Man at His Best

Interview: DIIV ahead of Laneway Festival

DIIV, aka Zachary Cole Smith, talks about the upcoming Laneway Festival, the necessary evil that is touring and why he feels bad charging you USD20 for a T-shirt

BY JONATHAN FONG | Jan 22, 2016 | Music

Photograph from DIIV

“Bands should make their shows as good as they possibly can.”

Essentially the musical project of Zachary Cole Smith, DIIV is a band from Brooklyn, New York that plays guitar-laden dreamy rock songs that sparkle with poppy melodies and sunny beach vibes.

It’s been a 4 year wait for a new album since the band released its highly successful debut Oshin and the band has its share of setbacks, controversy and run-ins with the law that have threatened to derail any progress.

This February, DIIV’s sophomore more album Is The Is Are is finally set to be released on Captured Tracks. With two excellent singles teasing what promises to be a sonic beauty, I spoke to Cole over the phone a week before DIIV is scheduled to perform at Laneway Singapore to learn more on the journey leading up to the new album.

ESQUIRE: Hey Cole, how’s 2016 been so far?

DIIV: It’s been great. We played a New Year’s Eve show which was fun; I’m excited on what we’re doing in the future.

ESQ: What are your thoughts on playing Laneway Festival? Bands have described it to be like summer camp, with a line-up that travels together for nearly 3 weeks.

DIIV: I’ve done festivals like that before; just like summer camp, you meet all the bands around you and its good vibes all around. I think it should be pretty fun experience. Yeah, I’m excited.

ESQ: Is there anyone in particular that you’re a fan of or that you’re looking forward to hanging out with?

DIIV: I’m excited to watch Grimes play every night. I really like Grimes.

ESQ: Is this your first time in Singapore? What are you looking forward to, if you have any time at all to spend in the city?

DIIV: I’m excited for Singapore; the only place I’ve ever been nearby was Kuala Lumpur which was really fun and the food (there) was awesome. I’ve heard that Singapore is very clean; I’m excited to check it out. I love to travel and see new places so this should be fun.

ESQ: Congratulations on your new album. In other interviews you’ve described it to be a highly personal album with lyrics as the center piece. What does this album express for you on a personal level?

DIIV: For me it’s about making an honest album, communicating a lot of stuff that I’ve been though in the past couple of years and letting people know about how I wound up there. Hopefully after people hear the record they know more about me, more about my situation and are not as likely to judge me, or say shitty stuff about me, which they love to do. So hopefully that happens less.

ESQ: Is there a need to for you to respond to or vindicate such negativity?

DIIV: I hope that by making something honest I can connect with people and they won’t feel the need to be negative about the band. I wanted to make a record that takes risks but also has the ability to win the listener over; really get through them and help them connect with me. I would hope that they would not have anything negative to say after hearing the record because I wanted it to be as honest and forthcoming as possible.

ESQ: You’ve mentioned that you’ve lost money through touring. How is this possible?

DIIV: There are so many expenses that go into touring: between flights, renting a van, equipment, paying your whole crew, your band—all that stuff costs so much money.

Concerts don’t pay a huge amount of money and a lot of times—especially early on in the band—we lost money on every single tour we did. Between all the people we had to pay—the booking agent, management—all those people work on commission, they take a percentage. There are just a lot of expenses that bands incur on tour if you want to be professional that involves hiring people, and people costs money to hire, to do stuff like that.

ESQ: It sounds like you are very focused on producing a polished and professional DIIV show.

DIIV: I think that when bands are paid to do shows, they should make the shows as good as they possibly can. That means taking any money you might earn from a show and putting it back into the production itself.

If you’re a band getting paid ten thousand dollars to do a show I think it’s worth putting a couple thousand dollars into the production of the show. That means paying somebody to do the lights, someone to do the sound. We’ve never been able to afford the stuff that bigger bands are able to have.

This is our first time on this Australian tour where we’re going to have a sound guy, we’re going to have somebody doing lights, we’re going to bring a projector, we’re going to have our backdrop, we’re going to have a lot of stuff.

ESQ: Is selling merchandise on the road the solution to increase income while on tour?

DIIV: People love buying T-shirt and merchandise; I’ve just been really bad about making that because I kinda feel like a sell-out doing it? It sucks sometimes charging USD20 for a T-shirt; I want to sell them for USD10 but you just can’t do that because you need to pay the artist who did the art, you need to pay to make the screen, you have to buy the T-shirts, all that stuff, just the cost per shirt alone is USD10.

In order to make any money we have to charge more than that.

I know people always want them but sometimes I’d rather not have anything than having people feel like they are overpaying for something. I’m trying to start doing more merchandise for the band because I think people want it; I’ve just been pretty bad at doing it.

ESQ: Between writing, recording, touring and doing other projects like modelling, is the balance between each of these endeavors the key to staying happy?

DIIV: The part that I want to be doing the most is writing and recording—that’s what lasts and that to me is what’s most important. Obviously touring is a necessary evil; I want to travel but sometimes touring can be intense. So I think balancing that (alone) is important. Touring is fun, playing shows is fun but it’s very fleeting.

In terms of the other stuff I do, like modelling, that’s just kind of been out of curiosity, taking opportunities when presented to me. I would be totally happy if I was just writing and recording all the time because to me that’s the most important part of what I do.

Balancing the other stuff is important, but writing and recording is by far my favorite part. That’s what lasts; that’s your permanent legacythe music that you put down on vinyl or on CD. That’s what people will see forever.

Laneway Festival Singapore takes place on January 30, 2016 (or whenever you put on that H&M gown and run around an open field possessed by a quality of youthful exuberence). Tickets are priced from SGD180.