborative. Everybody is pulling equal weight in songwriting and onstage duties. But we wanted to do what everybody wants to do, form a band, write good songs, play shows, have people come to said shows.

Are you all in the same room together when you’re writing?

Dan: It’s changed. When we started the band we were writing songs at Britt [Daniel]’s house. I would come up with a bassline and he’d come up with a guitar part and they’d sort of mesh together, and we wrote a couple things in rehearsals with Sam. Until we got in the studio, it felt more conceptual than it feels now because we hadn’t played any live shows. Once we were playing live shows it felt more like the real thing. And lately, since we’ve been touring for close to a year, we’ve written songs together on the road.

So you guys are constantly writing?

Dan: Yeah we have a single coming out pretty soon. So we’ve just been writing new stuff.

You’re planning another record as well?

Dan: Yeah, definitely.

Another Thing Called Divine Fits?

Dan: Maybe The Second Thing Called Divine Fits. And then there’ll be a box set: All Things Divine Fits.

Where did you get your name? I don’t really know what to make of it.

Dan: We had a list of names… Wait, what do you mean you don’t know what to make of it? Like you don’t like it?

I like it, I just don’t know what it means.

Dan: We just thought it was cool.

Alex: We had a list of cool words and we just mixed and matched them until two of them sounded good together.

Dan: Britt had asked Bradford [Cox] from Deerhunter for a band name and he threw one out. We didn’t end up using it, but it was close. We were down to about three names.

What didn’t make the cut?

Dan: Laced Jerks, which was Bradford’s, and Hot Skull. But Divine Fits makes the most sense.

Are comfortable with the term “supergroup”?

Sam: Are you?

I don’t really like it, just because you have bands like Chickenfoot kicking around.

Dan: I get it, I guess. Music journalism is hard enough as it is with so many bands out there.

You’re probably responsible for about half of them.

Dan: [laughs] Maybe. I think some people need to be able to quantify a band in the first paragraph of their article. Like ‘this band sounds like this or is this genre.’ So I get it, it doesn’t really bother me.

You dissolved Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade recently. Is this a full-time gig for you then?

Dan: Yeah it is. I got a new band in the works too, so I’ve been writing songs for that as well. Actually in 2010 Wolf Parade played its second last show on the same stage we’re playing on tonight. Then we drove up to Vancouver and did a friends and family show at the Commodore Ballroom. And that was our last show ever, it was two days after Sasquatch 2010. And then Handsome Furs broke up around this time last year.

What did think of your AMA on Reddit?

Dan: It was awesome, really fun to follow.

You guys didn’t answer my question.

Dan: [laughs] Britt didn’t answer your question! But it’s cool, it’s a really awesome way to communicate with fans. I remember writing letters to bands as a kid in high school in Canada. I wrote letters to Fugazi, Sonic Youth… The only band that ever replied was Fugazi. I think they had a policy to reply to all letters.

Sam: What did you ask them?

Dan: I asked them some totally nerdy bullshit about guitars and asking what pedals they use [laughs]. I don’t think I have that letter anymore. I mean it’s pretty amazing to have direct communication with fans. I like it because it’s completely outside that whole web of marketing and sponsorship and business that pays the bills. That’s completely separate, it’s a little more pure.

So I’ve never seen you live before, who plays what?

Sam: I drum, Dan plays guitar, bass and sings. Alex is a triple threat. He plays everything but drums, but mainly keyboards.

Classically trained?

Alex: Yeah, piano lessons as a kid. We were going to do the band as a five-piece and it wasn’t working out.

Dan: We kept firing people.

Alex: Three days before our first show we decided to go as a four-piece. So we have three days to relearn all of the material.

Dan: This dude [points to Alex] claimed he couldn’t play guitar, then we get together as a four-piece for the first time and he’s just rocking out in practice.

Sam: We had to tell James Murphy he couldn’t be in the band. We thought if we didn’t have him it wouldn’t be a supergroup as much, so we kicked him out. Now we don’t have James Murphy and everyone is still calling us a supergroup.

How do you decide who’s on vocal duty?

Dan: It depends. It’s sort of whoever comes up with the riff or whatever. We’ve never really had a fight or even a discussion. It just falls into place.

You covered Nick Cave on your record. Whose decision was that?

Dan: It was Britt’s. He loves that song. That was one of the first things that Britt and Sam and I did before Alex joined the band. We were just trying to figure out how to sound like us. I had a great time recording that song.

Where did you record it?

Dan: In the valley in California. Toto’s drummer Jeff Porcaro had a house in the valley.

Sam: Didn’t he die in the house?

Dan: He died in the backyard… Anyways, he had a pool shed where they did a lot of recording and we recorded the whole album there. Our producer Nick Launay has worked with Nick Cave since the days of The Birthday Party.

Are you still in contact with Spencer [Krug]?

Dan: Yeah, I’ll be seeing him pretty soon, actually.

Any chance of a Wolf Parade reunion?

Dan: Probably not. One thing we are doing is Sub Pop is remastering Apologies to the Queen Mary for iTunes.

Is the legend of how that album got its name true?

Dan: Yes. Yes, we behaved really poorly on a boat.

Did they accept your apology?

Dan: I don’t know, I’ve never been back. But they kicked us off the boat… yeah, they were not happy. We carved a Ouija board on an oak dining table and then threw it off the side of the Queen Mary.

Sam: As a band?

Dan: Yeah.

Sam: Were you playing on the ship?

Dan: No, All Tomorrow’s Parties was happening at Long Beach and everyone was staying on the Queen Mary. Then our friends from Frog Eyes and some of the guys from The Black Heart Procession were there and we got really silly, silly drunk. We tried to summon the ghost of Winston Churchill by carving a Ouija board into this old oak dining table. Then we realized we had to destroy the evidence so we threw it overboard.

Sam: So are they more pissed about the table or the fact that the ghost of Winston Churchill now haunts the decks of that boat?

[all laugh]

I have to imagine that was a really heavy table.

Dan: Yeah it was a lot of dudes, the band and then our dirtbag friends from Victoria, British Columbia. That was my first festival that I ever played. It was a good time to get silly.

Sam: It’s pretty impressive, like that many people making that bad of a decision collectively. Usually it’s just like the one guy that grabs the TV and hurls it out the window, everyone is glad it happened and they didn’t do it.

Dan: You really cannot underestimate the psychological implications of mass amounts of alcohol and psychidelics. It’s like a hive mind.