It’s been nothing but roaring success for the Brisbane thrash-pop duo, DZ Deathrays. An ARIA award, several tours around Europe as well as America, with fellow garage-rockers Bass Drum of Death. And there’s the kinship with comedian Arj Barker. Jake Wilton met the fellas by the river in Brisbane.
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Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley began the DZ Deathrays story in 2009 playing house parties in Brisbane’s already bustling music scene. While Brisbane may have been full to the brim with local bands finding their feet at just about every house party across the city, DZ Deathrays’ music got the crowds moshing, moving and bouncing. The media buzz soon followed.
2012 saw the release of the boys’ debut, ARIA award winning record Bloodstreams which made bombastic waves not only in Australia but in many parts of the world which saw them tour the album in 15 different countries.
Already hard at work on their sophomore release, Parsons and Ridley have teased audiences with Northern Lights, a pounding ballad that skews the DZ Deathrays formula that we’ve come to love. Guitarist and lead vocalist Shane Parsons says it’s pretty different to what they’ve released before, but then not really different at all.
“There’ll probably be another one or two songs similar to that [Northern Lights] on the record, but then there’ll be some really heavy stuff and there’ll be a lot of that more… middle ground heavy dancy-punk stuff that we do.”
“We’ve had tracks that are slower on the first record that just never got released; it’s like throwing everyone a curveball. It was a decision that we had to make as a group [whether to release it or not]. I mean, first single on the next album make it like something that’s pretty different.”
The track was produced by Andy Savours – a prolific man who’s worked with artists such as My Bloody Valentine, Sigur Ros and the Horrors. Although Andy’s previous work has been with shoegaze and post-rock outfits, his work on Northern Lights is still recognisable. While Andy’s work on the track was invaluable, it was the DZ Deathrays boys who thrashed out this new noisy idea.
“The song was pretty much there, Andy just worked really hard on getting the mixes and the sounds right,” drummer Simon Ridley says.
“We actually recorded it and then cut it back because it was a bit long. There’s a part in the middle that was actually extended – so when we do it live it goes a bit longer. We cut it down so it would move quicker just for radio… it’s a radio edit if you want to call it that. I mean, everyone would have expected us to put out a “riff” song, so we just did the opposite,” Parsons adds.
“[The reaction] has been surprisingly good. I thought we’d get a lot of flack for it,” interjected Simon.
“I mean, I’ve been giving it some shit myself. On Facebook, when I posted the song, I added, ‘More like DZ Coldplay’ because someone wrote, ‘I never thought this band would turn into Coldplay’. It was really funny when I put it up there because all these people starting critiquing the song, but I was saying to my friend the other day that I want people to badmouth the song online because when we bring out the real heavy stuff these people are going to have to delete their stupid comments,” added Shane as they both laugh.
Part of the reason DZ Deathrays decided to release Northern Lights was to shake up the norm and get people talking. But don’t expect an entire album of head-banging ballads like Northern Lights because Shane and Simon still enjoy writing metal songs in similar vein to Bloodstreams.
“That’s the band we are; we’re a heavy rock band but on the first record we had two or three songs that we kind of mellow,” Shane explains.
“One of the first songs we ever recorded was called The Mess Up, and it feels like if we did The Mess Up in a studio with Andy Savours it would turn out like Northern Lights,” added Simon.
Simon and Shane have found the recording experience more rewarding and distinct from the Bloodstreams sessions. But recording songs isn’t just all work for DZ Deathrays. Shane says that before working with Andy, they’d never really been told what to do in the studio.
“For the first album, the songs were the songs and there wasn’t that much we added. But this time we went in there for the day, we started at 11 o’ clock in the morning and finished at 4 o’ clock the next morning. By the end of it we were all just drinking beers and getting drunk at 3 in the morning while I was doing the vocals,” Shane laughs.
“It was funny, really, because we were supposed to work with another guy and he bailed out on us last minute. He was a pop producer but he came from a heavy background so we thought he might be a cool guy to do a song with. Something ended up happening and the recording never went ahead while we were in London.”
“Yeah, it all fizzled *while* we were in London; like a week before we were supposed to record ,” Simon adds laughing.
Shane says they were just doing random things in London for a couple of weeks, so they met Andy for lunch.
“We’d had him on our list of people to meet and he’s awesome; he’s a real tech nerd. So we sat at this café for hours just talking about pedals and synthesisers and guitars… We were hoping to finish off the rest of the record with him; it’s tough financially because we’d have to go to London to do it. I’m glad we got this one song done with him, but maybe in the future we could record with him again.”
Yet where Northern Lights ends, a new direction spawns for DZ Deathrays’ sophomore record. They have taken a new approach to recording this yet-to-be-titled album by using a variety of studios in New York, London and Sydney as well as a range of producers. Of course, with new territory, comes fresh inspiration.
“We’ve done one [track] in London, two in Yorkshire, two in New York; it’s like whenever we get the chance to record in a nice studio we just take it! We’ve basically taken the worst approach to it. The first one we just locked in fourteen days in the studio and just did it, and this one has been here-and-there-and-everywhere,” laughs Simon.
“And when we get in [the studio] and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to re-record that now’. I mean, I like that idea because there’s someone who wants it to have a certain colour,” Shane adds.
“I mean, every time you work in a new place you’re working with someone different; and they’ve all got new ideas of how they want your sound to sound. So, we’re doing the rest of the record with Burke Reid; he’s pretty much doing more than half of the rest of the record, so it’d be interesting to see how these songs sound in comparison to everything else.”
“I feel like we’ve written a lot of songs.“
“A shit tonne of songs!” Simon interjects.
Shane laughs and continues, “Yeah, slowly just have to piece it together. I think we’re like… I said this about six months ago, but we’re about 86% [done].”
“We’ve got about two, two-and-a-half weeks of pre-production with Burke which we’ve never done with anyone else. Last time it was just an afternoon with beers and sitting around in a jam room; I think we played three songs for Richard [Pike, producer for Bloodstreams]. So to have that much time with Burke, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” says Simon.
The boys are a bit loose with a release date, with Shane saying late March to early April and Simon admitting that you can never know for sure when these things might get pushed back.
“Yeah, we wanted to put this album out this year but I mean we’re still writing the songs for it now” laughs Simon.
Steering the conversation towards touring commitments, the boys deny any intention to play shows in support of Northern Lights. Yet that’s not to say they’ve neglected the stage all together. They had the honour of playing an ARIA Awards party in Sydney with Palms and the chance to open the stage in Brisbane for one of DZ’s most loved bands at the moment, Canadian noise-rock group METZ. Other than scheduling semi-impromptu shows, the boys are determined to just finish the record before focussing on worldwide touring.
The only chance to catch DZ Deathrays this summer is at the Big Day Out tour which whips around Australia in January with some huge names on the bill such as Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, Deftones, Beady Eye and Toro Y Moi.
At these shows, DZ Deathrays have been able to flex new songs and see how the masses respond. While they are developing new sounds, they’re still dropping heavy songs in order to create a wider appeal and not stray too far from the sounds that Bloodstreams brought.
“It’s the same formula… we’re just trying a few different things here and there to just… tidy it up from the last record. I mean, live it’s going to sound alright but on the record we really need to nail it,” said Shane.
And even though the boys love the studio life, it is the stage where Shane and Simon create the most energy and passion for their work. They’ve hit hundreds of stages across America, Canada, Europe and of course Australia. Though the touring sometimes takes its toll the boys say they’ve missed playing their music to an eager crowd every night.
“I love travelling, seeing new things and meeting people and driving around. I can’t wait to do that again next year,” reminisced Shane.
“Yeah, we’re trying to get to play South By [South West],” added Simon.
“[Once the record is out] we’re going to go over and, even if we don’t get an official showcase at SXSW, play at some of the parties. They’re actually more beneficial than having a tour of your own.”
Taking a step back from all their success would seem like a mammoth feat, yet DZ Deathrays recollect some of their achievements over the years as a band. Playing showcases at SXSW, playing alongside huge acts in England at the Reading and Leeds Festivals and, of course, sharing the stage with non other than Foo Fighters, just to name a few.
“Everyday is like… a surprise! As a kid, we grew up together, I remember going down to Livid [Festival] and Big Day Out on a bus from Bundaberg. You get up at three in the morning, get on this bus at four and you get to the festival at nine. Just doing that and admiring all the bands… and now I actually get to that; when I was a kid that’s all I wanted to do,” recalls Shane.
“It was only after we did those Foo Fighters gigs that you realise, ‘Holy shit, we actually did that!’
DZ Deathrays will be crowd surfing their way around Australia and New Zealand for the Big Day Out through January and Feburary.