Clad in an oversized knit sweater, his bleach-blond hair pointing at a half-dozen different angles, DIIV frontman Z. Cole Smith prefaces our chat with a disclaimer: He never expected the band to go anywhere. And yet, on the cusp of releasing their debut Oshin, DIIV (changed from DIVE out of respect for the 1990s Belgian industrial band of the same name) has already surpassed Smith’s modest expectations â€”which didn’t extend far past hanging out with friends and playing a few shows in his Brooklyn enclave. “It wasn’t about making the art for myself,” clarifies Smith. “It was more about making it for a small community of my friends.”
Since then, Smith has become a bandleader rather than solo artist, road-testing material that recalls the dreamlike intensity of ’90s shoegaze, performing for increasingly larger crowds what was originally conceived in an airlessNew York apartment in the dead of summer.
eMusic’s Laura Studarus joined Smith on a battered suitcase outside of the Los Angeles music video shoot for “How Long Have You Known” to discuss getting personal in music, the affect of community on the artistic process, and striving to create real things in an increasingly virtual world.
On (re)establishing his place in Brooklyn’s musical community:
I had been out of New York on tour for over a year. I was living in Minneapolis, I was living in Seattle, I was on tour, I was overseas, I came back toNew York. When I left New York, I was super bummed out; I was part of this community. When I came back, that community was still intact, but I wasn’t part of it. I could go hang out with my friends, or I could not. It didn’t really matter, because people were getting on without me. So I spent a lot of time by myself and just started writing songs. It wasn’t like I intentionally shut myself off. It wasn’t some desperate artistic process; it was just how it went. Writing the songs was an attempt to be social: “I want to rejoin this community. How do I do that? Oh, I need to have a band.” It wasn’t about making the art for myself. It was more about making it for a small community of my friends.
On realizing his music had a reach beyond his other band, Beach Fossils:
Beach Fossils is kind of Dustin’s [Payseur] solo project. I could have contributed my songs to that project, but I figured it would be fun to do my own thing. Both John [Pena] from Beach Fossils and I have our own solo projects. We would talk to each other about our recordings and e-mail each other stuff. John called me to tell me that we both got signed to Captured Tracks in the same sentence. It was kind of cool. Mike [Sniper, Captured Tracks owner] was like, “Yeah, I want to put both of your records out.” John called me and said, “I have crazy news!” We were really excited. DIIV and Heavenly Beat got signed at the exact same time.
On writing and performing lyrics about his father, who left their family when he was a young child:
The lyrics are personal, but also they’re kind of shrouded. I don’t like the whole thing to be about my dad. I feel like it keeps getting mentioned in press, and that’s not really the point. I’m interested in writing, but the way I wrote the lyrics wasn’t some cathartic thing where I wrote all the shit I was feeling. Honestly, it has to do with the fact that I’m up there every night singing these fucking words. I feel like if the lyrics can mean things, then I can feel comfortable repeating them over and over again. They can change. Whatever.
On previous band name DIVE:
I got it from the Nirvana song. I got it out of Kurt’s journals. The way that it looked in his handwriting, I just loved the way it looked. It just had so much force. A lot of meaning has been ascribed to it since the band started. We’re all water signs. I just feel like the name kind of fits the band. I created the name before I had a lot of songs written. I actually had a lot of the album art before I had the music.
On accidentally borrowing an album title from a Japanese soap opera:
We were Googling it the other day, and I was like “Oh shit, it means some Japanese drama!” I got it from a poem that was written by a five-year-old. This girl named Madeline. My girlfriend at the time was working at some aftercare program. This girl wrote this poem and my girlfriend scanned it and e-mailed it to me. I don’t know; it spoke to me, man. It was amazing. I’m going to include the poem in the album art.
On being the Internet-less Internet band:
I don’t have Internet in my house. So anything that can’t load on a Blackberry, I can’t really view. All my friends who have day jobs are so informed on Internet culture and memes and all this stuff, and I’m like, “Dude, I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about!” If I didn’t have this Blackberry there would be no fucking band! I’m answering emails all the time.
On life in the real world:
I read this interview with Oneohtrix Point Never and he was talking about his album cover, which is this skeleton with spaghetti on his head. They asked, “Where did you get the inspiration for your album cover?” He was like, “You know, I was clicking through Tumblr, and I saw it and thought it was cool.” That is fucking bullshit! That is not cool at all!
All the art [we use] is stuff that exists in the physical world. There’s physical copies of everything before it winds up on the album art. It’s all collages that I’ve made. None of it is digital. The band, I want to exist as a physical, real thing. I want everything to exist in reality, not just on computers and shit. That’s the mission statement of the band.