Photo: David Herington

DZ Deathrays: “We’re Entering A New Phase As A Band”

Thirteen years into their career, Brisbane’s DZ Deathrays need no introduction around these parts. Genuine modern Aussie riff lords, the trio of vocalist/guitarist Shane Parsons, drummer Simon Ridley and relative new guy, lead guitarist Lachlan Ewbank have been making our lives better since the MySpace era and they’re about to improve the world again when they drop their moody fifth record Positive Rising: Part 2 on Friday.

Home to killer singles ‘Fired Up’, ‘All Or Nothing’, ‘Fear The Anchor’ and ‘Golden Retriever’ Positive Rising: Part 2 is the riff-heavy sequel to 2019’s well-received, indie-punk laden Positive Rising: Part 1. As with Part 1, Part 2 is more than capable of standing alone in the DZ Deathrays pantheon, but when played back-to-back in one sitting, as they were intended (the artwork when placed together even creates a full day/night cycle!), the complete Positive Rising experience takes DZ Deathrays art to another level. It’s impressive stuff for a band who seem to always find new ways to make their riff-rock base sneakily innovative, creating a soundscape that retains the energy and excitability of their live shows, while displaying more depth, musicality and atmosphere than they ever have in recorded format before.

In the lead-up to the record dropping this Friday and in advance of their long-awaited return to the road, we caught up with the ‘OG’ Shane and the ‘new guy’ Lachy for a chat about Positive Rising: Part 2, the life and times of DZ Deathrays as they chart new waters as a band, the things we do to make ourselves mad and the merits of the steady climb to the top.

MF: Hey Lachy and Shane, how’s this plane of existence treating you today?

Shane: We’re pretty good mate, how are you?

MF: Terrible NBN connection aside, I’m doing well, mostly because I just listened to your new album ‘Positive Rising: Part 2’ and it fucking ruled. What was the inspiration behind it?

Shane: Probably this guy [Lachy], it’s the first record he has written with us, so having three brains doing the creative work, definitely changed the vibe in the band. I definitely found that towards the end of Bloody Lovely it felt like I was recycling old material, but since we got Lachy in as a writing member, we’ve found that with that fresh energy, the ideas came together much faster, and that’s how we ended up deciding to put out two records instead of just the one.

MF: That’s awesome, now Lachy, what was it like being the ‘new guy’ in the scenario?

Lachy: It took me a little while to get the hang of the style of songs that they were looking for, but once I did it all worked pretty easily, because I would more or less just do what I do and then Shane would say “oh I’d never have thought of doing that” and then change it up a bit and from the clashing of our two styles we just naturally found something that worked. The first part was a bit stressful because I’d never recorded with them before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but on Part 2 I knew I didn’t have to worry, so I went in a lot more relaxed.

MF: Well it sounds like you found a pretty comfortable working environment? That is pretty awesome for a band that was undertaking a significant line-up change while going into a pretty important series of records.

Shane: I guess so, I think every record we consider to be important, but this one was definitely different because it was us entering a new phase as a band. It was refreshing more than anything else.

MF: Now Positive Rising: Part 2 is a bit moodier than Positive Rising: Part 1 which makes me wonder if you made a specific stylistic choice for the sound of each record?

Shane: Not really, or at least not deliberately, the songs for the first part were the ones we felt were closest to being ready, at that point, and we felt they sounded like a nice representation of a complete record. There were some that we decided to hold over that we thought would be good for Part 2. I think what’s really quite nice is that when you listen to them both together now, they really do sound like a cohesive double record, but there are all of these moments in each one, from atmospheric moments to doomy moments. Once you find a tone for a record, you keep following that. So if you look at ‘All or Nothing’ or ‘Skeleton Key’ or ‘Run The Red’ which were some of the earlier songs completed for Part 2 they kind of set the tone for the rest of it.

I feel like Part 1 is really indie-punk, while on Part 2 we decided to develop the riffs a bit more, so Part 2 is slower but it holds more weight. There was no real method to the madness though, we just went for it.

MF: I think you summed it up perfectly. There’s definitely a lot more notable guitar on Part 2, is that something that you’re looking at experimenting with more? Doubling down on the guitar-rock elements, because that’s pretty refreshing, given that most bands seem to be going the other way at present.

Shane: We’re always looking at ways to experiment and open up our sound. For personal artistic satisfaction reasons, over the years you need to make changes, and I think the best thing that we ever did was remove ourselves from the mindset that our live approach and studio approach needed to be the same, because they don’t need to be and they’re really not.

MF: That’s cool that you’re experimenting with opening up the sound a bit more and you can really hear that on Part 2, I also hear a lot of additional growth and depth on a lyrical level. Did you enter the writing with a certain narrative you were trying to communicate?

Shane: Every song is its own thing. Sometimes I’ll write something immediately and it ends up on the record, but a lot of the time you get into the studio and you find that everything is a little disjointed and you need to rewrite and develop it that way. I actually find writing lyrics really hard, it’s a really tough thing because you never want to come off as naff or lame. I really like to be a bit ambiguous, but at the same time there’s often a need to be direct, so it is always finding the balance between those two. In the end, it is about finding those phrases and words that stick with people and make for an exciting and interesting lesson.

MF: I feel like one song people will connect with is ‘Make Yourself Mad’ because due to the lockdowns there’s a lot of people out there who are just straight-up addicted to social media now, because they don’t know what else to be doing, and so it seems like they’re constantly being triggered into a one-sided argument that’s being constantly fed fuel by an algorithm.

Shane: That’s definitely one of those ones that cuts straight to the point. Those are the songs where I question whether I’m going too far by being so simplistic and direct and not asking the listener to work it out for themselves, but it was also one of the ones that works the best and that came together quickly. I was online myself and I realised that there were a LOT of angry people everywhere and that the best thing they could do for themselves was just walk away.

Lachy: In a few years it’ll still be a thing because social media isn’t going to blow up or disappear, so the cycle will just continue.

MF: It’ll be pretty interesting to see how the next generation responds to it too, having grown up with it being a constant presence in their lives. All three of us are from a time period where we were kind of able to exist both inside and outside of social media more readily.

Lachy: Yeah dial-up!

Shane: This band started when MySpace was a thing, and I remember pretty fondly when it was somewhere you just went to listen to three songs by your mate’s band and pop some friends in your top 8, and it was always such a heartwarming place. Now it is just omnipresent and filled with so much negativity. I’ve found that over the last few years I’ve started to give up on it a bit because it was giving me the shits.

MF: Which is a hard place to be as a band, because it is where all of the marketing has to happen, you guys are finding interesting ways to interact with your fans though. I was particularly into the challenge you ran for people to ‘write your single’ for you. What inspired that and did you get any entries that were a little too close for comfort?

Shane: Well actually I believe I saw PUP do something similar a few years ago and I remember thinking it was such a cool idea. We love recording music and making music and we love making interesting sounds with guitars and production tools and a lot of our fans feel the same way, so we thought this was a nice way to interact with them. Some entries were really good, Cry Club’s was awesome and honestly, some of them were super close to the finished product. Overall it was just cool to see what other people would do to put a melody over those chords or how they’d play that progression. I think with our stuff because it is all so riffy, you don’t really pay a lot of attention to what the chords are, so when people get just the chords and take it over to an acoustic guitar or a piano or something, often they’d end up with very different songs to ours. It was really nice and a really fun thing to do.

MF: You have a terrific guest vocal from one of my personal favourite acts, Ecca Vandal here on ‘Fear The Anchor’ which is an absolute banger. How did the idea of Ecca guesting on the track come about and do you think we might see you tour together again soon?

Shane: Yeah again, we toured with Ecca back in 2016, and we’ve been mates with her since then. We wanted to have at least one guest on each one of these records because it is a nice thing to do and it is fun. So on Part 1 we were in LA and we were lucky enough to have Matt from The Bronx pop down to the studio and do some yelling and screaming, which was just so good and such an amazing experience for us. We had had Ecca in mind for a while for Part 2 because we knew our sounds worked together so well, so we felt ‘Fear The Anchor’ was the song that made the most sense, so we sent it over to see if she was into the idea and thankfully she was in Sydney while we were in the studio. So we threw it together organically and she absolutely killed it. It’s also a nice thing to do to have your friend on a record.

MF: As a band, you’re in an interesting position, in that you’re a reasonably sized act still going out playing guitar-centric music and releasing double-album sets during a time when the industry seems to be saying that neither of those things is cool or necessary, anymore.

Lachy: Yep, it’s hard work, but someone has to do it!

MF: You’re somehow making it work for you, So I wonder, how do you perceive the trajectory of DZ Deathrays at this point?

Shane: If I was to go right back to when we started, we didn’t expect anything, we were just playing house parties and small clubs in Brisbane. Then after our first tour with Crystal Castles, we did stuff like Laneway and we started going to Sydney and Melbourne a lot and we could see it was becoming something we never expected. After our first international tour, we decided that at the ten-year point, we’d reassess and see where we were at. When we hit ten years, we found that it was getting faster and faster for us and busier, and we were still enjoying ourselves and challenging ourselves to write and tour as much as we can.

We’re not one of those bands that have gone from one to a hundred, it’s been a steady climb, and I think, for that reason, we’ve never done anything we regret because we’ve always had the time to assess where we are and check if we’re enjoying it and we still believe in it and we’ve always found that we still are. It’s not slowing down either, because we’re sitting here talking about a record that we wrote nearly two years ago now and we almost have another one ready to go!

MF: Oh wow, that’s an impressive output, you’re clearly still firing on all cylinders!

Shane: Yeah and we’re still really enjoying it. The only difficult thing at the moment really is that due to COVID it is really hard to make money, obviously and the business needs money to keep it going. Everything else about it is easy, so hopefully, we won’t be stuck like this for much longer.

MF: Speaking of making money, you’re planning on heading out on the road and playing some actual shows, in 2021, imagine that! Can you fill us in a bit on that?

Shane: We’ve got NERVE on board for this cross-genre bill, which I think is really suited to this day and age. We’re going to be playing a bunch of the new stuff and a bunch of the old stuff and hopefully, there can be some mosh pits and circle pits and all of that fun stuff. We played some shows back in March and it was really cool seeing everyone back out and enjoying themselves again, that’s what we’ve always enjoyed doing. So fingers crossed it happened. I find myself watching the news every morning now, so we’ll see what happens. You can only hope for the best, really!

MF: Are you trying to say that you can only hope for a ‘positive rising?’

Shane: Hahaha, it’s actually really funny because we’re working on a song right now for the new record called ‘Hope for the Best’. Our producer can hear us talking about it and they’re pointing at the session where it says ‘Hope for the Best’.

MF: That’s amazing, art imitating life, life imitating art. It’s like that Luca Brasi album ‘Everything is Tenuous’ which is the perfect album title for right now it seems.

Lachy: Yeah, they know, they know, we’ll see, fingers crossed!

MF: Before I let you go to finish ‘Hope for the Best’ I want to know if you could have a song play anytime you entered the room, like you were a pro-wrestler, what song would you choose and why?

Shane: I mean, ‘Fucking in The Bushes’ by Oasis, would be a great walk-on song. It has no vocals either, so the riff would be highlighted nicely. So that’s my choice.

Lachy: The riff in ‘Redneck Wonderland’ by Midnight Oil, running out to that would be great, you’d have to be quick though, coz it goes pretty quiet after that.

MF: Well that’s perfect for the TikTok attention span. Outstanding choices, both. Thanks for taking the time to speak to Music Feeds Shane and Lachy, have a rad day and I’ll see you in Melbourne coz I love your live show.

Lachy: Awesome, thanks man, see you then.

‘Positive Rising: Part 2’ is out this Friday June 9th. The band currently scheduled to take the record on tour in September this year.

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